Film is alive and kicking – tips, cameras, beginners advice.

For over a hundred years film was the only option. The greatest names in photography all shot film; I’m sure you’ve heard of Ansel Adams.

Some of the most inspiring, well-known photographs ever produced were shot by famous photographers—so why do all the modern-day pros shoot digital if all the greats shot film? The answer is quite simple: convenience and cost.


If Film Is So Great, Why Do We Shoot Digital?

I would like to preface this tutorial by saying that I make the majority of my income from shooting digital. Film versus digital is a very controversial subject and the point of this tutorial is not to claim that one is better than the other, but rather to provide the reader a better understanding of film, and what it can do for them today, even in a digital world.

The digital format…

  1. Allows you to review your work after every single shot, from the camera, without having to wait for film to be developed.
  2. Is easily transferable in digital format from one computer to the next, or from one mobile phone to another, or from one email box to another.
  3. Costs less in the long run to print because there are no developing costs.
  4. Is more versatile because the digital sensor is able to change ISO on the fly.
  5. Does not expire like film does.

I could go on. The simple fact is that digital simply makes sense for the modern 35mm photographer and certainly for the weekend hobbyist. There are no messy chemicals to deal with, you’re not required to sit in a dark room for hours on end to see if your film [properly] developed, and you only need a memory card or two instead of roll after roll of film.


If Digital Is King, Why Are You Recommending Film?

If you are interested in becoming a photographer, starting out can be very expensive. Granted, if you buy used equipment you can save a lot of money. But even used, a digital SLR (DSLR) can run you a few hundred dollars whereas a mint condition film SLR will cost less than $100.

Even the most expensive, top of the line, professional film SLR’s on the used market go for a couple hundred bucks. On the other hand, top of the line DSLR’s go for thousands, even well used. Start-up cost is one of the toughest hurdles to overcome when getting into photography and this is where film can save you a bundle while getting your feet wet in the world of photography.

The second reason I recommend film to beginners is that it’s a more immersive way to learn about the relationship between aperture, ISO and shutter speed. You also have to be more cognizant of your surroundings and available light when shooting film. I have to admit, I’m a little grumpy knowing that many modern photographers never touched or even wanted to try their hand at film; they’re robbing themselves of a truly wonderful experience that I believe can take them to a whole other level.

The digital format allows one to be very sloppy, especially if you’re shooting in digital RAW format. You’re able to over or underexpose and fix it in post rather than doing it right in the first place. Heck, worrying about white-balance seems to be a thing of the past; a simple eye-dropper tool fixes everything for you in post! Learning on film teaches you to truly care about your surroundings while getting intimately familiar with your camera and all of its little quirks.

If you thought my reasons for shooting film were subjective, my final reasons are even more so; but hear me out. In my opinion, black and white photography has yet to be reproduced in digital format to echo the beautiful black and white film formats that are still available today.

It’s hard to explain; maybe it’s the film grain versus digital grain, maybe it’s the seemingly infinite tones that black and white film can produce or maybe it’s a combination of a lot of different elements aligning to “make it happen”. All I know is that I have yet to see consistent results from digital black and white prints that are as astoundingly gorgeous as examples from countless black and white prints that I have seen throughout my life. Obviously, this is subjective, but there you have it.

Canon EOS 630 – Kodak T-MAX400 B&W Film


Okay Fine, Where Do I Start?

Where else? The camera! There have been so many makes, models and formats of cameras over the years that it would be silly to try and review them all. And I don’t want to “fake it”, I’m not going to scour the internet looking for info on camera systems that I know nothing about. I believe that would only dilute my information and rob you of truly useful, real-world experience. My goal is to provide some of what I know so that you can make an informed decision when you go on the hunt for your own film camera.

In this article, I will not address medium or large format film cameras since I could write a book on that topic alone. Not to mention, I wouldn’t be saving you any money by recommending the medium/large format route anyway. Instead, I’ll start with Canon’s EOS systems, I’ll continue with a short glimpse into rangefinders and finish up with film recommendations.

