I am a film photographer on his journey finding the balance between self-expression and everyday life.
To me photography is all about mystery. From the unpredictable nature of the chemical processes used to create an image to the permanency of the captured moments frozen in time. Maybe that is why I love to take portraits the most. Stories told by emotions brings us the closest to understand who we really are.
I am also fascinated by the marvels of mechanical engineering. Thus I am seriously addicted to precision made cameras and fine optics. But I have managed to overcome my GAS and now I focus on experimenting with everything I have. Trying to create something meaningful and have a lot of fun along the way.
At the beginning of this year, I have given away a few lenses and cameras. Among others, Paul and Dan received a camera. Miran, on the other hand, got a 135mm lens and all three of them sent me a self-portrait taken with their “new” cameras/lens.
Paul is a UK based professional photographer who has a strong focus on family photography. Check out his site, it really is lovely. He has got a Fed 3 with a 50mm lens. The camera was not fully functional, still, he has got some nice results, so we can see his mighty beard.
Dan is a teacher from Canada who is now starting again with film photography using the Practika MTL-3 camera I sent him. His self-portrait is remarkable in my opinion because he managed to frame and focus so close perfectly. His Flickr profile can be found here.
Miran is a really nice guy from Slovenia who is also a long time follower of the blog and he received a 135mm f/2.8 Pentacon lens. He has chosen another approach of taking a self-portrait using a tripod and the self-timer and pre-focusing the lens. To see Miran’s blog, follow this link.
Anyway, it was really nice to get in touch with them and actually with all of you who wrote to me. These portraits just made the whole thing a little bit more personal. It is also interesting to see that each of you used a different approach to make these photos and they are quite different in style and mood as well. But the most important for me is that it you gave a good use of the old gear.
The Jakominiplatz is one of the most important public transport centers of Graz. Tram lines meet here as well as it is the starting point of many local and medium distance bus lines. It is indeed a very busy, sometimes seemingly chaotic, ever changing colorful place. So many interesting and not to mention very different people are mixed here in this relatively small parcel of space that the Jakominiplatz is truly is a photographic goldmine. The combination of the crowd with the wide variety of heavy vehicles and infrastructure makes it an ideal location for street photography, portraiture or even abstract architectural shoots.
I am one of the daily passengers. Sometimes I pass by more than once a day and of course I always have some kind (mostly different) camera with me. It was inevitable that eventually I will end up with a nice collection of images taken here using a wide range of equipment under different light conditions and in many distinct styles.
I have captured the greenish mist of winter nights painted by the army of mercury street lamps on heavily expired film as well as using a digital pinhole camera, I have played with the strong shadows cast by the pylons and with the perspectives of the tracks in strong back-light. I have taken sneaky street photos with a digital compact and I toke some nice medium format portraits here. I find it fascinating that every time I pass by here something is different and there is always a new perspective to explore. In addition it is really fun to see how much impact the particular camera/lens has on the end result even under otherwise similar circumstances.
I think that at the end of the day I found myself in an experiment which I have not planned through or intended to do at the beginning at all. An experiment to prove that the photographer’s choice of the tool does matter even though this is not the only factor. Furthermore to show how much inspiration can be found in ordinary places which we visit every single day and therefore tend to ignore. I hope that my pictures will encourage some of you to explore your own Jakominiplatz.
Light quality is extremely important to a photographer, just like snow for an Inuit. We have countless names for the different types of light while any average people would only call them “strong” or “weak”. The amount of light we get is very easy to measure and describe. But the quality is a far more subtle, much harder to formalize concept and therefore much more interesting to me. Modern cameras can handle low light extremely well thus photography is now possible under such difficult circumstances no one could be foreseen just until a few years before. But high sensitivity sensors with great quantum efficiency and extremely sophisticated noise reduction processing cannot create great photographs just by extending the lower bound of minimum illumination necessary to capture an image. Although these new tools certainly aid the photographing process, the quality of light (among other factors) is and always will be key to a good image.
I am currently experimenting with mainly available light, trying to find situations which work for me so I can get the results I like in a somewhat predictable manner. One of my favorite spots lately is the door of our balcony. In my opinion, this location has nearly ideal light conditions for portraits during most of the day. The balcony is relatively deep, and only the front is open (sides are solid walls), then comes the big door followed by a deep room with white walls and furniture.
