My Grande Film Experiment

Canon A-1So some time ago I picked up an old Canon A-1 film camera at a thrift store for my antique camera collection which I intend to display on a shelf in my office someday. Well the camera looked like it was in good working order so I began to wonder if the thing would actually work. I went across the street to Walgreen’s and it just so happened that they had a battery for the thing so I installed it and by golly the little internal LED meter came to life!

I acquired some film and soon my film experiment was off and running! I was surprised to discover that a couple of the local camera stores still maintain functioning film labs and eventually I turned in a roll of film. After a couple long weeks I received the call… my negatives and prints were back and by golly the camera works and the prints looked good 🙂

Mule Deer Doe

So does film compare in quality to my 32mp Canon 90D? Of course not, not even close. But I did find the entire process enjoyable and discovered that I still like the whole process of loading film, shooting the pictures, running the advance lever and physically going to the lab and talking with real people. I also discovered that digital photography has made me a bit lazy. It costs nothing to rattle off a few test shots with the wrong exposure to get the camera set up for a shoot with perfect settings. With film it costs a dollar every time you click the button so it isn’t feasible to just fire off some shots. It also won’t do you any good because there obviously isn’t any immediate feedback on a screen to tell you what to do!

South Face of Pikes Peak

I had to relearn how to read a scene and run my old incident meter. The reflective meters in cameras can’t always be trusted to return an exact exposure so sometimes it’s better to use the old style incident meter to read the light actually falling on a scene to get an accurate exposure.

The old camera with it’s old manual focus lenses is quite small and light, and a very easy thing to carry along on a hike where there is no pressure to capture a lot of images for a YouTube movie or Instagram. Any shooting I was doing with my film camera was just for me, a simple exercise in enjoying my hobby. I found the entire process relaxing and intend to continue shooting with film once in a while.

Climbers in Garden of the Gods

But if I’m going on a vacation or a shoot where I am serious about getting images there is no way that I’m going to be shooting film. No film camera will ever come close to replacing 10 frames a second at 32 megapixels. Also with digital I can change my ISO with the changing conditions which I am constantly encountering in my photo trips that often begin in predawn light and finish in bright midday sunshine.

But I have to admit, I am a bit nostalgic for the old days when you would take your roll of film to the camera store and talk with other people about their recent experiences with our beloved hobby. I enjoyed the experience of laying your strip of film on the lamp and carefully examining the frames with a loupe, looking for just the right with which to create an enlargement. Other photographers would gather around and take a look through the glass for themselves and the whole experience had a special feel that has been lost in the digital era.

Downtown Victor Colorado

I still recommend film and the entire photographic process for anyone starting out in photography. I think there is great value in understanding each step of the process, from selecting the correct ISO value for your roll of film, to metering the light for a correct exposure, to learning the patience to wait for your results. So even though I won’t be shooting with my A-1 all the time, I have acquired a backpack for the camera and manual focus lenses and I intend to continue putting it to use once in a while! Not too much use though, with these fuel prices the trip to the lab in Colorado Springs costs about $40, Add that to the $25 for the film, processing and the high res scans and it’s a pretty expensive proposition to turn in a roll of film!

I have included a few scans of my negatives with this post, I hope you enjoy the results! If you enjoy the content and would like to contribute to the cause, please click the donate button and select an amount!

 

Also don’t forget to check out my books and calendars on Lulu Press and Amazon including my latest, “Wildlife Photography in the Colorado Rockies”!

Elk Herd on a Beautiful Rocky Mountain Evening

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! Also, if you would like to see a more complete record of today’s images please follow my Instagram account!

Many of my adventures have also been captured on beautiful HD video on my Youtube Channel! If you enjoy my content please subscribe to my channel, subscribers have a big impact on channel rankings!

Back to Basics

Had myself a back to basics session on the mountain today. I decided I just wanted a nice hike without all the high tech wizardry to distract me from the pleasure of a mountain morning so all I took with me today was a light pack with my old Canon A-1 film camera and a roll of Ilford B&W film and unfortunately my phone, with which I apparently could not resist interrupting my hike with by attempting to create a video.  Anyway, I still immensely enjoyed my experience with the film camera and will probably doing more of that in the coming months!

Lenticular Clouds

As I said in the video, for some reason when I have the film camera along I don’t feel the same pressure to produce. I’ve been shooting stock image for almost 20 years now and having a digital camera along makes me feel like I should be capturing stock images. With the film camera the simple joy of photography returns. I can’t explain it, but the old film camera just brings me joy 🙂

And don’t forget to check out my books and calendars on Lulu Press and Amazon!

Elk Herd on a Beautiful Rocky Mountain Evening

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! Also, if you would like to see a more complete record of today’s images please follow my Instagram account!

Many of my adventures have also been captured on beautiful HD video on my Youtube Channel! If you enjoy my content please subscribe to my channel, subscribers have a big impact on channel rankings! Also if you enjoy the content and would like to contribute to the cause, just click the link below and choose an amount to donate!

