Tag Archives: photography

Relay for Life 2013

Hobart Relay for Life 2013

The 2013 Hobart Relay for Life might have been the first time I cracked 10,000 steps on my Fitbit One (and probably the one and only time I’ll crack 20,000), but it was also a time of realisation.

The vast majority of my recreational photography these days is film photography. If I had to put numbers to it, I’d probably say I do 85% film, 15% digital (which includes my iPhone, as well as my digital SLR). There’s just something about film photography that appeals to me — maybe I like it because it’s different to every other Joe who has a digital SLR, or maybe it’s because the photos taken with film all have their own unique character. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t experienced the very best digital photography has to offer, but these days — for whatever reason — I prefer film.

It was during a trip to Melbourne last year when I realised I could do all my recreational photography solely with my film camera. I only took my film-loaded Bessa over there, and it was perfectly adequate for my street photography and random snapshots. I missed focus on a few photos, and didn’t realise what my shutter speed had fallen to (resulting in a blurry mess) in another one or two, but apart from those random three or four photos, the photos I captured were totally fine1. After the trip, I looked back at my photos, compared them to the ones I took the last time I was in Melbourne, and realised: hey, this camera does a damn fine job of capturing the image I want it to, and, not to mention, it’s also a lot more enjoyable to use.

Relay for Life just affirmed that realisation.

I took my film rangefinder along to Relay because it presented a unique opportunity for me: a chance to take photos of people I actually knew and in reasonable light conditions, instead of the usual street photographs of complete strangers. I took my DSLR along as well, expecting it would get used during the night, when my film Bessa had been retired in favour of the selectable-ISO of my DSLR — I even borrowed my friend’s Speedlite, like I had done the previous year — but as it turned out, I took a total of zero photos using my DSLR this year at Relay.

Straight out of camera, would you believe, in the early hours of the morning.

Straight out of camera, would you believe, in the early hours of the morning.

To be fair, the weather didn’t exactly help; it rained for much of the afternoon and evening, preventing any serious photography from taking place. Had the weather been nicer, like it was last year, then maybe things would have turned out differently, and maybe I would have experimented with long exposures. I had intended to do long exposures during the day, even bringing along my 10-stop ND filter to try my hand at daytime long exposure photography, but alas, the weather had other plans.

All of the above should give you a pretty good idea of where I think digital SLRs and film rangefinders stand. Like I’ve said before, there’s still a place for the digital SLR in my photography endeavours, it’s just that that purpose is becoming more and more specialised where the role of the film rangefinder is expending. Don’t get me wrong: there are occasions where I wouldn’t choose a film rangefinder over a digital SLR, but those occasions are getting fewer as I gain more and more experience with film.

Like I’ve been saying all along, one format isn’t better than the other, and there’s room for both formats in my life. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. But when it comes down to which format takes the better photo, or which one I prefer for any given task, the answers to those questions are a little harder to come by.

Pram Cam 2013

In any case, Relay for Life was good. Not great, because it rained so damn much, but good. Like last year, we put the GoPro on the Team Radi8 mascot (a pram adorned with our names and stick figures), only this time around I turned it around so it faced the people pushing the pram, and recorded a mix of video and time-lapse footage. The video was kind of a mistake as sitting through 7 hours of people pushing a pram around a track isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but I still managed to capture a few nice moments here and there.

Unlike last year, though, that was pretty much all I did photographically. No time-lapse camera in the grandstand. No separate point-and-shoot for later tilt-shift intentions. All the digital frames that were taken were taken on the GoPro (with perhaps a panorama or two on the ol’ iPhone), but apart from that, it was analog all the way.

And honestly, if I was going to do it again, I would have done exactly the same thing the second time around.2.


  1. I’m tempted to add a qualifier here along the lines of “for a film camera”, but you know what? When a friend asked me (incidentally, at the Relay for Life) if my film camera took better photos than my digital SLR, I replied “I wouldn’t necessarily say better, but it does a pretty damn good job”. 
  2. I can’t share any of the (better) photos here for privacy reasons, but if you know me in real life ask to see them sometime and I’ll happily show you. 

Shots from the camera roll, 2012 edition

2012 was a pretty big year. Well, as big as any other year. Here’s what happened through the lens of my iPhone. I’ve linked most of the stuff I’m describing about below, but you can check out the archive for all posts from 2012. This’ll be pretty long, so instead of clogging up the front page, you’ll have to click through to see everything.

