If I had a dollar for each time I was asked that question I’d be possibly a bit more moderately well off then I currently am…
Why still shoot film? Why shoot what is commonly known as Medium Format? Well, both questions are relatively easy to answer, by someone like myself.
There are a few reasons why I shoot film.
Aesthetically and image quality wise, film is not necessarily better or worse then digital – its just different. Currently, negative colour film natively still produces images with a broader dynamic range then digital – this means that what you may see as either blown out or totally black with your digital camera may still have detail with negative film (transparency or slide film is a different kettle of fish – this medium and digital are closer together). Sometimes, though, this does make images appear less contrasty.
And then there is grain – film doesn’t profess to being perfect – actually there are some imperfections in certain film that I personally seek, with grain being one of them. There is something about the grain qualities of film that is very hard to reproduce digitally. Its not everybodies thing (there are film choices that are virtually grain free), but it is something that I seek.
But the main reason I shoot film? I do enjoy the process. I enjoy using equipment that might have been relegated to the shelf, or heavens forbid, the trash bin. I do enjoy the mostly hands on approach that you experience with film (but I have to admit, I am digitising more and more straight from the negative…naughty me).
As for my chosen format – this came down to a few things. Gear that once was the sole domain of professionals (with price tags to match) all of a sudden become unloved and cheaper to purchase. Why chose 35mm camera’s, where (at the time) for not much more, I could chose a format that had far greater resolution to play with! I also found that medium format was a good compromise when it came to portability. In reality, a Bronica SQ, with an 80mm lens attached, is not much bigger or indeed heavier then, say, a Canon 5D, with battery grip and a Sigma 50mm F1.4 attached.
The other thing is that Medium Format Camera’s are Cool! In my current arsenal, I have (in order of my purchase):
1. Koni-Omega range finder, with a 50mm F3.5 and 75mm F2.8 lens. This camera would be a mid to late 60’s vintage and would have been something a bit more portable for journalists to use in that era (back then, many journalists would have been using large format Crown Graphics or similar). The camera produces 6×7 negatives – 10 images per roll of 120 film. The lenses for this camera are very sharp, but focusing using a rangefinder does have its challenges, as the the rangefinder has become dim over time. The coolest thing about this camera is the film advance – its like cocking a gun…… The Camera:
2. Bronica SQAi, with 50mm F3.5, 80mm F2.8, 110mm F4 and 150mm F4 lenses. This was the last in the line of Bronica square (SQ or 6×6) format cameras and would have been most certainly used by a professional photographer – whether it be portrait or studio, commercial or weddings and were last most common in the 90’s. While not quite in the same league as a Hassleblad, these camera’s were the bread and butter and very widely used. As a matter of fact, this is my most widely used film camera and when things are working as they should, a pleasure to use. With this camera, you get 12 images per roll.
3. Minolta Autocord TLR (or Twin Lens Reflex). This camera has a fixed focal length lens of 75mm F3.5, but you can get close up attachments that allow closer focus distances. The model I have appears to have been made in the early 60’s. This camera also produces square 6×6 negatives
4. Bronica S2A, with 50mm F3.5 and 70mm F2.8 lenses. This is, again, a Bronica Square format camera, produced in the late 60’s through to the mid 70’s. I have only just purchased this camera (it was owned by previous president, Matt Carr), so I have yet to put it through its paces.
The interesting thing with the first 3 cameras is that they have whats called a ‘Leaf’ shutter. Instead of a blind that moves backwards and forwards in the camera body, they have a circular shutter with multiple blades inside the lens. This can make things interesting, as they generally don’t have a shutter speed faster then 1/500th of a second, but, flashes will sync at all speeds.
These camera’s are not without their problems, though. They are all getting older and have all been extensively used – so faults do pop up from time to time. Generally, these faults revolved around 2 things – light leaks and in-accurate shutter speeds. But, they can be repaired and serviced…for now!
If you would like to learn more about these camera’s, please don’t hesitate to ask me at any of our meetings. Also, don’t be afraid to find any of the camera specific groups of Flickr for examples of peoples work using these cameras.
So what film do you get? The term “Medium Format” relates to the size of the film. It is generally accepted to be anything between the 35mm and the large format size. It was the most popular film size from around 1910 until 1970. The most widely available film (nowadays) for Medium Format Cameras is 120 or 220 film. This film, wound on a spool is 60mm wide and 760mm long. It has no sprockets and the width of the image is dictated by the camera. By comparison 35mm film is sprocketed with multiple 24 x 36mm windows. Large Format film is 4 x 5 inches or 102 x 127mm.