Twenty seventeen was a year that saw me get back to enjoying film photography, trying my hand at a bit more street photography and also starting this blog. I ended up shooting next to no film in 2015 and 2016 so this was quite a dramatic turnaround. I really started to appreciate the fun in being limited to 36 exposures, the challenge of mainly manual cameras and in particular using black and white negative film. After selling quite a bit of my previous film kit in 2015, 2017 saw me get a little carried away on eBay nurturing a fair amount of gear acquisition syndrome. I decided I was going to get every Nikon F right through from the original to the F5 (as the F6 is far too pricey for a flippant eBay bid) and with an F2 purchased in December I completed the set. Whilst this may seem excessive to some, I find it really fun switching between these different bodies, which are like snapshots of peak technology for their day. I found myself using the waist level finder for my F3 and F often which gives such a difference in ergonomics when shooting out on the street.
Cameras I tried that didn’t get with me this year included an Yashica Electro GSN and Yashicamat 124G. Granted the Electro looked cool, but I realised that I prefer focusing with an SLR than a Rangefinder. The lack of a fully manual mode was also quite annoying, and so it was not a hard decision to sell after only a few rolls. As for the Yashicamat, I really wanted to like the camera. I am generally a big fan of using medium format, and the form factor of this TLR was great. However I think the focus lens was misaligned or something as many of my images were misfocussed. So again it got sold with no remorse. A camera that was purchased on a whim but ended up producing some really cool results was the AGFA Optima 335. I took it to NY and was really happy with the street shots I captured. I also picked up a FED2 and Pentax Spotmatic F pretty cheap but they haven’t been used more than looking cool on my shelf.
Processing my own B&W film again in 2017, some 4 years since I last did this, was also fun and rewarding. I still haven’t nailed the final stage in washing / drying the negatives in such as way that reduced dust and watermarks, so this is something to try and improve in 2018. I’m also having ideas that at one point in the future it’d be great to try my hand at printing again – something I only tried a couple of times in the university darkroom with mediocore results. This however seems a pipedream if I am to continue in living in an expensive city.
For some time I’d been wanting an outlet for myself to focus on publishing some images. Not because I thought I would receive any sort of external acclaim, but because I thought it would be a helpful thing to focus my mind on creating images that I could curate to some extent. I also saw it as an opportunity to go through some of my old images, sometimes appreciating them in ways I did not before, and reflecting how I want to improve my photography in the future. So I created this blog and also posted more frequently on my Instagram account. My aim initially was to post here at least once a week, and this I did not achieve, however I did find my use of these two platforms achieve my goal of becoming more focused on my photography.
It was gloomy grey day on my trip to Edinburgh, but at least it wasn’t raining. This meant that shooting this roll of TMax at 1600 during the day wasn’t so crazy as I walked around town. This is my favourite shot from the first roll I put through a Nikon F I impulsively bought on eBay the month before. This statue is by Edinburgh sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi and as soon as I stumbled across it I wanted to capture a frame with some people in shot to contrast the scale of the foot. As it turned out these two guys were milling about which provided the perspective and intrigue I was hoping to achieve!
I can’t quite remember where I saw this camera mentioned but I do remember being struck so much by its design that I put a £10 bid on eBay almost immediately for this camera during summer of last year. I put a roll through it in 2016 and it didn’t come out very good. I’d mainly been taking pictures of mates at a party and I was clearly being too optimistic about the light levels. That roll at least proved the camera worked and the few shots that came out well did show nice rendering of colour.
Fast forward a year during which this camera has been sat on my shelf collecting dust I decided to take it with me to a recent trip to the Big Apple to try my hand at some street photography.
It was a bright sunny and incredibly hot day as I walked down from Columbus Circle to 34th street. The camera is so compact and light I just had it held in my hand all the time. This is pretty much the simplest camera possible; the focus is via 3 zones that snap into place (although it is possible to leave the focus in between if you want, and there is a distance scale underneath the lens barrel – but in reality you’re not likely to use that), the aperture and shutter speed are automatically selected by the camera with no manual override. On the top of the camera there is a huge red button to fire the shutter on the top of the wind on crank thats just asking to be pressed and a small knob to change the crank from advance to return.
