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Monday, October 3

Scary, really scary...

 Hexar AF bokeh at f 2.8

OK, it's not Jack the Ripper scary but the thought of going away for a few days and leaving my DSLR at home, taking just film cameras, has given me a couple of restless nights. I've been using digital gear - A Konica Minolta A2, followed by a Pentax K10D and now a Nikon D700 - for about seven years. They've followed me (not all at the same time!) on every holiday I've had since then. Digital is convenient and fast and you don't have to worry about things like airport xrays* fogging your pics. It also gives you a pretty good guarantee that you've actually got that once-in-a-lifetime shot you spotted on a Paris boulevard.

Since deciding to concentrate mainly on film cameras and real darkroom prints, I've landed myself with a holiday dilemma: what camera outfit should I now take with me? A few years ago, I lugged my Rolleiflex with me to Paris along with the Pentax K10D and never shot a single film exposure. Pretty sad. There wouldn't be much point in focusing on film and doing something similar when, as we're hoping, we manage to get a way for a few days in a week or two.

 Another Hexar bokeh shot - this time wide open at f2

I have to tell you - no doubt some of you will know already - that a DSLR is like a support blanket on holiday and it's really hard casting comfort like that aside. Nevertheless, that's what I'm going to do. So what are my alternatives? Sadly, far too many. Over the past few years, I've taken advantage of some screaming deals on film gear on Ebay. How can you pass up such lovely items as a recently serviced Olympus OM2n and 35mm f2.8 Zuiko for £35? Or a Contax 137MA body for £18? My main G.A.S**. expenditure, though has been on the Konica line. Until everyone started to realise how easily they could be used on many other digital cameras via a cheap adapter and their prices began to climb, I sometimes felt like the only person buying Hexanon lenses. I've now got a few bodies and lenses ranging from 21mm to 200mm. The glass is all top notch.

The handsome Hexar AF - a superb, fast lens and quick reflexes

However, I think I'm going to keep it as simple as possible. My Domke F803 satchel is just the right size for my Rollei 2.8F and a Hexar AF. OK, I wont have a range of focal lengths but that can be a strength as much as a weakness. It depends, I suppose, on where you're going. The Rollei/Hexar could be a bit limiting if you're wanting to shoot landscapes but for general travel and street pics, the 120/35mm combo will do just fine. The Rollei can handle the more contemplative-type shots while the Hexar, with its quick responses, grabs the off-the-cuff images.

Left: another Hexar shot

The next question to be answered is the film stock. I'm really keen just now on shallow depth of field - one of the reasons for the Rollei and Hexar as they both have nice bokeh and reasonably fast lenses. That suggests a slow film possibly in conjunction with a three-stop ND filter so that the cameras can be shot wide open on sunny days. On the other hand, a slow film isn't great for fast-moving street photography or low-light work. After some thought, it looks like I'll be stocking up on Adox CHS 25 Art and good-old Tri-X, in both 35mm and 120.

The idea is to always have a slow film in one camera and a fast one in the other, interchanging the stocks so that I can use both cameras for all pics. The Adox with the ND filter would give me around 1/250th at f2 in the sun. It would be developed, along with some Tri-X rated at 320 ISO, in the Barry Thornton high definition two-bath soup I use. For low light and night photography, I'll rate the Tri-X at 1260 ISO and develop it in Diafine.

There you have it, then. That's my "plan of attack" for our next break. I'll shoot less than with a DSLR outfit but I'll be happy to return with half a dozen cracking pics that can be printed up and added to a real world portfolio instead of several hundred that will just end up sitting on a hard drive, virtual photos in a virtual world.

* Opinion  seems divided on the damage that airport xrays can do to film. I'd love to hear from anyone with experience of this via the comments section.

** Gear Acquisition Syndrome (but you already knew that, didn't you!)


Shawn said...

Nice blog, Bruce.

During our trip to Paris this year, I took my Hasselblad and Nikon FM2n w/ me. I shot film the entire four days and followed your slow film/fast film combo.

Once I got comfortable after the first day I mostly shot with the Hasselblad and never regretted it. As you probably know, those MF pictures have a soul digital will never touch.

My wife did have a D90 on her for snapshots, but I wouldn't hesitate to just use film.

I had a hand check of my film on the way there, but they xrayed it with carry on the way back w/ no problems. Good luck!



I suspect it will go the same way for me once I get used to shooting only film, Shawn. I used to be a dab hand with the Rollei but I'm a bit out of practise and I'm a lot slower with it now than before. That's why I was keen to take something along that I could shoot quickly.

From what I've read on the web, the xray problem seems to be a bit over-hyped although I'm sure there are photographers out there who have had some film fogged in the past. Maybe it's not such a problem now with the modern xray equipment?

jd said...

I ship my film to the destination and develop it in situ. The 2 bath home brew works well for this as I can ship the premeasured chemistry dry. As the chemistry is not sensitive to temperature I carry only the tank/reels and use the Ilford wash technique. It all fits in a nice box that costs about $15.00 to ship. I gave up on carrying the 4X5 years ago (only on purpose photo trips).


Don't know if I could ever be that organised! It certainly gets round the xray problem, though. Do you travel alone? I'd like to see the look on my better half's face if I started developing films in the hotel room...

jd said...

No, my wife will not let me travel alone. Something about needing a keeper! As for in the hotel room it's not a problem. I think she wonders why I have to use the bathroom every 4 minutes though. It's an old man's disease. However, developing on the spot has the advantage that I can study the negs and see if I need to redo a shot or I get more ideas how to handle the subject.l I have a wonderful portable (battery powered) light table by Gepe just right for a 5 X 7 or smaller negative. As our mode of travel is a 'few days here - a couple of days there' I get a chance to work on the subject. Besides, everything around home has been shot so many times they've applied for Actors Guild cards.

Paul Glover said...

Had an assortment of 35mm film (Ektar 100, Portra 160, Tri-X; some exposed, some not) run through the hand luggage X-ray twice in one trip and saw no problems from it.

Still if the option for hand-examination is available, I'll take it. TSA in the United States seem to be very good about that.