What I got in the mail this weekend – A Time Machine back to film photography!


October 30, 2017

I deviate from my “one post each Wednesday” rule, because I am too excited to wait for Wednesday. This weekend, I received a time machine back to film photography in my mail: a black Rollei 35 S camera!

My new Rollei 35 S

What’s the deal? I started my discovery to street photography only extremely recently and am still experimenting with my digital MFT camera (a Lumix GX80, by the way), and now already I add another camera to my equipment? Yes, exactly. The major (rational) reason for this is that I really want to work on my photography skills and understanding of interdependencies between the main settings of aperture, shutter, and zone of focusing. On my MFT camera, I mostly work on either shutter (moving, shooting from the hip) or aperture mode (standing still, shooting from the hip or from eye level) and the camera is an excellent assistant to avoid under- or overexposed pictures. In addition to that, I usually take between three and six pictures of a same scene when shooting from the hip and hope that at least one worked out as intended. This behavior might extremely change with a film camera where each shot costs actual money and out of 36 exposures, you do not want to have more than five shots of the same subject. The basically fully manual film camera won’t do the job for you neither when it comes to under- or overexposure. You set shutter speed and aperture according to the conditions in the shooting environment. The Rollei 35 S has a light meter working with a small battery, but I intend to try working with the “Sunny 16 rule” to really force myself to learn the interrelationships. (For a quick tutorial on this rule, check out the Art of Photography video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/KW847jQpesY.)

Basically, I expect that this new old film camera will slow me down a bit and make choices for composition and subjects much more conscience.

Before I decided to go for the Rollei 35 S, I took much time to get familiar to the film cameras out there and to narrow down my choices. As I was looking for a quite small camera for street photography, I came across many rangefinder cameras and read more or less extensive reviews and watched videos online on many different versions and manufacturers. And by complete chance, I came across the Rollei 35 S – the Sonnar lens version of the earlier Rollei 35. It is a zone focusing camera and not a rangefinder camera. And this was a second major reason for me to get this camera and get back to film photography: you work on your zone focusing skills. This technique requires a good estimation of distances between the camera and the subject you want to be in focus. Further, by adjusting aperture and shutter speed, you influence depth of field in order to maybe include a comfortable margin for error in your estimation.

The decision to get back to film photography comes with many other choices that you are not confronted with when shooting digitally. Two of those major decisions are related to the color or monochrome choice and the decision on the ISO configuration. You cannot change those settings in the process and need to finish the film before you can actually change those settings. The selection of the film therefore seems to be very important. In my case, I go for black and white films and decided to check out different Ilford films first. As I read many things on the web regarding the film manufacturers (basically for b&w there is a quite extensive discussion between Kodak – most often the Tri-X 400 – and Ilford – for example the HP 400. I ordered three different films for different situations, but which were used by photographers in reviews or videos I looked at: the HP 400 (which can be pushed to 3200, but seems to be most often pushed to 1600 according to reviews and videos), the FP 125, and the very slow Pan F 50. As I most often get out in the streets with rather good weather and during daytime, I did not chose any higher ISO films so far.

I very much hope that there will be something coming out of the films, but expect to have a rather very high scrap rate in the beginning at least. There will then be many other decisions to come – e.g., should I develop the films myself – but I will get to that later. So far, I am impatiently waiting to have some time to get out and do some film photography in the streets.

Anmut Street Photo

Anmut Street Photo

Family man and academic, I am an amateur street photographer since 2017. My photos explore people in urban environments.

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