We used to call it just ‘film’ but now it’s ‘analogue’ as opposed to ‘digital’ just like music once came from vinyl or tape and then migrated to CD.
And just like vinyl aficionados like the reassuring feel of a record and the way the light plays on its minute ridges, just as they like to place the stylus on (or now even hovering above) a spinning disk on a sleek deck, so both young and old are beginning to appreciate film and film cameras.
Analogue is a tricky word because we are so used to seeing it spelled the American way; ‘analog’ ,thanks to Mr Webster. But being a true Brit, ‘analogue’ it is for me.
Over the last few months I have been seduced away, partly, from my Sony A7 ii and its super lens and all the clever things I can do with it.
I have been seduced by the allure of sexy little metal boxes: 35mm film cameras.
Look at this beauty, for example:
So how did I become seduced, once again, by film? Why did I start a modest collection and need to use them?
I last took a photograph with film in 2004. Before that I had always had a camera since 1968 and the first time I can remember using a camera was a little point and shoot roll film camera the day I left my primary school in London in 1966. I wanted to take photos of my friends and classmates.
I guess that gave me the bug, and my father always had a camera and had been taking photos since his days in Canada in the 30’s and 40’s. He recorded our lives with a little box camera.
I decided, somewhat foolishly, that there were ignorant people out there who know nothing about film cameras, and if I followed online auctions I could pick up some bargains and sell them at a profit. It soon became clear that this was not going to work. However, I did pick up a lot online and collected it locally from an auction house in Bolton. It consisted of an Olympus OM10, some lenses and a tripod. As the tripod was a Manfrotto and the whole lot cost £30 I thought I was on to a winner. In fact, I did eventually sell all of it for a small profit.
But the feel of the OM10 in the hand must have triggered some old longing.
I went looking for my Minolta XGM and its 45 year old lens (from a previous Minolta) and found it to be mechanically sound although the leather case had dried out and gone white. I recently spent some time coaxing it back to health with some military grade leather treatment called Dubbin. Worked a treat.
Then I began to trawl eBay and found an absolutely pristine OM10 and bought it from a charity.
Then the bug really hit me and I bought two auction lots of rangefinder cameras and a Canon AE-1.
Fortunately, all these cameras worked mechanically but there were a few problems ahead.
With some research I discovered that film cameras have light seals (yes, I know, it never dawned on me in 50 years that cameras are sealed) and these deteriorate over time into gooey, sticky mush. And every film camera I now possessed had gooey, stick mush. If I was going to sell these cameras, they needed to be working properly to command the best price. This would mean resealing them and – here’s the rub, here’s the big, big hook – TESTING WITH FILM.
So my first step with analogue/analog was to get what was needed to seal the cameras. Several YouTube videos and an over-confident belief that it was going to be easy, led me to my first open camera back and the black mush of my old Minolta inside it. Better start with my old friend, eh? What can go wrong.
To seal a camera you have to remove the old seals and remember – or better record – where the seals are. It is very easy, as I found out, to clean the camera and then forget exactly where the seals were.
The kit involves:
So, the Minolta was sealed. Now I was confident I could seal the four rangefinder cameras I had bought and the Canon AE-1 and OM-10.
This task took a week or so to complete.
I decided I would not film test the very cheap rangefinders but kept one, a Yashica Electro 35, and sold the rest.
But now I was fully in hobbyist mode and drooling over all the beautiful machines I could see on eBay and YouTube. So I bought two more top of the range consumer cameras: an Olympus OM 2n as seen above and what I believe to be the best of the lot, a Nikon FM2 – my first ever Nikon.
All these cameras came with 50mm 1.8 or 1.7 lenses and they all looked gorgeous. But would they work? Were the cameras’ built-in light-meters still accurate? The Nikon and OM 2 were already resealed but I had 3 other SLRs that needed to be tested.
These cameras were not that cheap, by the way, but compared to modern cameras, they were a snip. I had also decided I would buy adaptors so I could use the lenses on my mirrorless camera. These old manual lenses are ideal for mirrorless. As long as they are sound and clean they are well built and really sharp. It’s a cheap way to experiment with different prime lenses and have a bit of fun.
By now I wanted to test the cameras and see if my light seals worked. I decided to buy cheap film and test each camera in turn. But I also decided I would then try to develop the film and scan the results. At that time I had no scanner and no developing equipment. I think you can see what’s coming.
So, I bought 5 rolls of Kentmere 400 ASA (ISO) 24 shot. The first film I had bought for 15 years.
My aim was to take shots locally and around the house, nothing too clever, just take a roll of film, develop and see how it turns out. My expectations were low but my hopes high.
I began with my very own Minolta XGM and then moved on to the Canon.
I realised what I had been missing. This was black and white film. I chose it because why take colour when you have a modern DLSR? Using b & w and a film camera makes you think about composition, light, form etc. It was a whole new kind of photography which I hoped would inform my regular photos but also extend my photographic experience.
With modern cameras you see the results immediately; with film you have no idea what just happened. The expectation and uncertainty adds to the excitement and also concentrates the mind. Every digital shot you take costs exactly nothing; every film shot costs something, about 20p plus chemicals to process it. Say 25p a shot. That soon mounts up. Photography can be expensive if you want the best modern equipment but cheap if you just want to use your phone. In the analogue/analog world you are conscious that this costs real money. But that makes you want every shot to count.
After taking half a roll with the Canon I realised that the diaphragm on the lens was sticking.
Well, dear reader, I fixed it. I watched disassembly video and ended up with a working lens – but only testing would prove this.
I had 5 exposed rolls of Kentmere 400. Now for the next stage, which you can read in the next blog post.