Revisiting Film and Twin Lens Camera

Using a Ikonoflex TTL camera

Photographic film is a strip of transparent material coated on one side with light-sensitive silver halide crystals called emulsion. The emulsion gradually darkens when exposed to light forming an image when light passes through the lens to reach it, creating a latent image in the light sensitive emulsion. This is then chemically developed as a negative image, and eventually printed as a positive image seen as a photograph.

Using film was a time consuming, and for many, an imperfect way to document the world. Nevertheless, for nearly two hundred years photographers have persevered and in spite of sometimes days, weeks, or even months between the initial exposure and the final print, learned to minimize the errors and present exciting examples of the craft, or art, to an appreciating public.

The good thing about shooting film is how it forces one to learn what each part of the camera is for before making a photo. Mistakes can get pretty expensive with a film camera so this forces photographers to learn quickly.

After about 30 years of earning a living using film I embraced the technological change to digital and had no intention or ever handling another roll of film. So when my wife informed me she was planning to get a medium format film camera and was going to begin shooting film I must admit to mixed feelings.

However, my wife’s reasons had little to do with film and more to do with finding a way to slow down the process of image making. She talked about getting more involved in the act of photography than the process of taking a picture. I knew exactly what she meant; many modern photographers seem to be more about the technology of photography, and instead of studying a subject for that perfect shot, will take the machine gun approach. And when asked why they released the shutter 300 times on their subject the answer is, “to be sure I got it”.

Linda will be limited to 12 exposures in her lightweight, German made, Ikoflex camera with a waist level finder. We’re all guilty of getting a little bit snap happy with our cameras, and taking loads of useless photos of nothing in particular just because we can. That’s not really an option with film (unless there’s more money then sense); one doesn’t thoughtlessly take a bunch of photos and transfer them to a computer.

There is the requirement for a decision making process before releasing the shutter – it can’t just be of anything. The added pressure of not wanting to waste money and time on film and developing forces a photographer to become much more careful in considering how to make the photo before releasing the shutter.

I welcome readers comments. Thanks, John

15 responses to “Revisiting Film and Twin Lens Camera

  1. I have both a Holga which uses 120mm film and a polaroid, I use both sparingly and don’t always get great results, but the holga shots when they do come out well always ‘feel’ great to me, they cannot be reproduced digitally really. I have lightroom, and the wonderful replichrome film presets, it seems bonkers that a lot of digital processing tries to emulate film! But I like to try- it’s cheaper!! My polaroid is great fun for taking pics of family and friends. I would love a medium format camera one day, your wife is very cute BTW.

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    • Thanks for the compliment frag, I passed it on to Linda. Oh, I agree.
      Linda and her friend Nancy have made plans. Nancy got her old Mamiya 645 out of storage and has started up her dark room after some years gathering dust. They will shoot together, process their films at Nancy’s and (I bought a scanner for scanning their medium format film) scan the film at our house. Stay tuned for my thoughts on their progress.

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  2. After using verious film cameras for over 30 years before switching to digital exclusively, I can understand your wife’s concern. I enjoyed the entire process, from spooling my own film, exposing, development and printing. What I didn’t enjoy was the expense, especially for print material, and the necessity of carrying a color and a black and white camera body. Add to the fact that there is very little variety of film, chemicals and paper now being produced and what there is being difficult to come by, I decided to abandon film and am now enjoying a wonderful digital relationship. I hope she has a rewarding experience with film. I’d be interested to hear how the experience is going from time to time.

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    • I am with you sir…30 years is long enough for film.
      Film is an unfortunate part of my wife’s process. The camera; a square format and waist level with its reversed image is more what my wife is looking for to slow her shooting down. Linda, like you, is no stranger to film.
      For a time she made photographs with a 4X5 format Linhof Technica. She also used a Mamiya C330 until I talked her into joining me with Hasselblad. That only happened when I got her an motorized ELM.
      You would think she, like you and I, would avoid film cameras…but I suppose not….

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  3. I still have a Rolleiflex, a Widelux, a monorail camera, a field camera, a 6×17 panorama camera and six large format lenses yet I haven’t been tempted to try film again for some years. The last time I did try after several years with digital I found I had lost my sense of how to expose slide film accurately so got many more failures than I used to

    I don’t agree that film was more expensive than digital is. Enlargers didn’t cost that much, you could get cheap second hand cameras and lenses and while there were the running costs of film, chemicals and paper, I don’t think they approached ongoing costs for computers, backup, software and colour management. However, 5×4 slide film has now got much more expensive than it used to be.

    Good luck to her and her friend with their film endeavours. For me, if I wanted to slow down at this stage I’d probably go somewhere with a tripod, a DSLR and a tilt shift lens.

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    • Gosh Murray, You kept your cameras?
      I, like you, am not tempted to try film again. As I wrote, my wife is interested in the process of image making and I expect will disregard the film part. Her friend will process and I will scan. She just wants to make pictures.

      I think you mis-read me regarding film costs. I meant today’s costs. Here in British Columbia anything associated with purchasing, processing or printing is expensive…and in our community one can’t go to the store and buy 120 format.

      Enlarger costs? Thinking back when gas was less than 60 cents a gallon the Leitz enlarger I owned cost $4000.00 new and $3000 5 years later. Now when gas is around $3 a gallon the Mac I am planning on purchasing is only $6000.
      Camera costs? Cameras used to hold their value. A Canon A-1 didn’t move down much in price in 10 years. Where as modern DSLR drop drastically in 12 months.

      Thanks for your kind words to my wife. She has her own way of doing photography. Me? I am in agreement with slowing down your way Murray.

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  4. Good for her…..
    I am beginning to really like using my digital cameras but; for a sense of involvement and the feeling of accomplishment, it is still film and holding the end result.
    If I am honest, I also get a kick out of the looks I get when using my Nikon F2SB 🙂

    David.

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  5. Hi John!

    Whenever I felt that my shooting was getting too machine gun, or “spray and pray” I would dig out some really old flash cards with limited capacity to get that roll of film feeling back. I took a 32MB card out with my D2H and was forced to slow down and make each shot count.

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    • “Spray and Pray”. I like that Chris. with film we used to say, “Click and Pray”.
      I like that you are slowing down, limiting exposures and becoming more introspective of your subjects. That can only lead to more success and I am sure more keepers.

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