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The Return to Film

So the whole point of photography for me is to capture a moment, a fraction of a second or as someone much more talented said in the 30’s – it’s all about the ‘decisive moment’.

This year has been a fairly high speed learning curve for film photography and at the same time a bit of a history lesson on camera development, film types and processing choices.

If I look at my iPhoto and get it to count the film images it has from this year it comes to 4,630 (not including the ones I delete rather than store). Roughly one third of those are Medium Format and the majority are 35mm – but as there are only 12 images on a MF film and 36 on a 35mm, this means that about 100 of each type of film makes up the total number.

I now take a camera with me everywhere I go – even if I don’t use it. I don’t over analyse the picture before I take it (although often I should think a little more before I take some of them). I’m still finding films and techniques I have never tried as there are still many films being produced as this is a medium that if far from dead.

Luckily I have a family that are willing participants in my obsessive picture taking, as well as living in a city that has many quirks that make good pictures – and so I can generally find something unique to take a picture of or a new angle on an old theme.

When I was travelling last week I started to put this retrospective together and started with a few hundred pictures that said something about this journey – but realised that not only would hosting all of them take weeks to download onto wordpress but that it would also be a very repetitive process.

So here are a selection of pictures that have either made it onto previous postings on other blogs or onto my Flickr or are getting their first showing here.

This was from the second film on the first camera I started using – the Lubitel 166+ – which is a MF copy of the Lomo Lubitel from the Former Soviet Union and made by Lomography. At this point I didn’t have anything to meter the camera with and so I was using a guessing system and generally opting to over expose rather than under.

We took this camera to South Africa in February and I used it almost exclusively for the holiday and tried a bunch of different films. The lucky thing about SA was that the sun was always bright and the sky was always clear and so the pictures come out better than my trial and error method should have given.

I have a series of pictures of Lola on the beach and they all share this blown out over saturated look. This isn’t cross processed and just uses a Kodak 100 ISO neutral colour film and must rank as some of my favourite pictures. I should admit that at this point I had never cross processed a film or even deliberately double exposed a frame. The internet, photo sites and even the Lomo site has answers you have about processing and I am lucky enough to have a processing shop in Mong Kok that tells me whether I am asking for things that are realistic or not.

I know the trend being created by the Lomo people is that all slide film is to be cross processed – but don’t take this at face value. Cross processing is generally one stop darker than C41 and also will destroy the sharpness of your image. All slide films cross processes to give you different colours – and so don’t blindly assume say a Fuji Astia and a Fuji Provia will both cross the same. There are lists on the net that tell you the colour shift of all slide film.

From this point on and with a healthy scoop of beginners luck I found myself hooked on film and old cameras and with the use of the internet found myself trying new techniques and getting more from film than I had from digital for years.

1951 Rolleiflex with no flash or meter used – but with a biscuit in my right hand to get Clea to sit still for this picture.

Kiev 4AM 35mm Rangefinder using Fuji SS100 and a secondhand meter I bought in B&H Photo NYC.

The camera is fairly basic with a small viewfinder window, making using the rangefinder harder than it should be and a funny bayonet fitting for the lens so I am stuck using the stock lens with this camera. This matters less as it is a great prime lens and really bright/clear.

You can see the rangefinder window is right in front of your hand and so you have to scrunch your fingers out of the way to use the camera.

The second Kiev I bought from ebay was a MF SLR that Nathalie happily calls my Ukrainian Tractor due it’s not inconsiderable size.

This camera remains as one of my favourites as it takes stunning portraits with a very forgiving 65mm lens.

This isn’t my camera – although I can see myself getting into Large Format at some point in the future. This guy takes pictures in HK and can be found regularly around Soho. I think before Large Format I am going to try some home developing – which you can do using a small pot made for the purpose. At the moment however, I don’t think either are that urgent as we have a small family to enjoy and so spending time with them is more fun than developing is going to be.

The bokeh on this camera is fantastic and also at night you get some weird shapes from reflected light.

Downsides from this camera are that the frame spacing can cause overlaps in your images and the camera is painted on the inside with a gloss black that can give you internal reflections.

Personally, I rather like these two uncontrollable features of this camera – after all it is a 1980’s Ukrainian camera and not a new Digital.

Recently I have started to try out the Ilford SFX films that are not Infra Red but are an extended range B/W – so with a Dark Red filter that is almost black it’s so dark you get some IR effect with green turning white and the sky going crazy.

So once I was hooked on Medium Format I found that there was a folding MF camera made in Shanghai in the 80’s called the Hongmei hg-1 and can be found on e-bay in very limited numbers for around US$ 30. Before I bought one I did some checking on the net and the usual site for photography and got very little information from anyone. It seemed as if this camera was basic and not very good and hadn’t made it’s way out of the PRC in any number anyway.

Mine arrived early one saturday morning and over eager as I normally I am rushed out at lunch time with a few films to try it out and see what it could do. I know I shouldn’t blow my own trumpet – but this camera takes great shots. I know MF is a forgiving format – but this camera really blew my hair back with how clear and sharp the images were.

