I was composing an email response to my friend (and amazing black and white photographer) Cole Thompson and realized I was kind of going on and on. It seemed I was anxious to share with him my feelings about shooting on film so I thought I'd make a blog post out of it.
I've been shooting film for a couple of months now using my Dad's Minolta SRT-101 SLR. This camera has been a great way to get started with film. It's a manual camera but does feature 'through the lens' metering which is a great feature for someone who is used to the wonderful metering today's digital cameras provide you. I shoot in manual mode with my FujiFilm X-E2 (thank you Martin Bailey) so it's mainly the manual focus that's really different to me shooting with the Minolta. I've shot only four rolls of B&W film and sent the results to The Darkroom for development and scanning. All of the results have been perfectly usable and I've found the process fascinating and, more importantly, completely enjoyable.
Minolta SRT-101Produced from March 1966 to the mid 1970's
I was explaining this to Cole via email and he asked me if my film images looked different from my digital images and if so if it was due to me or due to technology.
Are the images that I shoot with film different? Again it's early days but my feeling is that they are different for several reasons. One is certainly that so far, I've only shot B&W film and that changes what I see and what I'm looking for from a shot. But I do think it goes beyond that - something about cocking the shutter on the Minolta puts me in a slightly different space with regard to how I'm seeing. On top of that of course, film just looks different. The combination of the tonal curve, the grain and sharpness - or lack thereof - combine to create something quite different. So both mindset and technology I would say.
I hope in a year to be able to say something more interesting about the comparison.
Oh and one more thing about the mindset when shooting film. There is no denying that knowing that you won't see the result of what you are shooting today for weeks or months is a huge influence on how I approach making an image. In my paying profession, software development, my career has seen a huge change in the cycle time between writing your code and seeing whether it works or not. Uncle Bob Martin talks about Mode-A development from back in the 70's when it could take hours before you discovered a trivial mistake in your code. Net result: you were very, very thoughtful in your development. I think the same thing influences me when I use a film camera.
I had also mentioned to Cole that using my Dad's camera was pretty meaningful.
Yes using Dad's camera is awesome. As my wife and I process our parents belongings, we're confronted with sadness and emotion so often when we have to process a familiar household item. It's joyful when an item like a camera or a toolbox can become part of my everyday life and make me smile thinking of my Dad. Of course this can get out of hand as well. My longtime friend Mark, hearing that I was shooting film and having done so extensively himself when he was younger, gifted me the film camera of his youth: a Kodak Signet 35 rangefinder. If cocking the shutter on the Minolta changes things, winding the film, setting the aperture and shutter speed without any metering, depressing the shutter lever and cursing the totally useless viewfinder changes the experience even more! I've loaded it up and am shooting with it but have not yet seen the results - it will be interesting!
Kodak Signet 35Rangefinder camera made from 1951 to 1958.
Cole had noted that as technology moves on, we probably won't be passing along our digital cameras to future generations. Technology moves too quickly.
You touched a keystone for me with your comment. Sometimes the new cameras feel almost magical (I'm shaking my head at how my X-E2 provides assist with manual focus through focus peaking and one click zoom) so firing off one of these older cameras almost requires a bit of faith while at the same time being more comprehensible and ... real. I think I'm reacting to thoughts like these when I approach pressing the shutter release on the Minolta or the Signet.
So with all that said, what do the images look like? I sent a couple to Cole. The first is a foggy morning here in Vermont. The tonal shape of the (extremely cheap) Kentmere 400 film that I used worked nicely I think to convey the feeling of the morning scene.
This second shot is a work in progress. It's the old Polka Dot restaurant in White River Junction, VT now abandoned and up for sale. I have yet to capture it properly but this is an early attempt. This is on Holga film which instantly sets the feeling of the place with it's grain and high contrast. I want to go back on a day with the right light and tighten up the shot. I'll keep you posted.
So there is is: the beginning of a great adventure!