Film renaissance

I first got into photography about seven years ago, photographing the local bird and wildlife population. I live on the Isle of Sheppey, which features the Elmley Marshes RSPB reserve, which is one of the best places to see breeding birds and birds of prey.

Back then, I had my dad’s old Nikon F401s and a borrowed Sigma 400mm lens. Me and a friend would drive out to the reserve and wait for all sorts of bird of prey to turn up, including Kestrels, Marsh and Hen Harriers and Merlins. Back then, the auto-focus was slow (at least on my F401s) and film was expensive, each roll of Fujichrome Sensia 400 cost £10 but it did include processing.

On a good day, I went through four or five rolls of Sensia, which were promptly sent for processing. After four days, I’d get the slides back mounted and in neat little boxes. Then began the incredibly laborious task of scanning the slides and then printing them. My friend had a Nikon Coolscan LS-30, which at the time was pretty state—of—the—art, it scanned in film one frame at a time, taking two minutes for each frame.

Then after it scanned, it was tweaked, cropped and sharpened in Photoshop, which took about five minutes, then printing it with one of the first Epson consumer photo printers that took twenty minutes to print to A4. So in total I had to wait four days to get the film back from processing, spend at over an hour scanning in each of the 36 frames to find good shots (if there were any at all) and then wait twenty minutes for an A4 print.

I usually tried to do most of my post—processing when there was something good on TV, so at least I had something to watch during the idle time waiting for slides to scan and print, but it was still insanely boring. Eventually I took less photos not because I didn’t have time to take the photos, but because of the insane post—processing time I just didn’t have when I went to university.

Roll—ahead a few years and Nikon and Canon are in the middle of a prosumer digital war bringing prices crashing down. The Nikon D70 was the first digital SLR to have a retail price of under $1000, and then the Canon 300D undercut that even more. These appealed to me, they have better quality than using the old scanner to scan in slide film, but instead of taking four days of waiting and then over an hour of work to get 36 shots, a full memory card of 200 shots could be downloaded to my computer in minutes.

So I got myself a Nikon D80, and an Epson R800 printer. As I didn’t have to care about film and processing costs anymore I took far more shots and threw far more away, but usually it only took me an hour or so to go through 500 shots, compare that to before where it took me over an hour just to scan 36 shots. The new Epson printer chucked out an A4 print in under five minutes, and cost far less at it too.

I was happy. Infact I was so happy I bought a large range of lenses, from a wide angle 12-24mm zoom, to a professional 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom. A big investment, but an enjoyable and worthwhile one.

I took this rather heavy kit, clad in a fetching Crumpler shoulder bag, to a lot of places, but most notably Japan, where I managed to grab a few shots on what was a rather rushed tour.

But I felt slightly unfulfilled with the shots it produced. I couldn’t put my finger on it, I had a few decent pictures, couple very nice ones too, but for some strange reason I didn’t feel completely satisfied with the photographs. I’ve only ever used SLR cameras, big, chunky and loud machinery that made great photographs but were as big as 35mm cameras got, I felt like I needed a change.

Everyone knows Leica, they’re exquisitely made rangefinder cameras used extensively by photojournalists and travel photographers. However not everyone can afford one, with a good second—hand copy of the M6 costing upwards of £1000. Fortunately, there is a cheap Japanese alternative in the shape of the Yashica Electro; cheap, well built, excellent light meter and great lens? I managed to pick up a GT model from eBay for under £25.

I had a roll of Kodacolor left, so I put it in and eagerly went out to shoot with it. The shutter is almost silent, meaning you can shoot people in public without them noticing. Feeling the gears move under your finger as you wind on the film is a strangely enjoyable sensation, and just made me want to shoot more.

I’ve now bought a number of different films, Fuji Velvia, Ilford HP5+, Agfa Vista, and I’m enjoying photography more than ever. There are still times when I use my digital kit, on sport shoots, nature shoots and when travelling far away, but now my daily kit consists of just my Yashica and a few rolls of film. Much lighter, much quicker and much more inconspicuous. Perfect.

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