I’m not quite a native of digital photography. Before buying my first digital SLR (a Canon EOS 300D in 2004) I had used some 35mm film cameras. Most notably I had a Pentax MZ-50 and a couple of cheap lenses that I toured Australia with in 1998. It wasn’t a particularly special camera, but it taught me the basics of photography and actually helped me to discover a long lasting passion for photography; the landscapes and wildlife of Australia were astonishing and the memories stay with me to this day, even if the photographs don’t do justice to the places we visited.
Nevertheless, more than 99% of the pictures I’ve ever taken have been digital. Digital is great. We can shoot thousands of images with little or no incremental cost. Composition doesn’t quite work? Shoot again. And again. Large memory cards and even larger hard drives allow us to approach photography in a care free manner. The upside is obvious; we can hope to grab difficult frames with an inherently high failure rate (such as action shots or extreme macro) simply by shooting more. Arguably this helps the budding photographer to learn from extensive trial and error.
When shooting film every frame costs money, forcing the photographer to think a little more carefully. I’d been pondering whether being forced to taking more care before firing the shutter would actually make me a better photographer. I wondered if this effect would be similar to shooting with a fixed focal length lens instead of a zoom, where limitations actually breed rather than hinders creativity.
A little googling revealed a seemingly large community of film photographers holding on to their passion for film, or perhaps, being attracted to the romanticism or retro appeal of shooting with old cameras even if they’d not grown up during the film era. A little more googling, and a night or two on eBay, found me joining the film club myself, buying a Rolleicord V medium format twin lens reflex (TLR) camera. The camera is a thing of beauty, a masterpiece of mechanical technology and craftsmanship. Wow – no batteries. No metering (let alone choice of metering modes. No autofocus. No 8 frames per second.
Simplicity. In a nice hand stitched leather case.
And so begins what I hope will be a long love affair with this beautiful camera. I struck lucky and paid a very modest sum for a Rollei in tip-top cosmetic condition, and in perfect working order in it’s original leather case, and with detachable lens hood.
Using a machine from the 1950s
It’s lovely to use. The top down viewing glass is HUGE, bright and clear, and focusing is easy (I have since discovered that a past owner replaced the focusing glass with a brighter one which I certainly appreciate). The layout of controls (not that there are many) is natural too. I’ve made several mistakes already – most classically forgetting to manual set aperture and shutter speed at all – having shot in aperture priority mode extensively for years. But such mistakes are already becoming fewer.
What comes out
One of the trickiest things about owning and using a film camera in the year 2013 is trying to explain to children why they can’t see the picture on the back of the camera instantly after it’s been taken!
I’ve put three and a half films through in the past month – although have still to get one of them developed (an Ilford B&W film – my local developer only does C41 processing). I’ve tried Kodak Porta 160 and Fuji Pro 400H. I’ve taken the camera to Hong Kong on a recent business trip, and taken pictures of the children and a few mates around and about.
I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’m looking forward to a long and happy relationship with my new old Rollei. A couple of ideas for Rollei projects are beginning to form in my mind which I’m pretty excited about.
Sha Tin Bridge, Hong Kong (Rolleicord V, Fuji Pro 400H)
Picnic, Hong Kong (Rolleicord V, Fuji Pro 400H)
Sai Kung, Hong Kong (Rolleicord V, Fuji Pro 400H)
Untitled, Hong Kong (Rolleicord V, Fuji Pro 400H)
Afternoon Doze, Sai Kung Jetty (Rolleicord V, Fuji Pro 400H)
Seafront Sai Kung (Rolleicord V, Fuji Pro 400H)
Fish Seller, Sai Kung (Rolleicord V, Fuji Pro 400H)
The Ghost Trees (Rolleicord V, Porta 160)
In the Orchard (Rolleicord V, Porta 160)
By the Lock (Rolleicord V, Porta 160)
Misa’s New Bike (Rolleicord V, Porta 160)
Bubbles (Rolleicord V, Porta 160)
Dave and Rich (Rolleicord V, Porta 160)