Well, it's a funny old world..
I shoot digital and I love it. No two ways. The technology available to us today is fantastic, and it just keeps on getting better. It's astonishing, and my only gripe is: I wish that camera manufacturers would actually slow down. An updated model every five or six years would be about right. As it is, it's pretty much yearly and it's nuts.
Of course, I am of an age whereby any early explorations and experiences with photography for me necessarily took place using film, a long time before the advent of digital. When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have a dear family friend living in our attic, developing and printing Cibachromes and other colour processes. I can still remember the sheer magic of being invited into the darkroom and watching gorgeous rich colour images being brought to life through a soup of noxious chemicals. I myself dabbled with black and white printing whenever I got the opportunity to use someones darkroom, but many years passed before I truly embraced the photographic medium. By then digital had well and truly arrived, and for a long time now it has been my day to day bread and butter...
Then one day I was reading an article extolling the virtues of the Olympus XA (pictured above.. see the digital goodness of that shot? mmmm... oops sorry I digress). A tiny, compact rangefinder camera originally released in 1979. '..oooh I remember those!' It is essentially an aperture priority camera. You choose the aperture and the camera works out the shutter speed. Focus is achieved by way of a split screen rangefinder patch in the viewfinder, and the f/2.8 Zuiko lens was apparently renowned for its sharpness and contrast. I got hooked. 'Hmm, how would it be to play with film again..?' So I went straight onto Ebay and snagged one for cheap. Coupled with a few rolls of film I managed to find for a pound a pop, yes one pound! I had a tiny inexpensive film based set up, light enough for a jacket pocket. There are the associated costs of developing, but again, I found a lab where I can get a roll done for three quid. My good friend (Dave Watts top geezer) has graciously offered me the use of his scanner... Let the fun commence.. :-)
I have only put one roll through it so far but here are my findings:
I LOVE IT.
After years of shooting digital, the experience of being constrained by a roll of film is strangely refreshing. Because there is no way of seeing what you're getting, you are forced to slow down. Waaaaay down. You want to make each frame count so it really makes you look, think and question whether or not to press the shutter.
The quality. This is where, for me, it gets interesting. Having become so used to the nature of a digital file, I had begun to overlook how utterly gorgeous an image shot on film can be. There is a richness of tone and a level of dynamic range which I had almost forgotten existed. Add to that the grain which film emulsion necessarily yields, and you have a very specific look which gives a much more organic feel than a digital file. And this is all from a little compact camera loaded with very cheap 35mm film. Imagine what you can get out of a medium format set up... Drool.
And, the magic. It's just, well.. like magic. I feel a bit like a kid again. It's hard to put into words, but knowing what's going on inside that little black box when you press the shutter and make an exposure brings me joy. It's chemical man. It's analog. It's old school. And it changes things. In a good way.
So, this is just a start. I foresee a lot more film passing through my workflow. Fortunately I already have an old Nikon SLR for more versatile 35mm work, and a Bronica SQ-A for medium format. Hurrah!
For now, see what you think of these initial frames. Click for large.
OLYMPUS XA, ON AGFA VISTA 200