I was pretty snap happy, but the light was brilliant, and the shadows promising for some good contrast out of the TMax film. I was interested how the little f3.5 lens would hold up and how good the camera would be at getting a decent exposure. After developing the roll – wow – I was completely surprised. Most shots were correctly exposed and the lens was really sharp. Sure black and white film has tons of latitude and the availability of light meant the aperture was probably f16 for most of these shots, but still, I was still surprised.
This isn’t a 100% positive review however. Upon finishing the roll I went to rewind the film. You do this by rotating a knob to change the crank lever from advance to rewind. After a while the crank seemed to become ineffective. Without really thinking I presumed the film as completely rewound so opened the back. Error. It turns out the gear on the crank must have disengaged somehow. I closed the back on the camera as quickly as I could, then decided to put the camera in a darkbag and then manually wind back the film there by hand. Luckily the design of the camera came to the rescue. The exposed film is wound on into a little covered section in the camera, so opening the back only ruined 2 images. It seems like great design to alleviate the issue of prematurely opening the back. We’ll see with my next roll how the rewind goes.
So to sum up – this camera not only looks incredible, but is very well designed from a functional perspective, and appears to perform very well to my eye. For street photography I think its great in looking inconspicuous. Finally, with some P&S film camera’s valuations soaring, this seems to be a really good cheap option to consider. If you’re looking for more control like aperture selection then keep a look out for the higher spec models in this line from AGFA like the 1535 (although I’ve never seen one on eBay UK). You can read more about this camera on the links below:
We’re spoilt for choice for world class art galleries in London. The Tate Modern is an excellent free modern art gallery in a repurposed power station on the south bank of the Thames. The main Turbine Hall (pictured above) is a vast enclosed space that really gives you a sense of being small. Its a space thats used for large installations of sculpture. This series of images from a visit in 2011 captured the Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds exhibition which consisted of more than 100 million individually handmade ceramic replica sunflower seeds. Originally the exhibit was interactive – visitors could roam about and pick up the seeds. However in a good example of modern health and safety fears the dust created from the ceramic seeds was deemed to be too big of a risk to allow this and the section was promptly roped off.
I really enjoyed revisiting these images some 6 years later whilst categorising my library of film photographs. The first thing that stuck me was how much I liked the contrast of pushing the now defunct Neopan 400 to 1600. I don’t think I’ve pushed a roll of film since then and I don’t really know why. I intend to do this again soon. This series of images were also captured with a recently acquired 24mm wide angle lens and it does a good job of capturing the vastness of the space. Now I have the 20mm f4 and 24mm f2.8 and I’m toying with the idea of selling one of them. Originally it was going to be the 24mm but these images have given me pause for thought. Finally the last thing I took from looking at these negatives is how I must have been pretty careless in developing them. There are chemical marks peppered throughout the rest of the roll but also visible on these images particularly on the image with the wall text. It serves as a good reminder to make sure I spend enough time washing the negatives after fixing!
I hoped to share some first images from this fantastic looking Russian rangefinder today. I purchased this camera for around £45 on eBay at the start of the year. I’d decided to try out using a rangefinder again (despite a disappointing experience previously with an Olympus 35RD) which was influenced by a few factors. Firstly there is no disputing that rangefinders look fantastic. The sleek metal and textured black body oozes a class of nostalgic design. Secondly, so many fantastic street photographs have been captured with rangefinders I got ideas of taking to the streets of London to try and get a few of my own. Even though street photography is something I find incredibly difficult I was excited and intrigued about what kind of images this tool could help me produce.
The FED 2 was made in USSR Ukraine and copied patented designs for the Leica II that were lost with Germany’s defeat in World War II. Its all mechanical, meterless and has a solid metal construction. Shutter speeds are B, 30, 125, 250 and 500th of a second and the lens mine came with, a Jupiter 52mm f2.8, has a continuous aperture selection with no clicks between f2.8 and f22. Immediately it was easy to see some of the more awkward features of the camera. To load the film one needs to take off the entire back. The shutter speed dial needs lifting up to change speed – not so bad but a bit annoying and the rangerfinder itself is pretty dim. The wind on is a circular dial which is nowhere near as satisfying as a normal advance crank. Also upon doing this the first time I realised there was no roll inside the camera that is required to wind on the film. Scouring eBay again for one I found a seller in the Ukraine which cost me a tenner (or around 25% of the camera’s full cost!). Afterwards I found a tutorial on making one out of a used core from a normal 35mm canister which would’ve saved me the expense.