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The Benny Ling 2012 Photographic Year in Review: By the Numbers, An Introduction to Film, and Just Taking Photos

One of my favourite photos of the year was of this pink bike. Not this particular photo, but one of them.

2012 marks the first year I’ve taken photography seriously. I’ve always been interested in photography, but haven’t really gotten as involved with it as I did this year. It probably had a lot to do with the acquisition of my own DSLR kit late last year, and even more to do with doing my own photography — the shots I’ve seen other people take but have always wanted to apply my own spin or interpretation of, combined with the creative control a “serious” camera like a DSLR allows.

By the numbers

Lightroom says I’ve taken 7343 images with my 60D this year Of those:

  • 3493 were taken with the Sigma 30 1.4
  • 2105 were taken with the Canon 17-55 2.8
  • 662 were taken with the Canon 18-135 3.5-5.6
  • 632 were taken with the Canon 24-85 3.5-4.5
  • 200 were taken with the Canon 50 1.8
  • 251 were taken with a Samyang(?) 6.5mm fisheye

The Sigma’s high numbers are pretty easy to explain: it’s the lens that got busted out at my first ever wedding reception, and it’s usually the one that’s attached to my camera the most often. It’s usually the lens that I take when I’m going to an event at youth, and of course, being the fastest lens I own means it gets used quite a lot. Overall, I quite enjoy the Sigma — it’s a great piece of glass when you consider the price. Fast, with a great focal length for a crop sensor.

The 17-55 is easily the most expensive piece of glass that I own, and in a few respects it’s a better lens than the Sigma. Its numbers are lower than the Sigma on a pure photos-taken basis mainly because I don’t use it as much. I’m not sure why, because it can produce some truly great photos. It’s the lens I took with me to Melbourne that one time, the one I used at the Relay for Life, and what I do most of my landscapes with. But I seldom use it at youth events, purely because it looks (and feels) intimidating; people tend to shy away from it. It may produce some excellent photos, but it’s not exactly subtle. It’s heavy, too — almost a full kilo. In an ideal world I’d like this lens to be the one permanently attached to my 60D, but such is the advantage of an interchangeable camera system.

The rest of the numbers aren’t exactly special: the 18-135 was the first lens I owned, along with the 50 1.8, the latter of which doesn’t get much use due to the slightly longer focal length and the fact that I have the much better (sharper, faster) Sigma to use instead. Maybe when I go full-frame I’ll use it more, but that’s definitely for another time.

An introduction to film

Around April, I bought an old film camera, and experienced film photography for myself. Our family had an old film point and shoot before the days of digital, of course, but I rarely used personally. But the Yashica Lynx 14 I bought off an OCAU forum member made me realise that maybe there was more to this photography thing than just pressing shutter buttons. Perhaps it was the fully-mechanical nature of the camera, or maybe it was having to wait to see if my photos were any good, but film photography made me start enjoying photography all over again.

I ended up loving that Yashica Lynx — non-operational/slightly temperamental light meter and all — so much that it ended up with a stuck shutter, which was the end of that particular camera.

But by that stage I couldn’t give up rangefinder photography, which has more advantages than just looking the part with a fancy film camera. Long story short, I ended up buying a Voigtländer Bessa R2A camera, paired with a Voightlander Nokton 40 1.4 to replace the old (like, late 1960s-era old) Yashica Lynx.

The story continues…

Back in the Saddle

There’s a gap in my Lightroom library.

It encompasses the period from October to November this year, and represents a two month period where very few photos were taken.

Why? I’m not sure myself, actually. It could have been any number of things: the iPhone 5 was released during that period, Uni exams were during that period, I got into the Twilight series, and many more reasons (some even more ridiculous than the ones I’ve already posted) besides. Maybe it rained a lot. Or maybe I didn’t leave the house because I was too busy studying for exams and/or re-re-re-watching the Twilight series.

Whatever the reason, there’s a gap in my Lightroom library.

And it’s such a stupid thing to get hung up on, but it’s more than just a time where I didn’t take photos, film nor digital. Perhaps that gap represents something entirely different other than just “a period where very few photos were taken”. For example, perhaps that gap points to a period where I was felt so uninspired that taking photos felt like the worst possible thing to be doing at that time. Perhaps I just didn’t feel like competing with others when it came to taking photos.

