Aug 16

Back to Basics, a Return to Film Photography

I grew up with the vinegary smell of stop bath so when I made the switch to digital I swore I was done with film. Yet here I am today, prepared to take the plunge back into the world of analog imaging. Why?

Maybe I’m just being nostalgic but it seems like the analog process feels more like making art, it feels more thoughtful and personal. There is something to be said for the act of pre-visualizing a scene, contemplating exposure, anticipating how it will look on the developed film and what sort of paper and printing process you’ll utilize. I think shooting and developing your own film materially teaches you proper exposure and self discipline. When you know you only have 36 frames on a roll of film and that the film will need to be developed and contact printed before you really know what you’ve got, you think very carefully every time you press the shutter. And that’s not to say there isn’t spontaneity with film, surely there is but you have to be prepared to say it within those 36 frames then reload, or carry around a second body. Film invites economy, digital lacks economy. Finally, I don’t necessarily need the speed of the digital process. Don’t get me wrong, I love digital but it feels like the difference between using pen and paper and using a computer.

Nikon FM and Nikkor 105mm f2.5

Nikon FM and Nikkor 105mm f2.5, Vintage Agfa Scala film. 

In preparation I went through my old camera bag and pulled out my two film bodies. One was an F100 purchased at the dawn of the digital revolution. The second was my first “real” camera, bought used in high school, a Nikon FM. Digging deeper I grabbed my old Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 lens. For years the FM, the 105, a 24 f/2.8 and a 50 f/1.8 were my kit. They accompanied me on my first European adventure with a brick of Kodachrome 64. Good times. I’m going to see if I can find, scan and post some of those slides. Sadly the FM is now unusable, the mirror return spring needs to be replaced. I want to shoot film with a manual camera so the F100 will stay in retirement.

Enter the Nikon FM3a. The greatest manual focusing film SLR camera Nikon produced. I need to have one. Searching the web, I found a gently used copy that had obviously been loved by an active photographer. At the risk of sounding like a Leica-phile, it has black paint with just a hint of warm brassing. Perfect. It’s on it’s way to me now from Japan.

More to come.

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