In the name of research I decided to try this film photography out. Film photography has been seeing a bit of a resurgence of late, so I thought it was time I find out what the fuss was about.
In hunt for a camera
The search for a film camera was actually quite easy. I found a variety of cameras at local markets but nothing that jumped out at me. I decided to hit up eBay, and there were so many to choose from. Not really knowing what to get I did a little research and bid on a few just to see how much demand there was for film rangefinders. To my surprise even the bids I wanted to win I was getting out bid. There was so much demand for some of these film rangefinders.
I finally came across a “buy it now” Fed 5 which was brand new, found in the back of a warehouse. Perfect, I snapped that up and waited for it to arrive.
It finally arrived
It arrived, I had ordered 3 rolls of Ilford Pan 400 black and white film which I managed to time perfectly to arrive on the same day as the camera. I had done my reading, for those that don’t know, many Russian cameras have sequences or ways of doing certain things. Do it wrong and you run the risk of breaking something. The biggest thing with a Fed 5 is not to change the shutter speed without cocking the shutter.
It was in perfect condition just like the ebay listing said. After a bit of a play I realised the focusing square was not moving when I focused the lens, I was sure it was broken and pretty much decided to take it to a camera store to get it serviced. That evening I sat down again looking at the Fed, especially where the m39 mount for the lens is and noticed a small leaver. I was able to move it and when looking through the viewfinder I could see the focusing square moving. I decided to move the leaver back and fourth about 50-60 times to loosen it up and suddenly it was working properly with the lens.
No time like the present, it was time to put some film in.
The shooting experience
It really is an experience. There is something lost with digital, maybe the fact we can shoot 1000’s of frames in one day and it doesn’t really cost anything, or the fact that we see the results straight away. I’m not sure what it is but when you shoot film you think more, you take the shot and there is a feeling of the unknown. I could not believe it took me 2 weeks to shoot 36 frames and that roll was just a test roll. I was looking for light leaks etc…
In the end I took the last 5 or so frames fairly quickly because I wanted to finish of the experience. I wanted to know if the seals needed replacing and most of all I wanted to have a go at developing. Oh yeah I forgot to mention that part, I’m going for the full experience, well up until the printing side of things anyway. I replaced printing with scanning.
The roll was finished
I had to dash out to the camera store to get some chemicals. I ended up with some Ilford lc29 (Developer), Ilford Ilfostop & Ilford Rapid Fixer, apparently it was all I needed. The hardest thing was finding a scanner. I went in search of a flat bed scanner all I could come across were multifunctions, I wanted a Epson V500 but I had to settle for a V330 simply because no one had a V500 in stock.
It was time to give it ago. Getting the film onto the developing spool is some what difficult. It managed to get stuck a couple of times but eventually it got there. Finally the film was light safe in the developing canister and the mad science stuff could begin.
Mixing, pouring, and agitating to get a final strip of film to hang up. While it was drying I had a quick look at them, it was amazing. You see when i was shooting I could have sworn I was underexposing everything, I was using the camera’s meter but it just didn’t feel right. However the negatives looked fine.
It took just over 2 hours for the negatives to dry, so it was time to test out this scanner.
Seemed simple enough, put a strip of negatives into the holder, select a resolution and preview it. I didn’t realise that the Epson software allowed you to do a bit of editing which was very nice. Hit scan and wait.
My troubles with getting the film on the spool had left a few scratches, and obviously there was some dust on the negatives when scanned, but nothing some cloning couldn’t fix.
Suddenly I could finally see the photos I had taken. It’s an unusual experience of excitement and anticipation about the next roll. I wasn’t comparing the photos to digital results, funnily enough that didn’t even cross my mind. The grain looked like it should have been there, not like noise from a digital sensor. There is something truly beautiful about these lo-fi images. The photos have character, or you feel a greater connection to them because you have gone through the whole process.
Am I kicking the digital habit?
Hell no! However I have to say shooting with film is an amazing experience, and it has a pretty low entry cost. You don’t need to do the developing and scanning yourself, there are still plenty of labs around that do it for an extremely reasonable rate. Give it a shot, get a film camera a couple of rolls and have fun with it. It will probably make you a better photographer in the long run.
There is a huge film community online and they are all more then happy to help you with any questions you may have, so if you are thinking about it look them up or let me know and i’ll point you in the right direction.