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10 Reasons Why You Should Start Shooting FILM

Leica M3

Here I would like to share my personal views about film photography. Below are the summary :

1) Film cameras last a really really long time ! A decent full mechanical camera such as a Nikon FM2 or a Leica M2 / M3 can easily last you a life time without having the need to upgrade. I love buying and collecting full mechanical cameras as they are the most reliable camera ever built. Having no ic chips , circuit board, built in light meter or motor drives, these camera are built to last. Just like your Rolex watches. With a good CLA ( clean, lubricate, and adjustment ) service done by a trained repairman, a 50 year old camera will eventually work like new again and will last you probably another 50 more years.

2) Explore different formats other than full frame.  Shooting anything larger than the 35mm format on digital is might cost you and arm or a leg. A decent medium format with a digital back might set you back around RM40 grand at least. There are tons of other larger formats film camera’s such as 6 X 4.5 , 6 x 6 , 6 X 7 or even 6 X 9 which produces amazing image quality at rather affordable price. Cameras such as the Yashica Mat, Pentacon 6, Mamiya and Kiev88 will probably cost as low as a point and shoot camera. Larger negatives = more details, bokeh and tonal gradation !

3) Skin tone and colors ! Good films such as the Fuji Pro 400H and the Kodak Portra produces amazing skin tones. It’s the most life like color I’ve ever seen from a camera. Every type of films has it’s own unique characteristics. As most photoshop action now days try to mimic film colors and character digitally, why not just use the real deal.

4) Shooting film makes you a better photographer. I have been shooting digitally for the past 6 years and only started film photography 2.5 yrs back. I have never learned so much about photography just until recently. It perfected my exposure and composition, and of course my attitude as a photographer. I have learned to be more patient, visualize my shots before snapping away, understanding DOF / zone focusing and of course the good ol’ Sunny 16 rules, which is to meter without using a light meter ! How cool is that ?

5) A good film camera appreciate in price while digital depreciates horribly . Leica aside, a Contax 645 cost as much as RM 5000 around 4-5 years back are now fetching close to 9k price tag just recently. I can still recall buying my Nikon D300 when it first launched at the price of RM 5.7k, while I sold it 2.5 years later for RM 2k.

6) It’s FUN ! I love street and wedding photography and carrying a vintage film camera around is easy to strike a conversation with strangers. I always get approached by uncles and aunties who is intrigue by those cameras from their era. After a short chat, it’s easy to get a shot of them : ) From experience, the more retro the camera is the easier it is to strike a conversation. There was one time I was shooting with a big ass Polaroid 600se in a coffee shop, the owner approached out of curiosity and asked me if I could take a picture of him with his lovely grandson. I was smiling ear to ear that a stranger would want his picture taken without me asking. After the shot, I was rewarded with two glasses of ice coffee for free ..

7) Film is making a come back ! Despite we see many good films are being taken off the market but I am sure there will be some to stay. Ilford have not discontinued any of their films for the past couple of years and highly sought after film such as the all time favorite Fuji Pro400H, Portra and Kodak TriX are unlikely to be dead as there are demands for it. Hence don't worry !

8) Learn to work on your photos in the darkroom ...not with the lightroom : ) I would say it's a total new experience. It's a lot more fun and seeing your images appear on the prints slowly and gradually is extremely rewarding and satisfying.

9) It's cheaper to shoot film in long run. Many consider shooting film is a luxury due to the high cost in buying and developing these film. It's actually not. A decent digital camera with lens would set you back around RM5k or so. You would need a computer to work on the files as well as additional storage space such as HDD / Cloud / NAS for backing up your photos. You might ended up shooting a thousand shots in RAW format for an outing or trip which probably only 100 of it are keepers while the remaining 900 stored away and never be seen coz they are too crappy to show When all these adds up ...it's actually costing a lot more. On a trip, I only bring 10 rolls of films which is probably around 36 x 10 = 360 shots but I ended up liking all 300 shots which I have taken. If you do the development on your own, it would be even more cost effective. All negatives can be stored in an organized folder or even in a shoe box as long it's keep in a cool dry place.

