I’ve just read Sroyon’s excellent post about how many cameras to take on holiday and it reminded me of a pre-pandemic trip I made to Greece when I had to make similar decisions in terms of camera choices. I wanted to shoot film but also it seemed sensible to carry a digital camera too.
As I was going to Athens for just a few days I packed everything I needed for my visit into a bag the right maximum dimensions for carry-on cabin luggage, so a good reason to keep photography equipment to a minimum. I planned to walk around the city with one camera loaded with colour film, another with black and white, and use either depending on the situation. I also decided to take my Panasonic GM1 micro four thirds sensor compact and of course a phone.
A favourite film camera of mine is the Pentax ME. It’s an automatic aperture priority model from the mid 1970s and very compact for a 35mm SLR. As long as you don’t mind the absence of shutter speed controls (although there is a 1/100 option on the dial if the batteries fail) it will cover most eventualities no problem. A few years later Pentax produced the ME Super version which includes push-button shutter speed controls. There’s a wide range of legacy K mount Pentax manual lenses to use with them. I’ve found the ME a light and easily portable SLR partner to the digital Panasonic GM1 and usually carry both if travelling so I can shoot 35mm film and digital without being encumbered with too much kit. I didn’t hesitate to choose those cameras for the trip.
It was still late winter in Greece and as I couldn’t count on brilliant sunshine at all times, medium speed film seemed appropriate. I was keen to try out Lomochrome Metropolis which is essentially a grainy high contrast/low saturation colour film and loaded a roll into the Pentax ME. It’s described as ‘Extended ISO 100–400’ by Lomography so felt it should be ok and set the ISO on the ME at 200. As I was expecting mainly architectural subjects requiring a wide angle lens, I fitted an SMC Pentax-M f/2.8 28mm. I didn’t bring any other lenses.
Along with the Pentax ME I brought my Canon Sure Shot Z90W which I’ve written about here when I used Kodak Portra 400 with it. A pocketable plastic compact from 2000 with a sharp 28-90mm lens, I thought it would be interesting to try it with monochrome film and chose Ilford Delta 400.
So for walking around I had the quite lightweight Pentax ME SLR in a camera bag hanging from my shoulder, the Canon Sure Shot film compact in one jacket pocket, the little digital Panasonic GM1 with optically stabilised 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens in the other and my phone in my back pocket. That’s all I needed and I didn’t feel overloaded.
I stayed in a studio apartment in the Pangrati area of Athens and didn’t use public transport, walking everywhere which I believe is the best way to experience a city – Athens is very alive and has the street life, cafe culture, elegance and also in places a gritty edginess that offer street photography opportunities, along with the historic landmarks you expect to see. As I arrived at the apartment entrance with cameras packed in my bag I grabbed my phone for this shot showing not everyone is happy with the company I booked my accommodation through…
For my first evening I’d pre-booked a city walking tour through airbnb, and I’m glad I did because it was a really useful introduction. In fact it turned out I was the only person for that evening’s tour, but to her credit the guide enthusiastically delivered the full programme just for me. I mention it because one of the places I was taken to is an unusual small neighborhood hanging to the side of the Acropolis hill called Anafiotika. As well as having a fascinating maze of walkways through a jumble of whitewashed houses, there’s some striking street art and I went again the following day and include some photos here. If I hadn’t done the tour I might not have appreciated it was well worth seeing and for me it was a photographic highlight of the trip. So I recommend checking out tours like that before you go to whichever place you’re visiting, because being given that kind of well presented inside knowledge can make a real difference to your experience.
I had a temporary issue with the Pentax ME – when I got the Metropolis negatives back from the processors it was apparent there had been a shutter curtain fault which affected a series of frames I exposed at the Parthenon, so those have gone. I wasn’t aware of it at the time but thankfully it must have cleared itself. It could happen to you. Sroyon explained in his post he lost a roll of Ilford HP5 due to a processing error and so sadly is missing photos of part of his holiday. So the lesson I’ve learned is it’s wise to spread exposures across at least two cameras for important events and holidays away from home.
I enjoyed using the film cameras I had with me and Athens is a really interesting destination, obviously not just for photography. I shot a lot of digital photos with the Panasonic GM1, many of them evening shots where a tripod would have been necessary for film cameras with slower shutter speeds. My lens selection wouldn’t be appropriate for everybody, for example wildlife photography would require telephoto lenses. But for city breaks a combination of digital and film enriches the photography experience as long as you can keep size and weight down to a comfortable level. Obviously choice of film deserves some thought. I liked the grainy, contrasty, low saturation quality of the Lomochrome Metropolis for the sort of urban subjects I was shooting, but I wouldn’t use it for everything. I’ve read that Ilford Delta 400 has less latitude than Ilford HP5 which may be the safer all round performer and, according to Ilford, Delta has a generally sharper and ‘cleaner’ look with finer grain. I would probably have been happy with HP5 in Athens but certainly have no complaints about Delta 400.