I apologize ahead of time for those interested in Nikon or other manufacturers. I have far more experience with Canon, but some of these same principles should apply to other systems and the film recommendations should work across the board.

Let’s get started!


Canon EOS Elan

Models Include:

Elan
Elan II(e)
Elan 7(e)(n)(ne)

Up For Review: Elan IIe

The Canon EOS Elan IIe is a steal when you compare the price to performance ratio. While a 1v is a wonderful (and legendary) film SLR, even now a good copy is being sold for several hundred dollars and that might be a bit much to invest on a used film camera when you’re first starting out, especially since the Elan is so cheap and provides many of the same functions.

The Elan is also very easy to find in online auctions. It uses typical 35mm film and has the modern EF lens mount (versus the older, discontinued FD lens mount). I would highly recommend buying one that comes with a battery grip if you want to use AA batteries, the body itself will only take the more expensive 2CR5 batteries.

Why?

  1. Cost. ($20-$50)
  2. Performance and Features
  3. Ergonomics
  4. Pro Features

Where?

  1. eBay
  2. Buy/Sell sections on Camera Forums
  3. Local Camera Shops
  4. Yard Sales

Features

  1. Silent Film Operation (Elan was the first SLR with near-silent operation)
  2. Simultaneous AF/MF with USM lenses
  3. A large thumb wheel for control
  4. High speed flash sync
  5. Basically the first “auto everything” SLR with just about every professional control you could ask for in a film SLR

Notes

  1. No AE Lock
  2. Not weather sealed (although I’ve had mine in the rain plenty of times)
  3. Known for underexposing when in difficult, mixed lighting situations if using lower ISO film (50,100)
  4. Make sure to buy one that comes with the grip so you can use AA batteries

Photo Sample


Canon EOS 600-Series

Models Include:

EOS 650
EOS 620
EOS 630

Up For Review: EOS 630

The reason I’m recommending the 600 series of cameras is that they’re extremely cheap, built like tanks, and can still be found quite easily. This series was among the first to rely on electronic focusing by communication between the on-board microprocessor and auto-focusing motors in EF lenses. The AF system out-performed anything else at the time.

The EOS 630 was the latest from the 600 line. It had the fastest processor which resulted in faster AF, had interchangeable viewing screens, had an illuminated LCD and could use databacks. It was also all metal construction; it has held up amazingly well over the years.

If I had a gripe, the biggest would be that it’s a pain to do manual metering because of the multiple button operations required to accomplish it. The camera is also not the most comfortable to hold in your hands in comparison with other EOS systems.

Why?

  1. Cost. ($5-$50)
  2. Performance and Features
  3. Build Quality
  4. Pro Features

Where?

  1. eBay
  2. Buy/Sell sections on Camera Forums
  3. Local Camera Shops
  4. Yard Sales

Features

  1. Modern AF
  2. Interchangeable viewing screens
  3. Illuminated LCD
  4. Databack Compatible
  5. Metal construction

Notes

  1. Ergonomics not the best
  2. Multiple button presses for some operations

Photo Sample


Canon EOS Rebel Series

Models Include:

Rebel SII
Rebel X/XS
Rebel G
Rebel 2000
Rebel K2
Rebel Ti/T2

Up For Review: Rebel G

The Rebel series is probably the one you know as the “Andre Agassi camera”. The famous tennis player was hired by Canon to market their line of Rebel cameras throughout the 90′s and 2000′s. It was one of the most successful, mass-produced lines that Canon ever made (and continues that course with the digital Rebel today).

I’m recommending this camera because it costs next to nothing; I’ve seriously witnessed people give them away. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, on the contrary! They’re quite capable with some pro-level features in a very light and compact package.

The reason they’re so cheap is that there were so many of them made and since they were never a “professional” camera, they were not that expensive, even when new. Don’t expect a lot of pro-features and amazing build quality, however.

If you want to spend next to nothing on a body just to get the experience of shooting and developing film, this is your camera.

Why?

