I dig Lomography Lomochrome Purple film. It has a really cool effect of turning greens into purples and giving an interesting aesthetic to photos. I’ve done a roll or two of Lomochrome Purple myself, but it’s not in huge supply or necessarily at an every-day-shooters price. Plus, not everybody shoots film! I know, that last part is hard to grasp, right ? What do phone photographers do when they want to add some alternative processing to their photos ? What do you do when you’re out of film but there’s a subject that would look awesome in shades of purple ?
The first thing is to grab an image, preferably one with a bunch of green in it and bring it into Snapseed. Snapseed can be downloaded in the Android and iTunes app stores, and it’s free. Once you have the file in Snapseed, you want to bring up the Curves option.
From here, let’s adjust our blue channel and drop a dot at mid-bottom of the line like this:
Next, drag it upward about 1/3 of the way over the line so it starts a curve.
Drop a second point up higher, and drag downward until you get something like this:
Now choose your red channel and repeat the steps, overlaying your red S on the blue S — you can tweak it to your tastes.
You can see here the red and blue overlay each other. Feel free to tune it to your liking by dragging those dots gently up and down.
Look at that! We’re almost done. From here, we can drop the greens a tad, or adjust the contrast, brightness, even give it a vintage film vibe. Snapseed lets you do all that. When you’re done you’ll have a really interesting image.
It’s fun trying out different images to see what affect it has.
So give it a try the next time you run out of Lomochrome or if you just want to see what different photos might look like in that film. Of course, if possible, buy the film. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you can’t beat the real thing.
I definitely have a new favorite camera. It all started last week when some friends informed me it was International Brownie month. I put some Ektar 100 in my Brownie Hawkeye and went out for a stroll. The shots were sharp, but being test shots made them not really something worth sharing. One of my friends raved about his Brownie Bull’s-Eye, so I snagged one from the ‘bay. Once it arrived, I stuffed a roll of HP5 in it, and went out for another test photo walk. Again, most of the shots were crap, but I got one keeper. The keeper made me want to really explore this camera with a more suitable photographic setting, so my daughter and I packed up some film and cameras and headed to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens – one of my favorite places for photos.
Let me back up here for any of you film folks that are scratching your head at me still shooting a 620 camera. Yes, you can still buy 620 film, it’s just 120 film re-rolled on the 620 spools. It can be done at home with a dark bag and a couple of spare 620 spools. I prepped 2 rolls: portra 160, and Lomography 400. The 400 actually handled the bright sun better than the 160. It seems the 160 was really blown out on some shots, but the Lomography 400 had nice tones and good contrast. This surprised me a bit with the limited photo settings of the Brownie, and the fact that ISO 400 wasn’t really a thing in 1956.
Shooting with the Brownie isn’t very difficult. Once the film is loaded, the camera winds on the right hand side and has this little lightning bolt in the viewfinder that disappears when the shutter is cocked. In the bottom-left corner of the camera is a red window for catching the film count. The downside to the Bull’s-Eye is it only takes 8 6x9cm shots on a roll of film. That’s pricey when a Holga gives you 12 and a Bronica gives you 16. The upside, if you’re willing to roll your own film spools (it’s super-easy) is that you get a really nice 6×9 camera for under fifty bucks as of this writing (2/2022).
The upside to the Bull’s-Eye is its Twindar lens. It allows 4ft – Infinity focus, with a detent to catch the focus at 10ft. This means for most shots, the 10ft mark is perfect. If you’re wanting to get close to your subject, you can set it to 4ft and do some portraits. For those interested in camera history – in the days when focusing was guesswork, quite a few companies put red numbering on the lens and shutter speed dial. If you locked your lens and shutter speed dial to the red marks indicated, and assuming you used the correct speed film for that particular camera, your shots would generally be in good focus, and properly exposed.
On the left side of the lens is the only shutter speed control you get. Basically, Long = Bulb mode, Instant = 1/something (from the sound of it 1/60). I am not certain about the aperture. I believe it is probably f/8. It also is good for landscape mode, but it takes time to become accustomed to the sliding shutter button. The trick, I have found, is to hold your breath and pray right before you very gently depress the shutter release. You can’t just smash the button and expect a sharp photo. Any sudden shifting of the camera while exposing will cause blur.
With all it’s interesting Art Deco design, decently sharp Twindar lens, double-exposure prevention, and multiple focusing zones, it’s a really nice bang for the buck! Sure, you need to either trim down your 120 spools or reload them onto 620 spools, but that’s a couple minutes for each roll, and you can spend the day out shooting. It’s a lot of camera for a little up-front cost. If you get a beater, they’re easy to disassemble and clean, and there are plenty of articles out there about it.
If you’re looking for an upgrade to the Holga or the Brownie Hawkeye, try the Bull’s-Eye.
