Olympus OM1 & Ilford HP5

5 Frames with an Olympus OM1, a roll of HP5 and a Bridge

I have a few film cameras that all mean something emotional to me (my Olympus XA2 I won in a photographic competition aged 12, my OM1 was my only camera for about 20 years until I added my Minolta Autocord, the Nikon F801 is a copy of one I took travelling around the world and I look after my Dad’s Nikon FE that he bought when I was a nipper) but I don’t use them anywhere near as much as I should, not least because I love my digital camera (Fuji XE3) with it’s perfect blend of retro feel, image quality, size and convenience. 

With this in mind I have been looking for excuses to use my film cameras and all the lovely rolls of Ilford HP5 I have bought over the last year or so. Hence I have come up with a project to photograph some of the bridges over the River Thames near to where I live using a maximum of one roll for one day’s shooting.

My first choice was the Runnymede Bridge that carries the M25 over the Thames just to the north of Staines upon Thames. They are actually two bridges (the other one carries the A30) but they are just a few feet apart and usually referred to as one bridge. It / they are a magnificent structure built from concrete and brick facing, started in the 1960s, expanded with the building of the M25 motorway in the 1980s and expanded yet again in 2000s when the motorway was widened so it is now the widest road bridge in the UK. It is an amazing structure that creates beautiful shapes and strong diagonals, shadows and angles and challenges the dynamic range of the film.

Using the OM1 again was wonderful. The three lenses I own, the 28mm f2.8, 50mm f1.8 and 135mm f2.8 are nothing overly special in themselves, but has there ever been a range of lenses so tactile and delightful to use as the small Zuikos? The camera was a delight and balanced beautifully with all three lenses, although I’m not convinced that the light meter is functioning absolutely accurately. In the dark of the shadows, the famed viewfinder of the OM1 with its huge and bright image helped composition. The HP5 seemed a perfect match for the camera and transported me back to my late teens when this was my go-to combo (unless I could only afford the cheap colour neg film from Boots).

I was not quite so cheerful once I had scanned the negatives though. I develop the film myself and scan the negatives at home on my Epson flatbed scanner, so, while not exactly cutting edge, it is the only way that film photography is remotely affordable. Compared to the digital images the negs were a disappointment – lacking contrast and, worse, regularly spoiled by hair and dust. I live in a small flat with a family and three dogs so perhaps hoping for perfect images is an unattainable dream, but film negatives still need an awful lot of work, or at least in my hands, when compared to digital files.

So is it worth persevering with my film based project of the bridges? It is too early to say ‘no’ and shooting the OM1 / HP5 combination was a lovely experience. I can not foresee a time when film photography reverts to being my first choice, but when the mood takes me and I feel the need to step backwards from the perfect electronic Fuji masterpiece and towards something more imperfect and personal, then I will reach for one of the cameras that mean so much to me and head out to the bridges over the River Thames.

There are also some lessons from the day. Firstly, that film seems to have a narrower dynamic range than a modern day digital sensor. Second, 28mm is a wonderful focal length. Thirdly, the Zuiko lenses are fantastic and the OM1 is an amazing piece of engineering. Fourth, I need to check the light meter, or at least remember that a centre weighted meter works the photographer harder than a modern multi segment / matrix (or whatever they are called) meter. And lastly, that I should get my OM1 and probably all the other cameras, cleaned and serviced, but that pushes up the cost of film photography still further and I have a beautiful little XE3 to which I can attach the Zuiko lenses just sitting there, smiling at me……

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40 thoughts on “5 Frames with an Olympus OM1, a roll of HP5 and a Bridge”

  1. With the ever chasing need between digital camera capability, software features and computer speed, film is readily affordable. Yes, there are different finishing tasks involved and no instant gratification… but I still enjoy the magic show.

    1. Hi Richard, thanks for taking the time to read the article and for your comments. From what I read, I think that in real terms, film is only a tiny bit more (if at all) expensive than at any other time. If, like me, one is lucky enough to have an old film camera and lenses as well as developing canisters etc left over from the analogue days, then the cost is even more affordable. It is a magical process.

  2. Tim: I’m a bit surprised about your experience scanning your negatives. You say that your film scans lacked contrast compared to digital images, but do you think that’s inherent in film vs digital or the result of low quality scans? I use an Epson V550, and I’ve been very pleased with the results. As I’ve become more practiced, I have found ways to almost entirely eliminate dust on the negatives (a battery-powered blower I received for Christmas helps a lot). Perhaps you just need more time working with the scanner?

    To see examples of my scans, check out my Instagram @campyonlyguy All of the film images there were developed and scanned by me. They may not be truly professional quality, but certainly good enough for my purposes.

