Monday, May 18, 2015

The Dark Side of Film Shooting

Last post I wrote about an online auction I was watching for a Canon EOS Elan 7e (Elan 30) that I hoped would go for a song. Long story short - it did, and I won it! :-) I'm now the very proud owner of a mint condition Elan EOS 30 and I couldn't be happier.

It's a late 90s camera from Canon, one of the last film cameras they produced in their 'pro-sumer' line. As such, it's a fully featured camera body with all the bells and whistles and a solid, but light, polycarbonate/metal body. I'll write a more detailed post about the camera soon, along with some images taken with it.

But what I wanted to talk about in this post is the 'dark side' of the retro film habit; batteries and film processing.

Once I had won the Canon EOS 30 film body, I Googled the manual to make sure I had the appropriate batteries for it. As we know with all modern cameras, no batteries no picture. The other problem is that battery technology has changed over the years, and camera manufacturers have changed right along with it. This may sound like a good thing, but in reality if you start collecting a range of cameras then you'll most likely need a range of batteries - some of which aren't all that easy to find (and possibly expensive when you do).

Worst case scenario with some of the older cameras that took a mercury battery cell (now no longer manufactured), the camera will have to be retrofit for newer technology. This is the case with a lot of polaroid cameras.

With the newer technology, some took regular AA's, some took CR123A's (like the Elan 30), while still others opted for the 2CR5's (the Canon EOS 5). Unfortunately, where I live in small town New Zealand, neither of those last two options are ideal.

I won the Elan 30 on Trademe for the princely sum of $28NZ (I kid you not!). Fortunately I have a couple of old CR123A batteries floating around at home, but they are probably on their last legs, so I needed to source some new ones. Sounds like a trip to my local camera store.

At my towns camera retailer (a Kodak Express chain store) I was told that "no", they didn't stock this type of battery anymore, but that "yes", they could get them in for me. For $20NZ each. And I need two of them! That's $40NZ worth of batteries for a camera that cost me $28.00NZ. The batteries are more expensive than the camera. Go figure.

A local electronics store down the road was a little better. They also didn't stock them and were only going to charge me $14NZ each, making the batteries worth exactly the same as the camera body. That's just crazy. So my last resort - online shopping. Back on to Trademe (New Zealand's version of eBay), and I found a deal of $12NZ for six CR123A batteries - that's $2 each! Now were talking. Needless to say that's the way I've gone. But I still can't believe my local camera store was going to charge me $20NZ for one battery! Is it any wonder small town retail shops are closing? They really do need to be more competitive. And just as an aside - and another example, Kodak film at the same store is $17NZ per roll for Kodak Gold stock standard film (and $49 for a 3pack). Ouch!!!

The batteries haven't arrived as yet, but fortunately the two that I have do work in the camera, and this weekend I got to take it out and put a roll of Fuji Superia 200 color negative film through it. Worked like a dream, but that's a story for another post.

Having shot said roll of film, I took it back to my local Kodak Express store to get it developed. "Sorry buddy" the guy behind the counter said, "We don't do developing here anymore." Turns out film isn't quite dead, but in small town New Zealand it's as close to it as you can get without shoveling the dirt on top of the coffin!

It wasn't all doom and gloom though. They do send film out to get processed, but only when they have at least ten rolls, and it usually takes a couple of weeks to collect that amount. Unfortunately for me, they had just sent out their order on the courier that morning, so I'll have to wait another couple of weeks if I want to get it processed 'locally'.

I'm old enough to remember 1 hour processing for film at your local camera store (sigh), and even though I certainly didn't expect that to be the case anymore, I also didn't think it would be a two week turn-around time?! Maybe that's the price of shooting film now just about everywhere?

I went to the Google again and considered on-line processing services, but when you factor in postage to and from the service, plus processing costs, it works out at about $16NZ per roll just to develop only (no prints, cd etc). Mind you, it will probably end up costing that much for my local lab to 'send it out' for processing anyway? Once again, the price of shooting film.

Having said all of this, none of it puts me off shooting with film. I just might not be shooting a lot of color negative. I may become a black and white shooter, processing at home in caffenol and scanning on my Epson V700. That will bring the cost down considerably.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Tale of Two Canon's

I'm not schizophrenic. Really, I'm not.

But I am beginning to wonder if I'm losing the plot a bit with the back-and-forth conversations I have with myself over photography.

One minute I convince myself that if I'm going to shoot film, then I should embrace the whole 'retro-ness' of it all, and go completely old-school manual. So I bought a Ricoh KR-5 Super II and played with that for a while. Really enjoyed it too. So much so, that I seriously considered only shooting film again, and ditching all my digital gear.