  1. Cost. ($5-$30)
  2. Size and Weight
  3. Easy to find

Where?

  1. eBay
  2. Buy/Sell sections on Camera Forums
  3. Local Camera Shops
  4. Yard Sales

Features

  1. Very compact and lightweight (half the weight of the Elan II and 630)
  2. Accepts all modern EF lenses
  3. Full meter scale in the viewfinder at all times, even in metered-manual mode

Notes

  1. Lacks DOF preview
  2. Viewfinder is cramped
  3. Built-in flash is weak
  4. Plastic lens mount rather than metal
  5. You only have one control to set both shutter speed and aperture, so manual mode metering is more difficult than it should be.

Photo Sample


The Rangefinder

What the heck is a rangefinder? It’s a camera fitted with a rangefinder, duh! For all intents and purposes, a rangefinder is a method of focusing. Most rangefinders show two images of a subject; when you turn a focus wheel, one of the images moves until it is lined up with the other image and that’s how you know it’s in focus. Personally, I really enjoy this method of focusing. Rangefinders are popular because of the following:

  1. Very compact
  2. No moving mirror
  3. Quiet operation
  4. “Both eyes open” shooting

Rangefinders offer a unique shooting experience in that you’re not looking through the lens like you do with an SLR. It’s sort of like shooting through a modern point-n-shoot. Because the viewfinder is off to the side, you can leave both eyes open while looking through the viewfinder to survey your scene as you’re shooting. This makes the rangefinder very popular amongst urban and photojournalist photographers.

If you’ve researched rangefinders at any level, you’ve probably run across mention of Leica, they are the bad boys in the realm of rangefinders, the top of the pack. Unfortunately, that means they’re also insanely expensive.

I’ve had experience with several rangefinders over the years, but I always go back to my Canon QL-17 GIII. I love the photos that come out of this thing, especially black and whites. It is often referred to as the “poor man’s Leica” because the lens quality was able to produce incredible photos for the price.

Canon Canonet QL-17 GIII

You can find them on used camera forums and eBay for $20-$30. The reason you can find them so cheap is that the light seals are often shot, sometimes the aperture blades are frozen and the shutter speed may be off.

If you are lucky enough to find one that only needs the light seals replaced, it’s a relatively easy and cheap fix (we’re talking $12-$15 for the new seals) if you do the repair yourself.

Light Seal Replacement on my Canon Canonet QL-17 GIII

Photo Sample

Canon Canonet QL-17 GII – Kodak B&W T-MAX400


You’ve Convinced Me, So What About Film?

First and foremost, find a reputable local camera lab and give them a call. They’ll tell you what kind of film they’re able to handle as well as what they can print and what sort of print medium they can print on.

Don’t be shy about admitting you’re a film beginner. In fact, I encourage it. Otherwise, they’ll assume you know what you’re doing and you may miss out on some very important lessons while working with your photo lab. After you’ve developed your first couple of rolls, feel free to see if there are other services that are cheaper (including online) if you’re so inclined.

I recommend your local camera shop because I’m a believer in supporting your local industry. And, as I eluded to, you can learn a lot by asking questions and dealing with your lab in person.

Negative and Slide Film

Generally speaking, there are two types of film; slide film and negative film. I’m going to focus on negative film, it’s the easiest (and cheapest) to work with. As you progress, you may want to dabble with slide film as it can technically produce better prints than negatives can and slide longevity is much greater than negatives (which start to deteriorate well within a decade).

Film Speed

Next up is film speed. ISO speeds in digital cameras came from the ISO film rating system and the same principles apply. The larger the ISO number, the less light you’ll need to expose your scene on the film negative.

What I would recommend is starting with an ISO400 film (or thereabouts) so that you have a little more latitude with available light. Any higher and you’ll really start to see a lot of film grain and any lower will require sunlight or lots of interior light, more than a typically lit room in your house will provide.

Storage

You may have heard that some people store batteries in their refrigerator. Well, I have no idea if that does anything for batteries or not, but it certainly does for film. I store all of my film in the fridge. Why? Film is made of chemicals that start to break down as heat is introduced. The warmer it gets, the faster it deteriorates.