    1. Tim Wainwright

      Hi Eric and thanks for your thoughts. I think you are probably correct in that I just need to become more practiced in it. It is interesting also that I think I need to change my expectations that film should be a similar experience to digital….surely the difference could be seen as the important part! I have also noticed that my immediate frustration with the development and scanning process has dissipated over time and I have come to enjoy the images for what they are.

      1. For what it’s worth, I would consider a raw flatbed film scan to be like a raw digi image – i.e. always going to need just as much (or more) work in adjustments to turn it into the equivalent of a hard copy print. They definitely can look pretty disappointing out of the gate.

        If you at some point start scanning film via camera with a macro lens, you’ll probably find that you get much nicer results immediately. At least that’s been my experience, compared to using an Epson V850 and (years ago) a Nikon Coolscan.

        And yes there’s less dynamic range in film, and 35mm scans are going to look brutally soft and lacking detail when compared to a modern digi camera that outputs files that are more like scans we used to get out of medium format film. That part is something to learn to work with and enjoy for what it is. 35mm is still very worthwhile and cool if you intend that look and feel.

        1. Hi Peter and thanks for your thoughts. I don’t own a macro lens (maybe that needs to change) and I the flatbed scanner is also used for other jobs soI’ll get to know it better for now, but several of the comments and thoughts posted her have been very helpful, which is great. I will continue to use film and hope to get better at the production of the final image- it’s all part of the process.

          1. Yes… I have been using an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with 30mm f/3.5 Macro lens (cheap) and a Nikon ES-2 slude/film holder to scan slides and negatives. It’s faster and better than my Epson V500 for anything 35mm sized, and with the Olympus I can get a raw file in hires mode, so I have RGGB samples for each pixel .

          2. HI David, thanks for your thoughts. I also shoot medium format, which was one of the reasons I bought the flat bed scanner as I could not afford both a dedicated 35mm and 120 film scanner. I don’t own a macro lens and I think for now I need to get the best results out of the Epsom that I can….I’m sure it’s just perseverance!

  3. Thoughtful composition in those shots, Tim. I like them very much.
    Personally I don’t find HP5 a paricularly contrasty film, but that might just be me. If you want a bit more oomph may I suggest you try a yellow filter.
    28mm is a great focal length. Funnily enough I’ve just read your post after getting back from a photo walk (Nunhead Cemetry). I just grabbed my bag and a roll of film to get it in before the rain started. In the bag was a 35mm and a 24mm. You’ve probably guessed that the 24mm was too wide and the 35mm not wide enough. Hey ho!
    See you next month,

    1. Tim Wainwright

      Hi Peter, thanks for your thoughts. I would usually use a yellow (or preferably orange) filter, but it was so dark under the bridge that I did not add one on this day. I also need to enjoy the experience for what it is and not compare it to the digital experience. I’m a big fan of the flexibility of HP5….wonder what it is like rated at 200 ISO?

      I have been enjoying the film camera more recently, complete with filters and 28mm lenses some more- it does seem, in many ways, the ‘perfect’ wide angle….but then again, I do like a 35 and 24……

  4. Great shots here, I like the composition in the 2nd and 5th. Re HP5 film, I have indeed met with both situations, but that is most probable my processing, not the film by itself (I’ve no clue if a link is allowed in here, as an example), probably not.

    The OM1 is an excellent camera, mine has 30+ and still going strong, although I had to send it to CLA and whatnot twice or so. I like yours better, what with that brass showing through the black paint, gorgeous. Meter can go awry indeed, but a good repairer would put that right.

    Thank you for showing these here, good luck !

    1. Tim Wainwright

      Hi Julian, thanks for your thoughts. I think that you are correct; like most things in life, photographic issues that frustrate me, or I am not happy about are usually my fault rather than the gear.

      The OM1 is a wonderful camera. Despite owning some other fairly nice kit, I do find that I reach for the OM1 much more than any other film gear….the lenses are just so tactile and the body a great size.

  5. Hi Tim,

    Please do continue with that bridges on film project. These photographs are fantastic!
    I may want to check out those motorway bridges where I live in Germany. It’s a great idea for a project.


    1. Tim Wainwright

      Hi Eric, thanks for leaving a comment and your support! I find that I am drawn to quite brutalist architecture as you can find amazing shapes in it.

      All the best with a project of your own.

  6. Congratulations Tim for your work It is clear that you have an eye for composition. All the photographs are really beautiful.