This setup has a similar effect to a soft-box. Light comes through in a beautiful evenly distributed, soft way, which then decays rapidly as it penetrates into the room. A subject placed close to the door can be lit very well with a strongly directional but soft light while the background is lost in darkness.
I have taken several portraits at this place using different formats (APS-C, 35mm, 6x6cm), films and digital sensors, and a small, but representative selection can be seen in this post. I think it is interesting to see next to each other similar shoots using similar focal length but with vastly different capturing technology.
The conclusion is that, no matter what your medium is, good light (and composition) could always give respectable results but technology does not save the day if the light quality is poor for the subject. But it is again another subjective property, what is poor light for a photographer for a given purpose, could be magnificent for another. Nevertheless, I think it is crucial to study light as a photographer, amateurs and professionals alike.
Just about a week ago I was called by the reception at work that a package arrived with my name on it. I was genuinely surprised because I have never received anything unexpectedly at work. Who on earth would have sent me a package and especially to this address? It must have been a conspiracy.
My curiosity reached an even higher level once I picked up the package and I realized that the sender is an old photographer I only know remotely through a friend. I made some small animations in flash for him as a favor and I’ve almost completely forgotten about it. It seems that he has a much better memory and he sent me this little package to cheer me up.
Well, he managed to make me very happy, because the small box was full with gorgeous films of many types. There were even some legendaries like the Kodak Ektar 25 and some, which I have never even heard of before, such as the Lucky SHD. Now I have film for tungsten light and a bulk package of medium format Ektachrome. It is truly an amazing gift, even though some of the films had expired way before I was born (which unfortunately was already a pretty long time ago).
Of course, I have already had an interesting collection of films. But, with this addition, my stock has reached the critical mass to share it with you. After this post, I finally free someplace in the freezer and it will become hard to show the full collection as a whole.
Kodak Technical Pan
Agfacolor Portrait Xps
Ilford FP-4 Plus
Forte Supercolor Fr
Fuji Superia Xtra
Fuji Pro 160 NS
Ilford Pan F Plus
Kodak New Portra
Fuji Pro 160 Tungsten
Lucky SHD 100
Kodak Portra 160 NC
Kodak Elite Color
Fujifilm Pro 160C
Kodak Gold 200
Kodak Farbwelt 200
What film really means to me
Also, I have started to think about my very intense reaction to this gift and decided to try to summarize my thoughts and feelings about what film means to me.
Film powers old cameras
First and foremost film allows me to use the plethora of cool film cameras, which would otherwise be used only as fancy paperweights at best. This way I can experience what other people could feel when they used these now vintage cameras through history.
Even better, if I put the state-of-the-art film into any old camera, I can achieve state-of-the-art results if the lens is good enough. I think it is fascinating that someone can reach levels of quality today with the very same gear his grandfather used, which was considered impossible at the time the camera was made. This is something a digital camera of current times will never be able to provide. If this would not be enough, the film opens up the world of medium and even large format photography on a very affordable price point compared to their digital counterparts.
Film is a symbol with deep meanings
But film is a lot more than the ticket to film cameras. It is a very deep symbol in our culture. It symbolizes nothing less than eternity. It captures moments but unlike the digital sensor, it encapsulates them. Film itself becomes the frozen moment of memory and emotion. This is, of course, a process, which cannot be reverted. Once something is captured it will be preserved unchanged as long as the film physically exists. This very nature of film gives us the impression of truthfulness, the feeling that anything recorded on film must be real. Of course, we all know that any image in a medium can be faked, but it is very hard to alter the film for ordinary people after it was developed.
Film is commitment
Once the film is loaded into the camera, there is no way to return and the photographer has made his/her commitment to a particular type of film with all its properties. Although there are plenty of parameters that can be changed later (thinking of push, pull, cross-processing and other tricks), the characteristics of the used film will be inevitably present in the result and the possibilities to change this in post-processing are rather narrow. Today there is much excellent software out there to manipulate photographs. The possibilities of manipulations are nearly endless and even film/developer simulation is possible on a very high level (though it can be debated how truthful such simulations are in reality). I embrace and endorse these tools, but, honestly, the countless amount of options often makes me insecure in my decision. I tend to hesitate and eventually I run into contradictions with myself. I want to retain the maximum amount of detail, while also wishing to bestow a strong character in the image. As a result, many of my images are good, however, they fall short of featuring such a strong character and I am frustrated because of the possible other ways I could have chosen. One has to be able to keep the power of the tools provided under control, otherwise, that power is useless. It seems that I am not fully ready yet for the marvels of the digital post-processing revolution. I just prefer to work the character given by the film I choose and then try to get the most out of it in post-processing. Yes, it comes with commitment, but it gives me results (I like) and frees me from the burden of too many possibilities. All in all, I am much more satisfied with my film images.