If you haven’t yet heard, I bought another camera. Yes, another digital camera. That’s another article in itself, but for now let’s stick to the fact that it’s a Leica. I bought a M Typ 240. My Holy Grail camera for many years now has been a Leica M. But before the eye-rolling begins, let me state that I’m not a Leica-or-nothing photographer. I am brand agnostic. I own expensive German cameras and cheap Soviet ones. But I’ve been struggling to find the right camera for me.
It’s Not Complicated
I want a few basic things in every camera I use. First, I need the exposure controls on the outside of the camera. I’m not a menu-centric photographer. It’s not a hindrance or a blessing, it’s a preference. I appreciate a good universal jog wheel as much as the next person, but I prefer individual controls.
Second, I like my cameras to take photos without interference. While I love all the controls on the top plate, there are only a couple I actually use. Really, there needs to be one dial on the top of the camera for shutter speed, otherwise I find myself fumbling for the right one. An ISO dial, while a fine addition, is not a necessity. A couple months ago I adopted ISO 400 as my set-it-and-forget-it option in the camera. The reason is twofold. First, I shoot mostly 400 on film, so I’m used to metering — in my head — for 400. Second, ISO is the least impactful on image composition and overall quality. Shutter speed controls how much motion blur I desire or how much I want to freeze the subject. Aperture controls how much of the subject will be in focus, called the depth of field. For all practical purposes, ISO sensitivity just gives me a reference point for getting my lens and shutter to a proper exposure setting for the particular image. Therefore, a lot of controls is not necessary.
As you can see above, the Leica has all the top-deck control I need in a digital camera. Notice it does have an A mode for shutter control. It’s possible to set the shutter speed and ISO to Auto on the Leica M. I’ll admit I’ve dipped my toes in A mode shooting on it. I was not disappointed.
It’s a Real Digital Rangefinder Camera
It’s not rangefinder-like as so many like to point out about the X100T or the X-Pro series of cameras from Fujifilm. This is an actual rangefinder camera. There is no autofocus and no split-screen prism. It has a set of mirrors that reflect and overlay of the image in a small patch in the viewfinder window. Line the patch up with the image so when overlapping they become one image and I have a perfectly focused shot. It’s not nearly as fast as autofocus, but it’s much more accurate than manual focus on an SLR or DSLR. For instance, the Nikon Df has the ability to switch to manual focus, but then I must use the live view with no focus peaking, or I have to use the actual image through the lens and backfocus (move it in and out of focus to judge your accuracy) and that’s just costing shots. Sure, I can use autofocus, but I prefer the manual control. Sometimes I want to focus on something and it’s much easier to just center-focus on it and move the camera a quarter-inch to recompose than it is to fiddle with focus points with the camera up to my face.
I have shot rangefinders since 2015. I’ve had multiple Canon 7 rangefinders, a couple of Zorkis, Olympus XAs, FED 50, Petri Racer, and 4 Leica cameras. I prefer shooting a rangefinder, and the only modern digital rangefinder camera currently in production is the Leica M. I could have gone with one of my top 5 bucket-list cameras, the Epson R-D1, but then I’m shooting a really old digital camera that isn’t made anymore. The niche for Leica isn’t the brand, it’s the type of camera. Only Leica makes it right now. Everyone else ditched rangefinders for D/SLRs and now mirrorless. But Leica still holds the trophy for being the first (and only) full-frame digital rangefinder camera, so if I want to shoot digital rangefinders, I have to shoot Leica.
Time-tested and Unchanged
My Leica M3 was built in mid-1955. It’s a 68 year old camera that still works. I’ve wrenched on this camera, adjusting the rangefinder accuracy, tightening the shutter speeds, and even fixed a pinhole in the shutter cloth, and it still loads and exposes film without issue. It also can use any M mount lens from 1954 to 2023 without adapters or missing features. My Nikon is similar, accepting old and new F-mount lenses, except putting old glass on the Df means the light meter is now useless and focusing is totally manual but without a split prism aid.
The M is also solidly built. Even at 68 years old the camera feels like it’s brand new. That’s largely due to the quality of materials and the fact that the camera was hand made in Wetzlar, Germany. The new M digital I just bought, albeit a used one from 2013, is of the same build quality as my 1955 M3. It has the same brass top and bottom plate, and was hand made in Wetzlar, Germany. There’s a third, almost facile argument that Leica doesn’t practice making their own cameras no longer work after X amount of years the way some phone manufacturers do. Leica will still fix any camera from 1954 to present. Try sending your 30 year old Canon or Nikon in to the manufacturer for repair. Modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are disposable. Nobody is throwing a Leica away or dropping one off at the local thrift store.
I See Your True Colors Shining Through
The sensor in this camera, made by CMOSIS, renders RAW in amazing color. I’m not talking over-saturated aqua-blue skies and eye-shattering yellows and reds, I’m talking natural colors that reflect what I’m seeing in the viewfinder.
