Monday, July 28, 2014

A Celebration of Cheap Cameras

Campus Composition - Nikon One-Touch-35, Kodak ColorPlus-200

Just as a follow-up to my last Post, it's now official that my local WalMart will cease film processing in early February of 2015. Just to show what will be lost when film photography will no longer be readily accessible to those of us who live in small towns, I'm simply going to post a few pics here that I recently took with a Nikon One-Touch-35 fully automatic point and shoot ($4.00 at Thrift Store), a Smena Symbol fully manual plastic Russian viewfinder camera ($4.00 at yard sale) and a Fed-5 fully manual Russian Interchangeable Lens Rangefinder  with Industar-61 lens ($30.00 from Ebay Ukraine). I was using Kodak Colour plus 200 ISO film in all three cameras, and scanned the negatives with my Epson V500 Flat-bed Scanner.

The point I want to make here I've made so many times and in so many ways - I simply can't get the wonderful old-school "look" of these photos using digital cameras, or any kind of film emulation. This is cheap film, for which no software emulation exists, using really cheap cameras - I have discovered over time that the difference between film and digital when both are done with my Canon EOS System, the difference is not all that significant.

The Nikon one Touch is my latest camera purchase. It has an f2.8 35mm fixed lens, which uses auto-focus and auto-exposure (as opposed to really cheap fixed focus types). As you can see, it takes some amazingly clear pictures,  but, with this film in my hands at least, still retains that wonderful old-school look.

The Nikon One-touch, B&W Conversion Via GIMP
The Nikon One Touch
The Nikon One-touch, B&W Conversion Via GIMP
the Nikon One Touch
Now, getting really retro, I'll feature many shots taken with my favourite possession - the Russian FED-5 LTM (Leica Thread mount) Rangefinder. I've describe the Industar-61 Lens (very early variant) that I use as being so awful, it's truly wonderful, especially with the magic it makes with this not-so-great Kodak Color Plus film. First, a tribute to my inspiration - Charles Cushman. Occasionally, and with no real explanation, I get a nice "Aqua" tone from this lens and film, as f the light were through an antique Pepsi bottle, that's reminiscent of the "dirty-30's" early color film work that Cushman left behind:

The FED-5, Frame Added With GIMP to Remind us of C. Cushman
The FED-5, Frame Added With GIMP to Remind us of C. Cushman

But the FED-5 with Industar-61 doesn't always present this greenish Aqua tint - strangely, most of the time it behaves very natural:

The FED-5, Still Somewhat Aqua- Biased
The FED-5, B&W by GIMP, Shows How It Always Tends to Vignette on the Right Side Only
I love these quirky cameras! 

The FED-5 and Industar-61 Show Their True Colours When Light Is Strongest

The FED-5, Wonderful Depth Presentation, and a Strange "Etchy" Sharpness
Sometimes, this old camera makes subjects looks more real than real, but in a way that's nothing like what is done with digital. What's more, with the FED-5, I can put an extremely good lens on it if I wanted to (provided I could afford one, which I can't), and by using much better film, I could have an extremely good camera.

Finally, I'll move on to my latest shots with the Smena Symbol. This is the most manually operated camera of the bunch, with the Nikon One Touch 35 being strictly auto-focus and auto exposure, with no manual over-rides at all, not even for the built-in flash. It runs on a single CR123 battery, or optionally, two AA's. The FED-5 is totally mechanical and doesn't use batteries, with manual exposure (not even a built-in meter to assist), but it's optical rangefinder helps establish perfect focus. 

The Smena however, does nothing to assist you with either focus or exposure. The former must be measured physically when close to the subject, as in with a yardstick, and the latter requires an external light-meter, or plenty of experience. I find I have little trouble with exposure simply by guessing - at least outdoors. This first shot I intended to expose bang-on, but with the strong evening sunlight I went a little bit over.

Smena Symbol, Kodak Color Plus 200, B&W by GIMP
These next two, I intended to under-expose, so as to bring out reflected detail from the shiny objects and windows. I probably could've done a bit better, but I was clearly headed in the right direction.

Smena Symbol, Kodak Color Plus 200, B&W by GIMP

Smena Symbol, Kodak Color Plus 200, B&W by GIMP
These next two will show the tremendous dynamic range of film when shooting into direct sunlight. Notice how well deep shadow detail and colour is preserved - in fact, a digital camera would simply cut to black here, and any attempts to lift the shadow, even using Raw Files in these circumstances will result in a murky, noisy mess. Remember, this is a cheap plastic Russian made camera I'm using here:

Smena Symbol, Kodak Color Plus 200

Smena Symbol, Kodak Color Plus 200
And just one more, which I accidentally over-exposed, but it still shows film's wonderful ability to roll off gracefully, instead of simply blowing out the highlights.

Smena Symbol, Kodak Color Plus 200
The future of popular photography will be digital, and the age of having a Kodak Mini-lab handy is rapidly coming to an end. Film will never completely go away - enthusiasts will find ways to keep it alive long after I pass on. Am I such an enthusiast? Probably not - I can't see myself sending rolls of film through the mail again, as I had to do in the 1970's, as I have three digital cameras at the ready. But unless digital camera makers find a way to truly evolve the medium, the factors of delight and surprise will no longer be seen - everybody's photos will look pretty much the same as each other's, with the only variables being composition, and whatever limited magic can be created using Photoshop or Instagram-like software. In my own opinion, none of what I've shown above, using extremely cheap film cameras, could ever be faked with Digital Photography.

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