I mentioned that I was testing a new film camera during my first ever University of Texas football game. I shot most of it with the Olympus E-PM2, a small mirrorless digital camera, my workhorse when I want a smaller camera with the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. But you know that I’ve been on a film kick lately.
I recently got a Nikon 35Ti, a high-end compact camera from 1993 with a fixed 35mm f2.8 lens. It was a premium compact which sold for $1000 back in the day, which is equivalent to about $1650 in today’s dollars. I got this slightly worn, titanium clad camera from Adorama for $265. Like the Rollei 35, which I picked up for a song, it’s possible to get very nice film cameras for a fraction of their original prices.
The Nikon 35Ti, unlike the Rollei 35, is a fully automatic camera with a sophisticated Nikon matrix meter and auto focus. It’s easy to shoot and unlike a SLR, it’s very compact though without the capability of changing lenses. It works for me since I love the 35mm focal length. In a way, this 35Ti is like the Fujfilm X100S of its day. They look very different, with the Fuji sporting a faux range finder treatment, but they are fundamentally compact auto focus cameras with a similar fixed focal length.
So why the attraction to film in this age of nearly perfected digital cameras? It’s all about the color and the feel. 35mm film is grainier with less resolution and it doesn’t perform as well in low light. By most modern standards it just doesn’t measure up. However, I’m fascinated by film’s character. I shoot differently too. When each shot costs real money, I’m more discriminating. I don’t necessarily think it makes me a better photographer, but it does impose limits which makes me try harder.
Take this photo, for example. The film and my post processing has really brought out Texas’ burnt orange. I joke that I probably see more fall color in this shot than I’ll ever get in Austin. I used Kodak Portra 400 film and added additional saturation via digital post processing. Portra typically has muted colors that work well for portraits but I find that I can amp up the saturation which satisfies my taste.
Here are two pictures of the same scene. Ignore the differences in framing. The Olympus digital image on the top is at a 28mm equivalent and the film image on the bottom is at 35mm. While I think both photographs are equally colorful, they have a different look and feel. Notice how the orange seems to stand out more in the film photograph — there is a liveliness to it. On the other hand, digital has a sharpness and precision that the film lacks. One isn’t necessary better than the other and one isn’t necessarily more accurate. It’s all a matter of taste.
For me though, I’ve been trying to move away from accuracy in my photographs. That may sound strange but let me explain. I’m not a product photographer, luckily, where accurate color and realistic representation of the subject is paramount. I’m trying to create images that convey a mood or feeling, perhaps in a way that a painting would. Paintings are not judged by how accurate they look, rather they usually try to provoke an emotional response. I know that I have a ways to go, but this is what I want to do.
So is using film a gimmick? Is it like using filters in Instagram to make something look different? Well I certainly hope not but I suppose it’s possible. All I know is that, for now, film evokes a different response for me and I’m hoping that it does so for my visitors. It’s something that I’ll explore for a while and incorporate its effects into my soup of photographic knowledge.
As for the Nikon 35Ti, I’m going to keep it. The first roll gave some strange and inconsistent results and I was afraid that it wasn’t working properly. What you see here is what I shot on my second. The camera is small and easy enough that I can concentrate on framing. It’s not bulky like my Canon Rebel T2. And while shooting everything in manual on the Rollei 35 can be instructional and even fun, in a challenging kind of way, I want something more accessible for my daily film shooter. I’ll let you know how the Nikon 35Ti works out.
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