Shooting Film - A Rational of Sorts Part 1
For the past few months, I haven’t touched my XPro-1. It didn’t get as much use as it did half a year ago. As of now, I am reaching consistently for my Contax G1, and much recently - the Hasselblad 503CXi.
The digital vs film debate has been discussed numerous times in internet forums, photography classes and drunken conversations so I won’t be touching it here. I am a happy being in between the two camps and it will probably stay that way. The gear may change but I’ll definitely still shoot both.
This is to provide a rational why shoot film and to an extent, why I shoot more film than digital in recent months.
I am currently based in Hong Kong where the film photography scene is thriving. Yes, you’ll see a lot of people carrying a digital camera (most tourists from mainland China) of different shapes and sizes - from DSLRs to expensive red doted rangefinders. But if you walk around the back alleys and markets, you’ll see a number of folks shooting with film cameras.
Film photography equipment is abundant here. From mint condition collectibles to seriously beat second hands, you’ll definitely find what you want. Prices vary from condition and the seller but you have your options. I haven’t been to Japan myself but I gather that there is a strong market for second hand film equipment there and many say Hong Kong is a second close.
Then you have the actual films being sold in shops tuck away in small corners - treasure troves for the analog shooter. Many of them carry substantial brands and variances of film - it might not be as comprehensive as some shops in Japan but you can easily get your common favourite film stock. Some do specialise in hard to find films - FilMe is one of them. Personally, I get my stock from DotWell Photo in Tsim Sha Tsui - nice little place where I have my exposed film developed, scanned (with exceptional results) and printed. When I stop there, I usually buy a pack of Tri-X 400, Portra 400 or Velvia 100.
Perhaps this is the major reason I shoot more film right now - Hong Kong just encourages me to do so.
Shooting Medium Format on the Cheap
Shooting with a Hasselblad 500 series camera might not be considered cheap but it is certainly a bargain compared to the brand new prices, more so for their digital counterparts. A brand new 503CW with a CFE 2,8/80, A12 film back and a waist level viewfinder will set you back for HK$43000 (about US$5500) - I got mine for less than a half of that and it came with a PME90 ($1500 brand new) and a Winder CW ($1200). Granted I only have the CF 2,8/80 but I still get very sharp images out of it. When we talk about digital medium format, prepare to take a serious hit in your account as it is akin to buying a luxury car (specially the high end ones). Although the used MF cameras are now dropping down in price, it is still a substantial amount of money specially for the amateurs/enthusiasts.
Move to other camera manufacturers and you have a whole set of price ranges to play with. From the Bronicas, Contaxes and Mamiyas - you definitely have a good set of medium format cameras to choose from. Want a portable rangefinder medium format camera? You can look at the Mamiya 7, Plaubels or the Fujis. You want to shoot 645? Contax 645 is a great system so is the Mamiya 645. Want to go larger without going to the view cameras? You have the Mamiya RZ67 with the great Sekkor lenses. Want the ultimate beast? Go for the Fuji GX680 - a whopper of a medium format camera. All of these cameras, with a good set of lenses, can be had for less than US$1000 while others can go as high as US$3000. And the mechanical variants will most probably outlast you provided you have it serviced it from time to time.
Just think of the rolls of film you can buy with $16000 in your pocket. Some will be able to justify a digital back because their work demands it but for me, an amateur who makes no money what-so-ever from photography, I’ll take the 2000+ rolls of 120 film.
Handling the Gear
Let’s be honest; any hobby or a fascination with one has something to do, up to a certain degree, with the toys. Saying otherwise is to fool yourself.
I have a penchant for handling well made cameras. When I held the XPro-1 for the first time, I was enamoured by the weight and handling. But when I got to hold the Contax G1, everything went right out the window.
There is a sensational thing attached to handling well made gear - cameras in my case. I love how sturdy and heavy my Hasselblad is. I also love how my Contax G1 feels like a brick despite its size. And when you turn those manual focus rings and hear the clicks of the shutter ring, there is a physical and auditory sensation that comes with it. I can’t quite put my words into it and that is why I can’t answer my wife when she asks me why I am always cradling my cameras.
The second part will deal more with how film looks and behaves. If there is a rational in shooting film, it should definitely be about the look you want to achieve. I’ll probably post the second half tomorrow.