Alas the first impressions ended up being less positive than hoped! I took the camera with me today on a trip into central London to finish off the roll. One of the problems I found out with this camera is that the film counter moves freely and so it easily to reset by accident. This had happened around the 10 frame mark the first time I took the camera out and so today when trying to finish off the roll I ended up not knowing how many shots I had left. I eventually became suspicious the roll had not ended and upon my return home decided to open up the back (in a changing bag) to check. To my disappointment it was clear something had gone terribly wrong – the film had snapped, presumably initially winding it on. This seems really strange, its something thats never happened before and I didn’t think the wind on mechanism for this camera put abnormal force on the film. So I still wait to see what kind of images come out of this classic soviet camera.
This first impressions post is likely to also be a last impressions post as this emulsion was discontinued by Fuji several years ago. Its been sitting in my fridge / freezer / fridge along with the rest of a stash of film I overbought a while back that has since expired. This is actually the first high speed colour film I’ve tried. Keen to finally try it out (some 5 years after buying it) I loaded it into my Nikon F5 for some snapshots on the farm when recently visiting my family in Shropshire.
I used the Epson Scan software with my v500 to digitise the negatives. This is my normal process after getting a dev only service at Aperture UK (my go-to lab now for colour film in central London which does C41 dev for £6). The first thing I noticed was the excessive grain. I wondered if this was due to the film being expired and perhaps because of the multiple (at least 4) freeze/unthaw cycles (plus probably the same number of X-Ray scans when I moved from the UK to NYC and back). Perhaps these were a factor, but I realised that it could be the unsharp mask that the Epson scan applies by default. Unchecking this and applying a lesser amount of sharpening in Lightroom gave me much more pleasing results.
Overall I can’t say I’m enamored with the results with this film. Most of these shots didn’t need 800 speed and I prefer the tones of lower speed colour films I’ve used like Portra 400. I also find the grain a little much but I acknowledge that fresh unexpired stock would probably perform better so its not a fair test of the emulsion. I also think that a fair few of the frames were underexposed. This no doubt compounded the less than satisfactory results so next time I try a high speed film I’ll make sure to add some exposure compensation to see if thats garners better images.
As for the gear, the F5 was very enjoyable to use. Despite its heft and size the ergonomics of the camera are so good that these to me detract from its operation. I used two lenses for this roll – the 80-200mm f2.8 afd (push/pull) zoom and 50mm f1.8 afd prime. Both felt completely natural on this body in their use and I’m looking forward to using this combination again in the future. Whilst the Ai lenses I used on my first test roll of the camera worked quite well, the autofocus and matrix metering of afd lenses was much appreciated. I’m looking forward to shooting more with the 80-200mm on some fresh film.
Its an iconic piece of graffiti on a bridge in Camden. Reviewing some old images from when I first started shooting film this one caught my eye. Its a pretty run of the mill snapshot but what I do like about it is the way the graffiti itself is more of a background with the eyes being drawn to the contrast on the patterns of the rivets themselves. Its also a reminder of my short use of a Nikon F65; an entry electronic level SLR from the early 2000s. It was a reasonably fun camera to use being very lightweight and also compatible with the 50mm AFS f1.4 lens I used quite a bit at the time on a DSLR. It was dirt cheap to buy at around £15 and could produce some decent exposures. The main issue I had with the camera was really that it felt a bit boring to use at the time. Film was fun then but I was more intrigued by older cameras and soon after I would decide to part ways with this camera for an F3 instead. Now I’ve got a new appreciation for electronic Nikon SLRs and I actually think this is probably the best camera for a Nikon DSLR user with some modern FX glass to try out film (due to its very low cost to relatively high feature set – see Thom Hogans review).