Or maybe — and I suspect this is closer to the real reason than any any excuse I’ve offered up this far — the gap represents a time where I was questioning my own photography compared to the photography of others. By this I mean: what sets my own photography apart from those taking photos with iPhones? Or with their Polaroids? What makes my photography special? Why should I bring my camera out to events when someone else can document it just as well with their iPhone, and share it instantaneously with others?

And, you know, it’s great that we live in a world that can be documented and shared instantly with others. It’s great that iPhones now approach the capabilities of the more advanced point and shoot cameras, and it’s even better that they have the advantage of being able to share their photos instantly via the ever-connected web.

But then I think about things like Instagram, and realise that as much as things change, the more they stay the same. Cute girls post pictures of themselves on their social network of choice garner more likes than should be possible in the blink of an eye, and the more popular individuals on one social network will be equally as popular on others. Haters gonna hate, and so on, and so forth.

I’m not sure why there’s a gap in my Lightroom library. Whatever the reason, I’m glad there is — otherwise I might not be taking pictures now, and maybe, just maybe, my photos wouldn’t be nearly as good as a result1.


  1. Both photos you see in this post are from September. Bonus points if you can name the place where the second one was taken. 

A New Rangefinder (feat. Bessa R2A)

I was about 30 exposures into my 13th roll of film when suddenly, the shutter button on my Yashica Lynx 14 just stopped activating the shutter. Quite inconvenient, really. I always wind-on directly after firing off a shot, which cocks the shutter automatically — but somehow, that wasn’t happening anymore. The shutter wasn’t being cocked, even though it seemed to still be advancing film.

I made a short video which explains exactly what was going on.

The shutter was being fired when I was winding on. Not sure how, or why it started happening pretty much spontaneously; I had noticed similar “shutter-not-cocking-after-wind-on” issues a few weeks prior, but I didn’t know it at the time and dismissed it. Resulted in some pretty funky exposures too, since it was opening the shutter after winding on a new frame — mostly shaky, blurry-cam type stuff, but kinda cool in some sort of surrealist way.

I was pretty upset. Shooting with a rangefinder is incredibly satisfying, and seeing as my only rangefinder had just given up the ghost, not shooting with a rangefinder for street just wasn’t an option.

Being an old, fully mechanical camera, I investigated repair options: taking it to the local camera repair shop resulted in a repair bill which could have run into the hundreds of dollars had I chosen to send it off to some gentleman who specialised in older cameras, multiples of what the camera was actually worth (in monetary terms, anyway). I decided to do a little DIY, taking apart the camera and seeing if I could fix the issue myself.

Sadly, that didn’t work due to a lack of understanding about which camera parts did what. I took the entire thing apart (except for the lens assembly), and I still didn’t figure out how it worked. Nothing terribly obvious was wrong with it, which seems a little strange when you consider that it’s a fully mechanical camera, and not some electric-powered everything like the DSLRs of today. But I digress.

I did get the chance to clean out the rangefinder patch and window, though, which has now resulted in a viewfinder that looks fantastic. Shame it doesn’t actually take photos anymore.

Which brought me to an entirely new dilemma: which replacement rangefinder was I going to purchase? Not having a rangefinder wasn’t an option, they’re just too much fun to shoot on, way more portable than a DSLR, and besides,, I don’t mind manual focus. I lusted over a digital rangefinder for about the same amount of time it took to look up the price. Until I start getting paid handsomely for photography, they’re a little out of my price range.

After looking around for a bit, it was a toss-up between two Voightländer cameras: the Bessa R2A, or the Bessa R3A. They’re practically the same camera, but the Bessa R3A has a 1:1 ratio viewfinder, which is pretty cool because it means you can take photos with both eyes open (if you look though the viewfinder with your right eye, that is). Apart from that, they’re both 35mm film rangefinders with built-in auto exposure or metered manual — and if I was going to shoot street, autoexposure was exactly what I wanted, allowing me to set the aperture, focus, and let the camera take care of the rest.

I ended up buying an R2A second-hand, because the store that I wanted to buy from didn’t have any in stock… I also ended up getting the super-popular Voightländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4, perhaps one of the cheapest ($529 new, hah) M-mount lenses that you can buy. Compared to some of the massively-upwards of $2000 Leica lenses, it’s dirt cheap whilst still providing excellent image quality — and by excellent IQ, I mean knock your pants off stuff.

