Going Analog - My Reentry into Film Photography

Article and images by Johan Larsson

After re-discovering my Kodachrome slides from 1987 (The Colors of Kodachrome, East and West), I was tempted to get my feet wet again with film. I realised that although the world of analog photography today is a niche, and much different from 30 years ago. There is something unique and truly fundamental about creating still images with film instead of digital sensors.

A fellow film shooter from the younger crowd with the original Olympus OM, shot with Tri-X. He told me that he finds the moment when you first look at your developed film fascinating, not knowing in advance what your pictures will look like.

Being a Nikon DSLR owner, I decided to look for a Nikon film camera, even though my cameras at the time were Pentax and Canon. The reason being is that Nikon has been very consistent with their lens design over the years. Some of the modern Nikkor lenses are fully usable on older film cameras, and the other way around.

I eventually found one thirty years old Nikon FE for the equivalent of $50 USD. As a side note, my purchase of the camera was straight forward after reading Derrick’s introduction to purchasing older film cameras - What to Look for in a Garage Sale Camera.

Film Time

When I was a student with limited resources, I shot a lot of film from East Germany. The Orwo branded black and white film was much cheaper than Kodak’s Tri-X and had almost the same quality. When I started to make some money, that coincided with the Swedish distributor of Orwo going out of business, so I switched to Tri-X and Kodachrome color slides.

Many of the films from back then are no longer available (hello Kodachrome), so if you got some previous experience with film, you’ll likely need to refresh it. Secondly, film is not available in every store, be it on the Internet or in physical stores. 

For my little project, I settled down for these guys:

  • Fujifilm Fujichrome Provia 100f (Color slides, one of few choices)
  • Kodak Tri-X 400 (The old black and white classic)
  • Fujifilm Superia 200 (Picked at random)

Where to Develop

Once you have shot your film, it has to be developed. This is where the real fun starts, at least in Sweden, as there are not many options left. The first film that I loaded into the FE was the Fujichrome. After shooting the film I asked around the shops selling film and found out that there is one lab for color slide film in Stockholm, and a total of two in Sweden. I believe that the writing is on the wall, despite the recent news about an Ecktachrome revival.

 Walking into the sun on a winter day. Shot with Fujifilm Superia

Walking into the sun on a winter day. Shot with Fujifilm Superia

The selection of shops supporting negative film development is larger, but the service and costs vary a lot. You also need to figure out whether you want the lab to scan your images, or if you want to do that yourself.

The most hard core option is, of course, to get the kit, then develop and scan the film yourself.

The Film Community

The need for research made me more aware about the cameras people carry around. Don’t miss the chance to chat to a fellow film shooter when you discover one in the street. At least where I live, shooting film is like entering a small parallel universe, inhabited by male middle-aged geezers like myself, and male and female film shooters in their twenties. The latter group interests me more, as I know where folks like me are coming from. What attracts the kids to film?

The Shooting Experience

Shooting film, especially with a camera with little automation as my Nikon FE, is fundamentally different from using modern digital cameras. Not only does every press of the shutter cost you money, but the lack of immediate feedback forces you to plan the shots more carefully. In my case, shooting with a camera that supports aperture priority and nothing else (e.g. no auto focus), automatically (sic!) slows me down, often in a good way.

In a similar vein, slide film has always interested me because of the lack of post production. Once you press the shutter, the exposure and framing is cast in stone and cannot easily be manipulated. You need to execute your shots carefully.

Having said that, I believe that the biggest drawback of shooting film is the absence of immediate feedback. The sandbox of the digital cameras where you can just go wild without thinking about financial implications has upped my game significantly.

I still lug my solid stainless steel Nikon FE ever so often, and using my micro four thirds and DSLR slightly differently now, in light of the film experience. It got me thinking, and made me more conscious about how I approach capturing images.

Editor's Note: Thanks to Johan for sharing his experience. In terms of options for film processing, I've discovered that it varies widely from area to area. In California, for example, I have multiple labs to choose from for processing and scanning. (We're lucky indeed!) And for analog gear, don't forget about TheFilmCameraShop where I test all the cameras offered there. -Derrick

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