The Big Film vs Digital Test

Update *** The results were inconclusive, some liked the analog scan, others liked the digital version. Unfortunately I didn’t know all the ropes when I took the film in. Apparently you have to order a high res scan at the time the film is turned in so that it can be done as the film is developed. Otherwise high-res scans are $5. Without the high res scan I was unable to pixel peep but oddly when I look at the two web sized images side by side the analog version (left or top) depending on your display appears to be less distorted. The digital version appears to be brighter but that could be changed with a slight curves adjustment which was available to he digital version in Camera Raw and not available to the analog scan.  I won’t be giving up my 90D anytime soon though, out shooting birds I don’t think I could afford $0.75 per click shooting 500 shots per day!

Update *** So it turns out I used my old Canon 70D with the 18-55mm kit lens for the  test. My 90D was in use with the 100-400mm for eagle photography at the moment and I didn’t want to be changing lenses in the field… I forgot about that. Anyway, so far the image on the left is winning as the “most pleasing”. Later today I’ll reveal the identity of the camera used for each picture.

Ok, so I’m finally getting around to my first film vs digital head to head test. So it’s Ilford HP5 ISO 400 film in a 50 year old Canon AE-1 35mm manual camera vs three year old Canon 90D 32mp sensor. I should have used a tripod and taken exactly the same shot but I was standing on a bridge and didn’t want to get run over so this is as close to exactly the same shot as I could get. Both were taken with the same shutter speed, aperture and ISO so they should be pretty close!

South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon

Ilford HP5 400 speed film

Icy South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon Colorado

Digital Image

 

I’ve printed them both out and I have an idea which print I like better… but I want to get some input before I reveal which is which!

1. Which one do you like better?  … and

2. Which one do you think is the 50 year old AE-1?

This should be interesting 🙂

A Major Prize

My newest addition to a growing collection of nostalgic photography items is this beautiful Canon A-1 with a 75-200 lens. I found it at a thrift shop and it appears to be fully functional, complete with an exposure compensation dial, shutter and aperture priority and a working LED light meter in the viewfinder. I can’t wait to get out and try this thing! I recently completed a roll of Ilford HP5 black and white film with my old Canon AE-1, so maybe I can turn a new one in when I pick the other one up!

Canon A-1You may wonder why in this age of high tech digital why I would be messing around with film… I still remember when I acquired my first real camera. It was the Minolta X-700, a pretty formidable piece of equipment in it’s day. I remember sitting on the floor poring over the manual, learning about f stops and shutter speeds, and marveling at the little red LED information lights inside the viewfinder. A whole new world was opening up as a result of those new camera controls.

Now that wasn’t my first camera. My interest in photography began at a very young age with an old Brownie box camera. It wasn’t really mine but my parents would buy me one roll of 12 exposures per year to shoot on our summer camping trips to the mountains. To put that in perspective, I shoot that many frames in one second when I’m out doing bird photography with my Canon 90D.  When I got a little older I purchased one of those instamatic models at the drug store, the kind that would take those handy film cartridges… It had those disposable flash bars you could attach, also a pretty high tech item for the day! Of course the negatives were so small you couldn’t really make an enlargement but at the time it had never occurred to me to make an enlargement. When you are making $1.90 per hour at a grocery store things like picture enlargements aren’t really in the cards anyway.

Time marches on and I soon found myself in the Air Force. But for some reason when I was going to weather school it didn’t occur to me to get a real camera to photograph the awesome weather that would blow through Omaha, Nebraska, the home of Air Force Global Weather Central, where I worked as a weather observer and computer programmer for four years. It didn’t occur to me to take pictures of the weather and I didn’t have a camera capable of quality captures, nobody did. I guess storm chasing wasn’t a thing yet.

Pacific Ocean

When I moved out to Silicon Valley to begin a career in computer software the scenery was too much to leave undocumented, so I began the search for a better camera… Disk cameras were all the rage then, and as a computer guy a disk camera sounded like the thing to have. Unfortunately as I would discover, those stupid cameras were far from that. The tiny little negatives on those tiny little disks were barely capable of a 4×6 print. In all my travels around northern California I don’t recall ever seeing a camera store, I’m sure there must have been one somewhere but I never saw one. There were no 35mm or medium format cameras in the malls, I knew they existed but had no idea where you would find one and nobody I knew had one. Kind of like surveying equipment I thought, you knew it existed because you saw people taking surveys, but somehow surveyors were the only people who knew where to get it. I’m actually kind of amazed at how well this old print has fared over the last 40 years!

But when I got to Denver in the 80’s suddenly there were camera stores everywhere. Waxman’s Camera was big at the time and when my best friend showed up at a camping trip with a shiny Minolta X-370 I knew I had to have one. He told me about the camera store, how they would sell you the camera, show you how to use it and even provide free photography classes. I was amazed to see the all of the equipment that was available to anyone who wanted it, lighting, developing, enlarging, and I was fascinated with the whole process, loading the film, setting the apertures and shutter speeds, taking the film to the lab and hanging around talking to the technicians and other photographers about new film and developing technology. It was all a very special and rewarding experience and it was amazing to be part of it.