10. Enjoy easy and simply work flow once again ! How many of you always often spend countless hours in front of your computer trying to edit your last back of vacation photos which you have shot probably thousands of it but only ended up with just 100 or so keepers ? You will find shooting film is so so simple, there is nothing much you need to do besides archiving your negatives in a near and easy to find manner.

 

Still not convinced ? Feel free to check out our FILM GALLERY here !

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8 Tips to Get You Started with Film Photography

Planning to take up film photography but not sure where to start ? Here are a few pointers to help you out :

1. Get yourself a camera. A film camera is relatively easy to find. Just ask your dad, uncle, grandma, old friends and relatives and high chances that they might have one for your for free. If luck is not on your side, there is always ebay or and some local online stores such as Film Photography Buy/Sell Community (Malaysia) on Facebook. Not sure which camera to start with , just check out my old blog post on "Which Film Camera to BUY for beginners ?"

2. Give the camera a good check up ! High chances that the film camera which was left lying for years are no longer in optimum operating condition. If it’s purchased off ebay, do check with the seller on the condition. Mint +,  Mint - and Excellent are general term seller use describe their camera condition, so don’t be deceived. A mediocre condition will be graded as good with that sort of grading system. Best to do more research about the camera before investing, even more so on cameras with automation as repair would be really costly or high possibility that there is no more parts available.

Some of the frequent problems which plague mechanical film cameras are deteriorating light seals and mirror bumper, sluggish or inaccurate shutter speed, fungus on lenses and camera viewfinder, inaccurate or dead light meter and corroded battery compartment due to battery leakage. While for Twin Lens Reflex ( TLR ) and Rangefinder cameras, the focus calibration is most crucial. To check, just focus on a very far object like a high rise building and make sure it alligned properly at infinity. If it's not most likely the camera needs to be calibrated.  Most of the above could easily be addressed with a simple CLA  (clean, lubricate and adjustment ) from any trained camera technician for about RM150 or so depending on the condition. If the above are all good, I will normally exercise the shutter around 30 over times on all shutter speed to loosen up the camera gearing and lubrication.

3. Experiments with different films ! There are a few varieties of films out there. Basically you just need to know the format size ( 35mm and 120mm which is the most commonly used ) , ISO and film type ( color negative, slides and black and white ). Always check your camera format before buying.

For starting out, Fuji Superia and Agfa Vista are pretty good for the price. You can easily get your films at my regular photo lab ColorDotCom Digital Photo Lab, Bang Bang Geng or any available online store like ebay and etc. It’s a good beginner film to play with without burning a hole in your pocket. More professional grade films color negative films such as the the Kodak Portra and my all time fav Fuji Pro400H and Kodak Extar cost around RM 20 over per box. For black and white, I use mainly Kodak TriX400 which is my all time favorite and I prefer to do the developing on my own for the extra added contrast. In my humble opinion, that's the most versatile film ever. You could push it 3 stops and still perform reasonably well.

4. LOAD the film into the camera. PLEASE be EXTRA CAREFUL when loading film into any SLR or rangefinder type camera which looks something like this image below. The MOST FRAGILE part of the camera is this shutter curtain. It's actually just a thin layer of metal or cloth like material which controls by the shutter speed dial. When you are loading the film into the camera, do ENSURE your fingers stay off this middle section and don't ever apply any pressure on it else the shutter shutter will bent or break. It happens to me once on my FM2 and it cost around RM300 for a shutter replacement, ouch !

Once the film are loaded into the camera, do ensure the film winder turns ( top left as per photo below as an example ) as you cock the shutter. If it's not turning, most likely the film is not loaded properly. You can always counter double check by turning the film winder to feel if there is any tension on the winder.

