I have a confession to make. Until recently, I never really shot on film. As a kid I’ve used disposable film cameras, but my life as a “serious” photographer started with digital.
I’m experimenting with creating looks and being able to produce them regardless of the camera I’m using. Part of this process led me to look into film stock emulation. The conclusion was that the best way to understand how film works is to actually shoot film so I bit the bullet and got myself a film camera and some rolls of film.
Although the experiment is mainly about the film stocks, grabbing the first film camera I could get my hands on wouldn’t do. I wanted to have something decent, so I had a few criteria.
First, I wanted to be able to use the lenses on my modern cameras. During my research, I found myself gravitating towards the Leica mount as Fuji makes an XF to M-Mount adapter. It is unlikely that I’ll ever have the spare cash to buy a Leica lens, but I knew that Voigtländer makes relatively affordable and very fast lenses for this mount.
Second, it had to be a rangefinder. It’s a type of camera I had never used so it was a good opportunity to do so at a reasonable price.
Finally, I was looking for a fully mechanical camera. As I was most likely to get something old, the fewer electronic components, the better.
My research led me to the Voigtländer (them again) Bessa series, which were still being produced until late last year. The sights were set on the Bessa R3M, but even though you can get them at a reasonable price on eBay, it would have been beyond my budget with a lens. As I was browsing on eBay, another model caught my eye. The Canon P.
It ticked all my boxes, was well reviewed and I managed to get one in decent condition for £95. It is a Leica screw mount rather a bayonet mount but there are adapters to go from one to the other.
Since the goal isn’t to be able to take any picture with that camera, I chose to stick with one lens. Street photography and portrait are my thing so going for a standard focal length seemed to be the obvious compromise. As I’m also keen on shallow depth of field, a fast aperture had to be in the specifications. That really meant only one thing: 50mm f/1.4.
After a quick bit of research, the best candidate turned out to be the Canon LTM 50mm f/1.4, a.k.a. Japanese Summilux, hinting at the optical quality. The reviews I read seemed to corroborate the lens’ reputation.
At £300, that was the more expensive purchase of the lot. There were cheaper ones available on eBay, but coming from Japan they would be subject to import duty (even though it’s second hand…) that would bring the price up to just about the same amount so instead I got one shipped from within the UK.
I can’t say much about the lens yet as I won’t know how it performs until I get a roll developed. The one thing to notice is the quirky shape of the aperture between F/2.8 and F/8 which will no doubt make for interesting bokeh.
Over the course of this journey, I’m going to be testing several different films. The problem with shooting film in 2016 is that it’s rather quite expensive! The “pro” stuff will set you back between £5 and £11 per roll of 36 frames (and that’s not counting developing) and even the consumer grade rolls will average at £3 each. I’m not going to take 300 shots a day anyway, but that’s something to take into account if you plan on embarking on the film journey.
The first round of tests starts with 4 different stocks, 2 colour, 2 black & white:
- Kodak Ektar 100: My favourite film simulation on the X-T1 is Classic Chrome, which is supposed to replicate Kodachrome film. Kodak has discontinued it, but they say that Ektar is the closest equivalent.
- Fuji Velvia 50: As I like to shoot at fairly big apertures, I needed to try the lowest ISO film I could get my hands on. The Velvia 50 is that.
- Ilford FP4 Plus: I kept reading about Ilford being good at black and white (My go-to printing lab uses Ilford paper for its B&W prints). I went for the ISO 125 roll and I know they have ISO 50 and 3200 films that might be interesting to try.
- Kodak Tri-X 400: In Kodak’s own words, it’s “The world’s best-selling black-and-white film”. According to David “Strobist” Hobby, the Fuji X-Series standard black and white film simulation looks just like that, so that will be another interesting comparison.
One of my favorite things about Fuji X: The in-camera B&W files. I feel like I am shooting Tri-X again. <3 https://t.co/iBs9GkOSqa
— David Hobby (@strobist) May 30, 2015
For the time being, I’m planning on letting professionals develop the film (if there’s a UK based photo lab you would recommend, please let me know in the comments), even though I know I will eventually want to do this myself. But for now, let’s focus on the shooting.