Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Back to Film Just for Fun!


I am old fortunate enough to have started on the path to a life of loving photography at a time when digital cameras were still science experiments at university labs. I grew up watching my dad take family pictures on a Canon FTb and develop / print the images himself in my uncle's darkroom. When my dad upgraded to a Canon AE1 I inherited the FTb and started making my own images.

In the early 90's I also upgraded to an AE1 and although there were, by that time, more advanced film cameras available I always enjoyed the manual process of the older cameras like the AE1. It makes me feel more involved, like I'm a bigger part of the final product. I still drive a stick shift for the same reasons.



I continued to shoot with that camera off and on until about 2004 when I stepped into the world of digital photography. The new medium allowed me to start seriously honing my skills and I never looked back. That is until about November of last year. At that time something awoke inside of me and I had this strong desire to get back into shooting film. Strangely it was a very specific desire to shoot a twin lens reflex medium format camera, like a Rolleiflex or Yashica. I started doing research on the web about these cameras and kept a constant eye on ebay listings.

Finally in the early days of 2016 I found a listing on ebay for a Yashica Mat TLR camera and I won the bid! I was so excited! It arrived so quickly that I had not even had a chance to get film for it yet.


The next morning I ran out to one of the few remaining film processing stores in the area, ran in and asked: "Do you have any 120 film?" As luck would have it, they had 1 roll. Kodak TMY ISO 400 B&W film. I paid $10 for that 12 exposure roll and went off happy as can be.

That afternoon I sat down to load the film and take my first shots. I watched all the youtube videos and read all the instructions again on how to load the film. Tab in slot, crank and match the arrows, close the lid and crank until it stops... crank, crank, crank, it just keeps cranking. I cranked the entire roll and just like that the only film left in town was wasted. Did I screw up? Is there something wrong with the camera? I called the store and they were able to find one more roll in another store about 40 minutes away. The next day I had a new roll of the same Kodak TMY 400 film in hand. I went through the loading process again. Crank, crank, crank and it stopped! I was ready for my first shot!!

One small detail though. The camera has no light meter. So how do you get the right exposure? I used a handheld incident meter, and later found a neat iPhone app called fotometerPro. I experimented with both to see how the images would turn out.


My daughter was the first victim as she was the closest human to me after I loaded the film correctly. Then I kept shooting family members around the house, at the beach, in the garage, etc... I made sure to try some longer exposures to see if the shutter timing was working properly.

Soon I had my 12 shots done and it was time to get the film developed. Unfortunately the same place that sold me the film does not develop that kind of film so I had to send it out to one of the specialty online labs. There are several out there but the one that impressed me the most was TheDarkRoom.com. For $11 they develop and scan the film, for an extra $15 they sent me 5x5 prints.



It took about 5 days from the time I mailed the film out to when the images were available on the online gallery. The final cost (including the wasted roll of film) came out to be $4.39 per shot, which is by no means cheap, but was worth every penny for the sheer joy of getting back to basics and having everything work out. In the future, I will be purchasing film online which will be about half price compared to what I paid. I will also not be ordering full sets of prints so the cost should go down to about $1.90 per shot.


The results were excellent. I was genuinely surprised that all images came out well exposed and in focus. The camera seems to be working well and the iPhone light meter was surprisingly good too. My favorite was a shot of my son at the beach seen at the top of this post. These are my other favorites (no digital manipulations have been done):

The first shot (muddy and lacking in contrast likely due to lens flare from light fixture overhead).

Writing on the dew covered hood. (I love the contrast on this one)

On the phone after dinner (this was somewhere around 1/5s exposure I believe and metered with the iPhone app)

Playing in the sand (incident meter used - the viewfinder takes some getting used to, hence the crooked horizon).

50's fashion style! (incident meter - still working on that horizon)

Afternoon snack. (iPhone app meter)