Film Photography: A Great Place to Start

Putting a Roll of Film Through an Old SLR Will Teach You New Skills!

Film Photography Film

Recently, a good friend of mine Todor Ostojic asked for some advice as to what SLR I would recommend. A film camera for him to learn the basics of film photography using kit from the 70's and 80's. His reason for this was that he felt he had somehow "cheated" his way into photography by going straight into digital.

Some of the cameras I mentioned were the SLR’s I drooled over as a penniless teenager. A newbie to photography back in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Cameras such as the Canon A1 (Mmmm) or AE-1 Program, the sturdy Olympus OM-1, OM-2, and OM-10. The one with cool manual adapter, that you plugged into the side of the camera. Then there was the solid, reliable Nikon FM range.

Film Photography Bliss…

I think that digital photography still presents a challenge and still requires the same skills to shoot great photography. However, I kind of agree that nothing beats the old school film photography learning curve that lasted for well over a century. I am talking about:

  • Complete manual control of your camera with sometimes the most basic of metering
  • The skill of loading a film into the camera in the dark so that you get an extra shot or two
  • The patience required for each shot as now you are paying for each click of the shutter
  • The smell of chemicals and the thrill of seeing your images emerge in the darkroom

Even just writing that brings back some happy childhood memories. Times when I spent many hours out of school (and in school during year 9) shooting and processing my mostly awful black and white images.

Chinon CM4-s

Feeling motivated by Todor's question, I loaded a roll of Ilford FP4 plus that I bought a couple of years ago into my ancient Chinon CM4-s and decided to get back to basics myself. I took the trusty Chinon out with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II for another comparison. Similar to one I did a while ago.

This time, I would shoot nothing but black and white and my Canon is set to monochrome too.

I have already shot around 8 images of mainly landscapes but had to stop due to the poor weather but will get the rest shot as soon as I can. I will then post my comparisons here in another newsletter.

For now, here are a couple of the shots from the "Instamatic" Canon EOS 5D Mark II with pure, in-camera monochrome conversion. It will be interesting to see how the FP4 compares:

UPDATE 2013: Chinon CM4-s images are now below the Canon equivalents. I think the FP4 had gone off somewhat!

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Film Photography

Chinon CM4-s Equivalent

Film Photography

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Film Photography

Chinon CM4-s Equivalent

Film Photography

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Film Photography

Chinon CM4-s Equivalent

Film Photography

The thing I found once again, was the patience required when shooting film. With digital, if the lighting wasn’t quite right, I would still fire away. However, with the Chinon film camera, I found myself waiting for up to 10 minutes or more for the clouds to pass just so that the light rays would hit the sea just how I wanted them.

I would spend more time setting up the shot. Getting the exposure just right using a combination of the Canon's metering and the Chinon's 3-light traffic light system and guestimate from there. I won't know whether I nailed the exposure or not until the entire roll is shot and processed.

That is another good point.

With digital, you may only shoot 3 or 4 frames in a day but you still get to see those results instantly. It may take me another week or two to finish off the roll of FP4. By which time, I will have forgotten what I have taken and with what exposures etc.

This is why I shoot simultaneous digital images so that I have the exif data to jog my memory as I shoot identical shots with both cameras.

Classic Film Cameras

I said it before and I will say it again, please spend some time and money and try out shooting film photography for yourselves. Check out some of these Canon beauties and look at the cheap prices! And for you Nikon fans, check out the range of old Nikon SLR's! Lovely…

Grab hold of an old SLR, put a roll of good old film in it and go out for a walkabout. See how much more time and effort you make with your photography and how exciting it is waiting for the results to come in. Then transfer that patience to your digital photography and hopefully you will not only improve, but see photography in a whole new light.

If you are feeling really brave, why not get a home darkroom kit and really have some fun!

Note: I can't believe I just found this and it is still being made. This is the exact same darkroom kit that I used to use. Patterson Darkroom Kit:

  • Grey tray for developer
  • White for stop bath
  • Red for fixer

Man that stop bath used to smell. Just like smelling salts! And check out this cool darkroom enlarger for making your prints. Oh, go on, you will have so much fun! More darkroom kits over at AG Photographic (I could spend a fortune in there)!

…I know what I will be wanting for Christmas this year. I would love to show the kids the magic of film processing and printing!

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