Film is responsibility
A piece of fresh unexposed film is like a newborn baby. It has an inherited genetic character, but it is completely blank, has no criminal record and can become virtually anything. It is the responsibility of the parents (sorry photographer), to provide the best start and guidance to achieve the most. Shoots can be repeated, but every frame is an effort and an investment, especially if someone (like me) uses a tedious hybrid workflow. Of course it is not a good idea to over complicate or worry too much about the process of taking a photograph, just like an overprotective mother can be also harmful. But it is important to be aware of the responsibility over the film we are about to use.
Film is heritage
Needless to say that film has an enormous historical heritage. The different materials, processes and characters resemble historical periods, great moments, fantastic artworks and intellectual advancement. Film has such a deep roots in our culture that it is impossible to not to feel its importance and legacy.
Film is fun
Despite all the serious thoughts here, film also provides a lot of fun. It is such a gamble to use a crappy camera with some expired film and hope for cool light leaks. There are plenty of applications for simulating this, but I think part of the fun is that the control is not completely in or hands.
Film is alive
Unlike digital files film has an organic grain structure. It can be emulated by software, but computers can only work with pseudo-random generators. There will always be a pattern in digitally added noise. Film has a life-cycle. It ages and it can go bad when stored inappropriately. On the other hand, even if it is expired and stored recklessly there is still a chance that something interesting will come out of it. A box of expired film (like the one I have received) is like a box of old exotic old wine. You could find something truly amazing or the complete opposite, but you cannot say until you taste it yourself. This is also part of the magic.
Film is magic
If I needed to find a single word to describe what is the most significant property of film, I would say it is simply magical. There is something mystical about the chemical process, which forms a photograph. I always found this quite fascinating even though I am aware that everything about it is well described and no dark arts are involved. But when I combine this feeling with the uncertainty of the result (especially when I use expired film) and with the waiting necessary to finally get the developed film back from the lab, the experience is truly magical.
These aspects are just a few among the thoughts circulating in my head about film. These are all interconnected, and after all, that is why I feel special when I can hold a package of film in my hand. I am sure that others would come up with a completely different list, but I am pretty certain that almost everybody who is old enough to have had some connection with film photography retains some emotional connection to it.
Just one more fun thing to think of
I have played around with Blender and made this highly sophisticated scene of a plain and 2 boxes. I painted a texture for it based on some old Forte and rendered the scene. It is pretty obvious that this is not a photograph because of the sharp edges and the way to perfect texture, But the point is that it is possible to make it photo-realistic with some additional effort. An image generated solely by a computer to tribute the film which may be one day substituted entirely by the computer, or at least the possibility will be given. In the end, it is all about personal and professional preferences.
Computer generated illustration of old Forte film by Camerajunky
Walls are usually not the most exciting subjects to photograph. To use medium format slide film to do that is even more strange and could be considered as some sort of crime by some. After all, we live in a time when both film and labs which are able to develop slides are more and more scare.
But what if you’ve found some really awesome walls filled with stunning graffiti masterpieces varying in size up to 30 meters (my approximation) and the whole place is a partly abandoned industrial complex.
Well, I couldn’t resist and loaded my Pentacon Six with a roll of expired (in 2004) Kodak Ektachrome 64 and headed to this place with my wife to take pictures of walls. In fact, she took way better photos than me, so maybe I will post those in the future as well.
I usually have no problems with expired film stocks, but this roll of Ektachrome gave me a very interesting result. When it came back from development it was possibly the flattest looking positive I have ever seen. I thought that I majorly overexposed all the frames equally. Surprisingly after scanning, I had to realize that almost no highlights were blown away and I could recover many details and color information during post-processing. I have the impression that the last 10 years after the end of the expiry date of the film was not spent in a refrigerator. I still have 4 rolls of the same batch of film, I need to think it over if I want to give them a second try.
