What? Shooting photos with film again?   


Over the years I have been writing these articles I have mentioned more than once that I couldn’t see myself ever using a film camera again. When someone asks me why, I complain that film is such a hassle to deal with and takes to long get back from a lab. Digital is immediate and cost nothing unless one decides to make a print. I would always say that I am not the least interested in film.

The Dictionary defines “Eat (one’s) words.” as, “to retract, regret, or feel foolish about what one has previously said”

Last summer I purchased a 300mm lens for the Pentax 67. In 1965 Pentax introduced the Pentax 6×7, a SLR medium format camera for 120 and 220 film that produces 6cm x 7cm image. That’s about a 2 ¼ by 2 ¾ inches negative.

Photographers that were doing work for clients back then preferred medium format film cameras because the larger negatives produced higher quality enlargements.

I owned a Pentax 6×7 camera years ago. It was easy to carry around for close-ups in the garden and although the 67 is a large medium format camera weighing just over five pounds, it is shaped and used like the much smaller 35mm cameras of the day.

It has a variety of interchangeable lenses, prisms and assorted viewfinders that allow one to use the camera at waist level or eye level. And as with 35mm manual cameras, the lens can be reversed with an adapter that made the normal lens work like a macro lens. And a waist level finder made close-up plant photography very comfortable.

I had planned on selling the Pentax 300mm lens, but after showing it to my photo pal Jo I decided to get a body for it. Jo not only had never imagined such a camera existed, but had only come into contact with film when her parents took family photos.

I searched eBay and found some sellers that had Pentax 67 camera bodies, waited for a good price and a couple of weeks ago exposed a roll of 400 ISO Ilford film and a roll of 160 ISO Fuji film with my new 6X7 and 300mm lens.

Getting the film processed wasn’t the easiest task. The local store that sends film out for processing and printing does not handle 120 film. I checked and the lab I used (ABC Photocolor in Vancouver) back in the 1980s and 1990s that still does and will “process only” if I ask so I can scan the film myself.

I also found a lab (Canadian Film Lab) in the small town of Hope, BC that specializes in film. They will process 120 film, scan, correct density and colour balance then post the images for clients on their website. They also have other services to help film users optimise film to personal specifications.

Canadian film lab is more expensive than ABC Photocolor, but I wanted to see what they could do so I sent the two rolls to them.

I now have my image files loaded on my computer and they did such a good job that am looking forward to exposing another roll to send to them.

I would never have thought I’d be shooting with film again.   Jo will be exposing her first roll of colour film with that camera very soon. I have about 30 rolls of film in my freezer and expect Jo and I will be getting used to lugging that heavy beast around and having a great time working the film.

I had forgotten the latitude a roll of B&W film has. Yes my 36mp Nikon’s sensor gives me glorious files, but there is something positive to be said about the quality of a 120 film negative.

Photographers talk about how wedding photography has changed.

My long time friend, and photographer, Alex Neidbala stopped by my shop. Who, until his formal retirement in 2005 owned and operated Billows Photography in Kamloops, British Columbia. 

As we talked about how we thought that changes in photography might affect the photographic art in the upcoming exhibition he had agreed to be one of the judges for, our conversation drifted into how we had photographed weddings in the 1980s and 1990s and how much different that is from today. 

If one wanted superior quality enlargements greater than 8×10 the only option was medium format film, and that meant using film that produced 2¼ x 2¼ negatives.  Medium format film could be purchased in rolls; mostly 120mm film size, and mostly 12 or 16 frames (pictures) per roll, depending on the camera.

At that time we both used a camera called a Hasselblad.  A roll of film was loaded in a 12-exposure film magazine and attached to the camera. When 12 exposures were taken another loaded magazine was exchanged for more photography.  This is one of the most significant changes and very different from the 190-image, 4GB memory card I normally use today.

Neidbala felt that our goal in those days was much harder than photographers have today, in that modern photographers can waste images, or give a client ten or twenty portraits of the same grouping to select from, without worrying about the cost of processing worthless prints.  When a photographer is limited to changing film every twelve frames at such an important event as a wedding, every shot had to count.  In addition, it took time to change film magazines, so photographers had to be prepared for every shot. 

The Hasselblad didn’t have auto focus lenses or any other programmable modes for that matter.  Photographers had to slowly change the manual focusing lenses that were much bigger, and heavier, in size then current DSLR lenses.  A metered focusing head that could be attached to the camera body was available for use, but most used a hand-held light meter and the heavy motorized model advanced film at a “sizzling one-frame-per-second”. 

Wedding albums contained either 5X5 or 8X8 and sometimes even 11X11 inch prints. The total number of prints shot was usually much less than 100 pictures, and each enlargement was printed in a custom lab, and any retouching was done by hand.

In modern photography we are able to take major risks with our photography; and if a creative shot didn’t work, delete it and try again.  Instead of being limited to 12 permanent exposures for a family grouping, one is able to make multiple exposures, select the best photo; with everyone smiling and eyes open, no grimaces or funny faces, and then delete the rest.  Retouching is no longer a long and laborious task with Photoshop; and even though there are custom labs high quality enlargements can be made at home; and the thought of less than 100 photographs in a wedding album is laughable. 

Because digital cameras can produce images that don’t cost anything until they are printed, photographers don’t hesitate to make multiple exposures of every subject.  It is not unusual for some photographers to arrive home from a wedding with over 1000 images stored on memory cards waiting for final selection.

Photography has been exciting for both Neidbala and I all these years because it has been an ever-changing medium, not only with the film and equipment we used, but also in the way we put that equipment to use working as professional photographers. I recall photographers older than me marvelling on my Hasselblad.  Some were intrigued while others, much like some I still meet today, felt it was better to hold on to the tried-and-true technology of years gone by. Both Alex and I sold our Hasselblads and purchased digital cameras over ten years ago and are happy we did. I wonder what the camera of choice will be for photographers ten years in the future.