This is a composite of 9 images I took back to back from our flat in HK looking over the city using the Hongmei. Each was around 15 to 20 second exposures on f4.5 with the clouds racing and reflecting the city lights. The film was then cross processed to give the blues and greens and colour shift.

So as with all obsessions, Medium Format was than half of what I was using and my camera collection grew to include the fully plastic Holga to the staggeringly large 6×9 format Fuji GW690II.

The Holga has a plastic lens, two light settings and either 1/100th of a second or Bulb setting only. It was made in the 80’s in HK and became a standard in photography classes to stop pupils from getting to hung up on the mechanics of their cameras and to concentrate of framing. The plastic lens is soft at the edges and gives a timelessness to the images.

The Fuji uses MF film but as the picture is 6×9 and not 6×6 you get the same aspect ratio as 35mm film.

So on 135 or 35mm film – which is what most people are used to – I have a couple of favourites using short prime lenses. I should say at this point that nothing I use for film has telephoto on it (or zoom as we call it in the digital age).

For Medium Format they are all between 60/8 for the Holga, 75/4.5 for the Hongmei, 75/3.5 for the Lubitel and the Rolleiflex and 65/3.5 for the  Kiev. The lenses are longer than those for 35mm just because the negative is 2.4 times larger. An 80mm MF lens is about 45 to 50mm in a 35mm camera.

The two cameras are a Mamiya MSX1000 from 1972 and a 1990’s Voightlander Bessa L (which does not have a view finder on it and uses a 15mm Super Wide Heliar Lens).

So on these you get the standard 50mm portrait lens style of the Mamiya, which with a 1.7 lens allows for use in all light conditions and the wide Voightlander that because the lens is a perfect sphere means there is no curvature at the side of the image.

The following images are all Mamiya with the 50mm lens.

And these are all Voightlander with the 15mm lens.

This one and the next have been cropped square for printing and colour corrected.

The following pictures are from a range of other cameras I have used – all film and generally old second hand cameras apart from a couple of new copy cameras.

This is a 1970’s Russian camera that gives 120 degree views though a sweeping lens – that sometimes jams as it moves and gives light bars.

A cardboard pinhole camera I made at home with about a 40 minute exposure.

This uses a 35mm film in a Medium Format camera which kept jamming and meant I had to open the back of the camera and get enormous light leaks.

This image and the next one uses the LC-A+ with a waterproof housing and willing model Lola.

Luckily the LC-A+ has very basic controls as at this point in the Rugby 7’s I am surprised I managed to point the camera leave alone take a picture.

If you have got this far in this post – you will have spotted a theme to my photos. This is the view from the flat which get’s taken at all times of day and night, using all films and cameras and then processed every which way possible. This one is an old Russian camera from the 80’s called the Smena 8M, double exposed and cross processed Velvia film.

These final three shots are using a Fuji Natura Classica that is a little 35mm camera built to use fast film and low light conditions.

This is the house that Nathalie and lived in, in Sri Lanka for four years. It is a very unique piece of architecture with no windows on the front at all, just blinds and a long roof to stop it being exposed during storms (as if that ever worked).

This is using a 64T film to get the colours and processed E6.

And finally, the stars of my photographs, the models – Lola Sophia and Cassius Liev – taking a well deserved rest between shoots.

Think of this like a Greatest Hits Album – if you already like the band you have all of the tracks but not in the same place – and if you are new to the band; then it’s a great collection to decide if you want to go deeper into any of their other work.

As a final word to suggest to anyone who likes to take photographs – go and find an old camera using local junk shops or a site like ebay.

You don’t have to spend lots of money as people don’t want their film cameras from the 70’s and 80’s any more. Trawl the auction sites and find a bargain.

Older ones can be more expensive and don’t tend to be too reliable – so stick to the golden age of film cameras when they were coming from the FSU, Germany, Japan, China and America in huge numbers. 70’s cameras are plentiful in both MF and 35mm.

I have a drawer full of olds and sods now that means I can try different combinations of film and camera every day, yet add them all up together and the total cost is less than my middle range Digital SLR I bought 6 years ago in Singapore.

Posted by simon on September 2, 2010
23 Comments Post a comment
  1. 09/2/2010

    great post, and nice following your obsessive quest to rediscover film photography. i learn a lot from your photo techniques – thanks for sharing.

    • 09/2/2010

      thanks for your comments – it is great to get feedback on what works for other readers

  2. 09/7/2010

    I can entirely identify with your opening paragraphs, sounds just like my last 8 months. Great photos too!

    Have you shot much ‘straight’ slide film? I am addicted to Fuji Velvia, especially in medium format – even only the ‘baby’ 6×4.5 format. I’d love to see some 4×5″ transparencies.

    • 09/8/2010

      Thanks for the comments. I am shooting more slide film now rather than cross processing and my current obsessions are the T64 films as these give such fantastic colours in natural light.

