Philosophy & Reflections

My Joy in Getting back into Film Photography – by David Mitchell

January 5, 2020

Like many others my introduction to photography was through film – my Dad’s 35mm Yashica originally before moving on to digital. I developed and printed my own prints for a few years – I enjoyed the process but the point at which digital became viable and instantaneous drew me away. Over the years I had bought some vintage cameras as I came across them cheap – mostly because I liked the look of them and was interested in the technological development.

Some twenty years have passed and I have enjoyed some fantastic digital cameras – Nikon D3x and D810 and Fuji X series most recently but the digital capture and digital presentation (Flickr and social media) left me feeling there was a bit of a gap. I thought it was the printed image and in part it was but eventually realised that the ‘workflow’ of capturing and processing digital images was getting a bit robotic.

I found an old F50 body in the attic and bought some TMAX – being able to use my modern F lenses was great of course and the results were good. What instantly came back was that notion that you have to think – each frame is precious and not to be wasted – that appealed. 

F50 with TMAX100 – Dun Carloway Broch on the Isle of Lewis

A lunchtime walk at work one day had me in an antique shop looking at an F2 with a 1.2 50mm. I remembered I had always wanted a ‘proper’ F camera and couldn’t afford one as a student so the inevitable happened – I also love 50mm primes….

I replaced the light seals on the camera and made some minor repairs. I loved using it – I liked the mechanics and having to think about exposure and settings etc. Process and scanning was a new development to me and whilst not cheap it seemed to give me the best of both and allowed me play digitally with the analogue images. 

Rummaging around the internet I learned that there was this whole community out there (including this site!) and I also realised that the cameras I used to dream about as a teenager were now pretty cheap in the grand scheme of things. I used to lust after a Hasselblad 500C but that seemed a little expensive for something I wasn’t quite sure about, so I looked at Bronica, Mamiya and Pentax medium format. I went for the RB67 Pro S Mamiya with a 127mm F3.8 lens and found a lovely example in Japan for what seemed like a bargain (yes I forgot about the duty and the VAT on the duty……hey ho….) 

I opened up the box and having never used a medium format camera before was left thinking ‘was this a smart move ????’ The internet provided some great advice as ever and I actually found myself enjoying the foibles of this mechanical marvel  – shutter won’t fire ? Forgot to take the dark slide out…..doh and so on. 

Its a monster no doubt but I didn’t buy it to carry around. I have an old Manfrotto tripod that is similarly heavy duty and they get along fine. I am only six rolls of film in but I love it. The mechanics of it are glorious and that shutter sound is just awesome. It’s expensive enough to make you stop and think about exposing film and it makes me slow down. I have a really busy job and this just feels like an antidote to doing everything at 100 miles per hour. 

View of Stirling Castle through the Mamiya RB67

One thing I have not been able to get used to is the chimney viewfinder  – the whole back to front thing I guess you would get used to but I am not using enough for that so a prism finder has been requested from Santa this year.

I have been using T Max100 but on a recent visit to Rome I purchased some Rollei and Washi film from the great shop of Art Imago – the folks who sell the daylight developing tank (yes I did think about it).

I have a weakness for old things ( I work in the heritage sector) and over the past while found myself on eBay and looking in junk shops for film stuff……I have had some fun with a Lubitel 166b and Ektar including a double exposure error of my friends on a photography weekend I actually really like. They have watched this film thing progressing with some amusement and are one by one on the fringes of engagement. We all use Nikon digital gear so I bought a couple of F50 bodies for £20 (bargain !) recently and a roll of TMAX 400 which they were given as a challenge – one was used in Rome and the other has gone to Canada and I await to see the results – not that we are in any way competitive….

Lubitel 166b and a happy accidental double exposure…

I also recalled that we had an old Rolleicord belonging to my wife’s grandfather who had passed on a few years back. He and I had talked about cameras a fair bit – including him telling me about the Leicas he had sold and me rolling my eyes in horror…. Anyway, we found it in a box of mementos from his house and I got onto the internet to do some research. 

1939 Rolleicord – a family heirloom

Research is a kind of a thing for me in any case (occupational hazard I guess) but it was pretty tough – the volume of these cameras and variations made were just huge. However some kind folks helped me out and I was able to narrow it down to being one of about 400 made for the Berlin Police in 1939. Wow. How it ended up in Edinburgh I have no idea but he had been in India during the war so we reckon it was a house sale purchase maybe. I do know however he would have been really chuffed I was using it and thats kind of cool. 

I had been pristine but stored in an old and cold house so was suffering from mould. I read up and took it apart to clean and got it all together. I have only put one film through it but the lens quality was really surprising – this camera has real potential and certainly puts the £20 Lubitel in the shade….

So where next ? 

I have a long way to go with the RB67 but I am going to stick with it. I am finding myself with too many cameras when I go out (is that possible ?) but it’s nice to use the Nikon digital then switch to film afterwards or even spot something that would suit film better and switch from one to the other. This week I am going to have an induction at Stills photography centre in Edinburgh – long established they provide good value access to film scanners and dark rooms and training courses too. It’s worth it I think because the costs of developing are ok commercially but scanning makes it pretty expensive. 

I have also 3d printed the Goodman Zone camera – if you have not seen it take a look – very steampunk – and what’s great is that it is designed to work with the Mamiya RB67 back. I have yet to put it all together but looks like fun.

3d printed parts for a Goodman zone camera – uses a Mamiya RB67 back

The vintage collection has grown a little more and there is always the Hasselblad 500c and a big birthday coming up….

David Mitchell 

Twitter @dsm888
Goodman cameras

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  • Reply
    Aristo Ioannidis
    January 5, 2020 at 10:14 am

    Hi David,

    Great story. Enjoyed the read. Interestingly, we seem to amass a sizable collection of cameras and lenses as we develop our skills and pursue our interest in analogue photography.

    Sydney Australia

  • Reply
    January 5, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    What a brilliant article, thank you. I can’t wait to see the results from the Goodman!

  • Reply
    January 5, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    What an interesting path in your photographic life. I think your sentence says it all, “that notion that you have to think – each frame is precious and not to be wasted – that appealed. ” It’s a pity the many “photographers” (I refrained from a cruder term) who despise film can’t grasp this simple concept.

  • Reply
    Evan Bedford
    January 5, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    Two thumbs way up!…not least because you have a very cool avatar. Looks like it was taken from a photo of an old globe (I have a weakness for the same, since one of my most treasured possessions is the globe I got for Christmas in 1966…and a lot of the screenshots on my computer are from the same).

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