Old Film Cameras & Analog Dreams
The soft snick of a leaf shutter, the barely audible click of a blade shutter, the sound of a sigh from a breath held almost to long as the shutter buttons press releases . . . and a big grin with a hope and a wish that the photo was captured and that the subject is in focus. You double checked the settings, perhaps even metered the light if you were not using “Sunny 16 rule” . . . something that Kodak included with each roll of film on that tightly folded instruction sheet. If you were lucky and could afford it, your camera had both shutter speed and aperture control if not, as most old point and shoots you had one or two settings. Those really expensive Point and Shoot models had a compound lens with an Ilex, Compur, Prontor shutters with real adjustable apertures . . more advanced cameras came along with rangefinders and then coupled rangefinders (coupled to the lens focusing mechanism) but to get back to the basic thought process and experience, then one must get a basic manual Point and Shoot with an adjustable shutter and aperture for the best control, and even focusing (zone focusing, I’ll explain this in a bit).
As you can see by the photo above, it is rather small and fits into the palm of your hand or shirt pocket when all folded up.
Take the German made Balda Jubilette folding camera circa 1930’s, I have added a few links at the bottom of this page for more info regarding the Balda cameras. Here are the specifications for those interested . .
With the bare minimum of controls one can produce some outstanding photos on film. Your controls are Focus (Zone Focus actually), aperture and shutter speed. The lenses are not coated so color film can lack a bit of contrast, but with B&W film it is great. This little camera is but one of hundreds of cameras produced just before and after World War II. I must admit I have a passion for folding cameras, whether they are 35mm, 120mm, 4×5 format cameras.
You can see the Focus ring close to the lens (from 0.5 ~ infinity scale is in meters), on the left is the shutter settings 1 ~ 1/300 sec plus T-B settings, on the right aperture settings from f/2.9 ~ f/16, the shutter cocking mechanism is just left of the 1/10th mark of the shutter ring. You have to cock this shutter for each shot and there is no safety feature to prevent omultiple exposures (your sposta be smart enough not to do this) . . One habit to get into to prevent multiple exposures is to advance the film after each shot.
Ok here are some beauty shots of the Jubilette
I picked mine up from ebay for a fair price and in good shape considering it is some 75 years old. Be aware that these cameras can be in bad shape as the shutters and other mechanisms can become seized because the grease hardens, you will have to send it away to be CLA‘d (this can be expensive) if you intend to use it. There are a few folks on the internet that can overhaul these cameras by cleaning and replacing the bellows (folding models have leather bellows which rot or wear and develop pinholes). If one is real lucky you can get an old 35mm from this era that is still functioning up to par, some of the shutter speeds may be off a bit but you can compensate for this by shooting a few test rolls of film and making notes. Most often the slow speeds can be as much as 1 stop off (mostly slower), but that’s all part of the charm of these old cameras.
Lenses & Shutters; These early lenses (Pre-WWII) are non-coated, this just decreases contrast for the most part and somewhat in the sharpness, but you will find most are pretty darn sharp. Most have Leaf Shutters and adjustable apertures. The F-stops can read differently then today’s modern cameras as the standard we use today, follow the link to read more about F-Stops (F-Stop Standards then and Now).
Ok . . . Big deal film, what’s so great about it? well the dealio is this . . . 1st: it slows you down, makes you think and most of all helps you see the photo in your mind, 2nd: it has and lends its own nuances that digital cannot add (Yes I know there are a ton of software products that emulate the “look” of film, “well someones Idea of the look), all film has unique looks that are just part of that film, 3rd: You are way ahead in Megapixels on that small 35mm swatch of film then most sensors in the consumer market, and lastly 4th: Film, esp print film has greater latitude the most of the current digital sensors in today’s market.
Scanning Film: I can say this, it is far easier then you might think, you already have a scanner (Your dSLR), or you can buy stand-alone ones that scan to an SD card really inexpensively now days, or you now have the option at most places (WalMart, CVS, Costco to name a few) that develop film to have a digital copy provided on CD as well as prints . . and if you have that once in a lifetime shot, there are many labs that will do High-Res scans for a modest price for you. My suggestion is to first use a store to process and scan to CD until you are satisfied you want to shoot film a lot, then as your skill set with film grows you can buy a small scanner and do it yourself. If you are into larger formats like 120 film you will have to invest in a flatbed scanner as there are few stand alone scanners for these formats and they are expensive. Using Medium format films moves you into a smaller niche crowd (that crowd is growing) so look at local photo labs to process and scan your film for you or you are willing to invest in a flatbed scanner like and Epson 700.
Processing film: I will not go into this to deep, except to say there are many resources on the internet and if your inclined to learn these archaic processes (I lived in a darkroom in the heyday of Film) check your local colleges for courses, it is fun and you will learn a lot, especially if you decide to learn to print as well. I choose to have my films processed for me, even my B&W, it is just cheaper and an ecologically sound practice because you have to dispose of chemicals, some of which are toxic or contain heavy metals . . . the toilet is NOT the proper disposal place for these chemicals. Need something weird processed and your local photo processing store or lab no longer does it? check out the Darkroom they even do 110 film, 127, 8mm and other oddball formats and types.
What films do I use? and where do I get them processed? well for Black & White films, any C41 based film ( I can get 1 hour turn around ) like Kodak BW400CN or Ilford XP if you want fresh current film, Traditional silver based films it would be Kodak Tri-X or TMax, there are a few more I like and some I play with but I would recommend the FPP store for B&W & Color films to play with they have many many types and some are old film stock as well as new stock. The (FPP) Film Photography Project website also has many different formats of film as well, And check out their webcasts and website for great info.
What is the film experience to me? well yes it is nostalgic, and yes I still get a thrill of not knowing exactly how the photo will look until it is processed as that is part of the mystique of the experience, I cannot tell you how many rolls of film I shot over the last 6 decades (wow that’s a damn long time) as an amateur and as a professional. My love of old cameras and the challenges of getting a good photo from one also plays a major part in still shooting film. My biggest aspect that film offers, I suppose, is that it is a slow thinking process, not the rapid firing of hundreds of frames and endless chimping of garbage or hearing that damn stupid statement “oh just fix it in Photoshop” . . No, even when I shoot digitally I aim for as complete a shot as possible in frame, yes I will shoot several shots to capture a fleeting moment, that my friends is different then the “spray & prey” philosophy that shooters often employ nowadays . . . the sequence should be . . . look, compose, capture . . . Look: look at your subject, background, lighting . . Compose: compose as best as you can in frame how the final shot will look “we’ll do minor adjustments to the crop in post” and Capture: capture the shot, maybe a few shots if your trying to capture the mood or expression. That is how I teach when I help someone learning to do photography, but that is my philosophy, my way . . . and I would say this take from it what you can use, add it to your way as my way is not the only way.
Well I have it loaded with some Kodak 400cn Black & white film (C41) and will make some test shots to post later, as for later … well life as always inserts itself, I have exotic parrots and one is sick and is getting all my attention at present. So pix may be a bit delayed, be patient.
(Zone Focusing) is a type of focusing system used by many inexpensive cameras from the 1940s and 1950s. These cameras have an adjustable focus, but lack a focusing aid such as a rangefinder. It is necessary to determine the distance to the subject and set the focus using a scale printed on the lens. If you are good at estimating distances, or have a tape measure at hand, you can get precise, sharp focus with one of these cameras.
Outgoing Links about the Balda Cameras
Andrzej Wrotniak Website a nice article about the Balda
Have fun everyone, it’s summertime . . go make pictures, use a film camera and have some fun teaching yourself.
Tim . . . aka (DigiPainteR)