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My Debut into Film Photography

First of all, sorry for all you regular Photograph IO readers for blogging so scarcely these days. School just started and everyone is busy, but I’ll still try to do my best and keep up with at least 3/4 articles per week. Stay tuned! That being said, this article has a more personal, intimate style that […]

Minolta X700
Minolta X700 w/ 35-70 f/3.5 macro lens, my new camera. Ironically, I used a Kodak Ultramax 400 VSCO preset on this picture.

First of all, sorry for all you regular Photograph IO readers for blogging so scarcely these days. School just started and everyone is busy, but I’ll still try to do my best and keep up with at least 3/4 articles per week. Stay tuned! That being said, this article has a more personal, intimate style that would perhaps be better suited to be on some personal blog, but for the sake of it, I’ve decided to post it in Photograph IO for those who are interested…

Like most amateurs photographers today, digital photography has been with me from the start. Although I did know people who owns and shoots film, I had never manipulated that medium myself. And so I shot digital for over 5 years, ever since the beginning of my path down photography. However, film photography always intrigued me. Maybe it’s because of that so-called tonal rendition, or dynamic range, or that ubiquitous film grain, or maybe out of pure curiosity? No matter what the reason was, the film look had a profound appeal on me. I bought some VSCO. Is it good? Hell yeah. But I still had to try the experience of shooting real film. I still had to explore the vast world of film photography…

My own story began near 2009 with an Sony DSC-H50 that had a 1/2.5 inch CCD sensor with horrible (OK, not so bad at that time) ISO performance, with anything over ISO 400 being unusable. However, I quickly began to outgrow my camera despite being a 13-year-old kid at that time, and got my very first Nikon D5100 sometime like two years ago. The jump from a crap bridge camera to a DSLR was huge. Digital satisfied me once again for a few years while I was playing around with decent amateur gear. But some inner voice in me wanted to shoot film. Fast forward 3 years…

Since I didn’t have any film camera within possession (unless you count that SLR of my dad with a broken shutter and lens mount), I had to get a film camera in the first place. Since I didn’t want to buy without seeing the item in person, Ebay was already off-limits. Craigslist and Kijiji (aka Ebay Classified in the USA) were alternatives, but the offering price was always quite high for any type of film cameras. Wanting to shoot film on a budget, I began searching for camera deals in yard sales. Finally, I got my chance on a Minolta X700 with a 35-70 f/3.5 Minolta-Leica lens from a nice lady who just retired and had no use of the camera. I won’t disclose the price, but it was definitely a real steal. What exactly have I gotten? Here’s a quick breakdown:

The camera

The Minolta X700, although plasticky, is quite solidly built from my first impressions. It was near-mint condition to my surprise (don’t ask me how it was preserved well like that), with very little cosmetic signs of use. Everything worked perfectly, from the shutter to the TTL exposure meter. No, this isn’t a review of this camera, so I’ll stop here.

The lens

While I was decently pleased by the camera (were I wishing to find the impossible, the medium format or even view camera at a yard sale?), the lens was what truly astounded me. Although the build quality is obviously great just like any other manual focus lens, I was perplexed with this lens at the beginning. The 35-70mm Minolta lens seemingly had a unusual focal range (zoom lenses go nowadays to 24/28mm on the wide end, right?) and maximum aperture (a constant f/3.5 in lieu of the more common f/2.8 nowadays or the kit lens version, f/3.5-5.6).

However, I later found out that the Minolta  MD 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro lens was actually made in cooperation with Leica, essentially being a rebadged version of the Leica Vario-Elmar 35-70mm lens. That being said, simply slapping a high-end brand such as Leica doesn’t necessarily imply higher value or quality. But the sharpness is excellent (comparable to prime lenses), and so does its creamy bokeh…

Enough talking about the gear. I didn’t even have any film to do film photography. The local drugstore being the only place where I could get film on the same day, I went there and bought a single roll of Kodak Ultramax 400 color negative film at a ridiculously price of 10$ for 24 exposures (not nearly overpriced as injet ink, but close enough :P). I am definitely going to get some B&W film, as well as color reversal (slide) film, but for now, I am going to play with my single roll while waiting for the rolls of Ilford HP5 and Fuji Velvia 50 to come… Film photography is waiting for me.

New York Street Scene
Not film. This is digital, shot on a film-like body (Fuji X-Pro1), with a film-like preset (VSCO Kodak Ultramax 400)…

That being said, is film photography going to replace my digital workflow? Not a chance. It it even going to substitute part of that workflow? Absolutely not. It it even going to replace a large part of my personal work? I highly doubt it. Digital does have its obvious conveniences. The luxury of having an image displayed on the back of an LCD screen seconds after taking a shot. The “costs” of developing the ‘RAW negatives’ in a ‘digital darkroom’ are indeed quite, quite low… But as Amid Vasta explains in this recently featured video “Can’t Stop Shooting on Film”, there are indeed three types of photographer, to make an oversimplification.

The first type of photographer views photography as a means of capturing snapshots and memories. The second type of photographer views photography as a craft, as a means of livelihood. And the third type of photographer views photography as an art, as a means of expression. If you are in that third category, film photography might just be for you…


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