Don’t Hate the Player
I get the eye-rolling. If you’ve followed Street Photography channels in the past ten years, it’s saturated with Leica shooters, only the occasional hat-tip to Fujifilm or Contax, or Nikon and Canon. If you don’t believe me, search YouTube for “Street Photography DSLR” and watch the intros. Likely you’ll hear something to the effect of “If you’re familiar with Street Photography, then <insert some reference to Leica here>” and then some mention of Henry Cartier Bresson. There are a lot of kool-aid drinkers it comes to Leica. That’s not my bag. I like rangefinders. I like the simple act of photography. And yes, I appreciate Leica. It’s not the be-all-end-all camera for me, but it scratches that itch that I’ve had for a long time. Even my wife said “You’ve been wanting one forever, just get it already”
February is here, and halfway gone. I had several great photo sessions with the Kodak Retinette this month. I got some golden hour photos of the local coffee shop, the ice-covered trees, and even an abandoned used-car building. Sounds great, right ? Yeah, I was excited about the photos although I’d mostly forgotten what I’d recorded. Then I decided, against my better judgement, to use a steel reel for development despite the fact that I’ve destroyed more rolls than developed with them. Well, my brain screamed at me multiple times while I was rolling the film into the reel and I conveniently ignored it. Alas, I should have listened. The film didn’t spool properly so it was touching other parts of the film (basically getting stuck together) and I lost nearly all the photos from that set, save two.
So I lamented my situation to the group at large and was given the green light to shoot a bonus roll. I sorta felt bad about it, but I also like to shoot this little camera and needed little persuasion to go run another roll through it. I stuffed another roll in the Retinette, jumped in the car, and rode off into the sunset — well, a little before sunset — to Oakland, Tennessee. I wasn’t really pointing the car to Oakland, I simply pointed the car east on Highway 64 and hoped for some abandoned farm buildings or something interesting. I was not disappointed.
For starters, there was this really pretty Presbyterian church that was getting some good late-afternoon vibes, so I took advantage of the scene and the empty parking lot to make a few photos.
I was really more interested in the windows than the church itself. I had initially wanted a good photo of the front door since it’s flanked on either side by these nicely-manicured trees, but then the windows caught my eye.
Wouldn’t you know it there’s a hot dog stand next door to the church. Initially I was going to park there for the church shots, but found I got better light on the other side. After making a few exposures of the church windows, I shuffled over to the hotdog stand to capture some images. I only got a single good one, but that was plenty.
I say it was plenty because it left the rest of the roll for what I stumbled on a few miles up the road, a graveyard of heavy construction equipment. The little boy in me got excited. I love giant machines! I really love giant abandoned machines and I was not disappointed.
It wasn’t just big trucks, there were also some really cool diesel-powered pumping machines that were conveniently painted in primary colors so my color-shifting film skills would render them weird.
While it was a shame I couldn’t salvage my first February roll, the adventure that resulted was worth it. I got to use the Retinette a bit more which was helpful. It’s a distance-focused system so judging distance-to-subject is an important skill to hone. I also learned that while I have these cool steel reels, I’m not good at them and it’s not something I plan to practice. I can’t afford to lose film shots because I can’t properly load a reel. The Paterson reels work fine for me. I’m also learning that I need to expose better. Most of my shots were about 2 stops over-exposed and I had to recover the highlights in Lightroom. I should have been shooting at f/16 instead of f/8 for these shots.
February was a great month for the Retinette, all things considered. I think I might try doing some portrait work in March with the Retinette.
In 2020 I bought a cyanotype kit for the kids. I had ulterior motives, though. I wanted to try printing from negatives. Unfortunately I don’t have the equipment for darkroom printing, nor do I have any large negatives since I throw them away after I scan them.
The easiest and cheapest way around this is to use cyanotype printing. All it requires is some sunlight, a couple chemicals, and a large transfer. To do the transfer, I used some clear laser printer transparency. By picking the images I wanted to print and inverting them in photoshop, I was able to create 8×10 negatives. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t negative quality, but they work for this purpose .
The prep work for the cyanotype consists of mixing two chemicals together in a small amount and brushing a coat of it into watercolor paper or fabric. After the paper dries (in the dark) it turns yellow and is UV sensitive.
Taking a dry sheet, I laid the transparency on top of it and converted it with a piece of picture frame glass to keep it pressed against the paper. The average time was about 7 minutes in full sun.
After the exposure, it was time to rinse. I filled the sink with a little water and added some hydrogen peroxide as an oxidizer to speed up development. It takes about 30 seconds to develop and then a couple hours to dry completely.
The finished product was pretty decent. For the most part, the transparencies turned out ok but a couple had streaks. This was likely because adhering toner carbon to plastic sheets isn’t a perfect science.
Overall it was a fun process and I encourage anyone itching to dip your toes in the water of darkroom printing to give this a try first. You don’t need a film camera either. Take a photo on your phone or digital camera, Desaturate and invert it in an image editor, and print to transparency.
