Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Dawn of a New Era

Yes, there is some irony in this title. A blog on film photography. Who'da thunk it?

For two years now I've posted on nzdigital (nzdigital.blogspot.com) my thoughts on digital photography - amongst other things. I've been a photographer for over twenty years, as well as a photography writer and educator. And like many, I was seduced by the instant gratification of digital (although I wasn't an early adopter). I love digital photography, with all the freedom in post processing that it brings. The computer has become my darkroom and I love photoshop with a passion. My Nikon D300 is, hands down, the best camera I've ever owned - is a complete joy to use - and I couldn't see myself shooting a wedding with anything else (until the D*** comes along).

Increasingly however, over the last few weeks, I've become very excited about retro classic film cameras, especially the line of Olympus 35mm compacts from the 50s and 60s. Oddly enough, this is because I've also been thinking about my next digital camera purchase and started looking seriously at the Olympus Pen micro 4/3rds system.

The digital Pen is based on the classic Olympus half frame Pen 35mm camera system designed by Olympus' camera guru Yoshihisa Maitani. His is a fascinating story of one man's passionate pursuit of the 'half frame' (what Olympus referred to as 'single frame') camera format, initially at odds with the very company he was working for. Maitani's design genius, perseverance and total commitment to creating smaller, cheaper and easier to use (yet beautifully made) cameras changed the way all camera company's looked at camera design.

Although largely forgotten now, the Olympus 35mm Pen (and Trip) series of cameras are the best selling range in camera history (over 17 million Pens were sold). Olympus' decision to re-introduce the Pen in digital format not only pays homage to the original film series (and to Maitani himself who sadly died in 2009), but it also cleverly re-introduces the notion of smaller, yet more fully featured compact cameras (with bigger sensors for better image quality) to the digital world.

I have found all of my reading around this topic of Olympus half frame cameras to be quite inspiring, to the point where I decided I needed to experience them for myself. Which, of course, meant going back to film.

My first port of call was Trademe - a New Zealand internet auction site (akin to ebay). As luck would have it, there was one Olympus Pen on Trademe for sale - the Pen EES-2. I put in a bid, and up against one other bidder, I won the camera for the princely sum of $27.00NZ! I'll write more about the EES-2 when it actually arrives (should be anytime soon) - but I'm very excited to actually own a Pen already - and I know it won't be my last!

Spurred on by my success with the EES-2, I checked out another auction for an Olympus Trip 35ED - another compact 35mm  rangefinder camera designed in conjunction with the Pen.  I also placed a bid on this camera, and won it for $22.00NZ (although it's going to cost me a further $12.00NZ just for the batteries to make it work - more on that later).

So my journey into the 'single frame' Pen system - and back to film photography - has begun. Hence, the irony of this first blog title. For me, at least, film is indeed back. I know some may argue that it never went away? But it was close. Yes indeed, it was very close.

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