FEBRUARY 3, 2024
Almost three years ago, I shot my very first roll of film. I used my dad's old camera, and I would be lying if I said I was immediately hooked. For whatever reason, I kept at it; and three years later, film is all I shoot. I simply don't pick up my digital cameras anymore, With that, my process has changed, what I get out of photography has changed, and how much I shoot has changed. Now, some time has passed and I feel somewhat comfortable with the whole thing. That's a good time to take stock and see what needs to change.
Why do I like film so much? Am I just riding the hipster wave? Am I that obsessed by novelty (although the word novelty is somewhat ironic)? I don't know. What I can tell you is that shooting film feels very liberating to me. I need to focus. I only take my camera out if I'm really excited by a scene or a moment. There is a feeling of jumping into a vaccum everytime I take a photo. And when the roll is finished, I have to doubt myself, and wait and sit with those doubts until the photos come back. This is a great process for me. It slows me down, it makes me feel a creative excitement, and it rewards me in the end (if I did a good job). I love that.
There is, however, a very material difference between digital and film: the cost, and therefore the volume of output. In roughly 15 years of using digital cameras, I've probably shot around 100,000 photos; and they cost nothing more than the initial investment of the SD cards. In 3 years of using film cameras, I've only shot around 800 photos. One photo on medium format costs me around €2.50 these days, one photo on 35mm costs around €1.10 - that's factoring in the cost of the roll, shipping to the lab, developing and high-resolution scanning, and shipping back the negatives. That's a lot of money to spend, and these days, film necessarily is a fixed part of my budget planning.
Shooting film also means - for the most part - using old equipment. All the photos you've seen so far in this post are shot on a Mamiya 645, a medium format camera built roughly around 1980. When it hits, the image quality is just outstanding, and the look and feel are incomparable. Yet, two or three images on each film are shutter failures, and you can see light streaks from time to time: look at the left side of the image with the people on the beach. The Mamiya has been my main workhorse for the past years, but with more and more reliability issues, and rising cost of film, it's time to make a change.
Over the last few months, two new cameras have found their way into my life: the Nikon FE-2, and the Canonet QL17 GIII. The Nikon is a highly functional SLR from the mid-80s with amazing shutter speeds and very intuitive handling. I've got two Voigtländer lenses to go with it, a 28mm and a 58mm. The Canonet is a very compact rangefinder camera from the mid-70s with a fixed 40mm lens. Those two cameras together cover 95% of my photographic needs, and bring much needed portability, cost reduction, and reliability. They're not without fail though: look at the (admittedly fun) light leaks in this image taken with the Canonet:
I've been shooting with these cameras for a few months now. They're a joy to handle and to carry around - but whenever I get the film back, the results leave just a little to be desired. Maybe I'm too spoiled by the Mamiya - but I also definitely still need to learn how to get the best out of these two. I constantly see great images being taken with cameras just like these, and I would love to be able to do the same. Therefore, my project for this year is to shoot as much 35mm as I can and give it my best shot. I'll close this post with a little gallery of pictures I've taken with these cameras already. At the end of the year, I'll collect my best images starting right now - and hopefully I'll see a difference. I'm excited for you to come along and see for yourself.