5. REMOVE that roll with the upmost care ! This is the most common screw up of all time :) You wouldn't want your hard work and masterpiece gone wasted, if you are not sure read the camera user manual before operating. Trial and error doesn't work all the time ! All film camera user manual can be downloaded from this website and of course a small donation to them would do great considering the effort being taken to digitize all those manuals.

http://www.butkus.org/chinon/

In general, just press the film release button once you are done shooting( film couldn't advance anymore ) and rewind the film as per the direction of the arrow. Keep turning until you feel no more tension on the winder, this may take around 20 to 30 turns in total.

6. Developing and scanning would be the last step. In my opinion, there are two reputable photo lab in Kuala Lumpur that does developing, one being Color Dot Com in Uptown Damansara in which I am currently using and also Bang Bang Geng in Publika. Both of them are pretty good and I am happy with the out come so far. All scanned images will be supplied in jpeg format burnt into a CD or can be transferred online. Hence it's pretty easy

7. Practice makes perfect . Don't be despair if your first few rolls doesn't turn out as nice as you wanted it to be. It takes countless rolls of film and time to master. I have burnt through many rolls of film to finally figure out the characteristic of each film.

8. Don't be overly ambitions. Stick with one film for a certainly period of time before switching. Each film has different characteristic and exposure latitude ( in digital term they call is dynamic range : ) Hence constant switching you get you more confused and it's hard for your to actually know the film well enough.

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Which Film Camera to buy for beginners ?

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Which Film Camera to buy for beginners ?

So many film cameras in the market, which one should you buy ? Here are some tips for those who is starting out :

1. Keep it simple - The simpler film camera is , the less likely the camera will fail. Even if it fails, it would be easier and cheaper to repair. One have to consider the age of these film cameras could be as old as your parents A Leica M3 would probably be around 65 years old by now. I would suggest to get a camera with full mechanical function which does not rely on battery to operate.

2. Work within your budget - There is a huge range of film cameras in the market and their price varies from USD 40 all the way to USD 40k depending on the brand , rarity and condition. The Nikon FM or FE2 , Canon Canonet, Olympus 35SP, Yashica 124G, Minolta Autocord and Asahi Pentax are pretty affordable for newbies.

3. Type of cameras, Rangefinder or SLR - This depends on your shooting style. I would suggest rangefinder style camera if you love to shoot streets, travel and journalistic as rangefinder is more suited for the wide to mid range zoom lenses. The size is compact , less obtrusive and usually very light. Go for SLR if you love doing portrait , macro, sports or wildlife. What about TLRs you may asked ...well I wouldn't recommend it as your first camera as the number of shots per roll is a lot less as it is a medium format camera. You will only get 12 exposures for roll of film hence make your learning curve a lot more expensive.

3. Keep it small - There is a saying ' The best camera is the one with you ! '. I would suggest to start out with a camera which is small and portable so you would use it more. We understand that huge and bulky cameras such as the Hasselblad  500cm and Mamiya RZ67 looks uber cool but it require quite a bit of muscle to lug it around. It certainly not an everyday camera for you to learn. First the number of exposures are greatly reduced ( the Hassie 500cm only clocks 12 shots ) , the processing fee is pretty much the same hence the cost per shot is a lot higher !

4. Availability of film format and place to process the negatives - Through out the years many film format has already been discontinued. Hence if you found a camera with the below format kindly avoid them at all cost unless it plan to keep the camera as a paper weight or a display item - 220 ( discontinued ) , large format 4 x 5 and 8 x 10

5. BATTERY type - Many of the older film cameras out there uses mercury battery which is no longer in production. Always check if there is a replacement / substitute battery which you could use. If not it would be pointless to own a camera which you can't operate unless you are a camera collector.

