- Arts and Design
Classic Cameras and 35mm Slide Photography
35mm Film Photography
Digital photography is now so good, why would anyone still use film? Surprising a few people still do. The days of 35mm film photography may be numbered, but there are still some reasons to persevere with the old technology, even if you are just going to collect old cameras and not use them seriously for photography.
Several of the old film manufacturers have stopped production, including Eastman Kodak, who stopped production of Kodachrome, famous for it's vibrant colours, on 22nd June 2009 after 74 years. A sad day for film enthusiasts, although Fuji still make excellent slide film. Most camera manufacturers have stopped making film cameras, with just a few specialist exceptions.
I have a collection of old Nikon SLRs a couple of old medium-format box cameras and a few other inexpensive cameras in my collection. I still use one of the Nikon SLRs on a regular basis even if I am using digital cameras more and more for certain photos (the ones that don't justify the cost and time of using film) Several friends also use old Canons, Leicas and Olympus film cameras on a regular basis.
This article is about which 35mm cameras to buy and the reasons for still enjoying this format and medium format cameras.
Pros of Film Photography
So, what are the good points about 35mm silde and print film?
The quality of of the image on a 35mm negative or slide is dependent on many things, many of which apply to digital photography too: quality of the lens; shutter speed and camera shake; speed of the film. As with digital cameras the higher the speed (ISO or ASA setting) the lower the quality of the picture. In the case of digital the resolution of the sensor is always the same, for a given camera, but the amount of digital, random noise increases. With 35mm film the size of the grains of the photo-sensitive silver crystals increase and therefore, effectively the resolution of the picture is reduced. The highest resolution is of the best slow slide film is arguably better than any 35mm equivalent digital SLR and far better than any compact camera.
Grain versus pixels
Pixels on a digital camera sensor are regularly spaced, forming a grid, which has some interesting diffraction effects on the light falling on them, which does not occur with the random size and location of the grains on film, but more importantly some people prefer the natural appearance of grain. Some digital cameras even have a feature to create a random grain effect.
That lovely sound
The mechanical sound of an old camera is very special if you have used cameras for decades. Modern SLRs still have the pleasant sound of a mechanical shutter, but not that of the film winding on. Digital cameras also tend to make beeping noises.
You actually have to think about each photo, because taking 100 of each subject then deleting the bad ones just isn't an option.
Wonderful machines for not much money
Expensive professional equipment you may not have been able to afford is now so cheap that it can be purchased and collected for next to nothing, even if you aren't going to use it seriously for photography.
Nikon F4 and F4S
I've got a Nikon F4s. The favourite choice for press and sports photographers in the 1980s and 1990s. It was the first Nikon with good fast autofocus, but also makes an excellent manual focus camera. Virtually indestructible (and very heavy... nice and ugly)
The F4s has the optional battery pack and hand-grip which makes it bigger, heavier and uglier - fantastic. Ideal when using a big telephoto lens, but you can remove the hand-grip and use the smaller grip.
I love it.
Nikon F5 (and F6)
Is the Nikon F5 better than the F4? Yes. Probably.
Better autofocus and far more sophisticated metering. Still fully modular, with removable screen and prism etc.
It doesn't have the old fashioned charm of the F4, but an excellent professional camera that became the preferred choice for press and sports photographers.
The Nikon F6 is the latest in the line-up and is really an enthusiast's camera rather than a professional one, because by the time the F6 came out most professionals were using digital because of the inconvenience, time and cost of film processing. It is still an excellent camera - probably, technically, the best of the lot.
Cons of film photography
So what are the disadvantages?
Actually there are quite a few and they are quite obvious:
Can't change the film speed mid-film
Have to change film every 36 photos
often run out of film
It is becoming more difficult to buy film on the high-street
It takes hours or days to develop your picture
you can't see how a picture will come out until it has been developed
Need to scan the picture to get it on the computer
and there are fewer and fewer film manufacturers (Kodak, is the latest to stop production in June 2009, when the excellent 74 year old Kodachrome film stopped being made.)
As I said. The days of 35mm film are numbered, but there will be a few enthusiats left until they stop making the film.
I have written a review of the best digital SLR and digital compact cameras:
The real classic: The Nikon F3. No autofocus, built-in autowind or sophisticated metering here.
The Rest of the Nikon SLR Camera Range
In the 1990s the Nikon SLR range included: The Nikon F401, F601 and F801 (also known as N4004, N6006 and N8008 in the US) These were all very good autofocus, SLR cameras, well made with similar controls to the other cameras mentioned here, but because they are consumer cameras have relatively low second hand value. I have two F601s which have served me very well. These cameras would also make an excellent back-up body.
The F90, F90x (N90, N90s) are consumer/prosumer cameras, smaller and cheaper than the F4/F4s professional camera, but with faster autofocus, so many professionals used the F90 instead of it's more expensive big brother. These may lack some of the charm of the classic professional cameras (in my opinion) but they make excellent second hand purchases.
The Kodak DCS400 (and later DCS 410, DCS 420 models) full-frame digital cameras were based on the N90 - a joint venture between Nikon and Kodak.
Youngsters look down on the old technology
Not Impressed with my old 35mm Camera?
Medium Format Cameras
For even better quality pictures you need to use bigger film: Medium Format film cameras give stunning results.
Of course if you prefer the convenience or digital photography, here are some excellent digital cameras.
I have written a review of the best digital SLR and digital compact cameras:
Some Examples of My Photos
Classic Canon SLRs
I don't use Canon cameras, but that is no reflection on Canon, just that once you have committed yourself to Nikon by buying lots of lenses you can't change brand. Canon and Nikon have, for decades, been fighting over the number one spot (in terms of high volume good quality cameras). In general Nikon are considered a bit more robust and their lenses on average maybe a bit better (but I am biased) but Nikon are generally bigger, heavier and more expensive... This is a big generalisation.
Canon have made some of THE classic SLRs over the years. Given the price now, I might actually buy a Canon and a few lenes on eBay, just for fun.
The Canon AE-1 is a classic enthusiasts camera made in fairly high volume. A wonderful small SLR.
The Canon A-1 is another classic. An "up-market" enthusiasts or even professional camera.
Olympus made some very small elegant SLRs. I always preferred the huge Nikons, but when you look at an Olympus now, even next to a small but plump budget DSLR, they really do look slim and compact.
Minox made very high quality compact cameras.
Of course you don't have to keep your photographs on small paper print or in boxes of slides. They can be scanned and displayed on your computer using a digital slide scanner.
I have written a separate article on the subject:
And also one about free photo editing software:
Leica is perhaps the highest quality of them all. As a consequence they are still expensive on the second-hand market. They have made SLR for many years, but the classics are range-finders. If you really want to get into classic cameras then these are the ones to go for.
The M series cameras are the classic rangefinders. The current range includes the M8 digital, but goes back decades to a series of beautifully made film cameras.