Daniel Novak Photo | Analog (Film) Photography

Analog (Film) Photography

February 01, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Nikon FE, Film SLRNikon FEFilm SLR It all started as an idea a while back, just this little bug somewhere in the back of my mind. And as you might imagine, the bug was growing and bugging me more and more. Last time I used a camera with a black and white film that I then developed myself was ... a while back. Couple decades and some years on top. I still have the negatives. Found them stashed away almost two years ago and ran them through a cheap flatbed scanner, bringing back really old memories. I guess that experience fed the bug quite substantially.

So why not I thought, looked around a bit, and decided to get an old Nikon FE. Simple, light, yet powerful and with a built-in meter - of course an analog one, a needle moving up and down in the viewfinder. I really wanted to keep my film rig simple so I added an older 24 mm prime lens, not a zoom. More often than not I shoot wide anyway so why not simplify that part too. The small size and light weight being a nice side benefit.

Swannie House, First Ward, Buffalo, NYSwannie HouseFirst Ward, Buffalo, NY Even though I knew from the start this whole operation was aimed squarely and shooting black and white film I quickly wanted to test the new camera out. After all, it was used and came in through eBay. I also already knew the seller was not all that accurate stating the camera was in a perfect order. The battery tester on the back had a lever broken off, however, it was still usable. And the viewfinder was missing the screw in glass, a component easily bought but pretty pricey considering the price of the whole camera. Anyway, I found several really old (12 years?) rolls of Fujicolor HQ 200 in the case with an old film point and shoot, loaded one into the camera and headed out to see how the camera, meter, and lens would measure up. Very fun time with a significantly simplified workflow compared to my normal process. Out of all the simplifications one stood out - no LCD peeping after any of my shots! Yep, take a meter reading, asses any necessary adjustments, set the exposure, click, done, move on. I still worked the scenes in front of me looking for interesting angles but found myself shooting less until I really felt I found something worth occupying one out of the 24 frames I had available.

I dedicated this roll of color film to urban photography around Buffalo's First Ward, and in Orchard Park and Hamburg. You can see a sample of the Swannie House here. Since I did not intend getting into developing color film myself I searched for a place that would develop the film for me. Most places no longer do that locally but mail it out. Turnaround? One to two weeks. I found a local Rite Aid store on Hamburg Village Square that still had a machine of their own and would develop my film. However, I got a call from them the next day that the machine was broken and they'd be waiting for service for a bit ... In the end, Delaware Camera (2635 Delaware Ave, Buffalo, NY 14216) developed the film for me while I waited (for about 30 minutes). They did not insist on making prints either, and if I remember it right, the price was around three bucks! Thank you! Seeing images on the developed film was so encouraging! It seemed all was in order and ready for the next step.

Ilford Delta 100, Black & White Film and EquipmentIlford Delta 100Black & White Film and Equipment Right from the first thought about this endeavor I knew that I did not want labs involved in my black and white film development. The magic of pulling the film out of the development tank, hanging it to dry, and seeing the negative frames for the first time was something I wanted to experience myself, not leave it to a lab technician. Now that I had a functioning camera and a lens it was time for getting some film and the necessary equipment for getting it developed afterwards. Couple online orders took care of that and I had my Ilford Delta 100 ready in the camera and some basic equipment in the basement.

Kodak XTOL, B&W Film DeveloperKodak XTOLB&W Film Developer This time, I went with 36-exposure rolls to get more out of each development session but I can already see the advantages of 24-roll film. I know, in the digital age it may seem strange not being able to quickly finish the 36 exposures but it took a while and required patience. I managed to visit quite a few places around town and had a blast revisiting some of my old locations trying to capture them in a whole new light - film vs. digital and black and white vs. my more usual color. That alone made the experience worth it!

It was a great opportunity to spend more time seeing and thinking rather than shooting. Only a few compositions made it on the film and for each I thought about the exposure, about where I cared to retain detail and where not. No matrix metering, no immediate feedback on the LCD, nor a histogram showing a detailed analysis for each color channel. Despite the lack of feedback, or maybe because of it, all so much simpler.

Film Development Equipment. The Basement LabDeveloping EquipmentThe Basement Lab After several photo outings I could not wind the film any more and it was time to see the results. I pulled out the earlier purchased chemicals and equipment, mixed everything up, and gave it enough time to dissolve. In the meantime, I locked myself up in an almost light proof room in the basement (it will need some work to make it 100%) after dark and worked on getting the film on the spool and into the tank. As I said at the beginning, it had been a while! And the spools were different and I must admit it was a tiny bit of a struggle. My first attempt failed and I had to open the spool up, remove the film, and start over, all of that in a pitch black darkness. But I was not going to give up! Eventually, the film was in and I felt somewhat confident it was wound right and the chemicals would get to all surfaces.

Developed Black and White Film, Hanging to Dry, Ilford Delta 100Developed FilmHanging to Dry Once the spools and the film were locked in the tank, lights came back on and I got all the liquids to the right temperatures. It's actually pretty amazing how quickly everything goes after this prep work. Thirty minutes after pouring the developer in I was able to pull the film out of the tank and hang it to dry. And since the process keeps you pretty busy for the most part those thirty minute blew by quickly!

Again, as with the first color roll, I was very happy to see photographs on the film. It did not turn out black, nor transparent, the photos were clearly there and I could easily tell what each one was of!

At this stage I was not planning on darkroom printing. As such, buying a little better scanner was also involved as a preparation for this project. I had a chance to get some experience with it thanks to the earlier Fujicolor roll. And since color had its extra challenges I figured practicing on color and doing black and white later should simplify things.

At first, I struggled a bit. Getting highlight details was more difficult than I had expected. First, I suspected overexposure but could not understand why since the color film turned out great. After some online research I determined a slight over-development was the problem. The basement was cold and I thought the developer would lose temperature quicker than it did and I tried to compensate by adding a tiny bit of extra development time. Lesson learned. Fortunately, the scanner did offer some flexibility dealing with that problem and all of my images scanned great, even if they had a stronger contrast.

So what was my first black and white film photo?

South Grand Island Bridge on Black and White Film, Nikon FE, Ilford Delta 100, timelessbuffalo.comSouth Grand Island Bridge on FilmNikon FE, Ilford Delta 100 South Grand Island Bridge on Black and White Film, Nikon FE, Ilford Delta 100 (timelessbuffalo.com)

And yes, as you might suspect based on my earlier post Timeless Buffalo, selected photos are going to be available there for your viewing pleasure. There is now a whole gallery dedicated to black and white photos shot on film.

Enjoy the beauty that surrounds you! (#etbtsy)!

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