Street Photography: Why I shoot 35mm film

In a day an age where digital technology allows us to create polished images, and take a very large amount of shots, I find myself shooting film more and more. Let me start by stating that I enjoy shooting digital cameras, and I am as much a gear whore as the street tog in the bushes behind me- but film is a must. Firstly, lets get the elephant in the room out of the way. Yes it costs you money to shoot and develop film. A lot of people make the argument about buying a full frame digital camera and lens costs about the same as shooting film every week for a year or two, and that maybe the case, but most people will find it hard to spend cash on film.

My first suggestion, apart from try shooting film for a short while, is that you purchase a flatbed scanner. Although some developers will scan your films to disc for you at an extra cost, and will also provide you with prints (go for 7x5 not 6x4 you’ll thank me), it is much cheaper to scan the film yourself. My local snappy snaps – yes I said snappy snaps; the one near me is fully of knowable staff and gives good consistent results- will develop a roll of Ilford XP2 for £3. Yes just £3! You won’t get a disc or prints, but this is where the printer comes in handy.

Now Ilford XP2 400asa is C41 (colour film), but is made to look more black &white. I shot XP2 for a while and has some great results – heads up, shooting XP2 at 800 or 1600 won’t yield as great a result as true black & white film, so keep it at 400!

Now, as you might expect, a traditional roll of Black & White film costs more to get developed. However, I find traditional B&W film more versatile than colour film. You can shoot it at 800 or 1600 and have it pushed one or two stops to compensate at development stage. My black and white film of choice is Kodak Tri-x or Bergger Pancro 400, with Ilford HP5 coming a close second. However, there are many great 35mm films out there and they are worth trying. I would recommend that you find a film you like and stick with it a while. Getting to know your film is like getting to know your camera; the more you use it, the better you are at manipulating its attributes.

When it comes to colour film, I love Kodak Portra 400. It provides great colours, and I enjoy shooting it on sunny days in colourful places like Brighton. Reds look particularly lovely on this film. It also converts to B&W well in lightroom. The main downside to Portra 400 is the price. It costs me about £50 for 5 rolls, whereas the Kodak Tri-x mentioned above costs me about £50 for 10 rolls. However, colour film is cheaper to develop, so it’s just swings and roundabout’s right?

Learning to load your film correctly is important. Please be aware that you may not correctly load the film the first time, and it can be off putting if you have wasted film or exposures due to misleading. I suggest finding a dud roll or buying some cheap poundland film to start off with. Once you get the hang of it, then you have less need to worry. It is always good to remember that when you load the camera do you not want the camera set to the film rewind setting, as this will spoil your film when attempting to wind on or when rewinding.

So that is film covered, but what camera do you choose? Well I could spring a bunch of the usual spiel about subjective taste and horses for courses, but that less helpful when starting out. Although you can find the odd film camera with autofocus, your best bet is going for an older vintage camera. Why is this? Simply put you are going to have fewer issues with them. The main question here is what is your budget? I suggest buying something cheap and simple to begin with. A lot of vintage cameras are fairly cheap and come with a lens. Do you go SLR or rangefinder? Or perhaps a point and shoot…

If you are used to DLSRs I suggest first finding a suitable SLR. Right off the bat you know exactly what you are in for. Rangefinders are rather different creatures, and will take time to adapt to. However, they are fantastic for street photography.

Here are some SLR recommendations:
·      Yashica FX-D – Usually to be found cheap with a decent 50mm lens.
·      Olympus OM-2 – The OM-2 has an auto function that can be very helpful to those moving over to 35mm film. They also come with a great little 50mm F1.8 lens as well. It is however, a tad more expensive than the Yashica
·      Nikon F2/3- Slightly more expensive than the other options. These Nikon’s have a vast range of cheap vintage glass available that can also be used on some modern Nikon cameras. They are well designed an look great

Here are some Rangefinder recommendations:
·      Olympus 35 EM- A very small, silent, automated rangefinder. All you really need to do is compose and focus
·      Canon Cannonet 28 – basic, cheap, and compact. Very handy little camera!
·      Olympus 35 RC or RD- A very compact, fun, great camera. The RD is more expensive
·      Olympus 35 SP- This thing is a beast! More expensive, but the lens is top notch, and this thing is up there as one of the range finding greats

Here are some 35mm point and shoot recommendations:
·      Olympus Trip 35 – Absolutely fantastic little camera! Great lens, and fun to use. Try and look for the original 70’s/80’s versions. They are quite cheap
·      Olympus Stylus Epic/ Mju II – Top class camera at a great price
·      Ricoh GR1V – Get the V as you can change the ASA(ISO) setting to 800 or 1600 if you wish. A great little camera! However, the auto wind is quite loud. I wish it had a manual film wind wheel. My favourite Point and Shoot 35mm camera
·      Fuji Klasse W – 28mm lens and a top notch camera. It will cost a fair amount, but will do the job very nicely indeed. Expensive, but I added this to the list because it yields fabulous results – modern classic

I hope this is useful for someone looking into getting into film. You will have to invest a bit of money, but it can be done on the cheap from information given above. Film has longevity to it when looked after properly as well, but perhaps that is for another blog post in the future.

Shooting film allows you to slow down, plan out a shot, and saver every frame. So go out and enjoy taking some timeless photographs – Have a good one!