But perhaps the best feature of the Bessa isn’t that it has auto-exposure, or the fact that it’s a reasonably recent film camera (i.e. introduced in 2004, still manufactured today), but the fact that it has the all-heralded Leica M mount.

Ah, Leica. They’re not a brand for the beginner or even for those without deep, deep pockets, but they’re renowned for the simple reason they have some of the best glass in the business. All manual focus, but lenses that are unparalleled when it comes to sheer resolving power and image quality.

The Bessa R2A isn’t really unique in that it’s not the only 35mm film rangefinder that features a Leica M mount, because there are a fair few rangefinders that do — but besides all that, it’s still a (very big) step up from the el-cheapo Yashica Lynx I was using before. Not top-tier (Leica M6/M7/MP-level), but not exactly bottom-barrel, either.

Besides being fantastically built and opening up yet another wide variety of super-expensive glass to lust over, the R2A is really good fun to shoot with.

But that’s for another time.

Prints

Shocking photo, let down by my iPhone.

It intrigues me that in a a world where the entire process is digital, there’s still intrinsic value to be had from a distinctly analog concept; the concept of prints.

Film is so unique in that traditionally, people have just made prints directly from their negatives or slides. But then the digital revolution happened, and people started digitising their negatives so they could view them on their new-fangled computers. Prints kinda, sorta, fell out of fashion as costs for developing and printing soared with the digital revolution. For many people, digital was all about convenience — being able to instantly view photos and share them to others was a huge plus. Having to wait an entire hour before photos could be viewed was a thing of the past. Our time grew more valuable, and film was all but forgotten.

Not so in the film industry, apparently, where film still holds a special something over digital:

No wonder, then, that directors like Christopher Nolan worry that if 35mm film dies, so will the gold standard of how movies are made. Film cameras require reloading every 10 minutes. They teach discipline. Digital cameras can shoot far longer, much to the dismay of actors like Robert Downey Jr. — who, rumor has it, protests by leaving bottles of urine on set.

There’s something about film which makes it command a certain amount of respect, a certain reverence. Digital is cheap. Film is not:

“Because when you hear the camera whirring, you know that money is going through it,” Wright says. “There’s a respectfulness that comes when you’re burning up film.”

I do quite a bit of shooting for my youth group, and while I’m definitely getting too old for a “youth group”, no one really seems to mind, or at least they’re not telling me about it (a topic for another time).

At youth, we have this wall that shows off photos of the youth. Photos from past events, photos from trips to Planetshakers, photos from previous Relay events, and things like that. It’s pretty cool, but the photos are a few years old now.

I was recently approached by the youth leader, to see if we could put a few new photos up. As I was the one who had been taking photos for the better part of the year, I was the one who would provide the photos. It made complete sense, and yet, to be asked of such a thing felt like a huge honour. I know it was probably inevitable and just common sense, but still, this was a Pretty Big Deal for me.

I had already uploaded a few photos to our Facebook group, and I already have a collection in Lightroom that has all the best shots from youth, so choosing which shots to print was a non-issue.

Numbers kind of were, but I ended up being ruthless and culling mediocre photos from the ones that were worthy of being printed. There were a few exceptions to this rule, and they were mostly photos that were good in terms of subject/composition/emotion, but perhaps technically flawed (slightly missed focus, limbs cut off weirdly, etc). It was interesting finding a line between choosing photos that were interesting and showed the “right stuff”, and photos that were perhaps not that good in terms of subject, but were still interesting, like the photo below. One night we played with a strobe, and that made for a cool photo, even though you can’t make out anyone in particular.

Anyway. 105 photos later, with about 7 enlargements of the group shots, and I’m happy with how the photos turned out. It was interesting seeing the difference between how the photos looked on-screen and how they looked when printed out, but for the most part things were pretty good.

All in all, a good experience. It’s kinda funny, because photography enthusiasts and hobbyists don’t really print out their digital images all that often, but mums, dads, and grandparents do it all the time.

Funny how things work like that.

Point and Shoot (feat. Olympus mju-II)

A roll of film: $10.

A new camera: $70.

Realising that the above title could have meant that this post could been about DayZ, or about a new film camera: priceless.

