Restless for Film

IMG_7796-2I am impatiently waiting for a roll of film to be processed. Does anyone remember that feeling? It has been a few years since I last shot film, and I had forgotten the feeling of wanting to see the results. Sooner. Not later. Thank you very much.

I have to wait until Tuesday afternoon.

The other day I happened across this little camera in a thrift store, for the extravagant price of three dollars. It is the original Olympus Pen, a half-frame camera that is very basic, no light meter for instance. I am guessing that some of you might have owned one of these or the later models as they became popular throughout the 60’s and well into the 70’s.

The camera has 4 shutter speeds – 1/25th, 1/50th, 1/100th and 1/200th (and bulb). Since it is more than 50 years old I thought I should get the shutter checked. I took it to Camera Traders  for a check up, a local store that does a lot of business on-line and has nice vintage camera gear. Unfortunately, it now only has two shutter speeds – 1/60th and 1/125th. But those are good options and I thought I would try it out. What I like about it is that it is small, really quite small, has good optics (by reputation anyway) and is thrifty with film (a roll of 36 exposure 35mm film will take 72 shots).

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Another thing I like is the lack of light meter. My Gossen Lunasix-F is on walkabout and unlikely to return. So, this camera represents an opportunity to finally learn how to estimate exposure values without a light meter. I never did before as I always had a built-in light meter, and spare batteries too. But I think it is a good skill to have and after just a couple of sessions I notice I am more sensitive to subtle gradations in light and shadow. I got the camera on Thursday lunch break, had the shutter checked on Friday lunch break at which time I bought a roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 and took some pictures on my way back to the office. Today I finished of the roll and took it in for processing. Now I am twiddling my thumbs all restless with impatience for Tuesday afternoon to roll around.

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For exposure estimating, I used the Sunny 16 rule, which I had completely forgotten about. The rule starts you off with a bright sunny scene for which the aperture is f-16 and the shutter speed is the reciprocal of the film speed. So, I have shot at 1/100th on the dial most of the time (1/125th in reality) and adjusting the aperture depending on the degree of cloud or shade that I was shooting in. On Friday that is all I did, with some bracketing for luck.

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Today I went out with my Canon 5Dii as well. I would arrive at a place I wanted to shoot, decide on an exposure, take the shot, and then I would take one with the DSLR. The digital was in shutter priority mode, set at 1/100th (not sure why I did not choose 1/125th, but it makes little difference) with an ISO of 100 and pattern metering mode. I would compare the exposure of that shot with what I took with the Pen, and then I would reset the Pen exposure, if needed, and shoot brackets from there. The idea was to see if there is the need to compensate the Pen exposures if I decide to go on using it, and to confirm my ‘guesses’ at exposure. I found my estimate was usually within one F-stop of the 5Dii metering, and frequently the same, which was very gratifying. However, I am still having trouble getting close when 4 or 5 f-stops away from the f-16 starting spot.

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When I pick up the film, I still won’t know what I have as I am not good at reading negatives, and have never dealt with half-sized images. I have a good scanner and that is what I will be doing Tuesday evening. It is going to be interesting to see how it all works out. I will bring the results to you sometime next week – I am hopeful that they will be worthwhile, and that this camera can become something I use from time to time.

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It has been fun shooting with this camera. It slows me down a lot, which is good. I have to think about the exposure, do some mental math and select the aperture and maybe also a different shutter speed. And, I have to remember to figure out the distance to the subject and set the focus. That is the least familiar part of this as I have never used a rangefinder camera before and the idea of estimating focus without seeing is going to take some getting used to. The 28mm lens will help on that front as it gives a pretty wind range of focus even at the widest aperture of f-3.5 (f-22 is the other extreme). Another thing I can imagine I will be forgetting is to set the number of exposures for the counter – this camera counts down from what ever I set and does not set automatically. One odd thing about the camera, which I found easy to adjust to, is that when the camera is held horizontally, in a normal way, the framing is in portrait mode. To get landscape you have to turn the camera on end which is a bit of an odd sensation after decades of the opposite.

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This camera was designed for slow film, and with the shutter not fully functional the choices are even more limited.  It is clear that if I use this camera I am going to have to shoot slow ISO film in brighter daylight conditions. Fortunately Camera Traders carries 25 and 50 ISO B&W film, though it could get expensive. Anyway, mustn’t get ahead of myself here – the image quality may not be good enough, the waiting and hassle of scanning might be an obstacle, there could be light leaks, or some other issue that makes the camera not worth using. I can hardly wait to see!