I can’t just have one nice camera, I have to have eleventy-threeve cameras in varying degrees of what the hell possessed you to buy that piece of crap ? I have no real justification other than curiosity or the occasional coveting of my neighbors toys. Well, neighbors being relatively quiet and kinda scared of a 6’2″ 250lb bearded dude leaves me with just my curiosity. My neighbors are super cool, though.
Introducing another horribly pointless digicam from a thrift store. This time it’s a branded camera, the Nikon Coolpix S220. The S stands for stinker because this thing is a pocketable piece of S(crap). All kidding aside, it gets 3 stars on its own manufacturer website if that tells you anything about it.
The Full Monty (aka the geeky stuff)
Without any real investigation into the actual camera specs, and reading the focal length from the camera, I’d say this has a sensor about the same size as a smartphone. The 6.3 – 18.9mm roughly translates to a 28-80mm (35mm equiv). The zoom feature is just the full extent of the focal length – so something like 28mm to 50mm to 80mm seems to be about how it goes. It has 10 Megapixels, but can be programmed to go down to 3 Megapixels in the settings menu. Don’t let Megapixels be a detractor or a distraction. I’ve gone over this before in some rant or another that 10 million pixels on a peanut heart and 10 million pixels on a postage stamp are going to give you different results. This camera is the former.
It does have a really nice menu, though, with a few color options (standard, vivid, pastel, sepia, etc.) The standard and vivid settings don’t really give the JPEGs much noticeable difference, but the interesting one is the Cyanotype. Yeppers, it emulates sun printing, that thing from your childhood where you leave a few objects on special paper in the sun and wait for some cool image to appear in all blue. Sadly, it looks more blue in the camera than in the JPEG. The actual image just looks like a monochrome image. See below.
One of the more interesting features of the camera is not it’s horrible lens barrel due to the obnoxiously super-wide lens against a tiny sensor, but the software in-camera that corrects it. I know, right ? I’m guessing that when new this camera came in plastic anti-theft packaging and hung next to the instant cameras and 3-packs of consumer film. I just can’t give any serious consideration to a camera the size of a credit card.
Seriously, go grab your Kodak Ektar H35 — you know you have one, everybody has one — and compare.
The size is actually the really awkward part of using this camera. Well, that and I have to reset all the settings every time I swap the battery. I should take it apart and put a new CR battery in it some day, but I don’t know that my aging eyes can manage it without breaking out the watchmaking tools and magnifying loupes. It’s so tiny!!
Tiny, but it actually doesn’t take half-bad photos! With the lens correction off, one can grab some interesting shots giving a pseudo-fisheye perspective. This is easiest to see in vertical lines.
It also has the capability to shoot up to iso 2000 which is cool in another dimension where super-noisy and completely useless images are desirable. For the rest of us, we leave it at Auto and turn off the flash for our night photography, appreciating the results.
It even offers software-based image stabilization, called VR, and it kinda works pretty good for most images, especially with my palsy-like coffee-stained fingers trying to daintily hold the camera steady in my big man-hands. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but even those aren’t always wasted shots — even if they’re just filler so you’ll keep reading to the end of this post.
What it lacks in features, this little gem of a camera makes up for by being a camera you can truly carry everywhere. It has a fully collapsible lens, so it fits nicely in the pocket. It has a lanyard loop that could probably be used to hook it to your car keys. It’s the perfect camera for “f/8 and be there.” I took it with me when I went to the store the other night to get dinner for the family, and I’m glad I did!
Thankfully, I’ve found the perfect digicam, so I won’t be buying anymore. Yeah, that’s a lie. I’ve already got a Canon SD400 (aka, the Ixy 55) on a Fedex plane headed to Memphis tonight. Don’t give me that look. I need material for the blog. It probably will be my last one, unless somebody comes up and hands me a deal on a Olympus C5XXX or a Stylus D, or maybe even an Epson RD-1…
If you recall from my last article on the price of film, I mentioned snatching up a Minolta Repo for cheap, griping about the creation of the Holga half-frame, (a.k.a. Kodak Ektar H35), and how sometimes the best thing to do is grab a cheap digital camera from a thrift store and go have some fun. Well…
The Minolta REPO was in mint condition for a completely broken camera. I should give the seller a negative rating, but a) I hate eBay and should have never been on the site to begin with, b) It’s my own fault for buying from a seller with 97.7% positive ratings, and c) the guy shipped it from Japan in 4 days. Maybe it worked when he shipped it and got whacked pretty hard when it landed in the US. Oh well. I ate ramen noodles all week to cover the expense.
I also decided to take my own advice and go grab a digital camera from a thrift store, and that store being shopgoodwill.com. The site is hit or miss, really. Imagine if eBay had a bazillion tons of junk spread across 50 states and controlled the entire process. Expect shipping from Louisiana to Memphis to take 5 days of ‘handling’ before any ‘shipping’ happens, most likely non-functional purchases, and bad attitudes if you have to reach out for support. But the stuff is cheap.