 

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Buying your first classic film LEICA M ?

f.jpg

I can still remember the day I first got myself a Leica camera. It has that mystical feeling or aura which I simply can't put it in words. My hands were sweating and my heart were racing when I was opening the DHL box after longing to own my dream camera for such a long time. The process is indeed rather daunting specially not everyone has the luxury to test every single one of the Leica M ( both film and digital ) in the market and pick the one that suits you perfectly. I am based in a Kuala Lumpur Malaysia and access to vintage film camera is already hard due to the lack of demand and popularity here. Hence I am writing this article to help out those who is keen on getting their very firstfilm Leica M. Below are some points to consider :

1. Do you need built in light meters ?

2. Favorite focal length ?

3. Budget ?

4. Purpose intended for ? Use or collection ?

 

NON LIGHT METERED M

Leica M3 - Around USD 1000 to USD 1300

Let's start off with the great grandfather of all M's ....the Leica M3. This is the first M every created by Leica dated back in 1954. The M3 is extremely well made, with brass top and bottom and the amazingly huge 0.92x viewfinder is a class on it's own. It has the largest viewfinder and focus patch ever made on any Ms to date. The widest frame-lines is 50mm hence if you are using a 35 or a 28mm lens, you will need an additional viewfinder mounted onto the hot shoe. The cocking and winding mechanism is buttery smooth and it's joy to use.  This camera doesn't come with a built in meter ( as it wasn't even invented yet back then ) and doesn't require any battery to operate as it's fully mechanical. Hence you might need an additional light meter or sunny 16 metering method when one.

As the production life span of the M3 is around 12 years , there are minor updates being implemented along the way hence later / bigger serial number would be more sought after by collectors and users alike. Early production M3 starting from approximately around ( 700,000 ) would have a double stroke cocking mechanism, which means you need to turn the film lever twice to advance one frame. German has always been really safe and precise with their engineering and it's actually a safety factor to avoid film breakage. This function was later changed to single stroke as it reaches 850,000 production number. Go for serial number 950,000 and above and you will be sure to have all the latest and greatest upgrades such as even larger viewfinder, self timer, modern strap lugs and unbreakable metal pressure plate. A chrome M3 will set you back around USD 1.2k while the rare original black paint one is about the price of a kidney : )

Pros : Highest magnification M ever produced ( 0.92x ) hence perfect for 50mm shooter, amazing built quality , silky smooth mechanism , works great with summilux and noctilux , believe to be built without compromise and manufacturing cost in mind . Historic value as it is the first M ever made !

Cons : No light meter , need additional viewfinder to use wider than 50mm focal length , slower film loading mechanism ( but fool proof ) , needs to hunt around for a really good unit as it's the oldest M of the lot. Iconic camera hence most sought after.

 

Leica M2 - Around USD 650 - USD 900

The M2 was created a year or two after M3 was launched based on feedback gathered from photographers.  It's a more affordable version of the M3 as many photographers couldn't afford the M3 back then. Hence some functions and features were removed to keep the price down. The automatic film counter on the M3 was replaced with a cheaper manual reset version. Secondly early production M2 doesn't come with a self timer function but later it was added back during halfway of the production cycle. The viewfinder magnification was reduced from the whooping 0.92x to the more modern 0.72x to cater for 35mm focal length.  The outlook is still pretty much the same as the M3 except for the top penal which has an obvious rounded film counter. The build and feel is still as good as the regular M3. For the price it makes a good first M camera for most user due to it's attractive price point. One can always add a Leica MR4 or Voightlander VC2 pocket size light meter on the camera hot shoe which makes life a lot easier.

Pros : Wider 0.72x viewfinder makes it more suitable for 35mm focal length, same amazing built quality as the M3 with silky smooth operation, flare proof viewfinder and more affordable as it's often overshadowed by the more bling up M3. A real workhorse.

Cons : No light meter, slower film loading mechanism as M3, manual reset film counter, no self timer on some earlier units ( if you are into selfies )

 

Leica M4 - Around USD 1400 to USD 2000

There are a few variation of this cameras being produced, the original first production M4 and the later M4-P and M4-2. I would suggest to stay away from the later ones as they were never really sought after. The M4-P and M4-2 were made during the economic down turn of the company, production was moved from Germany to Canada and many of the parts were replaced with lower quality ones. The original M4 is still the best among the rest in my opinion, it still has the same construction as the M2 and M3 with a modern film winding mechanism , easier film loading method and the same 0.72x viewfinder magnification. Again the black version is more sought after by collectors due to it's rarity. Many regard the M4 as the last best classic film M ever produced.