      I have other films for E6 that I particularly like and these are Fuji Provia 100F and 400X and also Kodak E100VS for really bright sunny days.

      I’ll do a collection of E6 processed film next week to show how the slide films have performed in 135 and 120 for me to date.

      I am not a fan of cross processing all slide film as is becoming the trend.

      Cheers, Simon

  3. 12/1/2010

    This is the single best film photography post I’ve ever read! Your cameras are so interesting and the photos are beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to lay this all out.

    • 12/1/2010

      Thanks for your comments and I am so happy that you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing this

  4. 02/6/2011

    I truly enjoy your blog and the images you have made. I am into film as well and it is very satisfying, also challenging :). Looking forward to read more of your posting.

    • 02/8/2011

      Thanks Viknesh and I hope that I can continue making this blog entertaining to read

  5. 07/15/2011
    Faiz Tajuddin

    I came across your blog when looking for info on T64 film and quite enjoyed your photographs. While in NY, I regularly frequented B&H and picked up my first real equipment there. Have recently shifted into film photography. I was wondering if I could trouble you for some advice re Hong Kong; I will be visiting in the first week of August and am looking to augment my camera set with a used rangefinder and perhaps some additional glass for my Hasselblad 500C/M. I also need to buy film, and lots of it! Would it be possible for me to email you a few questions that I have about making such purchases in the city?

    • 07/15/2011

      Am happy to help with any questions you have about cameras in HK – although cheap is something they are not.
      What type of rangefinder are you after? If it is Leica then the used market is expensive anywhere – but if it is Voigtlander, Hexar, Canon, Nikon etc – then the availability tends to be small.
      You can e-mail me directly on for anything you want to know.

      Cheers, Simon

  6. 09/20/2011

    Very nice blog Simon! Great to see that more people are returning to analog photography. Some with more style than others… =)

    I stumbled into here when searching for info regarding the GSW690II. I am currently trying out some street shooting with an Hassy 500 C/M, but it’s so hard to handhold at slow shutterspeeds, due to the slapping mirror.

    Anyway, keep up the good work, and I will definitely come back!

    • 09/20/2011

      Thanks for the comments Marcus.

      What speed do you have issues with the 500? You should have no problems at 1/60th and maybe at 1/30th – so should be fine for day time? I have the Hasalbladski (Kiev 88) that is supposed to have the mother of all mirror slap and have no problems at 1/30th in the hand.

      Have you got a Fujica or are you looking for one? I love the GW690II that I have. The negatives are amazing and as it has the fixed lens it weighs very little.

      I’ll check out your wordpress blog too.



  7. 10/22/2011

    How did you get the Macy’s photo to look like that? Is that an example of cross-processing?

    Were the Lomo LC-A+ photos cross-processed slide film or is that just the look that the camera naturally imparts?

    Note that the terms “telephoto” and “zoom” aren’t interchangeable, as you can get telephoto prime (fixed focal length) lenses as well as zooms that barely enter the telephoto range.

    • 10/22/2011

      Igor, The Macy’s photo is cross processed – I think Provia or Elite Chrome and all three of the LC-A+ pictures are due to film – the first is elite chrome cross processed, the second is red scale film on a very bright day and the third is velvia crossed.
      I don’t use the LC-A+ that often these days as it is just a P&S and I have my wife’s old Leica Mini II P&S which is a great little camera.
      Cheers, Simon

      • 10/23/2011

        Simon – Thanks for the info. That Macy’s shot is incredible! I’ll have to experiment with cross-processing sometime.

        When you cross-process, is there anything more to it than just asking your lab to develop your slide film in C-41 chemistry?

      • 10/23/2011

        Igor, thanks for the comments. Crossing is just C41 on slide film – but every slide film crosses differently. I did an article on crossing
        and the colour shifts on my favourite films. I think also the big difference with the Macy’s picture and that is the Kiev 60…

  8. 10/26/2011

    The Kiev 60 looks like it offers a lot of bang for the buck in a medium-format SLR, but what appeals to me about your Macy’s photo are the colours, which can only be explained by the cross-processing. Your photo has an almost hand-coloured look to it, or like it was done using an older printing process like gum bichromate or something like that.

    Thanks again for the info. I’m now going to check out your article on crossing. Cheers!

  9. 12/13/2011

    I just won a Hongmei from Ebay! I went for it based on your recommendation. Can’t wait to do some Tri-x and Rodinal (my new favorite combo!) in it when it gets here in 15-25 days!

    • 12/13/2011

      Dave, I hope it is a good one for you and the lens is as sharp as on mine. Let me know how it works out. Cheers, Simon

      • 12/13/2011

        Not totally sharp will be fine too. I love my Holga’s for just that reason! lol. It just needs to function predictably and I’ll be happy!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Return to Film « from digital to analogue | Prime Lenses
  2. Return to Film – Cameras « from digital to analogue
  3. Return to Film in 2012 « from digital to analogue

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