If you keep your film cold, the process is slowed, although never completely stopped. It doesn’t matter whether you keep your film in the fridge or the freezer, there are no ill effects to film if you freeze and defrost it. However, I keep mine in the fridge so that I can use it immediately instead of waiting for it to thaw.

Types

Here’s some film that I’ve used over the years. I shoot B&W Kodak T-MAX400 almost exclusively these days, although I do pop in a roll of T-MAX100 once in a while. As for color, I can’t remember the last time I used a color negative film slower than 400. I would probably recommend starting with TMX400 if you’re interested in B&W, I find it to be very versatile. Again, call up your local shop and make sure there will be no problems developing whatever film you decide to use.

Black & White

Slow: Ilford Pan F50
Mid/Fast: Plus-X, FP4,Tri-X, T-MAX400

Color

Slow: Kodak Gold 100, Fuji Super G 100
Mid/Fast: Kodak Professional Portra / Royal Gold 400, Fuji NPH

Important Note

When you buy your first used film camera, make sure to put a roll of cheap color film through it and have your photo lab develop straight to a CD so that you can check for possible issues with the camera. You’ll be able to see if there are light leaks, if the shutter is off or the aperture blades are malfunctioning.

I also recommend getting yourself a light meter or using your digital camera to meter (if you have one, of course). Write down the readings and compare them with the photos you get back to determine if your film camera has a metering problem.


Wrap Up

I know you’ll have many questions when you buy that first film camera and run that first roll through it, and a lot of it will be trial and error. But I hope this article will be enough to get you started and I encourage each of you to at least try shooting a couple rolls of film.

I’ve provided some options that cost next-to-nothing, so even if you don’t enjoy yourself, you’re not out that much cash. I’m betting you’ll have a blast!

Just be careful, it can become very addicting very quickly. Before you know it, you’ll be buying developer chemicals and trying to figure out which room in your house you can get away with turning into a darkroom!

All photos © Shane Parker Photography

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How to Collect and Identify Vintage Cameras.

Collecting vintage cameras has become more popular in recent years, especially as digital cameras have replaced film cameras in most homes as the first choice for family and holiday snapshots. Collectors should follow a few simple guidelines when considering vintage cameras, whether they are collecting for fun or hoping to find rarities that will gain value in the future.

Instructions

  1. Find out what cameras are collectible and which are just junk. Get a vintage camera collector’s guide, such as the McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras. The guide is large and expensive but is the most comprehensive book on vintage cameras on the market. Watch auctions on eBay and see which cameras get a lot of bids. These two sources alone can help you become familiar with vintage cameras.
  2. Poke around antique stores, thrift stores, flea markets and vintage camera shops. Look at the cameras that are available and see what prices these stores are asking. While browsing, you should pick up the cameras and give them a good going-over, checking for dirt, rust, mold and other conditions that might make the camera inoperable. You should also try the mechanics of the camera to see what works and what doesn’t. The more you handle vintage cameras, the more familiar you will become with the various brands and styles that are out there, as well as what a mint-condition camera versus a poor-condition camera looks and feels like.
  3. Look for cameras that were extremely popular brands and that were produced in high quantities, which may be easy to find in a decent used condition. These are great cameras to search out, especially for vintage camera collectors who wish to use the cameras to take photos and not just to display or resell them. Leica, Nikon, Canon, Minolta and Yashica are all well-known brands that created quality products. Beware of cameras that have no name on them or that are imprinted with brand names you don’t recognize. While some of these might be decent cameras, it is always a good idea to do the research first and find out before you buy. You will become familiar with the common cameras quickly, and after some study, the rare finds will begin to stand out.
  4. Look for cameras that will hold their value for a long time. Usually these are cameras that introduced new, groundbreaking technology when they were released or that became known as workhorses–cameras that could function well for a long time with little maintenance. Leica cameras were the first 35 mm cameras that were compact and portable and have maintained a lifetime reputation for being great cameras with exceptional lenses. Argus was the first American compact 35 mm camera, which sold for $12.50 when it first hit stores in 1936. While their value isn’t very high, vintage Argus “Bricks” can still be found in good working order, and they make great 35 mm cameras for amateur photographers who want to play around with manual film cameras. Rollei was a popular brand, especially for their medium format Rolleiflex, which was used by several fine art photographers. Rolleiflex cameras are still easy to find in good working condition. The Nikon F introduced an updated SLR design that made it much easier for photojournalists to use it in the field. Nikon still produces the F series, so there are several generations of these to be found, from the original through to the more recent F6. There are other great cameras to look for; just do your research and find one that suits your style.
  5. Decide what is of value to you and then start learning all about that type of camera if you want to collect vintage cameras. Small, portable cameras have been marketed to consumers since the 1920s. Millions of makes and types of cameras have been produced since that time. Some vintage camera enthusiasts are photographers first and want to collect cameras that will be usable either as is or with some minor cleaning and repairs. Photographers frequently collect several of the same kind of camera so that they can use the ones in good condition for photos and the others can be broken down for parts. Other collectors have no intention of using the cameras but are interested in finding and collecting vintage pieces to display for nostalgia or in hunting down rare treasures to resell them.