I started with a Nikon Coolpix <insert random weird model number> 10 megapixel camera complete with case, battery, charger, power cord, and instructions. $22. It’s blue. I like blue. Well, I’ll find out sometime after you read this if what was in the picture is what I get. I am part of the Digicam Photo Share Facebook group and I wanted something better than my battery-vampire soul-sucking experience Takashi. Did I mention I bought rechargeable batteries for it and it eats those in ten minutes, too ? Ugh!
Well, not to be outdone, I wanted a Canon Powershot Ixy 55. These 5 Megapixel cameras run about $200 on eBay right now, but I stumbled across the secret — it’s actually only called Ixy in Europe. In the US it’s just the Powershot SD400. A lot of cameras are like that. If the cool kids are buying up some specific camera in bulk, you can be assured you’ll find it cheaper if you search for the US model number or the EU model number (whichever is less well-known) So, instead of spending $200 on a 5 Megapixel camera from 2005, I got one complete with all the books, the box, the battery and charger, and the USB cable for $28.
Five megapixels, really ? Yeah. I’m doing a personal project and wanted to use that specific sensor depth.
All that being said, the real gem I found on the ‘bay was a 1997 “Sylvester and Tweety Bird” disposable camera. It, not unlike my newly-acquired Minolta REPO, is a shelf queen. I’m a collector of camera oddities, and when I saw this little camera I had to have it.
More on the film front, I stopped by our local high school and hung out with the photography teacher. She’s so cool. She’s building a darkroom for her film photography students and needed some help sifting through what was donated to her and what she might need to purchase. She’ll be taking her photography club to the University of Memphis darkroom (I didn’t even know they still had one) and I can’t even express how cool it is that she’s exposing them to the joys of film. As luck has it, this year I’m repeating my presentation on film photography for her class next week! The kids had fun at the last one and this class is considerably larger. I’m pretty stoked.
If you know me on more than just a newsletter level you know I’m a YouTube junkie. I love film photography vids. This week, Molly over at Eclectachrome did a great video of her trip to Portugal and adventures with different color and bw films. Be sure to check it out and give her a subscribe!
Next up, TheOldCameraGuy finally jumped on the hipster bandwagon like I did and fired up his digicam! He’s got a great video about it and the shots he got were pretty fantastic. It’s nice that somebody else in the film community is grabbing a digicam. When I was in a photography group here in Memphis, everybody but me shot digital and one of the photogs was a total ass about how horrible he thought film was and how he’d never go back to using it. People in the film community may joke about using evil digital cameras but the reality is we’ll use any camera we can get our hands on and find ways to have fun. Remember that, kiddos. The Digital Darkside may have cookies, but us Film Rebels with Canon Rebels have fun.
I did manage to get out and shoot my Nikon F100, Saturday. What a beautiful camera. I ran it with the 50mm f/1.8 D lens. I’m old and crotchety about being able to use my aperture ring on the lens, otherwise I’d have the G series. What’s even cooler than that is my wife, Jen, took my Fujifilm X100T and really enjoyed shooting it! We need more photo walk dates. ❤
We had our son in tow this time and he’s at this great age where he wants to try just about everything. Scouts, guns, camping, cameras, and now he’s into Pen Aire sketching. I wish I was his age again, but I’ll just have to enjoy that age vicariously through-and-with him.
I’ve got all the equipment for the photography studio collected and I started converting the spare room in my office into the studio. More to come on that.
I hope everybody has a fantastic weekend and a great next week. Be sure to take a pause here and there and thank the Creator for each fantastic day you get to go shoot some photos and enjoy the scenery. I’ll follow up next week after the photography presentation at the high school. Stay broke, shoot film (or digicams) !
Have you seen film prices lately ? $3 a roll for 24-exposure rolls of color 200, $2.25 a roll for black and white? No, I’m not selling, I’m telling. I’m telling you to stop this film is way too expensive complaining, right now. Yes, 35mm box films are $15-$20 a roll. Everybody and their uncle is shooting film right now and the companies can’t keep up. Yes, boutique films are expensive, too, but that’s to be expected if you want to try being artsy with dishwasher-presoaked film or pre-exposed spacey effects. But there’s something else we should consider besides simply blaming the manufacturers. Film is not expensive, but the convenience of pre-packaged film is.
Convenience costs money
Currently, a boxed roll of brand-name film is going to hit the wallet pretty hard. There’s no arguing it. At this point, even buying bundles from retailers isn’t cutting it. It used to be photographers could buy a 5 pack of insert our favorite drugstore film for $25-$30 to spread that cost out, but surfing the retail sites shows they’ve just multiplied the price of 5 rolls and marked the 5-pack accordingly.
The truth is that if we can’t find our favorite film, nicely packaged in a pretty yellow-and-red or green-and-white box, it’s the end of the world.
