5 Frames with a Fujica ST605n and Rollei Retro 400s

By Phil Shemmings

I bought my first SLR camera as a teenager back in 1981. I remember visiting the now long-gone Vic Odden’s in London Bridge and coming home with a secondhand Fujica ST605n with its slightly unsual standard lens, a Fujinon 55mm f2.2. Alongside a copy of the 35mm Photographer’s Handbook and lots of trial and error I learned how to take photographs using the basic manual controls on that solid simple camera.

Over the years I graduated to better film cameras, finally settling on a Nikon FM2n which I stupidly sold for peanuts when film photography was “over”. Like everyone else I jumped into digital, and over time I became a fan of the analogue contols and tactile pleasure of Fujifilm’s retro offerings. I ended up with an X-Pro 2 and an X100F – both lovely cameras, with proper dials on the bodies and aperture rings on the lenses.

But there was something nagging at me. I hated the constant pressure to upgrade every time a new body or lens was released (which I’ve largely resisted, since digital cameras became “good enough”). And as much as it’s great to be able to snap away without worrying about cost, I realised that I’d often end up with so many images that I often never got around to editing them or sometimes even properly looking at them.

Driven by nostalgia I bought a Fujica ST605n from eBay. It was in lovely condition and everything seemed to work properly, but it was left gathering dust on a shelf for a couple of years – just something to look at, and occasional pick up and play with. Eventually I decided it was time to actually put it to use. I took the plunge and replaced the light seals and put some batteries in. I bought a few rolls of black and white film – the usual suspects, HP5 and Tri-X. But I also liked the look of Rollei Retro 400S, and it was this that I chose as the first roll to go in the camera.

Biggin Hill airport

The first trip out reminded how much I’d forgotten, and how lazy I’d become in the digital age. Manually focusing, using stop-down match-needle metering, changing screw mount lenses – everything was slow and clumsy. Every time I took a shot I instinctively glanced at the back of the film door looking for a preview image. And every time I pressed the shutter I discovered that I’d forgotten to wind on the film.

Gradually the lazy habits faded and the old techniques came back. I enjoyed slowing down and being more physically involved in the process. I liked the fact that I only had 36 frames, and each one was costing money, so I had to think carefully before taking a picture.

Tyre tracks in a muddy field

A walk around Biggin Hill airport on the edge of London suburbia was a great place to test out the camera for the first time, with its slightly sinister atmosphere of mystery and secrecy. An abandoned bus, electricity pylons and tyre tracks across nearby fields all lent themselves to being shot in gritty black and white film.

Abandoned bus in a field

It felt like an age waiting for the film to be developed and scanned, but that lack of instant digital gratification made me appreciate the results all the more. And when the scans popped into my inbox I found that the enforced wait meant that I looked at the photos with fresh eyes.

Tracks across the field leading to the airport

Examining the negatives, several frames were very dark and overexposed, and when scanned this led to lots of grain and an almost infra-red effect in some shots. I loved the look, and it reminded me that using film sometimes leads to happy accidents that would take a lot of effort to reproduce digitally. The frames that were better exposed produced negatives with lots of contrast and plenty of grain. Exactly what I was hoping for.

Electricity pylons

This initial venture back into film kicked off something of an obsession, and resulted in me buying a Pentax MX – the camera I’d always wanted back in the day but could never afford. I’ve rediscovered the joy of home developing, fallen down the rabbit hole of home scanning, and ended up buying a Nikon FM2n from Japan (for considerably more than I sold my original one for for 15 years ago!) But that’s another story for another 5 Frames…

Thanks for reading – you can find me on Instagram here and my website’s here.

