Resurrecting My Forty-seven Year-old Film Camera

This update corrects the age of my camera, initially reported as fifty-four years old.

We are currently experiencing a mini-boom in the return to analogue. Vinyl records are making a comeback, as are film cameras. Much as I have come to love digital photography, I have thought more about supplementing my work with film (you do recall film). Just as vinyl has a richer sound than digital, film images have their own quality, compared with digital (though the latter can mimic a range of film emulsions). So, why bother with film? Well first, my Yashica TL-electro SLR 35 mm is by definition, a full-frame camera (i.e., it has a 24 x 36 mm frame size), whereas my three digital cameras have smaller APS-C format sensors. All other things being equal, larger sensors/negatives mean sharper pictures.

High dynamic range is another reason for film. This is the range of definition between a scene’s darkest and lightest areas. Film provides a greater range of detail in high contrast light and dark scenes (e.g., Kodak Vision3 provides a 14 stop range) than digital (e.g., Canon 7D provides an 8.7 stop range), thus requiring less bracketing of photos for high contrast scenes. A third reason for using film is that if you are shooting in B&W, unlike digital sensors that record color, no detail is lost as happens with digital’s B&W conversion (unless you buy a Leica M monochrome digital camera, but then that will set you back about $7500 + a few thousand for lenses). See Quora for a technical discussion of detail loss during B&W conversion.

However, there is yet another less technical reason for film photography. Film and its processing costs money and there is no screen on the camera back (what!?) to see how the image turned out. Nonetheless, these “disadvantages” force the photographer to slow down and think more deeply about exposure settings and composition. In fact, this is a major reason for using film cameras in a program, for which I volunteer, that works with junior high, city kids. Over time, they learn to slow their brains down and better focus on getting good compositions, something that we expect will help them in their other academic and life activities.

In preparing for my film venture, I tried my Yashica and everything seemed to work fine, so I bought a roll of film and took some test shots. Unfortunately, the mirror locked up at slower shutter speeds after the first four shots and the mirror would not return until I advanced the film and released the shutter. This meant that only every other frame would contain an image!

So, off the camera went for a complete overhaul ($193, including shipping both ways). Since the camera is only worth about $30 on eBay, you might ask why would I do this? Well, I also have Yashinon 50 mm f/2 & 135 mm f/2.8 prime lenses, including a 2X Soligor tele-converter—all scratch-free with smoothly operating diaphragms and focusing rings; I also have polarizing and skylight filters. It would be unlikely that I could replace all this excellent equipment for much less.

I will be using this camera for making extremely sharp B&W macro and landscape prints. B&W is the film of choice for emphasizing form and texture in those situations where color would be distracting. Under these circumstances B&W yields a more fine art look. Since these compositions will be static, fast shutter speed will not be necessary. This will enable me to use Ilford’s PANF Plus ISO 50, and Delta 100 Professional ISO 100 B&W, fine grain films, further enhancing very sharp images. This camera, therefore, will be sitting on a tripod most of the time.

This brings me to developing and printing. I will have a local, custom lab develop my film according to my preferences (contrast, sharpness, overall quality, etc.) and produce a contact print of the roll. After reviewing and selecting the best negatives from the contact prints, I will use my film magnifier to look for sharpness and any imperfections before deciding what negatives to scan with my Epson V800 scanner. These improved B&W images might require that I transition from a two to a three black ink-jet printer. We will see.

If any of you have shot film and print it digitally, I would love to hear about your experiences and/or suggestions.

Author: Stephen Fielding Images

I'm a retired medical sociologist from the University of Rochester. Climate change is one of the two great challenges facing humanity (the other is nuclear weapons). In writing about the impact of climate change I read reputable books and articles on the topic. So when I make statements about climate change you will see a link taking you to the scientific source(s) of the information I provide. As for my independently published photobooks, each has gone through several layers of editing and peer review for both readability and accuracy. This is not to say that everything I say is accurate. Even the New York Times makes mistakes. So, if you find something that is factually incorrect, let me know. I hope you find reading my blog a positive experience. If you do, please encourage your family and friends to have a look. You can find photos from my other photo work by clicking on the My SmugMug Gallery tab, above. Best wishes, -Steve

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