The Trials of Film

This week I was taking some photos with film – and I’ve been testing several cameras, so I’m often changing things around, opening the backs, checking to see if things are working or not. Well, I picked up one of my camera bodies and opened the back – and to my surprise there was film inside! Well that hasn’t happened for a long time. But I did, in an instant, recall the sinking feeling in my gut, and the thought that I ruined a roll of film – and I lost all my photos. In reality, I didn’t ruin ALL my photos, but probably just a few, and several more that had light marks along the edges, but I probably didn’t ruin the whole roll.

It’s funny how I had forgotten some of the things that I dealt with when shooting with film. I remember getting some good shots and running up the Associated Press office with a few rolls of Tri-X in my pocket, to see if I had anything news-worthy. Those were the good ole’ days.

I also remember re-winding one roll (being sure not to rewind too far, and leave a piece of the film sticking out of the canister), marking on it with a sharpie the number of exposures I had shot, and then reloading my camera with different film. Then later, re-loading the first roll of film, and shooting with my lens cap on until I got to the spot where I left off, ready to continue shooting. We had to do this if we needed a different ISO, or started shooting indoors. So different from today’s digital world.

If you were lucky enough to have multiple bodies, you could keep different kinds of film and shoot different ISOs or shoot color in one and B&W in another. None of which we have to worry about today.

I remember once, shooting with my Olympus, which had a cloth shutter, and I burned a hole in the shutter. One of the problems with cloth shutters – if you shoot into the sun, the focus point can be like a magnifying glass with the sun focusing a very intense spot on the cloth shutter curtain. Funny smell a shutter makes when it burns.

I thought it was a great invention when they started putting film box top holders in the back doors of cameras – so we knew what kind of film we were using. Especially handy with multiple bodies. Today, with digital cameras, all the info we need is embedded in each image we take – ISO, shutter speed, aperture, date/time, location and more. And our camera adjusts to handle conditions that used to require different films – like Tungsten film for indoor lighting.

In the days of film it was common for photographers to keep a log of what they shot, settings, location, etc. on paper! Otherwise you wouldn’t remember what settings you used for each shot. The databack was a useful piece of hardware that helped. This was a back that replaced the normal camera back, and provided a way to imprint certain pieces of data directly onto the negative or slide media each time a photo was taken. It was capable of printing (through a small set of led lights) the date and time, a counter and maybe a user definable code for each shot. That was pretty cool at the time – the ability to print info on each image, still no camera settings though. The digital world has changed things quite a bit.

Here’s something that may be a benefit of film over digital. Suppose you want to do specialty photography – like, say, infrared. How would you do something like that? Well, in the digital world, you would need to have your camera customized to be sensitive to, and able to record, infrared light. Normal digital photo sensors don’t record infrared, they tend to be tuned to capture the visible portions of the spectrum. Generally, people that want to use a digital camera for infrared, get one body customized to do just infrared. Now, if you choose to shoot infrared film, you can put that in any body made for that size film – so if I want to shoot infrared in my Nikon FM2, it will work just fine, and I can load a role of Tri-X after I’m done. No big deal. So – maybe this is one area where film cameras actually make something easier.

These are just a few of the things I’m remembering as I dabble in film again. There may be more – and I’d love to hear your thoughts. My bet is that a lot of you remember and can relate to the things I remember about film!