The place we found hosted the Livin’ Streets 2014 festival for urban art, graffiti & street art between 07.06-18.07 2014. Their facebook page is here. Although we were too late to see the actual event, we could still meet with one of the artists who stayed to finish his work and also we could see all the paintings in the finished form. It was a great experience and we had a lot of fun, so yes it is totally fine to shoot some walls from time to time.
The photos were taken by my Pentacon Six Tl using a Carl Zeiss Jena Flektagon 50mm and in some cases a Biometar 80mm. The film was developed by a local shop and scanned by me with a CanoScan 9900F.
Finally, I have convinced myself to try out the famous Kodak Ektar film, so I loaded a roll into my beloved Olympus OM 4 Ti. Unfortunately, the camera had other plans and the electronic circuits gave up at the middle of the roll.
In the end, I ended up rewinding the film and I loaded into the good old mechanical workhorse Yashica TL super. This process, however, leads to 2 consequences. Unsurprisingly I have got some nice double exposures, but most importantly I bought a bit worn Leica M2. At least I won’t have problems with the electronic parts of that camera.
I still haven’t given up the hope that the Olympus can be repaired at some point, but I generally lost my trust in these old electronic cameras.
The Ektar, on the other hand, is truly a gorgeous film which delivers everything that is written on its box. It is smooth, high resolution with fine grain and with rich deep colors and high contrast. My scanner is absolutely unable to extract all the possibilities of this film. I am very impressed by this film indeed, however, I find it not the best suited for portraits as it is too vivid. But it is only my impression based on less than a complete 36 frames roll so I might change my mind.
I am definitely going to experiment with the Ektar, but from now most likely with my “new” M2 and with a ZM Sonnar.
Digital cameras have been around for a while by now. In fact, we have access to pixels so long ago that recently it became fashionable to dress digital cameras into retro looking shells so they resemble the look and feel of old film cameras. Up until now, the more modern looking/more functional design was generally desired, but we reached the point when people started to look back to the golden age of the film era with strong nostalgia and today the retro look become interesting.
Naturally, camera manufacturers were ready to satisfy this need and the market is literally flooded with retro-styled cameras like the Nikon Df, which promises nothing less but the experience of pure photography. While the term “pure photography” can be very much overloaded and interpreted in many ways, what they probably mean is that this camera handles and feels similarly than the now classic Nikon film cameras. Simplicity, mechanical-like external controls, full frame sensor, compatibility with vintage lenses, limited feature set (e.g. no video) to keep the focus on the essence of photography and of course that retro look are supposed to deliver this promise.
But when we start to wrap modern digital cameras into so-called “classic” look and market them with the message that this is the closest you can get to film photography experience the question arises can we already talk about classic digital cameras as well. If so how do they relate to the cutting edge technology inside modern retro shaped cameras? But most importantly, how can the true digital classics stand against the newly invented marketing ideas such as “pure photography”?
Importance of the 5D
This camera was introduced in 2005 which means it is pretty old with modern standards. But also, it was the very first somewhat affordable full frame digital SLR. Technologically there was nothing revolutionary about the 5D at all. We have seen full frame DSLR cameras before, and many other parts of it were reused from other cameras like the focusing system which was borrowed from the 20D. But it was very small for a full frame camera and it was cheap enough to be accessible by normal mortals for the first time. Also, it took damn good images on very respectable noise levels at the time. In this respect, it is hard to deny that this camera was indeed important and maybe it was the camera which started the era of consumer full frame SLRs and even it paved the way for full frame mirror-less cameras alike.
5D pure photography
I am not sure that we can already talk about classic digital cameras. Also, I think it should not be up to me to define what can be marked as classic and what cannot. But let’s be speculative for the time of this post and agree for a moment with those who already call the original Canon EOS 5D as 5D classic and consider it as a true classic digital camera. Let’s just see if the true digital classic can in many ways match up against something which supposed to make us remember what was it like to shoot with a film classic. I borrowed the elements of the Nikon Df pure photography campaign to use them as a basis for my absolutely crazy comparison.
