Monday, 30 November 2009

Old Skool

This weekend I shot my first roll of film in 4 years. "Film? What's that?" I hear some of you cry. Well, after a month long assignment shooting 10,000 frames with my pair of Canon 5D mark IIs I felt like slowing down and getting back to basics.

So I rented a Hasselblad from Calumet. No, not a space-age 39 megapixel H3D, but a V-series 503 CW (pictured), the design of which is essentially the same as the 500C made in 1957. Along with an 80mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss lens, a film back and a light meter I was ready to go. Yes sir, a light meter - because the 500 series Hassies don't have one built in.

I spent the morning reminding myself how to load the film and use the light meter, and then it was off to take some pictures. The 10 step process goes something like this:

1) Find and interesting subject

2) Get out the light meter, set the ISO to match your film speed, and take an exposure value (EV) reading

3) Set the EV on the lens to lock in a shutter/aperture combination, and then rotate it until you have the particular shutter speed/aperture combination you want.

4) Remove the dark slide between the body and the film back

5) Frame your shot in the waist level finder. Not as easy as it sounds as the image is flipped left -to-right, so you keep moving the camera in the wrong direction.

6) Flip up the 4x magnifier in the viewfinder and focus the lens manually.

7) Check the depth of field scale on the lens to ensure you will have the correct amount of the scene in focus based on your chosen aperture and focusing distance.

8) Take a deep breath and press the shutter release. There is a huge "clunk" as the mirror swings up and a small "click" and the leaf shutter in the lens snaps shut.

9) Crank the winder to re-cock the shutter, wind on the film and return the mirror so that you can see through the viewfinder once again. No instant return mirrors here.

10) Hope that you took a decent picture!

With each press of the shutter costing £2 in film and processing costs, it's probably just as well that the magazine only gets 12 shots onto a roll of 120. But it certainly makes you think twice before you press the shutter. Is this an interesting shot? Have I metered the scene correctly? Is my focusing spot on? Can I handhold at this shutter speed?

It was nice to get back to a slow, methodical way of working, and having to think both aesthetically and technically before spending £2 on each shot. Over the whole weekend I shot 2 rolls of film, or 24 pictures. Using a digital camera I might have taken that many in a minute. But I expect the proportion of keepers from my 24 will be pretty high and I wouldn't be surprised if I get as many keepers as I would with 500 frames that I might shoot on a 5D in a weekend.

For those of you that have only gotten into photography during the digital age, try renting out and old medium format film camera one day. I think you'll enjoy it.

I'll post my favourite photo from the weekend once I get the film back from the lab and scan it in... Welcome to Old Skool!


  1. Crickey- two pounds an image. and that doesn't take account of the hire of the camera either.

    Sound advice for slowing down and thinking about the process of taking an image though.

    Perhaps if we used the digital aspect more by reviewing the multiple images we shoot and spent more time doing a considered analysis of the results, we could still implement the concept of thinking more before firing.


  2. Hi Dave

    Yes of course it is possible to shoot in a slow and considered manner with a digital camera too. But the temptation is often there to shoot quickly and make corrections based on the image on the screen.

    Don't get me wrong, digital has opened up a whole new world of photography, but sometimes it's nice to slow down and shoot in a different, more thoughtful way.

  3. Nice post, which actually made me think more about shooting deliberate and with film.

    So I ended up with a Mamiya instead.

    Blog post here: taking a step back to take a step forward. Thanks for the inspiration to do this, it had been in the back of my mind for a long time :-)


  4. Jan - enjoy the Mamiya RZ - very similar to the Hassie I rented! The other camera I would like to try is the Mamiya 7 rangefinder, a 6x7 negative in a reasonably compact package. Some people call it the finest film travel camera, and I have a couple of friend that use them. But what holds me off is that the last time I tried a rangefinder (Epson RD1) I didn't get along with it very well after a decade of using SLRs.

  5. Hi Julian,

    I have had a couple of medium format film cameras in the past. I strated with a Mamiya RB 67 which was a beast of a thing and then switched to a Bronica ETRS with a prism on top to allow eye focusing similar to 35mm.

    But I missed the imediacy and lighter weight of 35mm so went back to ordinary film cameras. I have however still go my XPan and lenses so I may give that an airing again.