The Nikon FM is a fully manual all mechanical SLR body released by Nikon in 1977 and was produced for 5 years until 1982. It takes pretty much all lenses Nikon has ever made (the AI tab has a switch so it can flip up to use non-Ai lenses) that feature an aperture ring, provides 60/40 centre weighted metering and comes with a standard K split prism focusing screen. As for other features, its pretty simple. The shutter goes upto 1/1000 and it also has a self timer.
I bought this camera around 2012 for around £50 and I still own it today 4 years later (checking eBay for recent sales I see them between £60-80 – another example of how analogue photography’s continuing popularity is keeping prices rising above inflation). At the time I was enjoying using an F3 as my main film body, but this was usually loaded with colour film and I wanted another film SLR to use for black and white. This fit the bill pretty well, especially because it was cheaper than an F2, weighted less and less bulky.
The ergonomics of the body are great in their simplicity. This is a body designed before the era of hand grips but still feels natural in the hand and despite the fact that its all made out of metal its not all that heavy at 590 grams. Thats 115 grams less than the F3 and over 200 grams less than an F2! Its easy to see why this camera was favoured by pros as their backup body. Compared to the higher spec’d Nikon F line the main drawback I find with the FM is the lack of 100% viewfinder coverage. Its actually 93% and whilst its still reasonably bright it is one of the big things I notice during use. I think once you get used to 100% finders its hard to go back.
The other thing I’m not such a big fan of is the meter and its LED displays with just – 0 + because I’d prefer to see how much I’m over or under on a continuous scale. Thats a minor gripe though and overall its been a very dependable camera on the trips to NYC, Nashville, Utah and Brazil. With modern cameras with so many different features and modes, its nice going back to the basics and having to manually focus and physically set the shutter and aperture slows you right down before pressing the shutter. The self timer is really the only other feature I need – its quite handy if I want to be in the shot. Generally when I give this camera to a friend to take my photo it comes out mis focussed so if I have a tripod with me its safer to set up the self timer.
Overall the camera comes highly recommended. Its probably the best choice if you want a full metal manual Nikon on a small budget.
Spending 4 days in Glacier national park in September 2015 was a fantastic trip. The landscapes are phenomenal and the hiking excellent. I’d decided to take a full pack of gear of DSLR kit and my trusty Bronica loaded with some Fuji Velvia. I’d never shot it before in medium format so it would be a bit of an experiment. These two shots are a couple of the best; I especially like the saturation in the blues and greens. Like my previous attempts at using Velvia I was punished though on quite a number of shots by my sloppy metering. Overexposure soon causes the colours to go drab and uninteresting whilst the lack of latitude with underexposure put a few frames that would’ve probably been OK with a negative film like Ektar beyond saving.
I’m not sure I’ll put slide film through the Bronica again anytime soon. Primarily due to the cost, but also because I’d want to have my DSLR with me to meter which ends up being a whole lot of gear. However these images do serve as a reminder that, when exposed correctly, this film can provide me with very pleasing results.
The below images are from a roll of TMax 400 loaded in my Bronica SQA during my recent trip to Ireland (see trip report and colour images here). Most of the images below are from the Cliffs of Kerry near Portmagee with the final one being from the Blarney Castle. The overcast and foggy nature of most of the trip I think lent itself quite well towards monochrome photography.
There is an excellent restaurant in Northwood in Shropshire set up by family friends and outside there is a quite epic display of the proprietor’s tractor collection. There must be 20-30 tractors there, all Fords, mainly shipped back in containers from New Zealand. It reminded me my camera collection at least doesn’t take up too much space. My wife did not share that point of view.
Whilst portraits are not something I do often, I’ve been trying to do more of my friends and family. Medium format film captures so much detail enabling all the character of a persons face to be recorded. The 80mm f2.8 lens is also a good performer and can create a nice and shallow depth of field to make the image pop. Below are 3 generations of the Walmsley family – my Brother, Father and Grandfather.
Below is a list of what I have been some of the most interesting reading material on the internet regarding film photography. I’ll keep updating this list with any more that I read regularly!