That aspect of photography is absent from the digital age. Everything is accomplished alone in front of a computer. The developing and the printing all done with Photoshop can be accomplished without ever having to talk to another person. I love my digital camera and the software but the equipment seems more like a computer with a lens that it does a camera. Of course there is social media but there is a remote anonymity about it that is just not the same.

Deia and the Horse

I tried my hand at a portrait business during the film era and actually did pretty well with it for quite a few years. I lived in the Parker, Colorado area which at the time was way “out in the country”. Somehow I became the guy who shot the country weddings and senior pictures and I had a great time doing it. Eventually I did upgrade to an auto focus model which I was quite fond of but the weddings burned me out and I put down the camera and didn’t pick one up until Canon introduced the first pro digital model in 2002. Of course if you want to know about that story you can read my book “Two Decades of Digital Photography“, it is available on eBook and paperback on Kindle and Amazon and is a fascinating photographic adventure in it’s own right!

I have a collection of old cameras and when I spotted an old Canon AE-1 at the Goodwill store. I grabbed it to add to the other relics displayed on a shelf for me to nostalgically enjoy. As I took it out to the truck I glanced across the street at the Walgreens… is it possible that they would have a battery for this thing, is it possible that it might actually still work after all these years? The camera was in excellent shape complete with lenses and a flash in the bag and it was obvious that whoever had it took care of it and didn’t use it much. My phone told me what kind of battery to use and how to put it in. I was pleasantly surprised when the meter needle snapped into place to display f/8 as I pointed the lens out the truck window. The film advance lever appeared to work and the shutter and mirror made a satisfying snap when I pushed the button!

Downtown Victor Colorado

So back into the store I went to buy a roll of 35mm film. There was no film there but I was eventually able to get a roll of crappy color film at Walmart so I loaded it up to test it out. The Walgreen’s had a film developing department so I dropped it off for them to send off to their lab. It took a month but I eventually got a call from them telling me that my CD and prints were ready. Amazingly, the camera worked. The film was crap but there were pictures… I am kind of intrigued by the postcard look of these prints though!

Then I began to get ideas for little projects that I could do with film, just for fun. I fished my old Sekonic incident meter out of the box of relics that I’ve been holding on to all these years and ordered some Ilford HP5 black and white film. This time I decided not to entrust my project to Walgreen’s and called around to see if there was still anyone who actually still has film developing equipment, and much to my surprise, Mike’s Camera still considers film to be an important medium and has a complete lab onsite at their Colorado Springs store! The original Waxman’s became Wolf Camera and then I believe those all became Mike’s Camera where I was a regular customer for many years. It had been so long though that upon arrival I had to set up a new account and decided to join the film discount club for $5 off of developing each roll of film.

While I was there talking to the technicians about film and processing I felt the old fire that I used to feel in the early days, the camaraderie and the appreciation for a special process. The feeling of being part of something exceptional and exclusive. So I bought some more Ilford HP5 and later picked up the Canon A1. Not sure if anyone will be interested but I plan to put out some YouTube videos about film photography. Now don’t get me wrong, I still appreciate the convenience of the digital era. I did some calculating and figure if I were trying to do what I do now with the birds and wildlife I would be burning through $1500 per month in film and processing! But I think it is going to be fun to do a few small projects with the old cameras and film. Stay tuned!

My First Roll of Film

Fortune Club in Victor Colorado

Well, not my first roll of film… but my first with my Canon AE-1 that I picked up a few weeks ago… and my first in probably two decades. Just got the pictures and CD back today which was pretty fun. For some reason Walgreen’s lab doesn’t return you the negatives which I failed to notice when I submitted the film there. If I decide to do any more film I’ll find a place with better service.

The CD contained images of 3072 x 2048, so basically 6 mega pixels. The color balance on the scans was quite far off, though the glossy prints seem to look fine. There was a small battle with the 50mm lens after it fell off my desk onto the carpeted floor. At first glance the lens looked fine but I managed to bend the aperture lever on the back so I for a few frames the aperture wasn’t working. Nothing a channel lock pliers in my truck couldn’t fix. All working fine again 🙂

Eleven Mile Reservoir

Nailing an exposure is a trick though after all these years of being spoiled by the LCD screen on the back of the digital camera! Perhaps if I am going to do more film shooting I’ll have to put my old light meter back in my pack! Shooting in manual with a meter should nail every exposure every time!

Well anyway, it was a blast loading and shooting film on an old antique camera. Don’t think I would want to do it very often, but it could be a fun change of pace once in a while. Plus I love that old camera… it was a marvel of engineering in it’s time, every control functions so smoothly, it’s a dream to use! Like I said in another post… if I was shooting film for what I do now I estimate I would be burning through $1500 a month in film and processing! That’s not even feasible!

 

 

 

Rocky Mountains on a Summer Day