The Analog Photographer
Advice, experience and expectations

Wearing it all

Modern digital photographers have an easy life onthe front line. A Sony RX100 is a modern masterpiece that will fit in your pocket and take fabulous photos by just pointing and shooting. Same goes for modern phones, which have unquestionably great cameras with sharp, wide and sometimes even fast lenses. Moving to a 35mm camera can be similar if you want it to be. An Olympus XA is a classic pocketable rangefinder camera that will take great photos on film with its 35mm prime lens. However, the more likely choice of SLR and a few lens is certainly more to carry about than a pocket camera.

So how to carry your gear with minimum impact? The advice I give here works for me. You need to adapt to your needs and find a system that works for you. Personally, I like to travel very light. My camera is on a wide and comfortable neck cloth neck strap. I have a cheap generic neoprene cover for it both for travelling and for use if it rains. This is the velcro, gray wrap around type. The medium size fits my Olympus OM-2n very well, even with a modest size zoom lens. I will wear a pair of cargo trousers (or shorts). These allow me to store films and filters in the various pockets.

I will also carry one or two lenses in cheap neoprene pockets hanging from caribiners wrapped around my belt, on my right hand side. This allows me to quicky switch lenses while keeping them safe enough. We’re not talking about expensive specialist lenses here, this is cheap (but high quality) vintage gear that we want to actually use. I find this works perfectly for me and I can avoid a backpack or shoulder bag completely. While wearing it, I can secure the camera a little further when not in use by putting an arm through the neck strap. Doing this effectively turns it into a cross-body shoulder strap. I can then push the camera a little towards my back. it is then safely out of the way and will not swing around when I move.

Take the photos

If only it were that simple… just take the photos! What could possibly go wrong! Ha! I’m here to tell you that even the simple task of pressing the shutter button is significantly harder when you are using old analog film cameras than using even the most basic of digital cameras. Pressing the shutter with a limited roll of film is very different from a digital camera. That’s one of the reasons I got into film photography and boy, it is harder than I thought.

In the Olympus OM system, the standard lens is a 50mm f1.8, also known as a ‘nifty fifty’. Compared to any compact camera or even APS DLSR kit lens this is worlds apart from a depth-of-field perspective. Much, much thinner. It even works well as a portrait lens. There is a also good supply of 135mm F2.8 lenses at a good price (~£20-£30). When shooting at F2.8, these 135mm lenses give a truly razor thin depth of field. I have several rtrait photos where I have focused using the split prism on the ear, only to find that the eyes and nose are unacceptably out of focus. Focusing is thus important, non-trivial and hard.

Secondly, a zoom lens is a big distraction. It is hard enough to focus correctly without the added confusion of a variable focus length thrown in the mix. My advice for starting out in this adventure is to stick to primes until you have manual focus nailed. Do it with the standard nifty fifty at F1.8 on demand before considering a zoom lens. Longer focal lengths have a shallower depth of field and thus demand a more accurate focus. Hone your craft with simple tools before moving on to more difficult challenges.

I have shot over thirty rolls and only now do I feel comfortable using a modest 28-80mm F3.5-4.5 zoom lens. Leave the wide aperture zoom to the digital autofocus world. Your negatives, your neck and your children will all thank you. If you do decide to venture out with a large amount of glass, then please take a lens hood and a lot of patience.

Black and white

Comments to follow…


Store the film

When you have shot a roll of film, don’t just wind it all up immediately onto the spool. There is a simple technique that will make your life easier when working in the changing bag. In my extensive study of film photography, I only read about this trick once. When you try it yourself, you will never take a film out of your camera any other way.

The trick is to leave a little bit of film leader exposed on the roll when you wind it up. Don’t completely wind the film up into the spool. Instead, pay attention to your camera when you are winding your film up. While winding it up, you will feel and hear it detach from the spool. That is when you need to stop. It is easy to feel this point. Once you wind up a few films, you will know approximately how many turns your camera needs to wind the film up off the spool. Once you feel it clunk off, wind it another quarter turn then open your camera. Fold the last 5mm of film back on itself then hand-wind the rest of the film into the canister. (photo).

Doing this will make your life so much easier. You will see why when you read about loading your tank. po

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next: Loading the Development Tank

James Burton on 06 August 2017