Shooting Film And Digital in Athens – By Charles Higham

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.

Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Lycabettus Hill, Samsung Galaxy A02s

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.

Pentax ME. Lomochrome Metropolis. Looking out from the Acropolis
Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Ilford Delta 400. The Parthenon
Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Ilford Delta 400. View from Acropolis. I like the sharpness of the lens on this 22 year old plastic compact.

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…

Samsung Galaxy A02s
Pentax ME. Lomochrome Metropolis
Pentax ME. Lomochrome Metropolis
Pentax ME. Lomochrome Metropolis. Guards at the Presidential Mansion.
Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Ilford Delta 400.
Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Ilford Delta 400. Acropolis Museum
Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Ilford Delta 400. Acropolis Museum
Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Ilford Delta 400. Chelsea Hotel. I enjoyed this hip cafe in Pangrati.
Canon Sure shot Z90W. Chelsea Hotel bar. Casual shot but quite like the movement.
Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Ilford Delta 400. Minnie the Moocher bar, Kolonaki

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.

Pentax ME. Lomochrome Metropolis. View from Anafiotika.
Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Ilford Delta 400. Street art 1, Anafiotika.
Pentax ME. Lomochrome Metropolis. Street art 2 Anafiotika.
Pentax ME. Lomochrome Metropolis. Street art 3, Anafiotika
Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Ilford Delta 400. Street art 4, Anafiotika.
Pentax ME. Lomochrome Metropolis. Street art 5 Anafiotika.

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.

Pentax ME. Lomochrome Metropolis. This is one of the frames affected by a faulty shutter curtain.
…..and this is another
Digital Panasonic GM1. 1/25 ISO 3200. Couldn’t have got this shot with a film camera without a tripod.
Panasonic GM1. 1/400 ISO 200. I used the phone a fair amount for photos, but it was good to have a decent digital compact camera on me.
Canon Sure Shot Z90W. Ilford Delta 400. Parliament building, Syntagma Square
Panasonic GM1. 1/20 ISO 3200. Night view of Acropolis from Areopagus Hill

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.

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10 thoughts on “Shooting Film And Digital in Athens – By Charles Higham”

  1. That’s a good advert for the Sure Shot – looks like a very compact and capable little travel camera. Out of interest did you have your films processed while you were there, or on your return? I’ve so far chickened out of taking a film camera on holiday as I’m afraid of hassle/delays going through security and/or spoiled unprocessed negs from x-rays.

    1. Thanks Stuart, in my view this particular Sure Shot is a good little camera to carry around, primarily because the lens is better than most found on mainstream consumer compacts of this type, but also the personal settings function such as permanent flash off and exposure compensation are useful. I had the films processed when I got back to the UK. I didn’t worry about the airport x-ray issue because generally speaking films of 400 ISO and below are unaffected unless they get passed through scanners multiple times. However, apparently best to have them in carry-on hand luggage as I’ve read that larger suitcases sent to the aircraft hold undergo a more powerful x-ray security scan which can fog the film.

  2. Wim van Heugten

    Nice reading! The error with the ME looks like shutter curtain capping. It happens at the shorter exposure times. You can check it by looking through the camera (no film, open film door) from the back.At all times you should see an even lit frame.

  3. Hello,

    The Lomo film has really nice colour science. Gives your photos a nice feeling. Good choice.

    Why bring so many cameras with you ? 3 cameras going light … The ME and your phone (if it is has a nice camera) would be fine to experience going light.

    You may love cameras as objects though ( I do) and wanted your toys, I understand that.

    Your colour film photos are the best of the lot. Really nice old school feeling.

    1. Thanks Nikos. Yes I like the look of Metropolis too and it’s ideal for urban photography. I brought the Pentax ME and the Canon Sure Shot because I wanted to have with me the option to shoot both colour and black & white film at the same location at the same time, and also my digital Panasonic GM1 camera because its capabilities and image quality are superior to my phone (particularly in low light). So for me it was about being able to shoot with what I felt was best depending on subject matter. I had no problems carrying them around – the Panasonic and Canon are small and light and literally fitted in my pockets so it was fine .

  4. Great photos! I am a fan of the 28mm focal length. It looks like you mostly used your Panasonic zoom at the wider end as well, which gives your digital photos a similar look and feel. The night shot (which I really like) – for a film version, I think you would have needed not only a tripod but also tungsten balanced film! Digital really is a gamechanger for low/artificial light photography. And thanks for linking to my article 😉

    1. Thanks Sroyon, yes the kit zoom lens on the Panasonic GM1 actually starts at 24mm (35mm equivalence) and I mostly shot it at that focal length. And you’re right about the necessity for tungsten balanced film for the night shot, I forgot about that. I agree, digital gives you low light options which with film you don’t have without going to some trouble. I set my GM1 to an ISO limit of 3200 which seemed to do the job for night shots. My pleasure linking your article, no doubt there are plenty of photographers around the world right now who are about to go on holiday and thinking about cameras or film types they should take with them.

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