Get rid of the box
Want to drop film costs for 35mm ? Easy. Grab a 100 foot roll of bulk film and a loader, some film cassettes you haven’t yet thrown away (they’re reusable if you don’t cut the end off too short) and roll your own! Am I to believe the generation that will take time to jump into all sorts of trendy manual jobs like cobbling, leather-working, painting, tiny-home building, and self-sustaining gardening can’t drop a hundredth of that on a bulk loader and some bulk film? It only takes a few minutes to bulk load your own film.
Get out of the box
Another way the film photography community is collectively shooting itself in the foot — specifically the younger crowd — is by sending film off to get it developed. Say it out loud with me: I’m spending $15 on a roll of film, then spending an additional $15 to get it developed and scanned. You’re paying basically Polaroid Instant Film prices for 35mm film! There is not a single film you can find on the Internet, barring some older Polaroid color or Kodachrome, that can’t be developed in your kitchen in 15 minutes or less. All the chemicals and supplies you need to start developing your own film is available, often as a complete kit, for less than you’ll pay for that must have overpriced SLR that everyone says you gotta have *looking at you, Pentax K1000 and Canon AE-1* A bulk 100ft roll of Kodak 5213 (ISO 200) color film is about $110. That comes out to $3.50 a roll for 27 rolls, conservatively. You don’t even have to mess with the Remjet tomfoolery if you don’t wish. ECN-2 kits are readily available now! Black and white film is even cheaper. A 100ft roll of decent black and white will set you back $80. That’s $2.25 a roll, conservatively. Why are you still buying your film in single boxes ?
Get into the process
Honestly, if I had known in the early 90s what I know now about film, I would have never paid a drug store and left my wonderful art in their grubby little hands. Film photography isn’t just picking the camera and proselytizing the benefits to the world – who largely don’t care – to hear. It’s a commitment to the entire process. That’s how it becomes affordable! If I roll my own film, expose it, then develop it, I’ve started to become a part of the process. I’m no longer just the 12 inches behind the camera, I’m in front of it, inside it, and around it. I can truly say the work is all mine.
Get into the bathroom
Wait, wut ? You heard me. Bathrooms can make great darkrooms. Old Beseler enlargers are all over the web for cheap! I snagged mine from a fellow film photographer for a hundred bucks. Now any time I want to see all my negatives from a roll I can put my enlarger in the bathroom, drop the trays in the tub, and make my own contact sheets. Then I can pick which frame I want to print and enjoy the darkroom like my dad used to do in college, and like my daughter is able to do in high school! There is this amazing feeling watching your image slowly appear in the developer tray under a red lamp.
But, I like the box!
If you must have boxed film due to location, regulations, or other circumstances, your options are limited. Not to fret, there is hope! The cheapest boxes of fresh film you’ll find right now are medium format. 35mm film is currently all the rage, but that means that medium format film and cameras are dirt cheap. That’s the best second-place on the podium you could want! You limit your negative count, but your negatives are more defined, less affected by grain. A scanned 6cm x 6cm negative is like a 50megapixel image, although your scanner will dictate that. A printed image is beautiful. Remember that Beseler I mentioned earlier? It can do 35mm and 120, and eBay has plenty of sellers offering 3D-printed negative holders for all the popular 120 formats: 6×6, 6×7, 6×9, and the best one – 6×4.5. Yeah, I said it. Fight me.
Medium format film cameras can run the gamut from $10 to $5000, but I’d say a good old Zeiss folder, or even a Brownie (620 cameras can shoot 120 film – Google it) will be a great camera to get you going for less than a fast food dinner for two. The old Schneider Reomar lenses, etc., are decently sharp, you’ll still look like a cool cat with your hipster camera, and you’ll have negatives that will print sharp up to the size of a car if you like.
Half-frame is an option…
…but why? It’s not going to give you great images. They will give you 48 shots from a 24-exposure roll, and you can do some cool projects with them, but it’s almost a last resort. Lately, some big brand manufacturers have been foisting these plastic toys on us G.A.S.-afflicted monkeys and influencers. I wonder how much influencers get paid to promote the toy cameras ? Note to self: ask one of them. I am not discouraging the use of them. I am arguing there are much more iconic, beautiful, vintage half-frame cameras that are going to get you great results. If you have the money to spend $30 a roll for developed/scanned film, you can afford a really nice half-frame camera. If you want to shoot half-frame, go get a decent camera. Olympus, Minolta, Canon all made great half-frame cameras. Even some old Soviet half-frames were decent. A $100 Olympus Pen is ten times the quality (both build and image) of these $50 shameless cash-grabs. As proof, I went online last night and found a Minolta REPO half-frame for $20.99 from Japan. With shipping, it still came out less than what I paid for my entirely-plastic Kodak H35, and I have another vintage camera to add to the collection!
Not everything is black and white
Film is, though! Not only is it cheaper, but Kodak isn’t the only game in town. Black and white manufacturers are aplenty and the film is great! You can push BW film to get high contrast results. There is a lot of option for grain density (good grain, even for half-frame cameras), and a myriad of developers. Here is where Kodak really comes to the rescue. The two most popular developers are Kodak HC110 and Kodak D76. There’s also Dektol, Rodinal, and even Caffinol. That’s right, you can actually DIY your developer using vitamin C, washing soda, and instant coffee. It was my first developer, and I still use it when I want to go back and try something different.