Pros : Modern film loading, modern film winder, still made the same way as the M2 and M3 with top notch materials.

Cons : High price due to it's collectability and rarity as production life was not as long as it's older siblings.

 

METERED M

Leica M5 - Around USD 800 to 1300

The M5 is the most unique of all film Ms. It's the first M with a built in light meter and the operation was rather primitive but highly accurate. The cds light sensor moves into the front of the shutter curtain once the film is cocked and moves out of the way when the shutter fires. The size of the light sensor is rather small hence it operates like a spot meter. Due to the moving mechanism, some wider angle lenses such as 4/21mm and 3.4/21mm Super Angulons which has a deep protruding rear elements which extends almost to the front of the shutter shutter on the camera when mounted. The earlier version of the collapsible lenses should be avoided as well as these lenses might hit the light sensor moving arm and cause great damage.

Besides that, the M5 body shape and ergonomics was redesigned ground up. It borrowed many of it's design ques from the Single Lens Reflex ( SLR ) camera which was just introduced in the market during that time. The body was larger for better grip ( like an SLR ), the small shutter speed dial from the past was replaced with larger ones which overhangs on the sides with allow the index finger to maneuver it easily, strap lugs position been changed for more ergonomic , film winder been switched to the bottom plate for easier operation. Some calls it ugly but I think it's a beauty. Due the larger body size, it balance with the heavy 50 Noctilux or 50 Summilux really well but when mounted with smaller 35 mm lenses ...it does looks weird. The M5 wasn't loved by much and it was discontinued not long after making it one of the shortest production life M ever made.

Despite it's 'ugly ducking' moniker,  the M5 is one of my favorite so far. The metering is spot on accurate, fast and ergonomics maneuvering and it balance with my chrome 50 Summilux really well.

Pros : Ergonomics , love the spot meter , reasonable price, 1.35v mercury been discontinued hence replacement Wein Cell is not as easily available.

Cons : Big and bulkier than a regular M, collapsible and wider lenses might not be compatible, doesn't looks like a regular M which most people love.

 

Leica M6 - Around USD 1400 - USD 1800

Leica M6 started it's production life from 1984 to 2002 hence there have been quite a few variations and improvements being implemented along it's production life. The M6 has a few variations ...the Classic and the TTL version and all comes with 3 variations of viewfinder magnification 0.58x , 0.72x and 0.85x

Viewfinder comparison

source : http://lavidaleica.com/content/overview-m-system

source : http://lavidaleica.com/content/overview-m-system

The M6 Classic is the early production units for this model. The design ques was brought over from the older Leica M4 with an additional light meter and the self timer function was removed. None of the M5 elements or design features were carried over. The shutter speed dial, film release lever and etc is basically identical to the M4. The body material is no longer using brass as per the older Ms and some components has been switched from metal to engineered plastics to make it more affordable to the masses. The sought after Leica script engraving on the top panel has been removed as well and the viewfinder is more flare prone compared to the older Ms. When shooting against strong sun light at certain angles, the frame lines as well as the center focus patch will be blinded making focus impossible.

On the other hand, the M6 TTL which refers to FLASH TTL and not exposure TTL came out on the later life of the production cycle.  Both Classic and TTL has in camera through-lens metering hence it's rather misleading Leica newbies. The only difference is manual flash or TTL automated flash that's all. The TTL cost a fair bit more and it sucks battery like no tomorrow , well for my unit at least. The classic can last me 20 or so rolls of film per change while the TTL would probably do 5 to 7 rolls if I am lucky. The camera will constantly consume battery when it's cocked or the shutter speed dial wasn't set on OFF mode.

Having both the Classic and TTL version of the M6 in my collection, I would say go with the classic as it has way longer battery life and a few mm smaller as compared to the TTL siblings. Also it's cheaper too !

Pros : A workhorse, built in metering , abundance to choose from with different viewfinder magnification options, easiest to hunt for a good unit, built in light meter , uses 1.5v LR44 battery which are easily available.

Cons : Lower quality materials used as compared to the earlier Ms but still very dependable , flare prone view finder.

