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Sunday, 08 April 2012 00:00

Film Is Dead Long Live Film

In January 2012 Kodak announced that it was filing for bankruptcy protection, a company with a 133 year history in photography was going out of business. So film is finally dead? I don't think that could be further from the truth. Over the past few months I have been scanning all of my dad's old 35mm slides that he took of us as kids (see my article here) and during this process I have grown to really love the look, feel and quality of film. So much so in fact that I have recently bought a 35mm cameras! Using this cameras has done several things for me. It's made me passionate about photography again, it's taught me a lot about photography, it's changed my view on digital photography in a way I didn't think it would and it's confirmed to me that film is far, far from dead but actually a quietly thriving area of photography.

 

Canon EOS 5As a very young child I had a couple of very old and basic compact cameras that used 127 film. These were completely point and click with the only option being to set the film speed between sunny or cloudy. The results were always a disappointment, very dull, very out of focus and invariably with my finger over the lens. As I got older I was occasionally allowed to borrow my dads Nikkormat FT2 35mm SLR's and whilst I was only taking snap shots the results were vastly superior to what I had achieved before. This though, with the exception of a couple of APS film compact cameras I had as a teenager was pretty much my only real use of film. I've always had an interest in photography and always loved to play with and use my dad's SLR's but it wasn't until digital photography became mainstream that I really started to get into photography and bought my first 'real camera' a Fuji Finepix 4900 Zoom. After a couple of years of using this I realised that a Bridge camera like the Fuji wasn't suitable for me and that I needed a Digital SLR if I wanted to improve my photography and so I then upgraded to a Canon EOS 10D. The 10D, along with my current Canon EOS 30D are 'crop sensor' cameras in that the sensor is smaller than that of a 35mm frame. Up until now I've considered this to actually be an advantage as a crop sensor means that a 100mm lens gives a field of view closer to that of a 160mm lens. I've been wanting to upgrade my camera for some time now but cost has always prevented it but up until now I had always thought that the camera I would upgrade to if I could, was the Canon EOS 7D. However since I bought my Sigma 10-20mm Lens I've found that this lens is almost always on my camera.

It was this fact that got me thinking. I am a big fan of the Sigma 10-20 because whilst it isn't the sharpest ultra wide angle lens it is one of the most affordable. However because I use it almost exclusively now I do start to see it's weaknesses. Sometimes the distortion that it and any ultra wide angle lens introduces to the shot can be an advantage and can be used creatively whilst other times they can ruin a shot. The Sigma is sharp and optically good in the centre but towards the edge of the frame the distortion does become so extreme that it starts to affect the sharpness and definition of the shot. The obvious solution was to go 'full frame'. Unfortunately whilst a Canon EOS 5D MKII (or the new MKIII) would be fantastic, they also have a fantastic price and one that I simply can't afford at the moment.

I then thought I'd have a look on eBay and that was then that I found that you can buy some incredible 35mm SLR's for no money at all. Seeing as I already own a few Canon EF mount lenses it made sense to buy a Canon EOS 35mm SLR and so I did a bit of research and boiled it down to 2 bodies, the Canon EOS 33V and the Canon EOS 5. The 33V is certainly the better camera and these can be bought easily for around the £70-£80, whilst this is a bargain considering it's original price it was more than I was prepared to pay for something I just wanted to play with and get a feel for. The Canon EOS 5 on the other hand is a lot cheaper. I was able to buy a pristine, fully working model, complete with grip and even a Sigma 24-70 lens (although admittedly it was not a good model but considering I already own a much nicer 24-70 f/2.8 lens I never intended to use it anyway) for just £25!

The specifications for the Canon EOS 5 are as follows:

Specifications

Type 35mm focal-plane shutter multi-mode AF SLR camera
Picture Size 24x36 mm
Normal Lens EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, others
Lens Mount EF mount
AF System TTL phase detection. AF modes: One-Shot AF/AI Servo AF (automatic switchover). Multi-BASIS for the AF sensor. Five focusing points selectable by Eye Control, dial operation, or by the camera. AF operating range at ISO 100: EV 0 - 18.
Shutter Vertical-travel, focal-plane electronic shutter. 30 sec. - 1/8000 sec., B. X-sync at 1/60 - 1/200 sec. (German socket and hot shoe). Built-in electronic self-timer (with beeper and lamp).
Viewfinder Fixed eye-level pentaprism. 0.73x magnification, 92% vertical coverage and 94% horizontal coverage.
Viewfinder
Information
Five focusing points (superimposed in red when selected by Eye Control), depth-of-field preview mark, Eye Control icon, flash ready, AE lock, shutter speed, aperture setting, calibration, depth-of-field AE, exposure display, exposure compensation amount, autobracketing amount, red-eye reduction lamp-ON indicator, and other indications.
Metering &
Exposure Control
Composite SPC for TTL full-aperture metering (16-zone evaluative, centerweighted averaging, 3.5% spot metering at center) with shutter speed-priority AE, aperture-priority AE, depth-of-field AE, Intelligent program AE, four program AE modes, and metered manual. Exposure compensation range of ±2 EV (in 1/2-stop increments) in AE modes, bulb, and manual. AE lock enabled. Metering range at ISO 100 and f/1.4: EV 0 - 20. Film speed range: ISO 6 to 6400. Maximum 9 multiple exposures. 16 Custom Functions.
External LCD Eye Control icon, calibration display, shutter speed, aperture setting, film speed, Custom Function No., battery check, film advance, film status, metering mode, flasg exposure compensation, exposure display, exposure compensation amount, red-eye reduction lamp-ON indicator, AF mode, and other indications.
Built-in Flash Located on pentaprism hump. Manual/auto retractable head. TTL zoom autoflash control (fires automatically in backlight and low-light conditions in the Full Auto and Programmed Image Control modes) with off-the-film metering. Red-eye reduction lamp provided. Second-curtain sync enabled. Guide No. 13 - 17 (at ISO 100 in m). Auto zoom flash head for 28mm, 50mm, and 80mm focal lengths.
Quick Control Dial Dial on camera back sets exposure compensation amount in AE modes, the aperture in the manual mode, and the flash exposure compensation amount for the built-in flash.
Power Source One 6 V 2CR5 lithium battery
Film Loading &
Advance
Align film leader at mark, then close the camera back for auto loading. Automatic film advance with built-in motor. Normal film advance of approx. 3 fps. High-speed film advance of approx. 5 fps. Single-frame advance provided.
Film Rewind Fully automatic with built-in motor. Midroll rewind enabled.
Dimensions &
Weight
154 x 121 x 74 mm, 675 g