 

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About The Author

By Phil Shemmings
I ride bikes, drive trains and take photos. I prefer titanium bikes, electric trains and film cameras.
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Comments

Castelli Daniel on 5 Frames with a Fujica ST605n and Rollei Retro 400s

Comment posted: 26/04/2023

I bought my first SLR in 1970! It was a tiny Pentax H1a. My parents were close friends with a former RAF pilot and his wife. He flew out of Biggin Hill. They moved to the US and he worked as an engineer for a small aerospace company. I’ve seen the Rollei film offered through FreeStyle photo. After looking at your results, I’ve ordered a couple of rolls. I like the look of your landscapes. Well done. I’d almost call the film a good ‘atmospheric’ stock. Thanks for posting.
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Phil Shemmings replied:

Comment posted: 26/04/2023

Thanks for the kind words, and an intersting Biggin Hill link. The Pentax H1a was a beautiful camera - those early Pentaxes were real mechanical delights. I'm amazed at how many are still going strong 50 years later. I doubt many of today's DSLRs will be working in 50 years' time. Enjoy the Rollei film - I've used a few more rolls since I shot these pics and I really like it. Contrasty negatives, but with a clear base they scan very nicely. Just be careful to load it in the shade, as the first few frames can pick up a bit of fogging otherwise - nothing too dramatic, but I noticed some around the sprocket holes when I loaded a roll in bright sunlight recently.

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Dogman on 5 Frames with a Fujica ST605n and Rollei Retro 400s

Comment posted: 26/04/2023

I had to smile when you said you kept looking at the back of the camera after taking a shot. Same here. I just started shooting film again and I'm still in digital mode. I have some Rollei film here to try as soon as I go through my HP5 and Tri-X that expired last century (but kept frozen the whole time). Enjoyed the article. Still kinda smiling.
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Phil Shemmings replied:

Comment posted: 26/04/2023

Glad you enjoyed the piece, and good to know I'm not alone in chimping at the back of a film camera. The Fujica hasn't even got a film memo holder on the back that I could pretend I was checking :) There's certainly a lot more involved in taking a film photo, which I guess is why so many of us are enjoying it again. Though for the life of me I can't remember how I managed to take sports pics on film back in the 1980s (football and cycling mainly) without autofocus, autoexposure and a winder. Not to mention fumbling around to change the film every 36 shots. And some of them were actually sharp and in focus. I don't think I could do that now! Good luck with the Rollei film. I need to shoot a few more rolls to get a proper feel for how it behaves, but my first impressions are good. It certainly scans very nicely.

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Dan Smouse on 5 Frames with a Fujica ST605n and Rollei Retro 400s

Comment posted: 26/04/2023

I have an ST605 as well though it doesn't get shot very much, mostly a shelf piece. Mine sports a Pentax Super-Tak 55mm f1.8 (which is a very nice lens for the price!). It really is a fine piece of camera gear. The meter isn't working on mine which isn't a problem as I use one of the meter apps on my iPhone.
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Phil Shemmings replied:

Comment posted: 26/04/2023

Hi Dan, since I got the MX (and then the FM2) mine isn't getting much use either now. But when I do use it I'm reminded what I well-built camera it is; especially for what was considered a mid-market brand at the time. They just seem to keep working without any fuss or drama. Thanks for the Super-Takumar recommendation - I can imagine that's a great combination. The Pentax screw mount lenses were generally superb, and prices haven't gone too silly for the 55s by the look of it.

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Ibraar Hussain on 5 Frames with a Fujica ST605n and Rollei Retro 400s

Comment posted: 25/04/2023

Really enjoyed this! really liked the photos and Rollei Retro 400s is a superb film. I recommend having a deep yellow filter - then watch the whites glow! I must admit, it is a pleasure shooting film and the whole process involved. I daren't press the shutter and make the exposure unless 100% sure!
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Phil Shemmings replied:

Comment posted: 25/04/2023

Thanks Ibraar - I'll try a yellow filter next time. I might try a red one too and see what that does :) You're absolutely right about the film-shooting process. There's more to do and more to think about, but this just makes it all the more rewarding.

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Gus on 5 Frames with a Fujica ST605n and Rollei Retro 400s

Comment posted: 25/04/2023

Really enjoyed the story arc Phil, great piece! I kept going back to the photo of the muddy tire tracks. I'm try to learn how to use depth-of-field in environmental/landscape photos, I think it's a great example. Thanks!
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Phil Shemmings replied:

Comment posted: 25/04/2023

Hi Gus, thanks for the compliment! Paths and tracks are a great way to draw the viewer into a photo, and create that sense of depth. It can invite the viewer to take a journey "into" the picture. Glad you liked that one. Cheers Phil

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