Tips & Warnings

  1. Visit your local vintage camera shops, thrift stores and antique stores frequently. In many places, the turnover of stock happens quickly, and frequent visits will allow you to keep up with what’s coming in. Also, the more that store owners get to know you and what you’re looking for, the more likely they are to start buying those items from others and letting you know about them.
  2. If you’re looking for vintage cameras that are still in working order, become familiar with how to check camera functions and how to clean old cameras. Some conditions, such as mold in the lens, are not easily reversed and make the camera inoperable unless you replace the lens.

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How to choose the camera film.

In this short video:  several nice tips how to choose the correct film camera.

 

Intro to film cameras.

In this video You can check :

  • several vintage cameras
  • photographies shot with different kind of films
  • tips how to set the camera with manual settings

 

 

 

 

Zeiss Ikon Nettar 518/16.

Ok, and here it is my first 120mm camera purchase.

I found this beauty on the way home in a shop that sell antiques,  I can’t resist to the camera and of course the excepcional low price (after a few minutes of negotiations with the seller). It was a great deal, after checking the price in various websites.

Let’s move in on to the important part, the camera himself…

Zeiss Ikon Nettar 518/16 folding camera made in Stuttgart by the famous Zeiss Ikon company. It used medium format 120 film with negatives measuring 6cm x 6cm. It was, in its day, a very high quality camera that used medium format 120 film, though it was the size of a 35mm.

According this source, this specific model it was manufactured in Stuttgart –  Germany, between (month ?)/1949-Dec./1959.

Specs:

  • 120mm film in 6×6 format
  • Novar-Anastigmat Lens 1:4.5 f=75mm
  • Vario Shutter
  • Aperture: f4.5-22
  • Shutter: B, 1/25, 1/75, 1/200 sec.
  • Double exposure prevention (you can defeat this by using a cable release with the socket on the lens instead of the body shutter release)
  • Manual film advance with red window

A 400 ASA film is best advised when using the Nettar 518/16.

Tthat is because the speed range is rather limited by today’s standards. Speeds range from 1/25 – 1/75 – 1/200 sec. plus B. You should always remember that the lens is a 75mm, so shooting at 1/25 involves a risk of shaking the camera. This leaves you with two speeds that you can work safely with, 1/75 sec. and 1/200 sec.

The fully manual operation, with no built in meter and no built in focus/rangefinder forces you to slow down and think before you click the shutter release. You have to run through a mental checklist (estimate or meter exposure, estimate distance, compose, cock the shutter, release) for each picture, and so while You only get twelve exposures, You can be sure that You thought hard about each and every one of them. Hopefully the discipline will help  even with more automated cameras.