As much as I enjoy shooting film, using cameras from the 60s (and especially at the sub-$100 price range) mean you do without some of the modern niceties such as autofocus and autoexposure. In the beginning, that was okay — even without a working in-camera light meter, it was okay. Guessing exposures was pretty educational at the very least, and photos that turned out “good” were all the more satisfying because I know I had more input that I would have had if I had used a modern DSLR.

I’m not saying that you get sick of setting the exposure, then manually focusing the shot, but after a few rolls it starts to get a bit old. I wanted something that was easy to shoot film with, something with good enough optical quality, and something that was much more compact than the behemoth of my Yashica Lynx.

Cue the Olympus mju II. Also known as the Stylus Epic in the US, it’s a small film camera that features autofocus and autoexposure — even the text printed on the back describes it as an ultra-compact 35mm camera. It fits into basically any pocket, has a super-fast startup time, and best of all, shoots film. You’ve probably seen one of these before, and for good reason: it was an extremely popular camera, back in the days when film was much more popular than it is now.

My only complaint about the mju II is that the viewfinder is… tiny, to put it nicely. It’s perhaps half the size of your thumbnail — which is minuscule compared to the viewfinder on your typical DSLR, and if you don’t put your eye up to it at exactly the right point you’ll see nothing. Once you get over that, it’s a nice film camera which seems to want to fire the flash more often than is truly necessary. My version also has one or two issues with loading film, which means loading a new roll takes a minute or so longer than it should, but it’s really a non-issue because everything else is perfect.

The Olympus mju II has a fixed 35mm lens that has a maximum aperture of f/2, and I’ve heard quite a few people rave about how good it is for its size, and especially compared to some of the higher-priced point-and-shoot film cameras. Maybe if I had a few thousand spare I might have gotten a Konica Hexar AF instead, but for now, the mju II was the better choice. It came in a zoom version as well, but apparently the prime version has better optics…

And it’s such a blast to shoot with.

Instead of lugging around the ol’ ball and chain around your neck, you’re simply reaching into your pocket, sliding back the cover, and taking the shot. You think less about the technicalities of taking the shot, and actually take the shot.

It’s easy. Effortless. It means that good pictures as easy to capture, because all you’re doing is depressing a shutter button — and sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do. Sometimes it’s about the shot itself, rather than setting up the aperture, shutter speed, and then focusing the lens.

But why not do the same with digital, you might ask. After all, there are plenty of good point-and-shoots available for the digital format, some vastly more capable than this little Olympus. That, my friends, is a question for another time.

Overexposed

Third post in one day? I must be procastinating assignments (like that doesn’t happen enough already).

I got a day off work the other week, and I decided to go back to the Salamanca Markets. I really love the Markets for street, because there’s more than enough subjects to photgraph. Tourists pointing their DSLRs at locals, locals trying to sell their wares to tourists, buskers, people just enjoying the atmosphere, and more. Last time I went was back in February, and I took my DSLR that time. This time my Yashica would be tagging along for a bit of film action.

I managed to go trough four rolls in the space of two hours, for a total of 103 exposures. Once you get into the zone, it’s all just shoot, advance, shoot, advance. It’s a good feeling.

The only bad part was, most of the photos turned out quite overexposed. I think it might have been the tricky light conditions fooling my light meter, or just the light meter not giving me an accurate read-out, but most of the photos have an opaque white cast to them, what I believe is overexposure in the film world. Digital overexposure means that the whole image is uniformly brighter, but film overexposure is different, as far as I can tell.

In any case, here are a few of the better ones. They’ve been knocked down by up to a stop — there were others, but these are the ones that turned out kind-of okay and didn’t have too much of an opaque white cast.

The good news is, I’ll have a few more days off the in future, so I’ll definitely go back.

Film, continued

Red Awning

One of the crazy things I love about film is that your photos can change depending on what film you’re using, how it’s developed, and if you’re getting scans done, how good the scanner is.

It’s like each kind of film has its own character. Each kind of film is unique, different to the next, and I’m not even talking about the difference between B&W, slides/transparencies, or colour negatives, I’m talking about differences in grain type and amount, colour reproduction, dynamic range, and so on.