The camera came with its original lenshood, which I take it is a highly collectible accessory. It also has an original Olympus Skylight 1A filter so the lens itself is in perfect condition.

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Canon 5Dii, Canon 50/1.4 lens, f1.4-f2.0, 1/60th – 1/40th, natural light, hand-held

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35 thoughts on “Restless for Film

  1. Pingback: Half-frame Possibilities | 52 rolls

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    • And why not? There is something very satisfying about handling film again. It is expensive and so I won’t be doing it much, but the Pen is in my pocket these days and slowly I am working through another roll of film. I like the slowly part too.

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  4. I must first confess that I cheated and waited for you to post more about this camera. 🙂
    See, they all come back to film for the enjoyment of and tactile feeling it gives when taking the image. Looking over your later posts; that is exactly what you seem to be getting – good fun isn’t it.
    I have used a few Olly cameras over the years and the one thing that can be said is, they are small (good for carrying) and almost always have great lenses.
    These ‘half frame’ cameras are even better now that film has improved so much since they were first introduced (thank APS for that) by the look of your scans, you are taking full advantage of it.
    Have a look at processing your own as you will be scanning them only ?? very easy even in the sink. All you need is a changing bag, tank, timer and chemicals (sorry you may have done this in the past and already know) it does keep the cost down, it is surprising how many don’t take up film because of paying for it to be processed. Contrary to popular opinion, even colour is easy; just temperature control being a little tighter.
    Fuji 100 is a great film for scanning – using T-max 100 setting in Silverfast seemed to give me the best compromise.
    Also look at Ilford Delta 100 – brilliant film and not very expensive when got in bulk (load your own ? 🙂 )
    B&W film is very tolerant about storage, so don’t be put off if you see old film (Kodak stayed very safe with their sell-by dates for instance) very old film will just drop its box speed in most cases so either lower the ASA of compensate when scanning and one can get away with a lot. Colour tends to get a hue shift which with modern scanning, can in most cases be corrected very easily.
    Great seeing old cameras being used again – a lot of them were mechanical works of art in those days.

    David.

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    • Wow David – you have answered most of the questions in my subsequent posts! I am loving the tactile feel of the camera, the winding forward of film, the need to conserve shutter clicks and think the shot through more carefully, the waiting for the results, the thinking about exposures. All are things that are totally transferrable to the DSLR and which I have forgotten.
      If I am going to shoot lots of film, I will look at processing my own – I might still have a tank in a top cupboard in the shed, though I think I sold them in a garage sale about 10 years ago, they might still be there (yes, I have cupboards I have not got to the back of in a decade). Colour processing I have not done.
      I just bought a roll of Ilford 50 to try that out. This camera really needs slow film for daylight shooting, and/or I need a light meter to see me through the lighting that I can’t estimate yet. Silverfast has a profile for it, but I will remember your advice for the Fuji 100 settings.
      I have some old film, mostly colour, and I will be trying it out too. Sometimes those colour shifts work pretty well, uncorrected. In urban settings anyway.
      I think I blame people like you for drifting back to some film shooting – your work in film is a real inspiration, so thanks a lot! And thanks again for all the information, its very helpful.

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    • Thanks Toad – one of those projects that happens totally out of left field. I never planned to buy one of these cameras, but this one practically jumped into my pocket (I did pay for it, don’t let me give the wrong idea!) and has spawned a few ideas already. Now to follow up on them.

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  5. Pingback: Restless for Film III | burnt embers

  6. Pingback: Restless for Film II | burnt embers

    • Hi Stuart, thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog. I checked out your Werra 3 post – now THAT is a nice little camera. Much much more sophisticated than the Pen, but just as small. I expect you will be getting some very nice shots from it with that excellent glass.

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  7. Can’t wait to see the photos! Love the old Olympus rangefinders/half frames. I have a few. That’s kind of what pushed me into buying the original digital Pen (E-P1) when it came out. Lately, I’ve been thinking of dusting off one of my old German folding cameras… I’ve written a couple novels just for fun. If you don’t approach it as work it can be an enjoyable activity! 🙂

