Film photography is hard

Over Christmas, my grandfather’s old Pentax ME camera emerged from a cupboard at my mother’s house. I’d used it before, a few times when I was a teenager, to take some macro photos of flowers for a project I was working on at school. I never really understood what I was doing in terms of aperture, exposure etc. – I was using the camera in a mainly point-and-shoot manner, and it seemed to just work.

When I picked the camera up again last month, I was so excited – all of a sudden, having used my DSLR, I understood all these settings like aperture, ISO and so on. I could use the camera “properly”!

I loaded up a Kodak ISO 200 film and proceeded to play. The camera came with 28mm and 50mm lenses, an extension tube, some close-up filters, and a flash. I bought a couple more lenses on eBay. I tried shooting into the light tent; took it to Alice Holt Forest; and finished the roll in the British Museum this weekend. I rewound and unloaded the film, but found that the end had got slightly stuck in the end of the door, so I knew I might lose a couple of exposures.

Fortunately, there’s a branch of Snappy Snaps about 100 yards from where I’m working at the moment, so I took the film to get developed this morning, and picked it up at lunchtime.

Out of 24 exposures, only 7 came out.

Those seven are a long, long way from being my finest work.

Most frames seem to be woefully underexposed. Odd, because the camera has electronic TTL aperture priority metering, and I’m used to shooting in aperture priority mode with the Canon EOS 350D, so I assumed I’d have no problems.

I may scan some later, so that people can point and laugh.

It feels like I have a lot – a LOT – to learn 🙁

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21 thoughts on “Film photography is hard”

  1. Interesting point, Keith.

    It does need a battery. However, the red led has been showing up in the viewfinder (somewhat intermittently, I must admit), so I assumed that the battery still had some power. Now, given how long it has been since the camera was last used in earnest, I would not have been at all surprised if it hadn’t worked – but it seemed to be OK.

    It’s a fair point, and I’m definitely going to be replacing that.

    One other issue I have is what film to use… I just picked a pack from a supermarket, but I’m thinking I might try to get something a bit more specialised. I’ve heard of e.g. Velvia and others, but as far as I can tell that is a slide film… now I’m realising that there’s a whole new world of learning that I’ve never had to consider before. I also need to find a decent supplier – most stores just seem to have a small range of Kodak or Fuji 200 or 400 film for your average compact 35mm.

    I’m suddenly realising just how much I still don’t know.

  2. OK, the latest on the batteries.

    Consulting the manual last night, it turns out that they were only ever expected to last for about a year, but I know that they haven’t been changed for far longer than that! I popped into the battery shop at Waterloo station this morning, and asked to buy two G13 cells. Unfortunately they are not made any more… so I’ve bought a couple of 357 cells, which I am assured are equivalent.

    The red LED in the left of the viewfinder that indicated the shutter speed the camera had selected had worked before, but it was inconsistent – sometimes I would have to wait a while for it to appear. I’m hoping that by changing the battery, things will improve.

    If anyone has any thoughts on what film would be recommended, please let me know.

  3. As I mentioned elsewhere, choice of film is a tricky issue, and it very much depends on what you want from the final image. Things like ISO speed are just as relevant as in digital, but the downside to high ISO in film isn’t higher noise, but lower resolution. Personally after trying a few different films I settled on Kodachrome, the colours are better and they last for ever. Velvia I found to have a greenish hue in longer exposures that I didn’t like, though not really an issue in short exposures.
    Again, personally I’d always go for slide over print, because of the longevity and better colour fidelity. Also you’re not reliant on the vagaries of the printing process to see what it’s going to look like, you can just hold it up to a light. They’re also more versatile, you can make prints from a slide, but you can’t project a negative. Lastly, a box of slides takes up less room!
    Kodak still make Kodachrome in 64 and 200, but it seems like there’s only one lab in the world that processes it these days (!). The processing charge is still included in the purchase price though.

  4. Marty, I think I’ve missed your previous comments on the issue? Or else my memory is just really, really poor, and I apologise.

    Reading around, it looks to me like Kodachrome is really on the way out. I might give it a try one time but if they are discontinuing it and it is difficult to process, I’m not sure it is what I’m looking for.

    Appreciate your comments on slide vs print. That’s a very interesting perspective. Are Velvia and Kodachrome the only options?

    I really need to research this whole area more.

  5. Andy – it was a flickr comment which looking back isn’t as comprehensive as I’d thought.
    Kodachrome isn’t difficult to process as such, it comes with an envelope which you send to the Kodak lab in Switzerland. Apparently they now just forward that to a lab in the US who process it then send it back. You only have to pay the postage, the rest is all included.
    It always used to be a lab in Hemel Hempstead, but I guess demand now means that it’s only economical for them to run a single lab worldwide.
    From reading briefly (i.e. Wikipedia) it seems that competition from Velvia is what killed off Kodachrome 25, and by that I mean pro users switched, and they would be the most demanding in terms of colour and definition form a film, so I guess you would expect velvia to be pretty damn good. Kodachrome is still understood to be the best archival medium though.
    I think pretty much all transparency film other than Kodachrome use pretty much the same E-6 process. That includes Velvia, Provia, Sensia from Fuji, the Kodak Elite Chrome (formerly Ektachrome) and Agfa. I believe AgfaPhoto are now bankrupt so I doubt that’s an option.
    Colour print film I haven’t shot in even longer, so I can’t say much, but I’d wager it’s worth avoiding any brand you haven’t heard of and stick with Kodak or Fuji.