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Battle of the TLR : Minolta Autocord

1. Yashica 124G     2. Minolta Autocord     3. Rolleiflex T     4.Rolleilex 3.5F     5. Rolleiflex 2.8F   

1. Yashica 124G     2. Minolta Autocord     3. Rolleiflex T     4.Rolleilex 3.5F     5. Rolleiflex 2.8F   

I am a huge fan of rangefinder and TLR cameras and I am thankful to have these few awesome cams in my collection. I will be doing reviews on every single of it and share my thoughts and experience shooting with these beauties.


Minolta Autocord

Starting off with the humble Minolta Autocord, which one could purchase for around USD 250 to 370 or so for a decent used copy. Equipped with Minolta Chiyoka Rokkor  75mm f3.5 taking lens and Seikosha MX shutter, the camera is a great performer for it's price. The lens is the greatest asset of this camera. Though it was built sometime back in the 60's the image from the Rokkor lens on this camera looks rather modern and almost digital like specially with Pro400H and Pro160NS which I tested on. The image is slightly more vibrant and contrasty with great amount of details even when shot wide open. Sharpness is certainly not an issue for this lens be it at the center or corner. Very snappy with smooth out of focus bokeh.

In terms of operation, this camera is one of the odd one out as compared to the rest in the TLRs. The film is loaded on the opposite direction of all other TLR in the market in which the film roll is at the bottom while the spool is at the top. Hence if you have a Rolleiflex or a Yashica Mat, you might be confused with the loading at times.

Apart from that, the focus knob is located right below of the taking lens operating in a sweeping motion. The rest of the camera maker opted for the focus knob on the side of the camera body which I feel is more intuitive and ergonomic. Focusing the Autocord for the very first time do feel a bit awkward but after a couple of shots I am starting to feel at home with it. From what I gathered from the Minolta collectors forum, the sweeping focus allow one hand operation where the user could use the thumb and index finger to move the focus tab while using the ring finger to push the shutter release button. Thought this is indeed useful but the design and material used might not be the best. The main problem with this TLR is the focus tab being stiff after years of operation due to harding / drying of the lubrication used. This Left and right movement stresses the focus shaft which causes it to break over time. This is a known issue with this camera. Hence If you feel that your Autocord is having a stiff focus issue, kindly send it for CLA ( clean, lubricate, adjustment ) or some called it overhaul .

While as for the waist level finder, I wouldn't say it's the brightest but as compared to the rest of the TLR at this price range, it's a fair performer. Changing the focus screen would certainly help to ease out the focusing process but finding one with a decent price is certainly not easy.

Metering is non existence in this camera of this era hence an external light meter is recommended.


Summary

Pros : Amazing Minolta Chiyoka Rokkor 75mm f3.5 lens for this price range of TLR. Good contrast, great color rendition and not too prone to flare.

Cons : Camera focus tab is the achilles heels of this camera. Many units which I saw on sale have a broken focus tab ! The ergonomics of this camera can be a little quirky. Even thought Minolta claimed that this is the only TLR camera which you can focus with just one hand but the fact is ...why use one hand when you are blessed with two ?

Buying tips : All version of Autocord looks rather the same and the upgrades are very minute. Older version have no light meter while the later units have light meter. I would suggest to go for the non-light metered version as most of the light meters in the unit are either faulty or inaccurate by now. That would save your some money and weight as well. Always check the focus tab throughly to see if it's easy to focus or simply being THERE as the camera looks rather complete even the tab is missing! Just make sure you see a metallic round stud at the focusing scale area which looks like a smiley face : ) Should the focusing is not smooth or has a lot of friction, try to avoid it unless you are willing to pay for a CLA which might cost your around RM300.

My thoughts : I feel this is one of the best bang per bucks TLR camera out there in the used market.  The direct comparison for TLRs at this price range would be the Yashica Mat variants , more beat up condition Rolleicords and the China made Seagull or some called it Hai 'O. The lens is really nice, decent built quality and again make sure the focus tab works !

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