It has been three months since my return to photography, film photography to be exact. I already have two Leica bodies (M4-P & IIIc) and one lens (Summitar 50mm f2). I was fortunate to get those three items for very good prices. Still, I need a lens for the M4-P. I can afford only one. 35mm seems to be the best for street photography. I have thought long and hard about which one to get. New leica lenses are out of my financial reach, even the cheaper ones. One used option is the Summicron 40mm. They sell for $600 to $800. 40mm is close enough to the 35mm framelines of the M4-P, which I have read covers more like 38mm.. Then there are the Voightlander lenses, Color Skopar f2.5 and Nokton f1.4. The f1.2 Nokton is just too big.. I do not like the distortion and focus shift of the f1.4. Sure, it’s bright, but I know I will look for it’s imperfections on every image I produce. The Zeiss Biogon f2.8 is my favorite, though not a bright lens. Image quality however is said to be outstanding. The Biogon f2 model is a bit too expensive. I know there are other 35mm lenses out there, but I need to limit my selection. So, it will be the Color Skopar, incidentally the cheapest, or if by some miracle a wad of money falls on my lap, the Biogon f2.8. I can carry both my M4-P and IIIc around with their 35 and 50mm lenses, a good combo. The M4-P will probably see more use, as the Summitar is really for the IIIc and is a bit soft for my tastes. The so called “classic look” for me means old and of dubious optical quality. I like sharp and contrasty glass.
Not having a meter built into the cameras hasn’t bothered me much at all. I use my iPod with an app called “Pocket Light Meter.” I measure the light on the back of my hand stretched in front of me, making sure I am not shading it. It looks like I am taking a photo of my nails! I’ve had friends ask me what the hell I was doing! It looks a little gay but works really well.
I’ve tried a few films, Kodak Tri-X 400, Ilford FP4+ 125 and HP5+ 400. I like them all. The Ilford films dry a bit flatter which makes them easier to scan. I am borrowing an Epson V500 but it isn’t quite good enough. I plan on getting a Plustek, not sure which model. My first negatives came out grossly over-developped. I wasn’t sure if it was my meter or technique but it turns out that I had used 4oz of Kodak HC-110 to make a gallon (dissolution B) when what I wanted was dissolution H, 2oz of concentrate to make a gallon. With the correct 1+63 dissolution H both Kodak Tri-X and ilford HP5+ take eleven minutes to develop at 20°C/68°F when exposed at 400 ISO. I invert the tank twice every minute. FP4+ at 100 ISO takes fifteen minutes.
By the way do not buy the “Arista Classic Plastic Developing Tank.” It leaks.. I always end-up with liquid spilling out from the lid. The Paterson is better. I might also try the Arista stainless model because the plastic spools cause trouble sometimes and I have damaged two films that resisted spooling all the way. I probably should just get the Paterson though. I was using them while developing for the local paper and never had a problem with them. I am curious however about those stainless spools. Anyone reading this has used them?
Processing your own films saves a lot of money but there is still the cost of film. What about buying in bulk? You can actually buy rolls of 100ft of film! A film loader is necessary but should pay for itself fairly quickly. I will get the Arista 35mm Bulk Film Loader Bobinquick Junior. That site has all the film processing gear you will ever need! Film is cheaper at B&H though, a 100ft. roll of HP5+ costs $50. At maybe 20 rolls of 36exp per 100ft. roll, that comes to about $2.50 per roll instead of $4.75. It takes 31 rolls to pay off the Arista loader ($70), 14 rolls for a cheaper loader ($30). The empty cartridges are cheap at about $1, and reusable. You can also use spent cartridges if the leader is still sticking out.
Film photography is my hobby. I used to make a living with it when digital didn’t exist. I don’t plan on being a professional again, but if my skills improve I might want to be ready if an opportunity presents itself, say an assignment overseas for instance. That means digital, and probably a DSLR. Being used to professional cameras that can be banged around and abused (F3 & F4) I wouldn’t go for any less. Problem is, new ones cost a fortune, from $5K to $7K, not to mention lenses. Fortunately there are awesome professional cameras on Ebay that used to cost as much but can be found now for around $500! The best example would be the Nikon D2X or the Canon 1Ds Mk1. I am a Nikon kind of guy.. The D2X actually goes for around $450. It’s built like a tank, pretty much waterproof, shock proof, freeze proof, etc. I don’t think you could break one by accident, short of dropping it from an airplane on concrete. 12mp is quite enough. More than that and files get way too big. Image quality is outstanding. Add a 35mm f2 (52.5mm equivalent) for $330, and you have a professional combo for $800 (including a filter). There is nothing else out there that can beat that.
Speaking about lenses… The best advise I can give to beginners is to avoid zooms, especially “kit zooms.” prime lenses, or fixed-focal lenses are leaps-and-bounds better than zooms. Kit zooms will turn a great camera body into a piece of crap.. Spend more money on a lens than you did on the camera body. I would suggest starting with a 50mm full frame equivalent. What does that mean? Well, some cameras have a smaller sensor than the 36x24mm film size. The D2X for example has a 1.5x crop factor. That means that if you want a 50mm equivalent you would need to buy a 33.3mm lens. 35mm is the closest you will find. Later you can get a 28mm, and maybe a 135mm.. NO ZOOMS! With a zoom you become lazy and composition takes a backstage. You don’t want that. How hard a picture is to take is often directly proportional to it’s quality. Zooms have more elements and more of them need to move for zooming. That creates problems and eats light. Prime lenses are better optically, brighter and cheaper! How do you recognize and amateur from a professional? The amateur uses long skinny lenses, often zooms. The professional uses wide prime lenses that let in a lot of light.
I still want a Fuji X100S for street photography of course, but unfortunately I think the money will go to my dentist.. Sorry B&H.. Tooth problems can cause so many health problems, I need to take care of myself first before thinking of buying more cameras. Even if I get to buy a D2X, X100S and say three Nikon lenses, I can’t imagine needing anything else as a hobbyist, even semi-pro. It’s about the images, not the gear.
This year I also want to start on my new boat construction. Unfortunately the economy has finally caught up with me. I might just have to get that Voightlander 35mm, forget all the rest and make sure I am healthy with no late bills to pay. I have a wide array of marketable skills but no field is being spared, except maybe medical professionals, and I am not even sure about them.. I know my dentist will get my money.. It might be time to learn some new tricks..