Projects and ponderings for film photographers

The manual is wrong: Loading 35mm film without pain

Take practically any 35mm camera from the 1970s or 80s. Look in the owner’s manual, and you’ll see an illustration a bit like this:

Typical 35mm film-loading instructions

Load the cassette, then thread the tongue?

Now look: millions of rolls of 35mm film have been loaded this way, and hopefully it works for you too.

But the way I see it, you are trying to do two things here:

  1. Ensure that the tongue of the film is grabbed firmly by the take-up spool
  2. Avoid spoiling any more film than necessary by exposing it to daylight

Read the rest of this entry »

SLRs you *do* want, part 1: Manual exposure

Now that my earlier post warned you away from some vintage 35mm SLRs you should avoid, what’s left?

I won’t inflame any fanboys by trying to proclaim “the greatest film SLRs of all time.” But what I think most people need in a film camera today is a something that’s not too enormous, not too expensive, and covers all the basics with a bit of style. You also want an SLR where the lens options are plentiful, which rules out a few niche brands.

Our first batch covers cameras where the exposure settings are entirely in your hands. You’ve got a built-in light meter to consult (maybe moving close to the subject for a more accurate reading), but after that—it’s all up to you. If you want to take photography back to real hand-crafted basics, start here.

Click any camera for a closer look. We’ll be back in a few weeks to look at the grooviest autoexposure models you might consider.


Olympus OM-1 camera

The quiet revolutionary

Model name: Olympus OM-1
Introduced: 1972
Why it’s great: I have to start with this one: The SLR which upended a whole industry by being so tiny, lightweight, and elegant. And the matching OM lens lineup is just as svelte and lovely. Only a simple needle intrudes into a viewfinder image which seems impossibly large and bright, given the low profile of the pentaprism housing. Relatively quiet shutter. Mirror lockup option for vibration-free shots. Timeless styling.
Versions & cousins: The very earliest version lacked connections for a motor drive (and so is missing the “MD” badge to the right of the lens). The slightly revised OM-1N has some small improvements, and means the camera is a few years younger. The near twin OM-2 (& OM-2N) add aperture-priority autoexposure.
Quirks & quibbles: Removable hot shoe is prone to cracking. Unusual shutter-speed ring around the lens (the the silver dial on the top only sets the film speed). Meter circuit designed for unobtainable mercury battery; but an easy workaround is possible. Read the rest of this entry »

The Burden of Zooms

I’ve mentioned before that I always prefer to carry a couple of good single-focal-length lenses rather than a zoom.

That’s especially true for the zooms of the 70s and 80s, which were particularly “challenged” in terms of girth and optical quality. Today’s zooms are much better—although you still typically sacrifice a couple of stops at their widest apertures.

Vintage Vivitar 35–105 Zoom

A large chunk of glass and metal

But there is one vintage Vivitar 35–105 zoom I have somehow hung onto. Its constant f/3.5 aperture is definitely a cut above the norm for its era; plus it’s one of those quirky TX-system lenses by Tokina, offering interchangeable mounts to fit different camera systems (a topic I will return to sometime). The Viv also focuses down pretty tight—you can fill the frame with something ~8 inches high.

But it’s quite a beast, and certainly throws off the balance of most SLRs it’s attached to. the other day it occurred to me to try a quick comparison. How does this lens stack up against three prime lenses which cover the same range?  Read the rest of this entry »