So like in life it is good to try new things and go outside your comfort zones. A few weeks back I picked up a second-hand film camera. No, not the hipster type I have been there and done that. This thing is plastic, heavy and released in 1999, so fairly new. I purchased the Nikon F100 because all my Nikon lens are still compatible with it, even the autofocus! Like any new toy (tool) I was eager to start shooting with it and quickly ordered 3 different rolls of film. Kodak Pro image 100, Fuji Industrial 100 and Portra 160. Everything about the Nikon F100 is automatic; has no winder to wind on the film and when inserting a new roll of film it is meant to automatically wind it on when closing the back. However, mine didn’t do that. You could imagine my face, sitting there with a new roll of Kodak Pro Image in there but the camera was not winding on the film. Thinking what a waste of 350 bucks. I tried a few more times but still no good.
The Nikon F100 has these two buttons and when pushed together it automatically rewinds the film for you. Sitting there I thought to myself, maybe if I hold these two buttons down then maybe it will wind on the film. Well, unfortunately for me it did the opposite. The camera whirled into life as it rewound the unused film. What a kook I have now just wasted a whole roll of film (luckily it wasn’t the portra). Annoyed with myself I took the film out, thinking that only I could screw-up something so simple. What a great start.
I grabbed the next cheapest film I had bought, the Fuji Industrial and the same thing. The camera didn’t automatically wind on the film. Even more annoyed I thought what the heck, well I will just try to take a photo. I press the shutter down and the thing makes the whirling noise again and automatically winds on the film.
So over the next week and a half, I tested the camera and the film stock, shooting some of my personal projects I have been working on (More about that later). I also used my digital camera making similar or the same compositions as I wasn’t sure what the film would develop like. So enjoy the comparison and let me know your thoughts.
My alarm starting beeping at 4.30am. Outside of my sheets, it felt like the artic so instinctively I hit the snooze button. I made it out of bed about an hour later. The plan was to get to this place I googled the night before called Snakes lookout and shoot before and during sunrise. The sunrise took place opposite the Melbourne Skyline and in the freezing cold it was truly beautiful watching the buildings change different colours as they reflected the morning hues. This was my first time using the Nikon F100 and it was a very contrasty scene. I have to admit I used my digital camera to double check exposures, I had to be careful as I had already stupidly wasted a roll of film. I bracketed the exposures on the F100 to be certain that I captured something.
After freezing and watching the sun greet the buildings warmly I headed back to the car to put my gear away. I walked down to this bridge that was above a motorway. I was drawn to the pink reflection from a building on the motorway so I exposed a few frames.
Next up I planned to shoot this bridge over Merri Creek before it joins the Yarra River. Which funny enough is the bridge from the same motorway in the image above. I was drawn to this bridge beause of the angles of the concrete structure. I shot this bridge twice througout the day as you are about to see.
During dawn, there was a pastel blue sky and I wanted to capture this as part of the scene. But being another very contrasty lighting scenerio it made it very hard to capture. I exposed the film photos for the concrete and underexposed by 2/3 of a stop (possible I actually cant remember) with the hope I would capture some of the sky information as the sky was many stops above the concrete. As you can see with the film photo the sky is blown out and then there is a strange green hue in the image. Im not sure if this is because of the scan or if it’s from the film been underexposed.
I returned just after sunset and luckily for me the lights under the bridge flickered on just as I was wrapping up the shoot. I had already shot quite a number of frames with the film camera and was making some final ones with my digital camera when the lights flicked on.
I like both these images and they have so much more life then the dawn ones. Again the film overexposed the sky which makes me favour the digital as I believe the sky contributes significantly to the feel of this scene.
The third and final location for the day was Dights Falls. Which is where Merri Creek joins the Yarra River and has cultural significance for the Wurrundjeri People. I believe it was a meeting place and one of the few crossing points of the Yarra River before any bridges were constructed. So like the above location I visit it twice in the day. The below shot was right at the meeting point of the two rivers and maybe of the Wurrundjeri People. I was drawn to the reflection of the eucalyptus tree and the rays of sunshine on the grass.
I walked around Dights falls and found a composition I liked. Like most people, I like a good waterfall and you would be extremely underwhelmed if you travelled here for that reason. They should change the name to Dights Concrete Ledge or something similar. In the images below I was drawn to the capturing the frost on the grass in the foreground as this helps tell the story of how cold it was. Again another very contrasty scene with the now harsh sunlight on the river and trees and everything else in shadow. I shot multiple frames of both film and digital also tested using my 6stop ND with the F100 but prefered the below shot. The long exposures were way too contrasty. I really enjoy the mood of the film shot, as it feels cold and intimate.
I returned later as the sun was setting and patiently waited till the sun was no long in the scene with the intention of less contrast. I changed the composition from the above series moving back to give the river some more significance in the frame. This also moves that tree that is centred in the above ones to the left which I feel is a little dominant and distracting. I feel this composition is much better. Again I used the 6stop ND to create some interest to what otherwise could be a boring image. Im still making my mind up about how I feel about these ones.
I have shot the below location a few times and have always struggled with the compostion and light. During this time I was trying shoot when the clouds covered the sun as I felt the softer the light would be best for this image. However, as you can see in the film photo the sun was very bright with hard shadows. It was hard with the vast cloud cover so I shot this one in hard light. I personally prefer this image, something cinematic abot it, like an opening sequence to a film. I also feel the yellow car to the right makes this composition. It just goes to show that your assumptions are not always right and its good to test your asumptions.
My fingers are sore so I am going to leave the photos to do the explaining. Yep melbourne museum at dusk and night on both film and digital. Again the fuji industrial was struggling with contrast and the colours are quite yellow!
my conclusion on Fuji Industrial 100 is that I probably won’t use the film again. I felt that it was super grainy, so much so some of the detail is lost when you zoom in. Also, I felt that it struggled with contrast but being fear I was probably pusing it a bit too far for that kind of film. However, I did like how it rendered some of the colours and some of the shots I am very pleased with.
A colleague of mine was wondering why I spent quite a bit of money buying a film camera and film when “digital is better than film” and maybe these examples could support that. It’s about now the steam starts coming out of some film geeks noses and ears. Anyway, for their peace of mind, this post is not about that at all. The shortcomings of the film could be down to the cheap roll and very contrasty scenes, as well as a user who is not used to shooting on film. So what have I learnt through all this typing and shooting on film. The process of shooting film and digital is completely different, with digital you can shoot many frames tweaking the settings till you get a right exposure. You simply can’t do that with film, so it slows you down and forces you to observe the lighting and colours of the scene. Hopefully resulting in a more intentional exposure. Secondly, with digital there is quite a lot of work that can be done in post. In fact, it can be overwhelming moving sliders around tweaking the colours, highlights and shadows. Sometimes you could push a photo too far, or just be way off the point for conveying a mood or story. The luxury with the film is you can’t really obsess over these finer details. You kinda get the look of the film stock. In some of the above images I actually prefer the film shot. You can see on the digital I recovered more shadow information and maybe too much. With modern editing software, it is now easy to recover highlights and shadows. I often find myself doing this when maybe it’s not necessary. Having dark shadows can actualy create the mood of a shot. So by shooting film I believe I am improving my photography and will soon be making better images on both film and digital.