Then I purchased a Minolta 700si and got excited about building up a Minolta film kit, with several bodies and lenses. But then I had second thoughts, since I had previously convinced myself that 'old-school' full manual was still where I needed to be, and the Minolta's were far too 'new' (yes, even I can see the irony in that statement).

But then, I decided to start shooting weddings again (maybe), so convinced myself (very persuasively) that I needed a decent digital kit if I was going to turn up at a wedding - so ended up getting a Canon 1D Mk3 DSLR, and must say that I LOVE it! :-)

So that's it then. The end of film - right? Having convinced myself 6 months ago that I was going to go all film (and old-school manual retro film at that), I've done a complete 180 and am shooting now with a big pro digital rig. And really enjoying it.

Fear not though faithful readers, because film is not dead! (See, I told you I'm beginning to lose the plot). It just so happens that there are a solid core of professional wedding photographers who are going back to shooting film at weddings, and some never stopped. Jose Villa springs immediately to mind, but there are more. A quick search on Google will bring up dozens of photographers making a name for themselves shooting film again at weddings. So, of course, this got me thinking....

Canon A2e (EOS 5)
Recently, at my local camera club meeting, a member was chatting to me during a break and happened to mention that he had a film camera that he couldn't get rid of. My interest was instantly peaked and I asked him what the camera was. Turns out it was a sweet Canon EOS A2e (EOS 5 outside of America), complete with Canon 420EZ flash and 60TS remote switch - all for $50NZ. Of course I couldn't help myself, and snapped it up immediately - much to his joy and surprise (no one shoots film anymore - right?).

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I worked as a graphic designer for a major clothing company here in New Zealand, and part of that job included organising (and occasionally shooting) photo-shoots for catalogues. This was just pre-digital, so everything was shot on film. The main camera was a Mamiya RZ67 for studio and location work, with a Canon EOS 5 as the 'back-up' 35mm camera. In fact, the Canon 5 was purchased by the company on my recommendation. I recommended the Canon largely because I desperately wanted to own one myself but couldn't afford it :-) So there's an emotional, historical tie-in again with my own photographic past that, upon reflection, I think is largely behind my whole film fascination. It's about owning cameras again that I used to own (or at least shot with) in the past, together with now being able to own cameras that I lusted after but could never have afforded. Of course, it is also about the aesthetics of film. But if I'm being brutally honest with myself, it is probably 80% gear-driven.

Canon Elan 7e (EOS 30)
Since I have now settled on Canon (again) as my photographic 'brand' of choice (another nostalgic decision), I'm seriously considering shooting both digital and film during a wedding. I probably won't make it a selling point, but then again, I might? I may not even tell my couples that I'm shooting a few rolls of film, since the cameras look so 'digital' anyway.

I have the A2e now, which can take all my Canon EF lenses, and I've started having a look at what else is available on Trademe in the 'modern' slr camera line. I used to own the EOS 50e (Elan II) and enjoyed its 'retro' silver/black finish with its mix of modern technology - so I could go for one of those as well? But on Trademe at the moment, for an absolute song, is a fantastic condition Elan 7e (EOS 30) and I'm seriously considering putting in a last minute bid on that. It could go for as low as $30.00NZ for the body, which is crazy stupid money. The 7e with the A2e would be a great film camera kit, if I'm committed to going down the 35mm Canon route.

But here's where the back-and-forth conversation starts doing my head in a bit. Because most wedding shooters using film are doing it on a medium format system - namely the Contax 645. And I've told myself in the past that if I'm going to be shooting film, I may as well 'go big or go home' (as they say). I love the great big negative you get from a 6x7 film camera, but not the bulk of the camera itself (another irony that's not lost on me when my main DSLR is a Canon 1D series body). So as much as it would be great to shoot a wedding with a Contax/Mamiya/Pentax 645 medium format camera, I just don't think it's going to happen any time soon. I may need to 'ease' into it a bit more with a digital-like SLR body a-la the A2e or Elan 7e.

So as it stands, the Canon 1D MkIII will be my main wedding body, backed up with a Canon 50D - all digital. But for a few rolls - probably when I'm doing some of the bride and groom portraits and we are off on our own - I'll get out the A2e or 7e, use the same lenses, and shoot some Portra 400 or Ektar 100. I think I'll stick to colour negative film, which will give me the option to scan and convert to black and white later if I have to. A hybrid workflow, for a hybrid wedding. Could be interesting to see which images the couples choose afterwards, especially if they don't know some of them are film. Very interesting indeed.