old is new again / by Christopher Erick

Kodak Porta 400 on Nikon L35AF

Kodak Porta 400 on Nikon L35AF

Taking photos? I'm pretty good at that. Blogging? Terrible apparently. 

I have a million thoughts running around in this head, and very little time or inclination  to wrangle them all on most days, but here I am. 

So here's the story of how I shot old dusty film cameras for the last few months, and absolutely loved it. On a whim, I traded my Sony and Nikon gear for a Fuji X-Pro1 and eventually an XT-1. Fuji has a pretty loyal and vocal following online. I'd read about how the Fuji system felt about as close to old film cameras as you could get. Aside from the retro-styled body and controls, the images themselves definitely evoke a feel similar to the film I've shot before. I absolutely love Fuji cameras. You can tell they are made by people that know and love photography. As much fun as I had, a question popped into my mind. I loved the Fuji system in part because it evokes the feeling of film, why wasn't I shooting film in the first place?

So off I went. 

Fuji Superia 400 on Nikon F100 

Fuji Superia 400 on Nikon F100 

Coming from digital, shooting film can be a jarring experience initially. I am not exactly a photography "purist" but I do think digital can prop you up a bit. Having the LCD screen there at all times kind of takes away the consequences of shooting with poor technique. Don't like your shot? Shoot it again. And again. And again. Adjust every option under the sun because you're really only limited by two things: battery life and the space on your SD card. When's the last time you ran out of space on a card? Exactly.  It takes away a lot of the gravity and weight of capturing  right thing, at the right moment. I'm a believer that limitations actually create better artists.

With film, there is SO much to think about before you even fire a shot. There is so much to think about before you even take the camera out of the house.  What are you shooting? Is it fast moving, or stationary? Would it look better in black and white, or color? Do you prefer images with grain, or without?  What kind of feel should the images have? HIgh contrast, or low? Will you shoot the film as intended or will you try to manipulate it during development? These are all decisions made when you decide which film to put in your camera, and it's immutable.  With digital, you're constantly carrying a Swiss army knife. No matter what you do, the camera has a setting for that. Film locks you into your decisions, and every one has a real, concrete consequence. That sounds somewhat intimidating, but it's actually invigorating in a sense. It feels much more like carefully crafting a visual.

Kodak Portra 400 on Nikon 35AF

Kodak Portra 400 on Nikon 35AF

Fuji Superia 400 on Nikon L35AF

Fuji Superia 400 on Nikon L35AF

Kodak Portra on Nikon F100

Kodak Portra on Nikon F100

It's also a joy to not worry about supplying power to the camera. Lots of old mechanical cameras, operate with no battery at all. In the ones that require batteries, they last forever since they don't have to worry about powering LCD screens and processing engines. It allows me to just go shoot.  I'm not checking my battery meter to see how many shots I have left or if I need to adjust something to conserve power. As long as I have film, I can wander as I see fit, fully immersed in whatever is around me. Earlier I talked about how shooting film can be a bit more involved at first, but during the actual shooting process, it's distilled down to the simplest experience. 

Rediscovering film has definitely added a fun element to my photographic toolbox. It got me out of a bit of a creative rut as well. Now, when I shoot, I grab my F100 or even the L35AF point and shoot before anything else. I'm having a great time exploring the possibilities of a format that isn't remotely as popular as it once was, but remains as beautiful as it ever was.