It’s easy to go through much of life paying attention to the times that one is unlucky, but if we spend all of our energy on ignoring the times we are lucky, it is easy to miss out on a lot of the fun life can provide. I remember hearing about Hasselblads back in the day. I’d never really considered medium format to be something I’d ever realistically get to play around with. My limited expendable income was always directed to other areas. As fortune and luck would have it, the father of a girl that I was dating, was a photographer. Not just a photographer, but a connoisseur of all things photographic. His history with photography was inspiring, his knowledge intriguing, his collection of cameras was a thing of beauty. I knew, I needed to marry this girl.
Of course I hadn’t met her folks until way into the relationship and I’d known from the get that I’d wanted to settle down with her (girl, you know it), so I joke. Mostly anyway.
One camera that he had acquired was a Hasselblad 500 c/m, and that camera is what this post is about. First, I must admit, I’d never ever, until borrowing this camera, shot a roll of 120 film before. Also, it has been at least 8 years since I’d even shot a roll of 35mm film. Needless to say, I’m rusty. Trying to get back into that saddle, the Hassy broke me in nice and easily. As someone who has really enjoyed taking pictures, reading books and articles, researching gadgets, learning software and generally doing anything that I could find that had to do with anything photographically, I must say, getting back into shooting film on an unfamiliar camera has been borderline euphoric. It’s like I’m learning to shoot all over again.
Compared to my faster, automated, high end digital cameras, the difference in interaction is immense. The Hassy forces me to slow to a crawl with each movement requiring an intentionality reserved for someone involved in a meaningful, thought out, long term plan akin to the difference between playing chess and playing checkers. One is quicker and more immediate, the other exists on a multitude of layers each needing equal attention. The Hasselblad 500c/m is an entirely mechanical camera. No batteries, no power, no meter, no digital readout showing me how my frame will look. Just a waist level viewfinder (which is reversed) a manual film advance winder, a shutter release and 12 exposures a go. I cannot remember the last time I was forced to entirely determine a scene’s exposure value manually. If nothing else, I hope to become a more aware and intentional photographer from roll to roll because of this.
Film seems to be having a bit of a resurgence of late. Why not? Aside from processing cost, it is a very reasonably affordable way to take pictures. The price of quality film equipment has plummeted to near ridiculous levels. I guess it was natural for me to start looking at shooting film again after I have become interested in acquiring old legacy glass for use on my digital cameras.
In this day and age where we compare differences in new cameras in frames per second, three dimensional auto focusing algorithms capable of following a hummingbird in the dark, and remarkable image quality down to imperceptibly minuscule measurements, it is easy to forget that not too long ago, cameras didn’t have auto focus, auto exposure, auto metering and many were happy with one frame per second. Don’t get me wrong, I love technological automation and the advancements these new tools and technologies have provided. They are amazing, remarkable tools which provide us with ability to capture images that would have been impossible for many of us to capture a few years ago. This is one beauty of competition in technological advancement. Why then do many of us come full circle and crave this less automated, and in some cases archaic analogue experience? I can only speak for myself, but my answer to that question is, because it’s fun.
What do you do with the negatives after you have had them developed? Most film labs are able to scan the negatives into digital files. The alternative, assuming you want to digitally alter, or archive your film, is to scan them yourself. There are quite a few options when it comes to home scanners and I am in no way capable of offering a fair assessment on the performance of certain models over others. I can say that I had done the math on the cost of a decent scanner versus the cost of having high resolution image files scanned by a film lab and came to the conclusion that I would save myself quite a bit of money as long as I was willing to spend a little extra time actually scanning these rolls of film (my local shops charge between $10-15 for a 12 exp roll of 120 to be scanned). I’ve set up a preset on my scanner to scan to a 2400dpi file which comes out to be around 16+MB and plenty of resolution to play with in Photoshop. Of course, some may prefer a higher end file scanned through a drum scanner as opposed to an affordable flat bed, but unless you’re looking for gallery sized prints, or a professionally demanding application, I think most of the decent flatbed scanners would do just fine.
There are many outlets to find older film equipment at reasonable prices. Of course Ebay and Craigslist are potentially viable sources for deals, but check your local camera club and shops. One of my local shops has TONS of older 35mm and some medium format equipment that comes in and goes out. They’re a good resource and have a pretty well kept up on line inventory. They’re Blue Moon Camera here in Portland. They’ll ship stuff, or at least they said they would. Might be worth a check anyway if you’re in the market.
Through this exploration, I have found that I do love image making regardless of the machine or medium I’m using. Using different formats to do so further challenges and excites me and it has not only breathed new life into my photographic reality, but I’ve learned how much of the process I’ve taken for granted through all of the automation provided with current high end digital cameras. It does take a little effort and knowledge to get a decent picture with a fully manual camera but I see that as an enjoyable challenge.