Sensor size/pixel pitch
Both the Canon 5D and the Nikon Df features standard 35mm film size sensors. This means that field of view of any lens is the same as on 35mm film camera. There is no crop factor to consider.
The Nikon Df has 16.2Mp while the Canon 5D only has 12.7 effective megapixels. The Nikon using a more modern sensor which adds micro-lenses to each individual photodiode and thus utilizing the surface of the sensor more effectively. The Canon, on the other hand, leaves gaps between the photodiodes but due to the smaller megapixel count the atomic pixel size is still higher ( 8.2µ vs 7.30µ). In theory, it would mean better low light performance to the Canon as bigger pixels could capture more light, but the processing pipeline of the Nikon is light years ahead, so the ancient Canon is no competition in low light.
But if we think about this with “pure photography” in mind. If you shoot in good light as our film photographer ancestors would certainly preferred to do so and you keep your ISO low as most film emulsions were/are available in a range of ISO 50-1600, than there are probably not much of a difference between the two cameras. The difference megapixel count is negligible for every day use and noise levels should be pretty close at low ISOs.
One of the big selling points of the Nikon Df is that it lacks video even though the big brother Nikon D4 (using the same sensor and processor) has it. It indeed helps to focus on photography as you have no chance to accidentally switch to video and there are no useless menu items to confuse the photographer.
The good news is that the Canon 5D had no video points the first place, not even live view. Back then it was actually not sure that mirror reflex cameras suppose to do video ever.
The 5D is very minimalistic in terms of features. It only has the basics, and therefore the menus are very simple. There is literally nothing which could distract you from framing. In fact, it is a bit too minimalistic. One of the features I really miss is the possibility to set Auto ISO. Well, you could not change your film speed either.
Both cameras are quite beefy in my opinion. The Nikon Df supposed to look a bit like a classic Nikon like the FM. In reality, it is still quite thick as a brick and looks like a classic camera only from a good distance. I still think it would have been possible to make the Df like an FM in terms of dimensions. We know it is possible, there are successful attempts to hack the guts of a mirror-less camera into classic film bodies. The 5D is without a doubt, not a beauty, it has a general Canon DSLR look.
In the “golden days”, we had many dials to control camera settings like aperture, shutter speed, and focus. Nowadays we have many more things to control and we have an electronic coupling for everything.
Understandably it can be very rewarding to use similar controls to the ones we used on mechanical cameras. Somehow it has sense, as everybody understood the mechanical connection between the aperture ring and the aperture blades. I think it has a sense even today to expose these controls in an old fashion way. But only in the case of a camera which is built for the enthusiast photographer whose goal is to enjoy photography rather than being the most effective picture maker machine. The Nikon Df does a good job in this respect, even though I heard that not all controls are nice to use or logical, but I could not try it myself until now. What I can tell for sure is that the 5D exposes the main settings in a modern, but very effective way. I usually switch the camera on once a day and leave it that way. I use aperture priority mode with mainly manual lenses with aperture rings and I mainly adjusting ISO and exposure compensation only. Most of the time I don’t touch any menus at all.
Legacy lens support
The Nikon Df is made to be usable with vintage Nikon glass which is great as many old Nikkors are gorgeous. But the Canon EOS system has a shorter distance between the lens mount and the sensor. This way many other branded lenses can be used on a Canon EOS body with an adapter including Nikon lenses. To be fair you can have an adapter like M42 for Nikon as well, but you either lose the possibility to focus to the infinity or you need to pick an adapter which has additional lens element in it. The later means higher cost and possible degradation in image quality.
All in all, you can put way more kind of lenses to the 5D than you could attach to the Df. But be careful because some old lenses may mount but extract to deep into the camera body when focusing. This could damage the mirror. Always do some research on which lenses can be safely mounted.
The Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 80mm f/1.8 M42 thread mount lens, for instance, can be mounted safely to a cropped frame Canon body. But because the mirror in the 5D is bigger due to the bigger sensor, this lens should not be focused on the infinity because the rear lens element can touch the returning mirror. It can be fixed by sacrificing the possibility of focusing to the far distance. I use this lens mainly for close portraits and for this use it is not a problem.
The Nikon Df viewfinder has 100% coverage while the 5D has only 96%.