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    • Hi Mark. I know for a fact that littleislander who made that comment is participating in the National Novel Writing Month, even though she is busy with a baby and other committments. That seems like a good way to get over the hump of both getting started and getting a rough draft ready for some serious editing. I don’t actually feel the urge. However, I am co-editing a technical book related to my work which should be out next year. That will be pretty satisfying though that kind of writing is pretty hard to classify as fun since really it is work (even if unpaid).
      My own research into smaller cameras has led me to new Pens and also the OMDs, and it is through that research that I recognised this camera for what it is – a truly historical development in cameras that is still being felt today. I could not resist buying it for the price. They also had a bag of film there – all of it expiring in 2008, so buying it was a bit of a crap-shoot. I talked them down from $2/roll to $5 for the whole bag – 4 rolls of 35mm colour ISO400, 1 roll of Ektachrome 64T, 2 rolls of 400ISO B&W and 4 rolls of 120 colour film. The latter are of particular interest – I have a Brownie around which would be fun to try out again, within all its limitations. And I think my mother has a folding 120 film camera from the 1930’s that it would be interesting to run some film through as well. This is all just for fun really. Digital photography has allowed me to become a much better photographer than I used to be in the film days, so it will be fun to take some film to see if I can have more consistent results than I used to.

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      • Have fun with all of that!!! Can’t wait to see some of the photos! I was a diehard b&w film shooter until my scanner died and everyone stopped making good affordable 35mm scanners. I don’t know that digital made me any better, but it did get me into color photography. This was a real obstacle to overcome as I had been so devoted to b&w photography. Even though I became relatively expertise in converting digital to b&w, it always felt kind of wrong. Then I just made the leap into color and am enjoying it like I never expected. When I made my first color prints to put in a show, my teenage daughter looked at them and said they were the best photos I had ever done. I asked her why and she replied, “because they’re like your b&w photos except they are color.” I thought that was an insightful comment. At the opening for the show they were in, I met my current girlfriend. She liked my photos as well. 🙂

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      • Thanks Mark – I expect to have some fun with the film. I am hoping it won’t be too degraded from sitting around in unknown conditions. I am going to need to do some research into the best ways to shoot old film, and see if there are tricks I should be aware of.
        You teenage daughter hit the nail on the head – many of your photos would be be excellent in black and white, without a lot of work in the conversion.

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    • Hi Patrick – that visit would be exactly right for this camera – it would have been in full swing of popularity by that time. There were several models out by 1963, the others all had light meters and one had interchangeable lenses as well. It would be very interesting to see pictures from that visit. My scanner does slides as well as negatives – I find it time consuming, especially the dust cleaning, so have not done very much film scanning yet. I have plans though.

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  8. Somebody took good care of this camera, it looks brand new. I used the sunny 16 rule when I was not using the Nikon and it was, if not spot on, at least somewhat accurate. However, I do not pine for those days and am content to continue shooting with the dSLR. That is not to say that I don’t look forward to seeing your results with this camera, a sweetheart for sure.

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    • Hi Ken – it is in good shape, just a few little dings and I would not be surprised if they happened in the thrift shop. I think it has been used, but not a lot. I am interested to see if the sunny 16 exposures work consistently enough to be useful. I suppose I could get a very small light meter if I wanted.

      I too am content with my digital camera, but this one just dropped into my vision and has the one thing my DSLR lacks – diminutive size. I have actually been shopping for a pocket sized digital camera, so even if this works out, it will be taking a back seat to whatever camera I settle on for my pocket.

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  9. Interesting, I am also in the feeling 🙂 A while ago I was gifted an old film camera that belonged to my father-in-law who passed away some 5 years ago as some members of the family wanted it to be put to use instead of gathering dust. I quickly checked what was in the somewhat battered camera case and set it on a shelf for later closer inspection and when I did I found, tucked away in the corner, a 24 exposure roll of Kodak Gold 100. I’m not sure how old it is, what treasures may be on it, or even if it can still be developed, but with luck……

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    • Hi Marcel! What a find, it will be very interesting to see what was on that film. Last year I bought an early series Canon G (4?) because it came with a bunch of cards that I had a use for, and a card reader. Turns out the cards had about 10 years worth of family pictures on them, grandchildren growing up, that kind of thing. KInd of the same, but digital, and not anyone I knew.

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    • Hi Mike – I remember you experimented with a Zenith for a time. I think seeing people out there doing that gave me the itch. I can’t imagine it will last long, but if the shots turn out, it will probably go out for walks occassionally.

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      • That’s right. She’s still sitting there patiently. I have a friend who is going to deliver some colour film, which is the next experiment. It’s definitely an occasional thing, unless your durability knows no bounds.

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    • Yikes. I have some posts on here that must be 2000 words or more. I wonder how much I have writting on this blog. Maybe a novel or two. No visible structure though. I think writing a novel would be very difficult. I would need some ideas for one thing, and the drive to sit down and do it….

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      • I really have no urge to write a novel. It is not a thing that calls to me like it does to others. But now that I have been required to think about it, I probably won’t be able to not think about it. If you know what I mean.

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