      1. I used to be a great fan of HP4 (and then HP5) but I migrated first to Tri-X, then Plus-X, then I bought a shed-load of Kodak Tech Pan and I’ve been using it ever since, with occasional forays into T-Max 400 and T-Max 100. I’ve become a “grainophobe” and a “sharpophile” and only CMS-20 or Tech Pan gives the extreme sharpness and zero grain that I’ve come to love. Of course, working with 12-50asa means a tripod is obligatory but the results speak for themselves (and we should ask be using troops more, shouldn’t we?). One of my photos was taken with a Canon EOS 7 and a Canon 85mm F1.8 lens (possibly the highest resolving lens I own – even better than any Leica lens I have). I enlarged a CMS-20 film, Devenus in Adotech lV, from 35mm, to 5ft wide by 4ft high and (I realise nobody’s going to believe me, but that’s OK) there is zero grain at 3ft viewing distance. The pictures also have that 60s appearance too. If anyone’s seen Blow Up (1966), I can get a similar look to those type of photos.
        I do take digital on occasion but every time I do, I feel the same sense of guilt and shame as when I sneakily look up a crossword answer on the ‘Net.
        Digital is too easy, too lazy and (quite honestly) too good.
        I like to make work for myself…

        1. Hi Ian, you sound far more dedicated, patient and skilful than I could ever hope to be! I do think that digital makes us (or at least me) think that the process should be ;easy’ or at least ‘straightforward’ and it is a small step to losing sight of the idea that things we care about should be difficult or else they lose their value. I love to hear insight like yours as there is obviously a labour of love involved and that is always to be commended. Thanks and good luck.

  7. Castelli Daniel

    Hi Tim,
    I would most strongly encourage you to continue the bridge project on film. You have put in place all the elements for a long term project. All the glitches you’ve mentioned are fixable. Film photography is a process of trial & error. The light meter a bit wonky on the OM-1? Pick up an inexpensive hand held meter for less than the cost of a repair. Stick to one developer. Don’t jump around. Hang your wet film in your shower. Usually a dust free space. Check for newest drivers for your scanner. Cover with a plastic sheet when not in use. Many, many on-line tutorials on scanning B&W so I’m sure you’ll find one that addresses your current results with the scans. Stick with your architectural project. Have fun. Say hello to your 4 legged friends!

    1. Tim Wainwright

      Hi Daniel, thank for your comment. I think that you make a good point about the nature of film photography being trial and error. I am as guilty as anyone of deleting the digital shots I do not like, thus fooling my self into thinking that it is ‘easier’ than film. Your advice is very sound about sticking to one developer, film etc…and having fun! Thank you.

  8. Enjoyed this and more so as I’m familiar with the location
    I used to have an OM2n – lovely cameras with so much quality lenses
    You could’ve tried a different developer and film combination
    Kodak Eastman Double-XX with say Diafine Bellini Duo would’ve given you enough room to crank up the contrast and tone as you want
    Or even better if there’s enough light – Rollei Retro with Diafine would’ve given rich contrast
    I’d also get myself a air blower thing – works wonders getting rid of dust and hair

    1. Tim Wainwright

      Hi Ibraar, thanks for your comments and knowledge of developers! I’m going to tick with the basic HP5 and ID-11 for now and do my best to ‘perfect’ those. I have used Rollie Retro and liked that, but again, only with ID-11 which might not be ideal. As you note, an orange filter is great, and I do use that as often as I can, but for this shot it was too dark for me to use one as I was not confident to hand hold the camera at any lower shutter speeds. Hopefully later in the year I’ll be in a position to experiment more with developers, so your insight will come in vey useful!

  9. Hi Tim – I also thought that my images were dull and lack lustre after scanning on my V600 (HP5+). However, I now adjust the levels using FastStone Image Viewer (free program) and get very pleasing results with both 35mm and 6×6 MF. The problem wasn’t with the negs, which I have Dev Only by Ag Photo Labs. This gives me a consistency of negative density as far as processing is concerned. My pleasure lays in the loading and using of my film cameras in the field – my darkroom has long gone.

    1. Tim Wainwright

      Hi John, thanks for the information – I am quite unknowledgeable about different programmes and options. It seems scanning is a micro skill and subset of photography all in itself! There is a great feel and ‘heft’ to a fully mechanical camera. As an aside, I sometimes teach a photography class at the school where i work and we were discussing gear a little today and I was desperately trying to get the kids away from relying on their phones and towards using a tactile camera as it engages a completely different part of the brain and works on composition….and a lot of this has to do with the feel of using a specific tool. I was trying to convince them that they will start to see their world differently if they take a camera out with them wherever they go rather than a phone as it cannot be a photographic instrument. There is definitely a pleasure in using a camera that one cannot get from a phone, and I also agree that there is a better ‘feel’ from a mechanical film camera than lots of digital electronic wonders.