The Nettar 518/16 has a double exposure prevention mechanism which is very handy. A red flag appears in the finder and you cannot press the shutter button without winding the film.

Conclusion:

I have not yet photographed with this camera, so I can not have a proper conclusion of myself, but I can leave here two opinions that I have found on the web.

(…) wonderful piece of old mechanical technology that produces great results once some thought is applied.

If you are looking for an inexpensive entry to medium format photography, this is the way to go. Image quality is really really good between f/5.6 – f/11, it is build like a tank with very few things that can break and you can always have it with you due to it’s small size. My only complain is the limited speed range and the lack of a rangefinder, so it might be a good idea to buy and external one.
All in all, a very nice camera and if you find it for anything less than £50 buy it and you won’t regret.

The beauty of manual SLR photography.

Almost everyone gets to the point sometimes where you are fed up with the tons of pics that take up all the space on your hard drive, and you don’t even wanna bother looking through all of it. The time when you are bored with going through the manual of your DSLR again cause you don’t know what all the buttons are for.

That’s when you would consider to pick up again that old manual SLR from your bottom drawer and rid yourself of all the beeping and flashing that modern cameras tend to come with and just go back to basic once again… or for the first time, depending on your own photographical history.

Time to find out how great it can be to use a manual SLR and about the countless possibilities that come with that!

Increase the possibilities of your pictures

There are many reasons for photographers to want to try out how they would do with a manual SLR. You might discover that the normal point-and-shoot film camera, that you have been playing around with for a while, limits your progress as a photographer, as it doesn’t come with the focusing options you would need to take… let’s say sharp close up portraits.

Photo by Mr Jeff

Simplicity that makes you concentrate

Sometimes it is hard to comprehend all functions of your semi-professional DSLR, which makes you want to go back to a simpler camera, to be able to concentrate on the essentials of focusing, framing and the right exposure. Also, since film and developing of the pics will all cost money, you are likely to choose your objects more carefully and spend more time with composition and the right framing.

Photo by Cai Shun’an

After doing that you can pick up your DSLR again with greater confidence, after mastering the basics on a traditional model that makes you actually do the thinking. Instead of training yourself on a fancy DSLR, that makes you worry to much about mode of metering and hundreds of white balancing options, you can fully concentrate on your object and still get great images without too much post production.

Photo by Shawn Hoke Photography

Used by professionals

Traditional SLRs are still used by many professional photographers who value them for their robustness, which makes them unimpressed with difficult weather conditions. So you might very well come across photo-journalists who like to include an old SLR in their setup.

Photo by brook9457

You might be remembered forever

Today, traditional SLRs like Nikon’s FM2 or Canon’s F and A series – though out of production – are still easy to find on online bidding platforms at reasonable prices. For those who want to dig a little bit deeper in their pockets, you might as well go with one of the famed Leica models. Most of the pictures still regarded ahead of their time today were taken with these cameras, just like Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” was shot with a Nikon FM2.

Photo by Steve McCurry

Put you and your objects at ease

But still, the biggest treat of using a traditional SLR is how it makes you calm down and puts you at ease. The preparations for a day out are enough to put you in the right mood. Take your camera out of where ever you keep it. Look at it from every angle to see if there are any new scratches from the last time of usage. Pull the film advance lever slowly to see if it goes smoothly, and then press the shutter release button to hear that down-to-earth sound, which is just loud enough for you to know that your camera fired, but silent enough to not make you the center of attention. Then you fill it with life (meaning the film) and you are ready to go.

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Maybe you will stumble across one of those rare moments meant to be remembered forever.

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How to view Black and White negatives.

Viewing black-and-white negatives before developing larger photo prints is a useful way of discarding unwanted images and selecting only the optimal shots.

To view black-and-white negatives, you will need a light box or a loupe, depending on how much detail you wish to see before development.

A light box is a flat, backlit surface, and a loupe is a type of hand-held magnifier that shows more detail and gives a better idea of what the negative will look like when printed as a larger photo.

Viewing photo negatives is a simple process that amateur photographers can undertake.

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