[2018-08-15] Film - Barry Carr

Film

15th August 2018

I hadn’t planned to, but I’ve started shooting film again.

On a recent long weekend in Argyll, we took a trip into Oban and I came across a proper, old-school, camera shop owned by a very helpful and knowledgeable woman (who turned out to be a Leica shooter). After a browsing for a while and seeing an old Canon AE1 body which I started haggling on, I then spotted an Olympus OM-1, complete with a standard lens. I asked proprietor if I could look at the OM-1. As soon as I got in my hands I realised the camera was equipped with the Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 standard lens. My interest was piqued now. I inspected and fired the shutter I few times and I fell in love with it. The shutter action had the most satisfying feeling I’d ever experienced in a film camera. Everything about the camera just felt right; it was nice size in my hands, the controls were well placed and just felt right – a proper Goldilocks experience – not too heavy and not too light. I was completely captivated by this camera, I thought it was an engineering marvel. I politely decline the Canon and started to negotiate a price for the OM-1. I think a paid the bottom end of market value for it and, after a little research, I was happy with what I paid for it. The shop owner also, very kindly, threw in a roll of Agfa Vista 200 the “Poundland” film. I eagerly loaded the film as soon as I was out of the shop – an action I’d not performed for getting on for nearly twenty years.

To provide some background on the camera, the OM-1 was Olympus’ flagship camera between 1972 and 1975. It’s a small, lightweight, fully manual SLR weighing in at approximately three-quarters of a kilo. It has a large, bright viewfinder and is an entirely mechanical device. The camera does take a battery but this for the light meter alone and the camera doesn’t need a battery to operate. More on the battery, later. Light metering is done through the lens and the meter readout a simple match needle affair visible in the viewfinder. As I mentioned, the camera is completely manual, it has no automatic features like aperture or shutter priority. If you’re interested you can find out more information on the OM-1 here, on Wikipedia and, also, here on Camerapedia.

Back to the battery. The OM-1 was designed to use a 1.35v mercury battery, which are no longer available. Instead, you can use Zinc-Air batteries as they output the same voltage as the old mercury batteries. The disadvantage is that Zinc-Air batteries don’t last very long and can also be expensive, they drain even when the camera isn't in use. You can use modern 1.5v batteries but this affects the performance of the light meter, the extra voltage skews the meters results and can result is poorly exposed photos. You can get a lithium battery adapter which takes modern batteries and steps down the voltage from 1.5v to 1.35v – keeping the light meter happy but, these adapters are quite expensive, about £30 when I last looked. I’ve also read that it’s possible to get the camera converted to use 1.5v batteries but I’ve no idea how you go about doing this or, how much it costs. My OM-1 came with a modern 1.5v battery which I didn’t change – it didn’t occur to me to check it until after I was well into my first roll of film.

The Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 standard lens that came with my OM-1 is very sharp and another beautifully crafted bit of kit. Since getting the OM-1, I’ve also managed to get my hands on the Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 and the Zuiko 28mm f/2.8. Both lenses are very small and, also, very good. I’ve tried all three of these lenses on my Sony A7 and I’ve been more than happy with image quality that they produce. In a future post, I’m going to compare these Zuiko lenses with their Minolta counterparts and see how they get on.

I was also very impressed with the Agfa Vista 200 and I can see why this film gained its “cult” following. For film that was available for one pound, the look and colour rendition of this film is really very nice, indeed. There’s nothing not to like about this film. I’ve since managed to get my hands on another roll (thanks, Rob) and I’m looking out for more as, sadly, this film is no longer available.

I really enjoyed shooting with OM-1 and using film again. I expected to get one, perhaps two, reasonable shots from my first roll in nearly twenty years but I was surprised to get back seven shots that I really liked. The remaining shots from this roll, while uninspiring, were mostly in focus and correctly exposed, something else I’d not expected. I’d anticipated a lot of blurry, poorly exposed travesties of photography. I think OM-1’s bright viewfinder was a big help on the focusing front and its light meter was way better than I expected, especially as the camera came with a too powerful battery.

Since this first roll of film, I’ve shot a few other rolls (Ilford XP and FP) and I’ve also snapped up a few more cheap camera bodies. The first being a Minolta X-700 to use with my Minolta lenses and another being a Praktica MTL3 as this was a camera that was given to me on my eighteenth birthday.

This re-discovery of film has been a revelation to me; from the moment I got my first DSLR I was happy to turn my back on film and see it as a technology that had its day. But now, after a long, long break away from film, I can see the appeal of its charm and aesthetic as well as appreciate the ingenuity and engineering of the cameras that were available back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

This re-discovery of film has been a revelation to me; from the moment I got my first DSLR I was happy to turn my back on film and see it as a technology that had had its day. But now, after a long, long break away from film, I can see the appeal of its charm and aesthetic and appreciate the ingenuity and engineering of the cameras that were available back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Here are the keepers from my first roll.

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