After shooting digital for a number of years and after watching and listening to countless photographers claim that trying traditional analog (film) photography will help to develop your photographic eye by slowing down the process, I decided to delve in. The limitations being that you can take only 36 shots on a roll of film (based on the film I purchased), lack of ability to view the image on a display after taking a shot and the associated cost with each exposure (developing). This made for an interesting challenge, although ironically, only a few decades ago, this was the only option. Peppered though this post will be example images form that roll of film.
Similar to the issue of purchasing my first DSLR, I was again phased with the question of what brand and type of camera to consider. I took the easy way out and bought the Canon AE-1 because I knew it was a classic and I had seen shots on one by a friend who has one (not the most stringent criteria for a purchase).
I ended up purchasing a Canon AE-1 with 50mm f1.8 lens on eBay, where of course there are many of great deals on analog gear. In terms of film, I went for Kodak 400TX Tri-X because it was again a tried and tested classic and I wanted to try out black and white.
First challenge was how do I load the film? This should have been an easy task, however I Googled it just to be sure.
When using digital, it is easy to be trigger happy, however with my first roll of film, I was cautious in considering when to take a photo – being that each snap would actually cost money. It was disconcerting not being able to check the exposure but now after having a roll processed, I can have confidence in the exposure of the camera. As this was my first attempt with this second hand camera, I had no idea if it still functioned.
Compared to digital where I would take 36 shots in a mater of minutes, shooting one roll of film on analog took over a year and a half. Not due to lack of interest or the need to get perfect situations but most likely uncertainly of the outcome: would this second hand camera actually function and would the exposures be correct. In addition to those, I usually had a digital camera close to hand and as I had never personally had film developed, I was not sure where to have the film processed.
The camera has been with me on travels to Dumfries, Glencoe and York. When I finally decided to get organised to process the film, I went to Whitelees Windfarm just outside of Eaglesham to do a few test shot comparisons with my DSLR (which I will post soon).
As I found out that Kodak 400TX cannot be processed at ‘the local shops’, it requires specialised processing. Being located near Glasgow in Scotland, I found that Snappy Snaps in the West End of Glasgow had the ability to process it, so after winding my last shot, I jumped into the car and drove to the West End. Luckily they had a single day processing (being an impatient individual) so I amused myself by walking around and photographing a local park for the next three hours.
I was aware of notable excitement whilst waiting for the film to be processed, a feeling I had not felt in all years I have shot digital. It reminded me of childhood memories waiting to view the snaps taken on holiday and dropped off by my parents to be processed. I went for 6x4s with a white border (which I though looked more traditional) and a CD copy of the images. Photos feel great in the hand and these film images (although may not be the best compositionally) had soul. I was slightly disappointed with the CD which contained small sized JPEGs but I assume that most people don’t need high resolution copies of their snapshots. The resolution has been possibly been spoilt by my use of digital. I do intend to scan the negatives at some stage and compare a RAW file (when ‘scanned’ using my DSLR – to photographing the negative) to the present JPEGs.
Overall, the experience was worth the wait. Seeing images that you almost forgot about brought back pleasant memories of those times and I enjoyed how the photographic process was slowed down by using film. Let’s just hope it takes less time to get through my next roll.