Photography Project: Shooting with a Film Camera

Wigwam Motel, Route 66 Holbrook AZ

A friend of mine lent me her fathers old Yashica D TLR camera while we were on our recent road trip. I hadn’t used a film camera in years, and to be honest, I wasn’t very good shooting film. I find the instant feedback with digital helps me course correct in the moment. But I thought I would give it a try and see what it was like after 10+ years of focused digital photography. You often hear “there is just something about a photograph made with film that is so different”. Here is what I learned after shooting 2 rolls of film.

Its exciting to see the world through a different viewfinder. It was just cool. The square format and the low angle you had to hold the camera so you could look down through the view finder. I found trying to frame a composition quickly challenging because I was looking at a mirror image – to get more of the right side into the frame, I had to move left.

Plaza in old town Santa Fe

Film is easy to buy, but hard to develop. I bought the film on Amazon, and sent it to ProcessOne for development and digital scans. I shot two rolls of 120mm black and white film. I found three places to develop 120mm film; only 2 developed black and white, only 1 was taking new customers. I tried a local place in Santa Fe that was going to charge me $75 to develop the film and create digital scans – that was for 1 roll. It took 2 weeks to send in the film, and receive the digital scnas. All in, it cost me $50 to buy, develop, and scan 2 rolls of film, 24 exposures. I have one photo I like (good not great – see blog cover image) and quite a few “tossers”.

Route 66, Visitor Center in Holbrook, AZ

It is a manual process. The camera I was using required time to load the film (which seemed to be a 4 hand job that Peter had to help me with), take an exposure reading with my light meter (which I still don’t think I exposed many images correctly), dial in the shutter speed, cock the shutter, press the shutter release, advance the film (this last part I quite often forgot to do). The Yashica D, will continue taking images on top of one frame until you advance the film. I ended up with a few double exposures, which is significant given the cost of film and development.

Double exposure of San Francisco de Asis church in Taos, NM

A digital hack? When we returned home, Peter challenged me to try to replicate the look using a digital image I made. While I didn’t a film and digital version of the exact same image, I did have something made in the same light, at the same time of day, with a similar subject. I processed this image using DxO Film Pack 6 and chose the same black and white film. I think I will try to take this further with my digital camera by using a camera strap around my neck so I can hold the camera low, flip the LCD screen up so I am looking down to compose, and selecting a 1:1 square aspect ratio to frame it. The film version is on the left, the digital version is on the right.

I spent hours going down the rabbit hole on this project. I am always amazed at what I can find on the Internet: YouTube videos on how to use this particular camera, and informative article on TLR’s by Digital Camera World (I still smile when I think about the irony), and even a company that makes a TLR but uses Polaroid film so you instantly have a print. I was excited when I saw it, and then I saw the price tag, and then I remembered the cost of film. I have a couple of my dad’s old 35mm film cameras that I may try out someday to see what I can do…who knows, maybe Peter will remind me of the cost of film, development, and scanning at just the right moment.

San Jose de Gracias Church, Las Trampas New Mexico
Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe New Mexico

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