And, as a last resort… Got a Digicam ?
I just heard a pin drop. Yes, I said it. Boxed color film is expensive, processing at a lab is expensive, and all for what, 35 ‘meh’ shots and one keeper ? Go spend $20 on ShopGoodwill.com or your local thrift store and grab a insert your favorite megapixel count here Coolpix/Powershot/Vivitar digital camera. Keep it in your pocket for the color shots. These older CCDs have a limitation that gives them that similar gritty look (read ‘vintage’) and you can save your ducats for when the dust settles around the color film prices. I just picked up a Nikon Coolpix 10 megapixel point-and-shoot with a charger, battery, and a carrying case for $33 shipped. It is 2×3 and fits in my pocket. Unlike the iPhone, I’m not scared to lose my grip and drop a cheap point-and-shoot.
Last things last, don’t limit yourself or get discouraged by box film prices. Adaptation is fun and challenging, but sometimes practicality means you go shoot some digital on that Mirrorless camera or DSLR sitting on your shelf. The film and sensor are just mediums. Think about it. If oil paints became prohibitively expensive, most artists would not simply stop painting, they’d go find cheaper mediums. Whatever path you choose, keep shooting!
As an aging hipster, or is that hickster ? I can’t decide sometimes if my Southern drawl disqualifies me from the former. Where was I ? Ever heard of a digicam ? It’s some weird pronunciation of “Digital Camera” that is code for anything from the early 2000s as digital cameras entered the market, and is noted for its use of CCD sensors and sometimes good – but mostly meh – lenses. The list of manufacturers is endless, with Vivitar, Kodak, Fujifilm, Yashica, Olympus, and Nikon all jumping on that bandwagon. They’re nearly all zoom lens cameras, either digital or optical. I remember searching for “Optical” zoom lenses when I was big into digital cameras. I still think the Kodak Z740 was an amazing camera.
So what’s the big deal ?
They’re making a comeback. Yeah, I had to read that twice as I was typing, but there is a movement devoted to using only early digital cameras for their aesthetic qualities. Some say they have a film quality, others that the CCD has better colors than modern CMOS sensors. They may have a point since even the first Leica digital had a CCD. Of course, they might fail to mention the color banding and chromatic aberration of CCDs, but “yo, it’s more like film, bro!”
No, not in the slightest. It might have a lens quality similar to point-and-shoot film cameras, yes, but a competitor to a film camera it is not. With these old CCD sensors there is a lot of magenta shift and blown highlights, at least on some earlier ones. The later models peaking around 10-12megapixel are actually pretty sweet but still not even close to wiggling my biscuits the way film does.
Down to the crossroads
They meet at the crossroads of price and availability, two things that are currently kicking film’s ass right now. A 36 shot roll of color C41 film is roughly $9-$15 US at the time of this writing. Add in $8-$15 for development and scans and you’ve got what it costs to buy a Fujifilm Finepix from 15 years ago that actually makes some damn fine images. Toss them into Adobe Lightroom, crank the grain setting, drop the blacks and pump the shadows, and you’ve got a retro analog look. It’s hard not to see that Kodak and other film manufacturers might be seeing a repeat of the early 2000s switch from film to digital.
It’s not just film that’s expensive, either. A Pentax K1000 or Nikon F3 on eBay — one that doesn’t have a lot of “READ**” or “UNTESTED” in the subheadings — is hovering between $200-$400! Film cameras have exponentially gone up in price tenfold since I got back into film in 2015. I bought my Olympus mju for $4.99 at City Thrift in Memphis in 2017 and sold it for over a hundred bucks 2 years later!
It’s film’s fault, really. No, seriously. There was a resurgence in film photography over the last decade and it’s drawn a lot of folks — including some of us Gen-Xers – back into the market. Of course, we’re older and a lot more successful now, with more disposable income than when we were in our twenties, so film camera prices aren’t as big of a shock to us, financially.
Those damn hipsters
I can’t just blame the film. Those damn hipsters, me included, gobbled up film cameras left and right, snapped up all the film back when it was cheap, and crammed our Instagram, 500px, Flickr, and Facebook feeds with cool over-saturated over-processed images, all while sitting back like we just took a huge hit from the hookah, smoothly proselytizing in our best Cheech and Chong voices “yo, film is the way to go, man.” And yeah, film is amazing and sometimes it takes a shortage of it, or an over-saturated digital camera market full of a dizzying array of choices putting us on our heels, to run back to the simplicity of it. But it came at a cost, both good and bad.