  6. carrying on becasue I ran out of room …
    There’s one more complication of course. You’re presumably okay with the idea that you can’t change the ISO to adapt to conditions, after all you can just adjust the exposure as appropriate.

    What you can’t do as easily is adjust the white balance. Film is generally either marked “daylight” or “tungsten”, depending on intended lighting conditions, so as you shoot in changing conditions you can find the colours get a little weird. If you’ve scanned it then you can rescue, it with a bit of work, but obviously the better the image on the film, the less hassle later. I’m willing to bet all consumer grade film is daylight.

    Hunting around on Kodak’s website, reveals a lot more “professional” products than the consumer films site. This includes the fun sounding Ektachrome Infrared. So imagine a bit of googling might turn up some suppliers of a much wider range of products than you’ll find next to the photo counter in Boots.
    Actually, just checking, the Jessops website has a much larger range than I’d expected, although at typical Jessops looking prices.

  7. Right, sorry, just connecting the Flickr commenters with the blog ones 😉

    Thanks for all of that information – very comprehensive. I’ll check out Jessops later, and some other suppliers too.

    At the moment I’m more excited by the imminent arrival of my Canon 430EX Speedlight, which I hadn’t mentioned until now 😉

  8. Actually, I’ve just been rooting around in my cupboard and found some old rolls of film. Mostly it’s generic lloyd’s pharmacy ISO 200 print film, but there’s also two rolls of Kodacolor 200 (again print film).
    They’re all out of date (by as much as 3 years) and colour dyes may in time change etc., but they’ve been stored properly and are probably okay. So if you want them I can bring them in to the office. It’ll give you something to experiment with at least with only development costs to worry about.

  9. Well, my team is based there – I’m just not there most of the time. I might be there tomorrow or Friday. Not sure yet.

    Thanks for the offer – much appreciated.

    My flash is out for delivery today 😀 so I’ll be flitting between the Pentax and the 350D I should think.

  10. Cool, thanks Anton. Not needed right now but I’ll keep it in mind. And I could lend mine in return, for example for BlueFusion if required.

  11. I’m not sure what to suggest. Certainly changing the batteries will help. I only got hold of my Pentax a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t had any problems with it. I did put a pair of fresh batteries in it though.

    I would suggest taking it to city photographic on bedford place and see what they say.

    There are only 3 things I can think of – the batteries, which I don’t know whether would make shots over or under exposed – a sticking shutter, which should over expose shots – bad seals, which would just generally wreck the film.

    You did of course set the iso correctly?

  12. Thanks Richard. I’ve changed the batteries now and the light is coming on “more reliably”. I’m going to get another film developed this week so I’ll see whether that has helped.

    I’ve got the ISO set to the same as the film, yes. I read on comments to one of my Flickr photos that it might be necessary to push that though.

    I noticed at the weekend that the line of black foam just inside the top of the lens connection is crumbling away, which is a shame – having to be careful to keep the body clear of the debris when I change lenses.

  13. “line of black foam just inside the top of the lens connection is crumbling away”

    That’s a pretty common problem with old SLRs. All my old bodies suffer from the foam deteriorating, and worse than just crumbling it’s turned into a sort of sticky greasey ooze, that is a pain to clean off the mirror or focusing screen. You can get it serviced (for a cost) or (I believe) get kits from eBay to replace them.

    Bad seals would produce fogging at the edges of the film I’d have thought, rather than a complete over exposure. And I’d expect it to be roughly constant for the whole roll of film.
    According to google the ME has centerweighted metering so I guess there’s potential there if the shots have lots of bright areas for it to get confused. It also has exposure compensation so you’ve checked that it’s set to zero?

    I don’t know enough about Cadmium sulfide to know how stable it is over time, but if the cell is deteriorating maybe that’s it.
    It might be worth shooting off a whole roll, bracketing the metered exposure up and down for some scenes, to determine if the error is consistent. If so you could use exposure compensation to adjust.

  14. I just got another colour film developed (one of the ones I had donated last week, thanks!), and the results were much better. I’m pretty sure that the hit-and-miss nature of the results are more my inexperience than a mechanical problem this time – I got pretty much all 36 frames off the film.

    I’ve also just bought a roll of Kodak ISO 100 B&W to try out. Wonder if the snow will arrive overnight? 😉

    Thanks for the tips on the foam. I’ll take a look around for service or kit options.

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