I have tried shooting film a couple of times after the beginning of this century, but my success rate has been pathetic. I never finished the roll.
I used film up till about 2003 or so and went fully digital after that. So, film photography is nothing new to me, but I lost my interest to film, because digital was so much more practical for commercial work.
However, lately film photography has started to interest me again and I decided to try, if I can finish a roll of black and white. But, I needed a camera first, because I got rid of all my film cameras years ago.
I’m a Lumix ambassador, so I’d gladly shoot on Lumix, but there are no Lumix or Panasonic film cameras. Well, there are some plastic point and shoot things, but I wanted something else. I also didn’t want to shoot on any current mainstream brand, because it didn’t feel appropriate. On top of that, I wanted a mirrorless film camera.
Fortunately there are many now obsolete camera brands, that used to make very nice cameras back in the day. But, I really felt a strong pull towards Leica, a rangefinder Leica. Panasonic and Leica have a lot of collaboration these days, so that would also be an upside. Unfortunately, used film Leicas are really expensive and I wasn’t sure, if I was going to even enjoy shooting film.
Luckily my old friend, an ex press photographer, had an M3 with a 35mm Summicron, that he was not using and he agreed to loan that to me. This was more than perfect. I could try film and do it in style without buying an expensive camera.
While my friend was packing and sending the camera to me, I started to look for film and necessary gear for film developing. I really wanted to shoot Kodak Tri-X and process it in D-76, because that used to be my favorite combination long time ago.
However, I found out that, for whatever reason, the price for a roll of Tri-X is more than €10 here in Finland and that felt a bit too much.
After some searching I came across the Fomapan 400, which had some good reviews online and the price was €4,50 a roll. I decided to give it a try. My choice of developer was the Ilford ID-11, which is basically the same stuff as the D-76, but is was cheaper here in Finland.
I also bought a used steel tank with four reels. I prefer a steel tank over a plastic one, because the steel reels have no moving parts and can be loaded even when wet. The plastic reels have to be 100% dry before you can load the film in.
The camera arrived, I loaded it with a roll of Fomapan 400 and went on shooting film. My friend’s Leica is made in 1955 and the lens in 1969, but they both have a very nice solid feel, even though they are not nearly in mint condition.
The M3 and a 35mm lens are a bit strange combination, because the viewfinder in the M3 has frame lines only for 50, 90 and 135mm lenses. Therefore a 35mm would need and an external viewfinder or something called the goggles. I had neither and I had to guess my framing and composition, because the lens was quite a bit wider than the viewfinder. That was somewhat irritating, but tolerable on a loaner camera.
The shooting experience on a vintage Leica M is quite different from shooting on a modern digital camera. The M3 is an extremely basic camera, everything is manual, there’s no light meter and no battery is needed. You have to have some sort of light meter, but on a sunny day it’s not too hard to use the sunny 16 rule either.
There are light meter apps for phones, but I still have a Gossen light meter that I used.
I don’t chimp a lot on digital, but I do it occasionally and I guess it’s impossible not to chimp at all. With a film camera you can’t chimp, and at least I felt, I was observing much more what is going on around me instead of playing with my camera. I was not even thinking about sharing anything, because that would have been impossible.
I felt I was literally going back to basics, back to when photography was very simple. Maybe it was more complicated to get started and the learning curve was certainly steeper, but I still think shooting film was, or is still, much simpler than digital.
I don’t think I could go back to shooting film only, but it was nice to try film again and to be able to enjoy it.
The Fomapan 400 proved to be quite decent film, especially for the price. I developed it in ID-11 1+1 for 13 minutes and I like what I see. This is based on only one roll and I have to shoot more to make my final verdict, but my initial impressions are favorable.
I have to say that a monitor is not the right way to view film photos. I printed some the photos that I shot and they look so much better on paper.
I will probably also shoot some Tri-X too now that I realized I can enjoy film.
I’m sure I’m going to shoot more film in the future, but I have to get my own camera first. The loaner Leica has been standing unused too long and the exposure times are not accurate. The camera needs some CLA to work perfectly again, but since it’s not mine, I can’t decide what happens to it. I’d also like have a camera lens combination, that was meant to work together.
But, I found out, that I can have good fun shooting film again, which was my main purpose to try film.