In the last six months or so, I've found my self taking more and more stills instead of videos, which if you read my Street Photography blog is the best way to improve behind the video camera (or boost your ego on Instagram). And through this I found my self taking thousands of images that end up clogging my hard drives and my Adobe cloud and it just isn't ideal on an old PC.
So I thought, "how can I really improve taking pictures, like REALLY improve" and I thought that maybe going back to the very basics and the essence of photography and shooting on film I would be able to really learn something new about taking pictures. Especially in a world where everyone online thinks you can only take a decent image is by owning a 75 Megapixel camera that can take 100 frames per second and have 28 stops of dynamic range. I thought that using the relentless format that is 120 film would be a great learning curve. (especially that every picture costs ~£3 to take I knew I was going to learn pretty fast).
After much thought I set out on an eBay mission to find my self a good camera that would actually function. I eventually ended up snipper bidding on a really good nick Zenza Bronica ETRS (the cheap mans Hasselblad), which to the credit of the seller was in perfect condition and he even kindly printed and binded me the full manual.
Now armed with a camera and some film I was ready and conveniently snowmagedon happened the night the camera arrived so I had plenty to go and take pictures of. It was either that or suffer from cabin fever scrolling through Netflix for 4 days so...
These are the main reasons I found using film instead of digital really started to help me with my images:
The Workflow and Challenge
Using a film camera is very different kettle of fish to using digital in many ways, actually scratch that, just this camera is very different. Many of the film cameras I've come across are much more advanced than this camera.
The first I found was the pace at which you shoot. With my digital camera I can literally set it and document anything and everything and maybe eventually get a nice usable image. With the Bronica, everything is manual, there is no light meter so you have to second guess your exposure or use a light meter for every.single.shot (or your phone if you're too cheap like me). This dramatically slows down the time it takes to snap an image, so I found that I miss a lot of quick moments happening in front of me, but on the flip side I found I would spend a lot longer framing and perfecting the shot compared to digital. This coupled with the fact you can't really crop film too well makes you think on your feet a bit more when producing the image.
The focusing was also a lot harder than usual. Now I'm not complaining about manually focusing because that's something I've done for a long time shooing video, but rather two other reasons. The first is that the focus throw on the lens (the distance from the closest to the furthest focus point on the lens barrel) is absolutely massive, and it takes an eternity to go from the closest point to infinity. This also means the focus is so so precise that often I struggle to find the focus quickly. On top of that the image you see through the viewfinder is mirrored so it's all backwards anyway.
The other reason gaining focus is difficult is the increase in "sensor size" or film size in this case. I'm not going to explain it but you can find more about it here. As medium format is so big, the crop factor is essentially negative meaning the f/2.8 lens I have is actually an f/1.4 lens for depth of field meaning it is basically impossible to find your focus quickly with just a little tiny slither in focus.
I know it sounds like I'm complaining about the functionality of the camera, but all things looked over it really does give you a real joy to use with all the short comings to modern cameras. I find there's something about using the top down view finder and almost escaping from your surroundings for a moment to set up the shot and then pressing down on the shutter to release the heavy mirror really does give a real bit of satisfaction (in the least weird way possible).
I think the worst part about taking pictures on film is the wait time for the results. With digital you can just look down and make changes to what you’ve shot immediately, but with film there’s no hope of this, you have to wait a week or so while someone processes it for you to finally look at them and see they’re under exposed...🙃
But having said that, there’s nothing quite like holding a physical strip of negatives as a pose to plugging in a plastic card into the side of your PC to see the results.
Now as you can see from the shots below they’re hardly award winning and I think there’s only really about 4 keepers there...maybe.... at best. I even left one on multiple exposure mode accidentally to get a funky overlay on the last shot. But I guess it makes me look at the images and learn a lot about shooting with a new format and what to do next time. I’m currently shooting a black and white roll so maybe I’ll post the results and see if there’s any difference...
But over all I’m glad I’ve finally divulged into the world of film after all this time. It’s made me learn a lot about controlling my camera taking my time over the images and long run I can see it improving me as a photographer and a videographer. If you’re contemplating it, I’d recommend!
(I fully understand this has been a wordy and rambling blog but hey, it’s nice to be back at it!)