I’m always on the lookout for new ways to procrastinate. And when I open up my draft of Luck Be A Spacelady (my latest Marlowe and the Spacewoman novel) and see just how much more work needs to be done, I need those distractions.
The most recent is my discovery of and subsequent experimenting with half frame 35mm film photography. I had no idea these things existed despite they’re been around for longer than I have.
For those of you also unfamiliar with half frame cameras (but hopefully at least know what film is), here’s a quick explanation: the size of the image exposed on the negative is half the width of a typical 35mm exposure. You get twice the exposures on a roll of film at half the size (for example, 72 pictures on a 36 exposure roll). A more detailed explanation can be found here.
I bought the (relatively) inexpensive Kodak Ektar H35 camera, which came out recently and has received generally good reviews. My other option was to pay a lot of money on eBay for an older half frame camera that may or may not require servicing before I could be confident it worked.
That seemed like a high risk-to-reward ratio for an aspect of photography I might not end up liking, so I went with the entry level approach.
The camera is easy to use. No focusing, no exposure setting, no shutter speed setting. Everything is fixed. You just point and shoot. The only control you have is the ISO rating of the film you use. The camera is set up for using ISO 100 film in a sunny outdoor setting.
This is a blessing and a curse. You don’t have to fuss over settings to get a good picture, but at the same time you can’t fuss over the settings to get a good picture. You get what you what get. If you use, for example, ISO 100 film and the lighting conditions change (going from sunny to overcast or twilight), your pictures will be underexposed and you can’t do anything to compensate.
This also makes the camera a throwback to the cheap old 126 film cameras I had as a child.
Never underestimate the appeal of the nostalgia factor, especially when you start to get as old and close to death as me. I still remember the excitement and joy of receiving a Spiderman 126 film cartridge camera for my birthday as a young boy.
The camera does come with a flash for indoor / darker situations. However, my experience is that the flash isn’t effective beyond about five feet from the camera. I discovered this at the price of a lot of dark, indoor photos that are basically a waste of celluloid.
The shutter speed is fixed at 1/100 sec, which generally speaking is sufficient to freeze action in a photo. However, I found that a lot of my pictures, particularly those taken from a slowly moving vehicle, exhibit a lot of camera shake. Standing still and holding the camera still generally resulted in no shake, but with this camera I really had to pay attention to how I was holding it.
This is contrary to the concept of using the camera as a no-think point and shoot. A camera that requires no thought when it comes to settings actually requires a great deal of focus (ha ha, no pun intended) when it comes to holding it. It took me a while to figure that out, so a lot of the ‘extra’ photos I exposed on the roll didn’t come out.
Not necessarily a flaw of the camera, but given how light and easy this all-plastic camera is to shake, definitely a consideration to keep in mind when using it.
Maybe I can add some fishing weights (another distraction we won’t talk about now) to the camera to help with that issue.
After shooting two rolls of film, my overall conclusion is that shooting this camera is very much like shooting other film cameras: you will take a lot of pictures and on each roll, you’ll get one or two gems and the rest of the pictures are ‘meh’ at best. Now I might be able to improve the gem-to-meh ratio with more practice, but I will never be able to eliminate all the mehs.
Sure, more complicated cameras give you more control, and an experienced, professional photographer will almost certainly be able to get more gems on a roll through expert use of those controls, but for an average Joe like me, once you get past the reality that most of the pictures on a roll will be merely OK with only a few really good ones, you can be perfectly happy with your efforts and your camera.
I also discovered that who processes your negatives can impact the quality of the scans / prints. Specifically, vendors who scan the film like full-frame 35mm exposures (that is, two exposures per print) can produce poor quality images if the two different exposures have dramatically different lighting conditions. The scanner seems to split the difference, resulting in two terrible images even though the negatives themselves look fine. But if the vendor scans each half-frame exposure independently, the images will be more representative of the negatives.
I learned this the hard way with my first roll of film and when I saw the scans, I almost gave up on the camera. But then I examined the negatives and realized what had happened.
So I’ve made my peace with this camera. It’s fun, easy to use, and if you have a steady hand and the lighting conditions are right, you can get a good, albeit somewhat lower resolution picture. I might even use it again.
That said, I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I want to invest in an older, more fully featured camera. The Ektar H35 is brand new and everything works as it should. The older cameras, while more feature rich and of a higher quality (at least when they were new), are more expensive and, being decades old, have a very real risk of not working correctly out of the box.
If I could buy, say, an Olympus Pen EF brand new and at a reasonable price, I totally would. But paying hundreds of dollars for a camera that might have mechanical problems because it is as old or older than me gives me, a man of not unlimited wealth, pause. Thinking about such a purchase, I am forced to ask myself a couple of salient questions:
How much am I willing to invest in this hobby?
More importantly, shouldn’t I be focused on writing instead?
As seems requisite with posts like this, here are some example photos taken with the Kodak Ektar H35. I’d say any deficiencies are due to my middling photography skills, but honestly, except for the camera shake, the results are all down to the camera. Even poor framing isn’t entirely my fault, as the viewfinder is not through-the-lens and doesn’t have any parallax offsets printed on it.