      1. Hi Tim,
        Fully agree with your statements around the tactile experience in using a real camera. Even more so a fully mechanical one.
        As for scanning, it is indeed a whole area of expertise on its own. Am area I still need to improve in. For 35 mm negatives, I use a Nikon Coolscan V ED with Vuescan, outputting linear grayscale DNGs. I then import them to Capture One (which I initially bought for my digital photography), where I need to set “linear response” as a base curve which – I believe – adjusts to the appropriate gamma. Then I adjust the black and white point and ultimately apply an S-curve for contrast as I see fit for the subject.
        Medium format is being digital camera scanned and Fujifilm RAFs (in my case) imported into Capture one as well. A bit more massaging is needed here as first the curve conversion needs to be done before applying the other adjustments as outlined above. Colour is a whole different animal. I am using the Analog Toolbox add-on to Capture One for white balance and the initial RGB channel conversion.

        Best regards,

        1. Hi Erik, those are very helpful hints. I am halfway through another roll of HP5 in my OM1, so when I finish and develop that, I’ll follow your advice and see what comes out. Thanks!

  10. Lovely compositions and (despite your self-deprecating comments) the end results of the developing/scanning looks pretty good too.
    Makes me want to break out an OM2n…

    1. Tim Wainwright

      Hi Bob, thanks for your comments – go one get out the Olympus! I’ll bring mine when we meet so you can always have a play then!

  11. HP5 pushed to 800 and developed in Microphen will give you both increased contrast and some grain reduction for a bit of extra snap. And for me, the ideal combo for cloudy days.

    I too have a sentimental value OM-1, XA and XA2. Don’t get to use them much, but these shots are inspiring me to bring them out!

    For scanning, I too struggle with my Epson flatbed. I’m thinking of creating a copy stand using my e-m1 mark iii with a macro and high res capture. It would certainly be a lot faster and I can experiment with the built in profiles.

    1. Tim Wainwright

      Hi Ray, thanks for your comments and the developer/ ISO tip, I will try that when I get the chance. I do think that Olympus made a lovely range of cameras with fantastic lenses. I love using the lenses on digital cameras too. I’d be interested to know how the copy stand approach to scanning negs goes. Good luck!

  12. Great photography and interesting narrative, and comments.

    I’ve used Epson flatbeds for quite a few years now and have been quite happy. Sometimes I have dust and fibers but often they are minor. It is a continuing process to minimize that type of problem.

    As far as contrast and the overall look goes, in the 60s through the 90s, I addressed it by selecting different contrast enlarging paper of using Polycontrast filters and paper. Now I crop and adjust levels a bit to get the same effect and it takes less than a minute for the edits.

    You have great composition skills and please continue posting.

    1. Hi Neal and thanks for you comments, much appreciated. The more i use the Epsom the better I get on with it – who would have thought! I am still learning lots about post processing. When I started in digital I saw a purity in doing as little post processing as possible, but I think I am starting to see it all as part of the same process. This is, I believe, much as the great photographers of yesteryear saw the darkroom process, so who am I to argue…

  13. Kevin Pritchard

    Do you have a shower cubicle? If so it will be the least dusty place in your apartment or house. I rig a drying line in cubicle and there’s never a speck or a hair on the film. The film goes straight into neg filing sheets when dry. I found this tip in a book by the late Roger Hicks.
    Your graphic compositions of the bridge are excellent!

    1. Hi Kevin, thank you for your comments. I hang my negs in the shower, but it is a bath not a separate cubicle so not ideal, but a good place nonetheless.

  14. Nice to see an OM-1 driven around the block these days. I still have mine, which I got in 1975! What battery are you using for the meter? Can you still get PX625 mercury batteries over there? It needs a 1.35V battery, not the 1.5V you get from common replacements. I have a little widget in mine that let’s me use Lithium-Air hearing aid batteries, which deliver a more accurate reading than get with Alkaline or Silver Oxide batteries. There are a few companies making these as all-in-one cells, basically adding a metal ring and calling it a PX625 Wein Cell, though they’re a bit pricey.

    1. Hi David, the OM1 is a wonderful camera and lovely to use. I don’t have the camera with me right now, so I’m not sure of the battery but I don’t think it is 100% right, but I need to check. I’m pretty sure that the mercury batteries are unavailable and there are no exact replacements. Ideally the cameras can be altered to take modern batteries….see this review of the OM1 on Analogue Insights https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LH_c4qqk2ns (which is a great You Tube Channel) – about 15.30 minutes in they discuss batteries.

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