Towards the end of Summer I went over to Pula, Croatia for a family vacation. It’s a beautiful place with clear waters and a very peaceful vibe. At the time, my digital camera had broken and so I was forced to use my film cameras. I’d been looking for a reason to make use of them for a long time and this was the perfect opportunity.
On the left is the Minolta SRT-101 with 55mm f1.7 lens. It is my grandfather’s camera, made in the early 60’s. Being an SLR, the lens is interchangeable and I did have a 28mm lens for it but having adapted both lenses on to my digital camera, I found that the 55mm is sharper by far.
On the right is the Yashica Electro GSN I bought from ebay some months ago in immaculate condition. It’s a rangefinder which means the focusing mechanism is different to your traditional SLR and the lens is non-interchangeable.
With an SLR, the viewfinder is in the centre of the camera because what you see is reflected up from the lens itself. The difference with the rangefinder is that the viewfinder is on the left and you look directly through that window (as you can see in the picture). Focusing is done by aligning a second image that appears in the window which somehow comes from the lens. I’m really not sure of the intricacies.
Because of this difference, I found it easier to focus the SLR in daylight, and easier to focus the rangefinder in low light. And so I took either camera with me depending on the time of day. Convenient really as it allowed me to use the correct film stock for the occasion.
- Kodak BW400CN
- Ilford FP4 Plus 125
- Fujicolor Superia X-tra 800 (x2)
- Kodak Gold 200
- Fujicolor 200
- Ilford Delta 100
- Kodak Professional T-Max 100
Both cameras feel great in the hand, with the Minolta feeling more substantial owing to its heavier metal construction. That being said, the shutter button requires a deeper press followed by a loud mirror slap that makes you worried the image may come out blurred. The rangefinder uses a leaf shutter; it’s almost like a conveyor belt that goes around the camera. You can just about make out what I mean in this short video.
The quieter shutter means you can take a picture without attracting as much attention, meaning more natural shots of people.
Of course, the louder SLR didn’t stop me from taking equally candid photos.
As you can see, a lot of these photos came out beautifully. However their scanned digital form is not nearly as gorgeous as their print form. The scanned negatives are often oversharpened and over-compressed unless you ask for more expensive large TGA film formats. I spent about as much time editing the JPGs in Lightroom (to get them closer to the printed photos) as I would a raw file from a digital camera. You can buy your own scanner to get less sharpened and compressed results but having previously done that with the Epson Perfection v330, I found the detail and colour of my scans were simply not as nice as those done by professional equipment.
The other thing is that you really have no control over how the negatives turn out. I was led to believe that 35mm film had a larger dynamic range than digital cameras, but from this experience I find that they simply don’t. Whether this is because of the way the film is processed or if it’s just how it is I don’t know. I am not using really expensive digital cameras either; all the ones I’ve owned have costed less than £700.
Still, the print forms really are nice. I wish you could see them. Here’s a few more in digital form with my best attempt at matching them to the print.
What this journey made me realise for sure is that photography isn’t about upholding to the classics of carefully adjusting dials and knobs on your camera to achieve perfect exposure and focus. It’s about chasing light, finding compositions and capturing moments. For that, you need a camera that suits you. A camera where you don’t get lost in menus. A camera that’s fast to use and doesn’t get in the way. That’s right, I’m now a staunch supporter of autofocus and auto settings (that still allow you to select an exposure).
You can see more of these photos (over a hundred of them) on my Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/scastilho/sets/72157647726972102/