Saturday, October 13, 2012

Extending Your Creativity With Film

April, 2008 Olympus Trip-35

Chances are, you already own a film camera or two, so getting back into it might not be a huge step. Just make sure you get those five year old rolls of film that are stuffed at the back of your sock drawer developed first!

I'm noticing a recent trend on Ebay - the asking prices for many film cameras is going up! I'm not sure if this means much, because I've also noticed that cameras that are sold via on-line auction hit their sale prices quite low, which is the real indicator in my opinion. The problem is, not too many are being sold via auction - most sellers are using the "in your dreams" Buy-It-Now pricing. A better place to look by far is in local classified's like Ebay's little brother, Kijiji - guaranteed you will find a good film camera in your own neighbourhood at a very cheap price this way.

It may depend where you are in your photography journey. Film may be already very familiar to you, as it is to me, and perhaps you're looking for something better. Again, by shopping around, you will find the camera of your older dreams at rock bottom prices right now, but where Ebay is concerned, it might take you a bit of sifting to find it. As a general guideline, if you're new to film, go cheap first, just to make sure it'll suit you - that "digital crack" is a tough habit to kick. If you're already film familiar, then you should be looking at getting into film's high end - those cameras you drooled over in glossy pages 30 years ago are now available at much lower prices than a lot of digital cameras today.

Firs of all, I'll cover the cheap end for beginners. Aside from the perfectly good film SLR you may already have- start using it again. But if you don't have a film camera, I can't think of a better one to recommend than the Olympus Trip-35. I have one of these - it is hands down the best camera I've ever owned, aside from the fact that it is now hopelessly broken. I paid $4.00 for mine in a yard sale, and it worked great for 2 years. Here's Ken Rockwell's take on it, in case you're still not convinced. The word must be out now though - typical Ebay asking prices for these is now around $100, and they're selling for close to that. However, I want to replace mine, and, although there are lot's of similar cameras at that price point, this little box of magic is still near the top of my list. Keep your eyes open at yard sales, flea markets and Thrift Stores too, and don't overlook the East German Hanimex SE and Russian FED 50, which were good copies of this design, but more affordable. I'm recommending these almost toy-like cameras for a reason - that is, I've found they take far better pictures than any film SLR I've ever owned. That's right. Much better than my Pentax Spotmatic, Canon TX, Canon T50, Pentax MV, Practika MTL, or Zenit 11 (Geez - I'm starting to sound like Mr. Rockwell already!) Well, I wouldn't say it if I didn't think it were true. There is a secret sauce in the Olympus Trip 35 that takes advantage of a fundamental SLR design flaw that simple viewfinder style cameras can manage to avoid.

Now, let's talk about the high end, for those with a little more (but not much more) money to spend, and who want to extend their creativity with film. If you are still comfortable with 35mm SLR's after what I just said above, then this is where you'll find the real high end bargains. If you're already well invested in a Nikon, Canon, Pentax or Sony (Minolta) DSLR system, then you have full lens compatibility with the late 1980's through 90's equivalent film SLR's, and you would do well to consider something like the Nikon F100, or Canon EOS 1n. There is no better way than this than to go Full Frame 35mm SLR on a budget, and you can buy a lot of film for the thousands of dollars you'll save on the camera.

Personally, I want to avoid the SLR design flaw with my film photography, because with film, results count with every shot, and film SLR's have brought me nothing but disappointment (truly and honestly) So, aside from the near certainty that I'm going to get another Trip-35, for 35 mm film shooting, I am highly inclined to Rangefinder cameras, and for the high end, there is only one name - Leica. And here is the cheapest Leica on Ebay right now, although it sounds like it might need a bit of work. But you don't need to buy a Leica to get a Leica.

June 2008 With Zorki-4 and Jupiter 3 Lens

There are still hundreds of Soviet era Russian Rangefinders available for the lowest prices on Ebay - prices that are so good, you'd think there must be a catch, like these must be the "Lada's" of cameras. Well, not from my experience. I had a Zorki-4 set with three Jupiter lenses and axillary viewfinder, which I sold in late 2008 because I wanted to go digital (stupid.... stupid..)! There was nothing wrong with this camera at all - it worked beautifully, and it took pictures "like a Leica", but with the unique signature of Russian lenses and their slightly radioactive glass. And if you're so inclined, you can buy one of these which looks this good! There are three Russian RF brands that I wouldn't hesitate to buy - Zorki, FED and Kiev. I still find it hard to believe that even with all the enthusiasm on the Web these cameras generate, the prices still remain very low... virtually no risk in at least trying one out!

Some other good Rangefinder options are the Japanese fixed lens RF cameras, like the Yashica Electro, or the Canonette - there are so many variations of these available, I simply will tell you to do your own search. One major advantage of a fixed lens RF, even over a Leica is that they have a leaf shutter built into the lens, as opposed to a curtain style focal plane shutter. These advantages are - flash will sync at all shutter speeds, the shutter is much quieter, less prone to failure and more readily accessible to repair in case it does fail. I think I've also read about image quality advantages of leaf shutters too - look it up.

Now, the utmost frontier of high end film photography is Medium Format (OK...OK.. rather it should be Large Format, but who wants to carry one of those around all day?) With my locally purchased Rolleiflex Automat-4, I got into MF for $300 cash, and even though I've only seen one roll of film with 10 pictures, I can truly say that I'm confident that MF is the way to go for the digital shooter who wants to make a true creative upgrade - not just a side-step. And because I like Rangefinders, here is another type of camera that combines the best of both worlds. Wish I could coin that one right now!

In conclusion, I'd say if you're going to go film, you might as well go big. That is to say, to avoid disappointment, you might as well shop in the high end while the prices are still good - and actually there is no way to predict if prices will get even better, or go the other way.

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