An Analog Affair

Could this be? A second written blog post? What is he mad? A blog post? In a BLOG? Excuse the sarcasm and for the lack of words in something that’s called a WordPress. Anyway, since I’m still just a student, living as frugally as possible, full frame was never an option when I purchased my first DSLR. After a few weeks of reading spec sheets, calculating budgets and drooling over web reviews, I decided to splurge on a Nikon D7000 that I’m still using until today, 3 years past. But in these past months, I’ve been very tempted to go full frame, which amongst the reasons are the better depth of field with equivalent lens on an APS-C sensor and most importantly, a wider array of lens to be chosen from (DX lenses for me personally, is never a wise investment. You can’t really use them to the fullest on a full frame sensor and you’ll finally end up regretting your purchase).

However, sadly, budget is still a concern, so no D800E for me. After an intense googling session, I became very much intrigued with the idea of film photography, the easiest way to get to full frame without breaking your bank. This enlightenment was soon followed by another few days of me, scourging the web for the best deal on a used film camera. I finally found a good deal and got a used Nikon FM for MYR 750 (or roughly 200 USD). The price may seem quite steep for a used FM, but i succumbed anyway, because this particular unit was almost brand new! Not even a single scratch on the upper body, only minor scuffs along the bottom of the camera.

Then came the issue of Developing and Scanning the film. Unbelievably, there aren’t many film processing studios left in my hometown, and the only one left quoted me an exuberant amount of 65 MYR (18 USD) for Developing and Scanning. That’s just plain mad. Back to the net I went, and not too long after, I found an excellent Filmography Central in the next state (Fun Fact: The next state from my place is just an hour’s drive). And the icing on the cake was that you could even mail them your undeveloped film, and they’ll return the images to you via Google Drive, all in under a day. What’s more tempting was the mind-numbingly low price of MYR 16 for Development and Scanning. That equates to only 4$! A real bargain.

So, without further ado, here are some test shots I got from a wedding I attended last week. These were shot on a Kodak Portra 160 @ 160 with a Nikon 50mm F/1.8 D mounted on a Nikon FM:

So far, the thing I really love about using film, as weird as this may sound, are the limitations. It’s all about planning your shots. You can’t go about carrying 64GBs of memory and start shooting around like a mad men. A roll of film normally contains either 24 or 36 shots. Sometimes even 12.  As daunting as it sounds, it didn’t inhibit or restrain me at all. In fact, I found myself thinking more about the composition, the lighting, and whether or not the shot is worth taking. Also, with the absence of a display to preview my shots, I found myself thinking ahead and more critically about the exposure and depth of field. And on the subject of depth of field, I actually started using the DOF Preview button on the FM to actually help me to decide on an aperture. Never did so with the D7000, it’s always shoot first, check the screen, change aperture, shoot again, and again, and again. Pointless.

Furthermore, with the built-in screen (hereinafter will be referred to as the devil), I’ll be missing all those spontaneous moments and  precious shots because almost every time I take a shot, like clockwork,  I’ll have a look at the display, check the histogram for any highlight clipping or shadow compression, and the moment’s gone.  Another benefit for the uncertainty of film is really noticeable when you first get the images back from the developer. A rush of excitement and adrenaline gushes thorough me as I pondered on my images, going through my notes on aperture and shutter speed setting, analysing, and learning as I go along. You can’t quite capture that feeling with a digital workflow.

Due to the absence of EXIF data for film cameras, it's immensely useful to manually record each exposure setting as it will serve as a guide if your shot goes south.
Due to the absence of EXIF data for film cameras, it’s immensely useful to manually record each exposure setting as it will serve as a guide if your shot ever goes south.

Lastly, ISO was one of those things that I’ve always took for granted. My personal stand was personally to shot at the lowest ISO (ISO 100 in the case of the D7000 and most cameras) to maintain a clean, noise free image. And if the lighting changed, well, we could always change the ISO on the fly with a simple flick of a switch. This was immensely different with film.  With film, you need to think ahead, knowing your location and the lighting very well due to film’s fixed ISO system. An example of this scenario would be the wedding I attended. It was a wedding, so obviously I need to capture more portraits. So I choose Kodak Portra. But which Portra? 160? 400? 800? Since the wedding was in the afternoon, with strong sunlight and no prediction of rain, I went for 160. Now you might ask, why not go for 400? You could always use a higher shutter speed to counter the bright lighting and provide a more versatile ISO overall. Well, sadly the Nikon FM has a maximum shutter speed of 1/1000, and a consequence to that would be to limit my aperture to the north of F/8.0. While the shots will be sharp, the portraits wont have any or minimal bokeh, and that’s just not fun isn’t it.

Well, I think that’s enough rambling from me. Thanks for reading. I hoped you liked it and I hope this inspires some of you to try out film, as it’s certainly serious fun.

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