Over the past year I’ve been figuring out ways to combine my new passion of film photography with my old passion of bicycle travel. I’ve bike toured to many places since my first tour in 2005, including a big cross-continent jaunt. Pandemic has curtailed any grand ambitions, so for the time being I’ve kept my trips local.
This past spring as the temperatures warmed up in the Pacific Northwest, I decided to do a quick “bike overnight” to one of my favorite places–the Columbia River Gorge. Here is where the mighty Columbia on its way to the Pacific Ocean carves through the volcanic Cascade Range. This “water level” route through a steep mountain range means an easy route for travelers, whether by boat, train, car, or bicycle. And that carving action has created numerous vistas and spectacular waterfalls, making this area one of the scenic highlights of Cascadia, if not the US. And convenient for me, this natural wonder is just about 20 miles/33 kilometres east of my house in Portland, making it a fairly effortless place to get to by bike!
Wednesday May 12th shaped up to be beautiful: ample sun, temps hitting 77 F/25 C. A perfect day to head out to Ainsworth State Park, my preferred camping destination in the Gorge. They have a hiker/biker site at this campground, which is a spot dedicated to cyclists or folks arriving under their own power. The hiker/biker requires no reservations, to it’s handy for spur-of-the-moment trips. I opted to be a bit more luxurious and instead booked a regular spot. (The hiker/biker is more a group area, and I was still a bit leery of sharing my space due to COVID.)
I was getting ready to pack some film when I learned that my regular lab had run out of C-41 chemicals, meaning no color negative development until they got it back in stock. What to do? I could shoot normal color stock and wait a bit, or find another lab. But I decided to veer in another direction and go with slide film. The lab still had a supply of E-6 chemicals, so there would be no delay. I had a couple remaining rolls of expired Kodak Elite Chrome 100. It could be fun to shoot travel photos on it, and the copious amounts of sunlight that were forecast would be perfect for ISO 100 stock.
But then I veered even further. I had shot my last batch of slide film with my Minolta SR-T 101, a nice mechanical SLR. It just seemed “logical” to shoot slide film with it, but it is a big, bulky camera. I wanted to travel light. What about my Olympus Pen EES-2 instead?
A half-frame camera with basically no manual exposure control? Are you serious? Well, yes I am. People did shoot slide film with cameras like this back in the day. The crucial thing with slide film is exposure has to be spot-on, and with an auto-exposure camera the metering needs to be correct. My Pen EES-2 had been freshly CLA’d by Portland Camera Service, so I knew that its meter was working properly. No worries there. While the D.Zuiko 30mm f/2.8 lens on the EES-2 is no slouch, the fine grain of transparency film will mean the resolution loss of the 18x24mm frame shouldn’t be as severe as using a grainier emulsion. So I put my fears aside and loaded the Pen EES-2 with slide film!
Over the course of my tour, I stopped at many of the scenic highlights, pulled the Olympus Pen EES-2 out of a pouch on my loaded Bantam bicycle, and snapped away. Camping at Ainsworth was great. It’s pleasant to fall asleep under a deep canopy of trees. I dropped the roll of Elite Chrome 100 off at the lab after I got home. The results were pleasing: the colors vibrant, exposure good, shots generally in focus. The Pen EES-2 handled the challenge like a champ. The beauty of the Gorge shone through!
I’m going to share 10 frames since each one is half the size of a normal one. 😉
Thanks for reading! – Shawn