The differences between different brands and even different labels within the same manufacturer is crazy. Buy Kodak Portra, and you’ll get different/better skin tones than, say, Kodak Gold. Buy Kodak Ektar and, you’ll get much nicer grain than Kodak Ultramax (ISO differences aside). And so on.

It’s one of the things that appeals to me about film: digital is very predictable in terms of what you can expect straight out of the camera, whereas with film the kind of film you’re shooting can have a much greater impact on your photos than what kind of lens you’re using, for example. The differing characteristics from one film to the next give it that special edge over digital. It just adds a bit of variety, you know?

One of the realities of photography is that as you increase the sensitivity, you increase the amount of artefacts that appear in your image. With digital, as you ramp up the ISO you get more noise. With film, as you get a higher-rated film you get more grain. But here’s the rub: film grain resolves detail much better than digital noise does. Not only that, but film grain is much more evenly spread out across the image. Compare that to digital, where noise is essentially just a whole lot of random pixels, and can differ in appearance depending on where it appears in the image (i.e. it’s more pronounced in shadows than it is on subjects).

Don’t get me wrong, film is “worse” for grain at the same sensitivities when compared to digital. My DSLR can practically see in the dark when I’m shooting at ISO 12,800, but things are, not surprisingly, pretty noisy at those kinds of ISOs. At the same sensitivities, digital beats film hands down — but I much prefer the look of film grain to digital noise.

I’ve been asked if I develop my own stuff, and the answer is: no. Not because I don’t want to, but because that’s a whole other can of worms. For now, I get my C-41 (colour negatives) processed and either scanned or printed locally (i.e. Hobart), and I haven’t shot any E-6 (slides/transparencies) but I know that no one in Hobart commercially develops it anymore, and same goes for B&W.

I mean, developing your own film does have its advantages; you’re the only one that gets to see your “work”, you’re totally self-sufficient, and apparently it’s extremely cheap to DIY, but — and here’s the kicker — it’s a lot of extra work. Developing your own negatives requires messing around with chemicals, temperatures, not to mention the fact you need to arrange some kind of total-darkness environment. We haven’t even touched on the problem of needing to digitise your own negatives/slides, requiring a half-decent scanner if you want any kind of quality scans. Consumer flatbeds just don’t cut it.

Make no mistake, developing your own negatives is a whole different ball game. It gives you total control over your photography, but it’s a lot of extra work on top of just taking the shot.

Maybe I’ll start thinking about developing my own if I start taking this any more seriously than just what I’m doing at the moment, but for now, the local lab does acceptable scans, even if they’re not as high a quality that I would like (only 3 megapixels!).

I have a new camera on the way, which is a nice little Olympus point and shoot. I’ve been wanting a film camera as a daily carry for a while now, and maybe this little Olympus will be a good compromise for the time being. At least until I work up the courage to fork out for a Bessa, anyway.

Film (is not dead)

yashica lynx 14

For about a fortnight now I’ve been experimenting with film photography. Truth be told, I don’t even think I’ve touched my DSLR in that time, and here’s why: film is not dead.

Far from it, in fact.

Our story today starts with an old 35mm rangefinder I bought off a guy recently. It’s a Yashica Lynx 14 from 1965, one that comes with a super-quiet leaf shutter and a huge, 45mm f/1.4 lens that completely dominates the camera. 58mm filters are gargantuan compared to normal rangefinder lenses, and big even compared to some of my DSLR lenses. There’s also a self-timer that runs for “approximately 8 seconds”, in case you were thinking of taking selfies without a mirror or something.

Not that you would want to, of course due to how incredibly awkward it would be at first: it’s manual everything: manual focus and manual exposure, featuring manual shutter speed and manual (stepless!1) aperture. The built-in light meter didn’t work when I received it, but I imported a few Wein cells which fixed fixed that up (mercury batteries are a little hard to come by these days, so mercury replacement batteries are the next best thing). Other than that, one of the greatest things about this camera and so many others like it is that it’s completely mechanical: the only reason you need batteries at all is for the light meter, which isn’t that big of a deal as you can always guess exposures or use a stand-alone light meter (or your iPhone, or your DSLR). The ability to take photos without batteries, is a pretty big deal.

yashica lynx top

Why a film rangefinder, I hear you ask? I guess between a film rangefinder and a film SLR, the decision was pretty simple. They’re both about the same in terms of availability, and more or less around the same price range. Buying something like an EOS-type SLR body wouldn’t have been all that different to my current digital SLR. A later-generation EOS film body might have allowed me to use my current glass, but I wanted to shoot film mostly because it was different to digital. That meant I needed something much more different than my current DSLR, and for that, I needed a rangefinder. If I’m being honest, I just wanted a smaller, more discreet camera for street, a topic for another time.

