Frugal Film Project – March ’23

For the Frugal Film Project ‘23 I’ve been shooting a 1961 Kodak Retinette 1A and some bulk loaded Kodak Vision3 200T film. I’m pretty limited in the sense that the Retinette uses distance focusing, lacks a light meter, and has a max shutter speed of 1/250s. That’s pretty slow by today’s standards. Even my 1955 Leica has 1/1000s. Yet, prior to the 1970s, high speed films were essentially 100-125 ISO. Shooting for most folks involved a roll of ISO 25 to ISO 50 slide film.

After recently watching a Fil Nenna vid on ISO, I started setting my digital cameras to ISO 400. But even further back in time around a year ago, I took some Kodak ProImage 100 to Discovery Park of America and shot indoors, hand-held and the photos turned out fine. I had very little adjustment to do, and the results caused me to reflect on this issue of film speed in my own photography.

ISO 100 on Leica M3, hand-held, 1/30s

I spend a lot of time shooting ISO 400 film with the understanding I have some latitude. I know that I can over expose 1 stop or under expose at least 2 stops. This means I can shoot ISO 400 film metered for ISO 200, 800, or 1600. In my experience films tend to push better than pull, so shooting ISO 400 film in an older camera like the Retinette means thin-to-no contrast and lots of blown highlights.

ISO 400 but metered for ISO 200. Even in post it’s sometimes hard to recover shadow depth.

So now I’m shooting ISO 200 film in the Retinette. It’s just under my max shutter speed for Sunny 16 shooting, and I’ve found that outside of dimly lit rooms where I have to shoot under 1/30s, this little 1960s gem will capture whatever I point at it.

This same principle applies to point-and-shoot cameras. Most are f/8 or f/11 and have like 1/100s shutter speed. So ISO 100 or 200 is perfect for them. However, the point and shoots don’t have old German glass in them, and that’s where the Retinette shines.

So I finally got out and shot TWO rolls. The first, the car show, was shot because I needed to get more comfortable shooting photos of cars — more on that later. The second roll was at the Dixon gardens on a re-shoot since the last time I took the camera there I had Kentmere 400 in it instead of color film!

Car Show Photos – March FFP Submission

A Stroll Through Dixon Gardens

So I’m starting to rethink how I shoot film. I’m switching from Kentmere 400 to Kentmere 100 and sticking with ISO 200 for color. I’ve even purchased a bunch of slower films to test out, from ISO 6 to ISO 100. This opens up a wide array of older cameras, like my Rolleicord that maxes at 1/100s, and allows me to use my think less and shoot more by following the idea Max Shutter Speed is what my ISO should be. I am willing to bet, even on cloudy days, that my results will be metered better and the compositions better.

Give it a try! The older Kodak cameras are still relatively cheap and slower ISO black and white film is much cheaper than any color film. You’ll be confident knowing that your camera isn’t going to exceed the capabilities of the film and vice versa. It’s really a load off the toad.

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