kodak-ektar-100Now I had the camera, what film should I use? I decided that I wanted to try colour film first just to see how it performed. Having not used film in over 20 years and even then just buying whatever the newsagent or chemist sold I really had no idea what to buy. Fortunately the Internet has tons of information on this and I really loved the look of Kodak Ektar 100 and so decided to give that a go.

The first time I used the camera was during my lunch break at work when I took it into Camden market and it was quite a revelation.

It sounds obvious but the first thing I noticed was I couldn't check the shot after taking it. I'm so used to taking a photo and then having a quick look at it on the LCD screen that I kept finding myself automatically looking at the back of the camera where the screen would have been.

The second thing I noticed was the fact I was 'stuck' at a single ISO/ASA. At midday in Camden market there due to the fact that some of it is under cover whilst some of it isn't can meant that there is a massive difference in exposure between light and shade. With digital this is not a problem as you can whack up the ISO between each shot. With the Ektar 100 stock though I only had one film speed available. This was definitely a disadvantage over digital.

Where digital did score one back and is one of the things I find most appealing about using film is that I thought about every single frame I shot because I knew that not only did I have just 36 frames on a roll but that each shot was costing me money. As I already own a film scanner, a Plustek 7600i, I only needed to buy the film and get it processed but even so this still equated to around 36p per shot. Not a fortune but it can quickly add up. However I consider this a major bonus because it forces me to stop being a lazy photographer and to really think if I am using the correct shutter speed and aperture and that my composition is exactly what I want it to be and is my focus spot on. It also makes me really look to see if the shot is worth taking in the first place. One of the 'dangers' of digital photography is that because every shot is effectively free that photographers can become lazy and take a shot that doesn't really work but try to make it work in Photoshop.

The biggest benefit though for me in using 35mm film wasn't so much that it was film but the fact that it was 'full frame'. On my Canon EOS 30D my Sigma 10-20mm lens gives a field of view the equivalent of 16-32mm on a full frame or 35mm camera. Using the Canon EOS 5 with my 24-70mm lens I found that 24mm was almost always wide enough and far more importantly introduced none of the distortion that the Sigma 10-20 does. This in itself instantly told me that the Canon EOS 7D was not the camera I should be upgrading to but that I should upgrade to the Canon EOS 5D. Not only that but I should sell the Sigma 10-20 and probably the 24-70 and buy the Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM lens as this would be the perfect lens being nearly as wide as the 10-20mm lens and nearly as long as my 24-70mm lens on my 30D.

After getting the negs developed I scanned them in using Silverfast 8 before opening them in Photoshop. The first thing that struck me was the colour, the Kodak Ektar 100 film stock is fantastic! The photos didn't really need any editing for colour or contrast etc at all and looked great exactly as they were and thankfully Kodak have said that they will continue to make film. I will certainly be buying many more rolls of this wonderful film. As I was scanning them at high resolution I did notice that when zoomed right in that there was a bit of dust that had been transfered from the camera to the neg despite me giving the camera what I thought was a good clean with a rocket blower. However this is not the end of the world and easily rectified with a more thorough and comprehensive clean. In the mean time, five minutes in Photoshop soon removes any traces of dust.

Whilst I have no intention of switching entirely over to film, I love digital too much for that, I do intend to shoot more of it and to shoot digital and film side by side. To date I've only shot 4 rolls of film but in that short time it has had a massive impact on my photography that I apply now to using my digital SLR. It's taught me to slow down, to really think about every shot, to only press the shutter release when everything is how I want it to be but it's also made me re-evaluate what equipment is best suited to my style of photography. I wish a Canon EOS 5D MKII or MKIII featured in my future anytime soon but until a big lump of cash falls in my lap I'll continue shooting film.

These are a few of the test shots I took in Camden from the first roll of film I shot in over 20 years.

 

 

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