Taking photos with a rangefinder is different to what you’re probably used to, as well as being much the same. One of the main differences is how you focus: there’s a small patch in the viewfinder that you place over your subject, at which point you focus your lens using the “overlapping” image that appears. When the two images overlap perfectly and are superimposed over one another, then you’re in focus. It’s really quite cool, and makes for a unique way of focusing. There are downsides to this method though, the main one being that it doesn’t work well with low-contrast images/subjects. For the most part, it’s perfectly okay.

For two weeks, I used my Yashica rangefinder almost exclusively, and how I shot  during the first week was by metering shots using my iPhone or on occasion, my DSLR, translating the same aperture and shutter speed to my Lynx, framing, and taking the shot. The batteries for the built in light meter didn’t arrive until the second week, so for the first week I’d meter my shot, use the same shutter/aperture on my Lynx for that speed film I was using, and take the shot. Sometimes metering the shot was too time-consuming and pretty unwieldy having to get out my iPhone/DSLR and consult its superior metering (actually, now that I think about it I’m going to have to go with it was unwieldy most of the time), so for the first two weeks I guessed a fair few exposures based on the light conditions of the previous shots.

I more or less started and finished the first two rolls of film in an afternoon in the first week, all without an in-body light meter. I decided to get them developed as prints-only, as they were mostly just “test shots” to see how things would turn out if I was guessing exposures (not to mention one of my first real experiences with manual focus).

kodak gold 400 and ektar 100

These first two rolls turned out okay, surprisingly. I was guessing exposures for much of it, and only one or two were grossly over- or under-exposed. Most could have done with an extra stop (or minus) here and there, but mostly they were pretty good. Focus didn’t seem to be an issue either, but I think that could mostly have been attributed to the higher apertures I was shooting at, upwards of f/8 or so.

After the success of my first two rolls, I was excited to do another two, centered around what I would normally be shooting (i.e. candids of people on the street).I got them back last week, and imagine my disappointment when they turned out worse than the previous two rolls. Quite a few shots were out of focus and exposures were all over the place. Suffice to say, my manual focus skills could definitely be improved — but I was kinda expecting that with film that was two stops more sensitive (and thus needing slower shutter speeds/a wider aperture for the same light).

Taking photos with a rangefinder is incredibly good fun. If you’ve never experienced shooting with a film rangefinder, you’re missing out one of the best shooting experiences you can have. Part of it has to do with the fact that you’re doing exposures manually according to what your iPhone light meter says, or trying to do the whole “match needle” thing for every new lighting situation. The other part of it is the entire feeling of film photography: without getting too hand-wavey, depressing the shutter then manually advancing the film using the film advance lever every time you take a shot is something special, as is rewinding the film back into the cassette when you’re done with that roll.

The truth is, I’ve been wanting to try film for a while. Ever since getting a digital camera I’ve wanted to give film a go: not because there are any inherent advantages in film vs digital, but because it’s just something different. Plus, the barrier to entry is relatively low, with a few exceptions (ongoing cost of film and developing). Film has always held this kind of special aura for me, and that might have been to do with the fact that most of my childhood pictures are from an electric film camera (auto-advance and rewind, wow!) that’s still floating around, incidentally.

And you know what? I think I like it. I like it a lot, in fact. I don’t think I’m quite ready to ditch my digital kit entirely as that still has advantages of its own (on-demand, selectable ISO up to 12,800 without having to change film is more of a plus than you would think), but I’m warming up to the idea of shooting predominantly film. There’s something appealing about film photography that can’t be quantified in words, something that can’t be explained except in pictures. It’s just good fun. I’m not saying digital is cheap or anything, but shooting film gives you a whole different appreciation for photography, even more so if you’ve only shot digital thus far, and even more so again if you have an all-manual camera and you’re doing exposures manually.

Now, if only I had a better film camera…


  1. where I mean that while apertures are marked on the lens barrel, you can also have crazy apertures like f/3.1415, if you really wanted to.