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Friday, 12 June 2015

My new, but not so new Canon A1

I recently invested in the Canon A1, as I wanted a more advanced and premium 35mm film camera. So eventually, after playing around and testing a few old film SLR cameras, I bought this old Canon from eBay with a great 50mm prime lens with a large aperture of 1.4f, which is perfectly suited for the types of shots I’m trying to capture. As previously mentioned, I have always loved film cameras and what they can produce. I have always had fun using various vintage 'point and shoot' and range finder cameras, but I've been really wanting a fully manual SLR to use with film for a while. As well as film, I’ve always had a working digital SLR on hand if I've ever needed to use digital. I feel most of us are subject to having gained some knowledge of digital cameras, whether that be on simple compact cameras or SLR's. As time and technology has progressed, it feels like film has been forgotten somewhat, so below I have comprised a brief outline on the ins and outs of both formats for those wanting to understand more, with a slight hint of bias towards my current obsession for film.

Film vs. Digital; This is a recurring argument with no absolute answer, and with the resurgence of film and analogue photography in the last decade it begs the question.. will film ever be put to bed given its ageing format? And effectively does film or digital produce better photographs?
The answer to that question (in my opinion) is that, strictly speaking, neither are better than the other. Both film and digital have their own pros and cons, and offer fundamentally different skills that are specifically utilised in different circumstances. Thus this requires the photographer to choose the 'proper' or most suitable tool for the job at hand.

'Hipsters' are loving the vintage feel to film photography, and are venturing out with their Lomography cameras or vintage point and shoots or their old SLR’s. For those lucky few who can afford it, they are buying a Leica to capture the dreamy vintage aesthetic, but as a whole, the vintage look being captured using these various film cameras is entirely unique and different from the standardised perfection created by a digital camera.

There is much debate to the comparative price between film and digital cameras. One can purchase a top-end film camera at (usually) a less expensive or similar cost to a new mid-range digital camera. However, the digital SLR will become obsolete almost immediately as a new and improved version gets brought to the market fairly soon after, thus this is an obvious con to digital cameras. However with film, although the initial upfront cost of the camera body is much less than a digital, there is an ongoing expense of film and the processing of the film. So therefore, in terms of trial and error photography, a digital camera is economically efficient, allowing you to snap as many photographs as one of these nifty memory cards can store. But this leads onto its next argument that with every photo you snap (every shutter actuation), the value of the SLR decreases, as with every mile you drive a car its value decreases. However, this argument is long winded and enters territory I don't have the expertise to talk further on, and for me, the price isn't really an overwhelming factor as I feel as long as you are using any cost incurred as a benefit (whether that be professional or mere pleasure), it shouldn't be an issue. Therefore, the price doesn't affect the choice I make to shoot either digital or film.

Personally I would use digital photography to show a clear representative of something. For instance with this blog; when I am showing a food spot or an outfit, I would choose digital to show a clear and concise picture of the scenario. Furthermore anything business related or orientated, it makes sense to present a clear cut image produced from digital photography.
Whereas, I believe film is a more creative and authentic form of photography. Although, back in the very early days of photographers, painters complained photography was a precise and non creative way of capturing an image. The same now goes for how the film photographers feel about digital. This opinion is however purely subjective and objective fluctuating on peoples differing opinions. For me its strange how on the one hand I’m such a perfectionist, yet I tease myself with the outcomes from film photography and the unpredictability of how the photographs will turn out. There is no instant gratification of seeing your images as with digital, and furthermore it is risky as it's possible to overexpose or underexpose the film and the image is gone forever.

In my eyes, I see film as being fun to play with, providing more intricacies you cannot find with digital cameras. You have to carefully select the appropriate film for the occasion; requiring you to physically buy the roll of film, and understand why you are using that type of film, including knowing the predetermined ISO of the film. The grain you get from certain film is aesthetically pleasing; if you were to whack in some high ISO black and white film for instance, Ilford’s Delta 3200the grain produced would enhance both the photograph itself and the moment of when the photograph was taken. Whereas, if you were to shoot with a high ISO on a lot of digital camera’s, you would be left with noise... multicoloured horrible noise which doesn’t add anything to a photo. Film grain is so beautiful that there is now software available to add it to our photographs, and digital photographers are often trying to replicate the ‘flaws’ of film photography by adding grain or light leaks that were once seen as a problem.

Many people are unmotivated and lazy about picking up an old film camera and taking photographs due to the lack of an 'automatic exposure setting'; and yes, with most old film SLR's you are required to manually programme the aperture, shutter speed and load in film with the correct ISO for the current light intensity. I know, on the surface, this may sound daunting; especially not being able to see the photographs after each shot to amend any settings, or to correct the lighting. Furthermore, you have to gain understanding on how these settings work together, and this requires some experience, some confidence and something great to shoot. But, you should be fine because film has a higher dynamic range and can be very forgiving in terms of over-exposure. So, despite the manual programming on old film SLR’s, and the lack of trial and error available, there is surprisingly a bit of forgivingness with overexposure, so as long as you know the basics, you will more often than not create a well exposed image. Neither film SLR's or DSLR's are easier to learn or perfect in my opinion; film just takes a lot more time prepping and planning, but it is easy to understand that a lack of being able to see and learn from mistakes immediately can be an off-put.

The nostalgia of film shines, especially amongst fine art photographers. For me, photography is a hobby and I want the photographs to be unique; I want to be able to connect to the moment from when I was taking a photographs, to capture the memory. With such large capacity memory cards now in production, digital photographers take so many photographs, that I often think, how can you possibly decide which is best. So many photographers spend huge amounts of time reviewing shots on their camera screen, they leave themselves vulnerable to missing what could have been an amazing shot. Of course, you have more to choose from, but for me that creates great deals of stress trying to decipher what’s the best shot. With 35mm rolls of film you are limited to 24 or 36 exposures, and with the price of film and the processing you have to meticulously think out, compose and shoot at the perfect moment, which simply gives so much depth to the final image. It is said that we upload approximately 1.8 billion photographs to social networks daily, which is crazy, but I believe that the next image diminishes the value of the one before. Where as with film you can never take as many shots, therefore meaning every photograph has to be planned accordingly.

If you haven't already played around with film, I encourage you to try it and see how you fair. I can assure you it's rewarding, stay tuned for the first few reels of film from my Canon A1.




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