britt k leckman

FEBRUARY 2014

hubris
Taken in the newly reconfigured and cleaned darkroom with a Fuji TX-1 camera which takes a frame that is twice as wide as a standard frame of 35mm film.

On Getting Back into Film

Often in the past few years, I would enter what used to be my darkroom, caress the 4x5 and 5x7 enlargers, glance wistfully at the shelves of tanks and graduates before adding another box of stuff to the growing pile of cast off household items that started to fill my darkroom after I made the jump to digital photography. 

When digital became really viable in the early 2000’s, I embraced the medium whole heartedly, but I could never shake the feeling that I was missing something important in giving up on film. Like so many others, for me the change from film to digital was like throwing a light switch, one day I was shooting all my work in film, then when the mailman delivered a Nikon D1 digital camera into my hands, the film cameras that were once held with the same regard as a lover, were forgotten.

In the intervening decade, I made several half hearted attempts to kindle a a renewed interest in shooting a little film here and there, but I had been totally seduced by the ease and control of the digital image. My path back to film oddly started with a digital camera. 

A few years ago I picked up a used Leica M8 digital camera , which lead to an M9, and now to my current Leica the M 240 digital camera. Initially learning to shoot the Leica was a revelation.  When compared to the Nikon’s I have been shooting for years, I found that in the same bag that I would carry a single Nikon D3 and maybe one medium sized zoom lens, I could carry two Leica bodies with 21, 35, 50 90 and 180mm lenses. Nikon cameras (and Canons) are formidable industrial machines, optimized for fast shooting from a distance, they foster a "Spray and Pray” mentality. The Leica M series digital cameras by contrast are more along the lines of a fine watch, small, unobtrusive, begging for the photographer to get close and intimate. 

When I started to shoot with the Leica cameras several things impacted the way I was shooting. Since I could see beyond the frame lines in the viewfinder, other opportunities for framing were evident, I realized that all SLR type camera’s suffer from a certain aspect of tunnel vision. Through experience I gained confidence to move closer to a subject.  Because the Leica's are so unassuming even in the midst of a board meeting, I can get within several feet of the principals gathered around the table without becoming a distraction.  This is something I would never dare to do with the bigger, and more assuming Nikon. 

My favorite shooting combo with the Leica is a 35mm lens about 5 feet, from the subject, with the Nikon it's an 85mm lens from about 15 feet, and even this is a reflection on shooting with the Leica, because prior to getting the Leica I was shooting mostly with the 70-200mm from about 25 feet. The Leica has severe limitations compared to the NIkon, which forces me to think about every photo I am taking. The D3s can take photos in amazingly low light, not the Leicas, it taps out at 1600 ISO (800 ISO for the M9). It is this process of really thinking about a photo before tripping the shutter that lead me eventually back to film.

As digital cameras became better and better, the discipline of film was forgotten. Things such as proper camera support technique are less important with cameras that have VR (vibration reduction) built into the lens and the ability to push ISO upwards to maintain faster shutter speeds. All the automation that goes on, even with the most basic digital camera, can relieve the photographer of the responsibility to do little more than press a button. Ah, but back to the Leica, it doesn’t have most of these abilities, so I have in essence a digital camera that behaves more like a film camera. Obviously the Leica I use is a digital camera, and a very good one at that, but using a Leica over the past three years has prepared the way for my return to the world of chemicals and cellulose... Sort of... 

Last year I purchased at Pentax 67 camera and several lenses (see Archives, March 2013) with great expectations, but never really gelled with the camera, even though I shot with one for years in the 1980s. Fast forward to last month when I decided to purchase a Hasselblad Xpan panoramic camera, which is just a bit wider than my Leica, but shoots an image that is just shy of two frames wide, (26x65mm), which is cropped 6x7 territory. Since the Xpan is a rangefinder like the Leica, the shooting work flow is similar, and the two cameras happily co-exist across my shoulders.  

hubris
The Fuji TX-1 (Xpan) which shoots a double wide panoramic frame on film and the full frame 24mp digital Leica M 240

Where has all the film gone? 

I knew that film stocks were disappearing, but not to the degree that I found when looking for film to test and use. The loss of Agfa for me is huge, I was pretty much dedicated to AgfaPan or APX, Rodinal and Brovira for years. Slide film looks to be quickly heading out the door, Fuji still makes Velvia and Provia, but processing is looking to be a do it yourself proposition. Thankfully I found that I can still shoot 120 film my Hasselblad 220 film backs for the 500 series 6x6 cameras (with a few caveats).  Like wise the Pentax 67 will shoot both 120 and 220.  In 35mm the situation looks a little better, with more film stocks being offered, but then again with the closing of Efke last year one of the last really good traditional black and white film producers along with Agfa was gone without a replacement.   

After trying several black and white films, I found that I am very happy with Fuji Acros 100 and Fuji Neopan 400, both developed in Kodak Xtol.  Then I found out that the Fuji Neopan 400 has been discontinued!  One more film down the drain, thankfully B&H still has the film available, I just ordered 25 rolls to put on ice.  

As always previous items from this blog can be found in the Archive