RE-VISITING FILM
35 Years Later
My great big life-long adventure into the craft of photography began around 1974 when I went inside the darkroom of a Jr. High School where my cousin taught photography. Gazing up those big gallon brown glass jugs of chemistry and the enlarger, trays and timer... I was hooked.

Much to my surprise, my brother found a Capture of old prints and darkroom data notes I had recorded sometime in 1980. Some had issues of fading more than others and I had prints the same negative onto several different types of paper. Along with a few handwritten notes on the envelopes, it was a treasure trove of joy to see those forgotten gems of life again.

Although I had originally gotten started in photography many years earlier, this was at least some prints and notes that remained from any previous period in life. In some ways it really surprises me, since back-in-the-day, I captured a lot of photos. But yet, I have zero photos from things like "The Image Factory", a camera store and studio I had in 1982. Or especially the night a friend let me propel a train locomotive down the track a few hundred yards and then back it up and connect to a line of coal cars. From many years of motocross racing to just touring the countryside, I don't have very many images from things in life.

Luckily for me, I switched to shooting color slides around 1980 and it seemed easier to preserve them than it was to keep up with many pages of negatives. This also resulted in me doubling the size of my darkroom and making a separate "color room" where I printed "Cibachrome" enlargements from the slides I had processed in E-6 chemistry.

My Daily Shooter
Working at the camera store, I began to migrate my gear into what eventually became a Nikon FE, Motor Drive with 50mm f/1.4 glass. Eventually Traded around and had F3's, but the longest tenure of any of my daily shooters was the Nikon FE setup as seen here. I carried one from 1982 until 2001 and the Nikon F3's was my daily shooter from then till 2003, when I traded to go digital with a Nikon D100.

Pretty much from the day I left the camera store with the D100, I never even thought of shooting & developing film again. After getting use to having instant access to what you just captured, was quite a treat to behold as a photographer. It was like bringing back Polaroid... but on steroids.

I went on through the years with digital daily shooters, and even now have a full frame Nikon D600 as my daily.... well, until recently.

I stirred the idea around of shooting film again for some added experience in my shooting. About two years ago I bought a Nikkormat FTn that I had planned to shoot film with. I also picked the FTn since it would have been my dream camera (other than a Nikon F) to have had in the early 70's when I got started. And the fact the FTN had been cleaned and new seals put in all for a nice price of 45 dollars, sure made it attractive. Added the period correct 50mm f/2 lens for another 40 bucks.

After I loaded a roll of Tri-X and began to shoot with it, I realized how much I really dislike the overall feel and use of it. Mostly in part due to the shutter speed ring being around the lens mount and not on top like later models would have. In fact you can read about that adventure here.

Although still determined to shoot and process film again, I bought a mint condition Nikon N65 for 20 bucks. The N65 has a lot of the feel and operation of current Nikon DSLR's, with auto focus and LCD screens on top to change settings with. And as well you can read about that project here in the archives of The Photography Experience. Of which I was quite pleased with the images after not having shot film in over 10 years.

Then I got the idea to put together another Nikon FE rig like I use to have. Beginning with a very clean FE body for 65 dollars, a 50mm f1.4 for 75 and motor drive for 20... I had put my 1980's rig back in my hand as my daily shooter. But that didn't last long, as I had my mind still set on a Nikon F3... but then the Nikon F100 was looking pretty sexy to me also. I never had shot with the F100 and actually never even held one till I paid 125 bucks for one in mint shape.

I quickly blasted a roll of Tri-X and processed it, saw fantastic exposures, then loaded up some Ektachrome. I didn't retire the D600 by no means, I just carry the F100 with me as my everyday shooter. At times there are images I need to make that using the D600 works out better for me. So shooting film is not about some quality thing, but more about adding more hand work to the final image. Instead of a computerized camera making a perfect exposure for me, I have to master the light and the camera to get a perfect exposure on film.

I also have been buying rolls of film to have a good stash on hand since it will only be harder to come by. I also have been building a stash of chemistry for black & white and E-6 for color reversal films.

I really love the operation of the F100, as it is so very similar to Nikon DSLR's but yet still thought about assembling some more old rigs I have used. In particular I was pondering an F3 body to have, and then I thought why not go all the way...

In 1981, I worked in a camera store, and had opportunities to shoot with about every camera we sold at one time or another. Except... while we were a Leica dealer, the only German stuff we kept in stock was a tiny Minnox. Keeping a Leica SLR in stock wasn't gonna happen, and all that a fellow aspiring photographer could do was just fantasize about the mere idea of having a Leica R4 (the newest current Leica SLR in 1981)

With the plunge of prices in used film cameras and old manual focus glass, it now makes cameras we once dreamed of having, now a possible reality. Although Leica SLR (R3,4,5,6) bodies are reasonably priced similar to top of the line Nikons. The R7, 8 and 9 are still close to 1000 dollars and definitely not in my plan.

I found a near mint condition R4 body for only 75 dollars. It would be a few weeks before I would be able to get a piece of Leica glass. Often revered as the best glass in the world, and even vintage glass from the 90's goes for 10 times the price of used Nikon or Canon glass.

I paid $40 for a Nikkor 35-70 lens in mint condition and had to pay $400 for a Leica 35-70. Of course when observing both lens in a side by side comparison there is quite a bit of visible difference.

The Leica glass looks like a machine...
You wont find plastic rings or rubber grips on Leica glass, It may weigh a lot more but it feels and looks more like a machine instead of a gadget for a camera. Looking back to 1982 I see why it was only in dreams that I had a Leica....

Of course, In 1982 it would have been a dream to have had an F3 as well.
Nikon FE Body $210
Nikon F3 Body $498
Leica R4 Body $1130
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 $139
Leica Summicron 50mm f/1.4 $950

Canon AE-1 With 50mm f/1.8 lens $279
Nikon EM with 50 & 135mm Lens $199
Pentax K100 with 50 & 135mm Lens $180

I can say that I now have such a diverse arsenal of film gear, that there is no excuse left to use to avoid firing off some serious frames of film. Especially since I have over 80 rolls of assorted B&W and color reversal film in the freezer. I alos plan to make a project in next months issue of daily shooting my Nikon FE with a 35-70 lens and the Leica R4 with the 35-70 lens just to see if the Leica myth from my youth is ture or not.

With the F100 I have brought a little of the digital mentality into my captures. I don't worry about how many frames I shoot and to make several captures at different apertures an EV's. Unlike when I shot film and typically felt the one capture I made of a scene was plenty. When each frame basically cost money and you only had 36 frames to shoot, it caused us to shoot minimum amounts of each scene.

Printing Digitally
Although I really love getting back into processing film, and I did enjoy printing with an enlarger and tray developing... But due to the space and equipment needed for analog printing it makes that part of the re-visit not very possible. I also love the ability to clean up dust spots, hairs and imperfections with Photoshop. And the quality of prints I get from my Epson 7880 are quite amazing. Then when you toss in the fact that I often print on canvas, it makes digital printing my method of choice.

I will continue to stockpile film and chemistry since one day will come and it is not longer available and eventually a film camera will become just a museum piece. I will also produce many of my gallery works from base images captured on film.

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