Eric’s Note: This is article is part of an on-going weekly column by Japancamerahunter (Bellamy Hunt) where he talks about vintage cameras, film, and street photography. You can check out his part articles here.
Now that you have taken the plunge and bought yourself a film camera you might be wondering what film you should be using. Well, this is a rather difficult one to answer, as one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
But, never fear, Eric asked me, your charming uncle Japancamerahunter to try and steer you through the rough (and sometimes expensive) seas that make up camera film.
Now this article is timely in that it comes off the back of an announcement last week by Fujifilm that they will be cutting production of a number of films. This seems to be a growing trend, and I can imagine it will not be long before only the smaller specialized companies like Ilford and Efke are making film. So if you are fancying a crack at the film game there is no better time than now. Get on it while the going is good.
First of all the main question is: “What camera are you using?”
Believe it or not this does actually make a difference as to what you will be shooting. For example, if you have just got a Mamiya 7 (damn good choice btw) your selection of films that will be available to you are going to be different from say a Leica M4 (wow, can I have a go?)
If you have bought a medium or large format camera then your choices for film are going to be far more limited than if you have a 135 camera. Though that is not to say you will be bored. There are plenty of great films available for medium and large format, some of which you cannot get on 135.
Polaroid is another matter entirely’It is a great format, which you cannot get the original film for any longer. But you can get Impossible Project film, which has come leaps and bounds since its inception and is proving to show some great results. Fujifilm are still making some peel apart films, for now, but for how long nobody really knows.
I am going to base this article on the idea that you have bought a 135 camera, as most people don’t really go for a medium format camera for their first foray into film (unless you count the Holga, but that is not a camera).
OK, you have your camera. Now what kind of photography are you going to be taking?
If you answered ‘pictures of mah dawg with a wide angle lens’ then please give me your camera so I can hit you with it, repeatedly.
If I was to write about all of the different types of film and styles of photography here then I would bore you to tears and we would be here all night. Instead I am going to look at what this blog is all about’.street photography.
First of all, what kind of street photos do you take with your digital camera? Colour? Daytime? Darkly moody and emo? You should probably start by looking for a film that can reflect what you want to take. If you are thinking about black and white then you cannot go wrong with a roll of Tri-X by Kodak. It is an extremely friendly film with great latitude. At 400 iso it is good in a number of situations and it is comfortable being pushed as far as 1600. This is the student choice film, as you can use it in just about any situation and you will get results.
If you cannot get this from your local store I would be simply amazed.
If you want to try something a little bit more expensive you can go for my personal favourite Fuji Neopan 400 (presto). I love this stuff, the blacks are really black and the grain is not too heavy so you can really feel the atmosphere in the pictures. There is a little trick with this stuff too, if you are feeling cheap go and look for Legacy Pro 400 film. It is Neopan 400 but it has been re-branded because it has a short shelf life. At $2 a roll this stuff is perfect. Seriously, I could shoot this stuff all day.
What I like to do with this film is push it to 800 or 1000 and then develop as 400, so you underexpose. This is my film of choice for night shooting.
Black and White Film
Now there is one thing about B&W film, unless you are self-developing the stores usually charge a premium to develop it. Which can leave a bit of a sour taste in your mouth. There is a way around this though, if like me you are cheaper than cheap. Both Fuji and Kodak make a black and white film going by the name of 400CN. This film is C41 process, which means that you can develop it as if it was a colour film and you will still have the lovely results of a B&W roll. Obviously this film if not as rich as the true mono films, but it is not half bad and certainly good enough for those on a budget.
As for colour, there are tons of different options, though for street I would generally steer you away from slide film, for two reasons:
1.The price, slide film is spendy.
2.Speed. Slide film is generally of a very fine grain, which means that it is usually 50 or 100 iso. This is OK for daylight, but not so great for light compromised situations.
As a general rule of thumb I find that 400 iso film is pretty much the best for street photography, as you have the right balance of speed and quality.
There are lots of cheap options for colour film, Fuji Superia, Kodak Gold, Agfapan etc. Try them all out, and then try out a roll of Kodak Portra 400 and a roll of Fuji Pro 400H and you will see the difference, it is huge.
Flash with Film
Obviously, if you are shooting flash this is going to make a difference to the way the film reacts and you are going to be able to use faster film. Most of the people that I know who use flash on the street use Neopan 400 and they are very happy with the results.
I could go on for a while about the best films to use, but this is really a case of personal preference. Go out and try a few different types of film and see what suits you the best. Unless you are going to use a mad old camera, the meter should take care of most things for you.
Don’t be scared, have a go and enjoy it for what it is. The pleasure is in checking the negatives when you get them back and finding that perfect frame. The feeling of having the negatives in your hand is something that I am never going to get tired of. It feels like I have actually created something real as opposed to some data that I could lose in a crash.
Using film will train you to look and take in your surroundings with a greater intensity, you only have 36 shots and you need to make them count. This is not a piece about which is better, but there are certainly merits to shooting film, one of them being the limitation of shots. This is a double edged sword, as on one hand you only have a few shots, which can be a pain, but the few shots make you work harder to get the right shots.
So, give it a go and see what happens, who knows you might actually find yourself loving it.
Examples of Street Photography with Film by Bellamy Hunt
Looking for a vintage camera?
Let Japancamerahunter find your dream classic film camera or lens from Japan. You can shoot him a message at: http://www.japancamerahunter.com/contact/. Also make sure to check out his Website, Twitter and Flickr.
What are your experiences shooting film with street photography versus digital? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!