Tag Archives: Fuji

Medium format photography: sometimes, bigger really is better

And here is another exciting post: I have to say, I can barely cope with all this photographic excitement, I’ll need to go and sit down in a dark corner and cuddle up to my tripod or something if this keeps going!

A colleague at work invited me over last Friday to look at his Mamiya 645 ProTL: he had told me on a train journey to work a few days before that he had bought it a few years ago – and had never used it!  So he was thinking of selling it, but wanted to let me borrow it with a view to eventually perhaps buying it from him rather than putting it up for sale somewhere.  Very generously, he’s letting me play with it until September – so I can take it with me on holiday and try it in lots of different settings.  There are 80mm and 150mm lenses (approx. 50mm and 95mm in ‘normal’ 35mm film format), and the camera has a motor winder.  He has also given me a couple of rolls of Fujichrome (Provia 100F), and lots of rolls of monochrome film.  All the film is out of date, but has been kept in a fridge so should be absolutely fine.

And there’s more: as he was getting this out for me, he also came across his old Rolleiflex 2.8C (number 13 here; there appears to no direct link), along with a collection of filters for monochrome photography (orange, yellow-green etc.).  And he wanted to give this to me as he was no longer using it… So I went home that day with two medium format cameras and various accessories, one of them mine, the other possibly to become mine!

I had been wondering about moving into medium format photography for a while, primarily because of the tremendous image quality that it offers with the bigger film, but the cost of doing so was putting me off (my overdraft needs nurturing, not more abuse!).  So the gift and the loan offer from my colleague took me very much by surprise, and I really welcome it.  Yesterday I dropped off the first Fujichrome (Mamiya) and Ilford (Rolleiflex) films to be processed.  I suspect they’ll be rather bad, but I look forward to lots of practice, and I’ll begin to put images up here too!

Of course, I’ll now need to get a scanner that can cope with this size of film… anyone want to buy my present scanner?!

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The end of an era

My last Fuji Sensia films arrived in the post today – these are the last in that Fuji is stopping the manufacture of Sensia, and these films were being returned to me from their Leeds processing laboratory. It’s taken me a long time to get through these three rolls because of my arm injury.

This is terribly sad for me: before I discovered Velvia for myself (a long time after everyone else, it seems!), I used endless rolls of Sensia (see also my Equipment page). Indeed, our spare room has more indexed boxes of Sensia slides than I would care to count, documenting many years of my life and my family’s life in many different places. Sensia accompanied me through many different contexts, and was my natural choice of colour film for almost every occasion. I loved the tones, especially for skin, the almost complete absence of grain (even in the 400 version), and the almost tangible three-dimensionality of the image, especially for wide landscapes and long exposures. But all that has now ended under the digital juggernaut.

Along with my processed and mounted film, Fuji enclosed an order form with a note about Sensia:

Fuji leaflet

Fuji leaflet (click to enlarge)

I’ve marked a key section here. I know it is meant to be reassuring, but as an academic who spends a lot of time crafting language to try and make it say exactly what I want it to say, I am not wholly convinced by this. ‘As long as film is being produced…’ is the bit that causes me concern – I assume this means as long as Fuji continues to make film, since I can’t imagine they’ll take responsibility for other manufacturers that decide to continue making film (such as Ilford, for example). And they’ll only continue making film as long as they continue making it…

What concerns me here is that one day we might end up with Fuji deciding that they are going to further restrict the countries in which they sell and process film, even if it is not completely stopped. There are, of course, already many countries where it is hard to buy Fuji film: even when I first went to Egypt in 1997 it was hard to find, and I understand it is now almost impossible to do so. Am I being unduly concerned to worry that one day we might end up with just a few locations worldwide that can properly deal with good quality film like this – perhaps one place in each continental area – with the corresponding increase in cost to the user?

The wonder of film

This evening I needed to be in nearby Musselburgh, where I would be waiting for half-an-hour at the harbour. Musselburgh has a lovely small harbour, and at the moment all the sailing boats are ‘parked’ in the car park round the harbour (in spaces that are marked ‘dinghy parking’!).

Stephanie, photographed on Ilford FP4 plus (ISO125)

Stephanie, photographed on Ilford FP4 plus (ISO125)

On the way out of the house, I took my camera, tripod, spirit level, filters, a 28mm and a 50mm lens – and looked forward to capturing some of these boats and the harbour scenes. I took my favourite film camera, the old Nikon FM2, with one of the last three rolls of Fuji Sensia that I have: this is a bit of a trip down memory lane for me, since I used to use Sensia a lot before switching to Fuji Velvia for colour landscapes; Fuji have recently announced they are stopping the production of Sensia so I have just bought three rolls of it to play with for the last time. It was fairly dark when I arrived in the harbour, and as I took my bag out of the car and began to set up, I realised that I had left my light meter at home – since the FM2’s slowest shutter speed before getting to the bulb setting is 1 second, the camera’s meter would be useless and I would have had to more or less guess all my exposures… so, sadly, I packed everything away again and went to buy a newspaper instead. Next week, when I expect to be there again, I’ll remember the meter!

I’ve read two nice postings on other people’s websites recently about using film. The first one was from the great Bruce Percy, who discussed how much he enjoyed using a particular kind of Kodak Portra film for a recent trip he made to Ethiopia and then, referring to Canon’s 5D digital camera, noted:

I get a lot of correspondence from people wanting to know how to get the same look with their 5D. You can’t.

If you want the look of film, then shoot film.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that! The other piece I’ve come across is more of a short essay by the wonderful Max Marinucci (though the second part describes how he develops film, so you may want to skim read that bit if you just want to pick up on his philosophy about film):

…patience and parsimony are virtues to be cultivated and nourished. When shooting film, you immediately accept the fact that it may be a little while before you see the fruits of your work and, by living with this, you will become a more disciplined shooter, which will in turn carry on to your digital side as well. It also means that shooting everything in sight without any thought into basics like light and composition is out of the question since you only have 24-36 shots in a roll of 35mm and it makes no sense in spending time/money developing simple, careless snapshots. This is a valuable exercise in restraint and it brings us to actually THINK before we shoot. Would you have taken a picture of your toes with film just because you can? I sincerely doubt it.

Although I use my Nikon D90 digital camera a lot, there is something wonderful about film that cannot be beaten by the more ‘clinical’ nature of digital… and it has to do with all these key components of photography that often go missing in the techno-madness that camera manufacturers obscure from us as they add ever more silly functions to their cameras: patience, composition, light, perspective… I’m not a dogmatic film shooter: of course digital cameras have their place (I couldn’t be involved in the same way in the African film festival if I wasn’t using digital, and I do like my D90). I think it is just a question of being reminded of that at times, of using film and digital in different circumstances as appropriate, and above all, appreciating film for all the wonder it can bring to the craft of photography.