But it is not possible to change the focusing screen on the Nikon which flaws the of legacy lens support. Today focusing screens are made for autofocus lenses. They are very bright but extremely hard to use for manual focus because the depth of field is not really visible and there is no optical focusing aid built in. On the other hand, I think that using the back screen in live view is not an option if you are pursuing the classic photographic experience.
I would rather use a slightly smaller finder with a proper focusing screen.
I think it is generally a good idea to slow down and take the time to compose frames instead of bursting in rapid fire mode. Trust in the law of big numbers in order to achieve the desired photo certainly works, but I would not call it a classic approach. Let’s see what these cameras can do in order to force the photographer to slow down.
On the Nikon side, dial-based controls, manual lenses and a wrong type of focusing screen is certainly slow one down. On the Canon side we have no auto ISO and when using autofocus lenses a truly mediocre (painfully slow) autofocus system makes it impossible to act like a machine gun. Also, the burst rate of the 5D is only 3 frames per second.
Finally, the 5D has an awful back screen. It is small, dim, inaccurate in color (greenish cast) and generally useless. But of course, it is a huge plus side in this comparison as the small worthless screen means that you will only face the result of your photography when you download your images. It really reminds me of the feeling of waiting for the images to return from the lab. You never knew what had you done until you get back the developed film, and in this case, until you get to a computer with a proper screen. The good news is that the results look so much better on a proper display that I always positively surprised when I get my images downloaded from the camera.
What makes a classic camera and especially the question of can we at all speak about digital classics is still an open debate.
On the other hand, it is quite easy for me to say that the 5D Mark I or 5 classic if you like, can still fulfill many photographers needs. It certainly is able to deliver most of the recent marketing promise of “pure photography” (apart from the classic outfit). In fact with the interchangeable focusing screens, a bigger variety of adaptable lenses and even slower operation it fits better this promise than the camera which for this marketing campaign was created.
I think both the Canon 5D and the Nikon Df could be just the right camera for you. The Df is certainly stylish and has a lot more power under the hood. If the best possible low light performance to date is important than no question that the Df is the clear winner.
But consider that 5D is now a really affordable (500-1000€) full frame camera with the capability to be used as a “pure photography” tool if you don’t mind the not so “classic” look. It is better suited for manual focus lenses, and it still takes stunning images. Last but not least the original 5D could be already a classic on its own right.
Finally, the Sun has returned to us and days are once again long enough for me to have a chance to enjoy the light even after working hours.
To celebrate this blessing I have finished shooting the roll of Velvia which I have started last October and now sharing with you. A mixture of my two favorite seasons, autumn and spring on the same roll in vivid colors. Isn’t it wonderful? I am truly being energized by the spring, and I hope you too. Go grab a camera and have at least as much fun taking photos as I do right now.
Yet another quick post with little-written content but with a bunch of random snapshot images. This is what I end up with when I carry the same roll of film over weeks and only occasionally have a chance to shoot. I am basically on pilot light mode right now and really hope that the next year I can do something a bit more organized work. What I can book as an achievement though is that I could gather some courage and I asked a stranger for a portrait on a street again. It was a really nice experience and I am happy with the result, but you can judge yourself if you scroll down to the second photo.
This time I had my Olympus OM4 Ti in my bag in the last few weeks loaded with the same Ilford HP5 I used in the Kiev before. As usual, the film was developed and scanned by me.
If you followed the Camerajunky Facebook page you may have already read about my planned reunion with my beloved Kiev 4 camera after a long period in which it was hidden in a box. I really felt that I needed to use it again, and my recent discovery about the beauty of Ilford HP5 film gave me the final push to do so.
I don’t know why, but from time to time, I feel serious urge to go back to the basics and pick up a fully mechanical camera such as the Kiev and leave the sophisticated OM4 on the shelf. In addition, I really do like the character of the little Jupiter 8 lens. Especially the quality of the background blur it produces is really appealing to me. I know that many find it not so pleasing, but hey great things are usually dividing after all. It is not the sharpest nor the fastest lens I have ever touched, but an unmistakable character for sure. I also learned that the grain structure and tonality of the Ilford HP5 ISO 400 film is also very unique and close to me, so I thought, I should combine the unique lens with the unique film. I usually use lower sensitivity film so it could be that other medium speed films have similar characters as well. I guess I will need to try more. Until that, I leave you with some random but to me very catchy shots.