A Salvage Economy
So why not the modern digital market for cameras ? Have you seen Mirrorless camera prices ? Even second-hand you’re looking at hundreds of dollars. Those in a lower economic bracket, or first starting out in photography aren’t necessarily ready, willing, or financially capable of dropping that sort of money on new tech or popular film cameras. So there’s a secondary market for old digital cameras, and that’s actually a good thing!
Digital electronics contain heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. These end up in landfills to eventually degrade and poison water supplies, or are shipped off to third-world countries to be picked apart for their valuable parts to be resold or repurposed. Either way there is a community negatively impacted. Putting these old cameras out on the market again before sending them to the landfill fills a demand both for the seller and the buyer. It’s basic economics, but I’d like to think of it as salvage economics. Let’s keep these cameras out of landfills for the next decade. By then, the recycling processes might be even better than today, and there will be a Camera Recycling center near you and me.
And so here we are in 2023, film is scarce and expensive. Well, more expensive than scarce. Digital cameras are expensive, and everybody’s mom or dad has an old digicam in a drawer or on a shelf that just needs an SD card and some new batteries to make this next gen of photographers start out cool and learning.
Not Hyperbole, Not Meiosis
This isn’t good or bad, left or right, up or down, great taste or less filling. It’s alternative. There are some very talented digicam shooters out there. Even I broke out my crappy plastic, battery-sucking, shutter-laggy Takashi FX521 and joined a Facebook group devoted to digicam photography. I’ve shot more — digital and film — in the last week than I shot all of last year.
The Frugal Film Project is a community of photographers with the task of finding a suitable film camera for under $75 US and use 12 rolls of the same film, trying to be as frugal as is reasonable. We shoot 1 roll per month, develop, scan, and share our favorites. I bowed out last year after a couple months and really missed being in the company of so many talented photographers. So this year, heeding my earlier internal promptings, I rejoined and picked my camera and film.
Yes, cameras. Plural. I had initially chosen a really cool point-and-shoot, the Fujifilm TW-300(see above photo), but disaster struck when I ran through a cassette of bulk-loaded film and asked the camera to rewind at the last shot. The crunching sound and sinking feeling in my stomach meant bad things were falling apart internally for both of us, and I was going to need a backup.
Scanning my unreasonably large collection of film cameras for one that I would have purchased under $75, I chose the 1961 Kodak Retinette IA. I purchased this camera in 2016 for $9.95 + free shipping on eBay. This compact viewfinder camera is actually a relatively nice kit for slowing you down and working on composition. It uses a range-focus system where you get to guess how far you are from the subject. There are markings on the lens that help to gauge that distance, and I have rarely missed with it. It has a decent lens and a low maximum shutter speed, so it works well with ISO 100-200 film. The other interesting feature is the film advance lever. It’s on the bottom of the camera, not the top. It does feel a tad flimsy, but it hasn’t let me down, yet.
I haven’t used the Retinette in a few years and I needed to familiarize myself with it again. I thought about pushing a test roll through it, but the price of film right now makes test rolls prohibitive. That brings me to the film.
For the 2023 Frugal Film Project, and also for my own color film shenanigans, I opted to purchase a 100ft roll of Kodak 5213 Motion Picture film, also known as Vision 3 200T. The film has an anti-halation coating, called Remjet, that has to be washed away after processing. The procedure is simply develop, bleach+fix, rinse and wipe away Remjet, then a final rinse.
The film has a very distinct look, almost a blue-green cast. Reds and Oranges tend to pop out brightly, while blues and greens are nicely saturated. It is possible to color-correct these characteristics in Adobe Lightroom, but I happen to like the film’s character.
Kodak 5213 is an ISO 200 Tungsten film, balanced for interior/studio lighting. Greens become blue, yellows become green, and white lights often have a soft, beautiful glow. It’s experimental in the sense that it normally would be developed in ECN-2 chemicals (which strips the Remjet layer) but develops fine in standard C41.
I opted to start my reintroduction to the Retinette with a 24-shot roll and some night photography. I began in my house and worked my way outside, tripod in hand. It helps that the kids needed to walk the dog that night, so I had some company.
We have a really nice pool house in our neighborhood with floodlights that illuminated the grounds at night. I like the square windows and pressboard siding, and at night it’s always neat to see it tucked in behind the pine trees. After I shot the above photo of the lamp in my office, I stopped and set up the tripod behind the pool house to get a shot I’d been thinking about for a few days.
For some perspective, my office walls are Napa Cabbage green, which is a pale olive, and the lamp lights are soft-white. The pool house is mustard yellow with a brighter spotlight. As you can see, the colors become toned-down. I really, really like this film.
The remaining shot was of a lamp post directly across the street from the pool house. I took several shots, but on the last frame I left the shutter open as a car drove by and it turned out to be my favorite.
I’m excited to get back into using this camera for the FFP, and I’m not even upset about the TW-300 grinding to a halt. I will do some minor surgery on it, but it’s an older electronic point-and-shoot and their internals can fail.
Keep on the lookout for the February ‘23 shots. I’ll see if I can come up with some more night photography, and possibly urban landscape ?