In 2002 I sold all my film cameras and bought a 4-megapixel digital camera for $500. One of the cameras I sold was a Yashica Mat-124 medium format film camera. Recently I was feeling nostalgic and thought about getting back into film. The problem was the cost versus the benefits.
What are the benefits of film? I could only think of two; the first is hard to put into words. It just looks different. It has a more gritty feel. Some subjects look better on film. Street photography is one example.
The second benefit is that it costs more. I know that doesn’t make sense but hear me out. I did some research and calculated the cost of film, the cost of mailing it to the film lab, the cost of developing and scanning, and the cost to have the negatives shipped back to me. In my case, I went with the cheapest 125 black and white film and sprang for the upgraded scanning service. The total cost was around $48 or $4 per photograph. When you know that every shot costs four dollars, you are going to be more careful with your shots. You will think about each one and make sure all your settings are correct. It is a great way to hone your skills and become a better photographer.
When my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I gave her a link to a used Yashica Mat-124 camera that was up for sale on Ebay or another platform. I believe it was around $250, which was cheap compared to similar cameras out there. I was surprised by how much these cameras were selling for. It showed that film was far from dead.
The camera arrived in good condition but not perfect. There was an issue with the case not closing correctly and there was a crack in the lens cap but everything seemed in good working order except the light meter. That needed a battery that they don’t make anymore.
Believe it or not, it took me a month to take twelve photos. I chose to use black and white film partly because it is cheaper but mostly because I wanted my film photography to be as different as possible from my digital photography. For that reason, and the fact that I did not have a zoom lens for the camera, landscape photography seemed like the best choice. Unfortunately, having a full-time job and a wife that likes to do things with me on the weekends that don’t include walking through nature parks, picture opportunities didn’t come up often.
During the next month, I did find time to go to two nature parks and a botanical garden. For the most part, it was difficult to find a scene worth four dollars but I managed. I downloaded a light meter app on my phone and hoped it was accurate. I then was very careful to get my exposure right. While being very careful in that area, I forgot something else that was very important. I forgot to focus. I have been so used to my camera focusing that it didn’t occur to me to focus manually until I was on frame seven or so. I think I paid attention to the first two photos but then a week later it slipped my mind.
When I finally sent the film out I had to wait about a week or so before I got an email saying my scans were ready. The guy warned me that it looked like there was a light leek and he was willing to fix it for me if I wanted him to. The leak was obvious in the first photo I took. It is a picture of my son with his son and girlfriend on Christmas.
The next couple of photos had problems with the light leak, and after that, there were some photos slightly out of focus, but they got better.
My second roll of film is still in the camera, I loaded that before I knew about the light leak, but I think I know how to fix it without repairing the camera. I think the leather case blocks the light leak so the next time I load film I will put the case back on before I advance the film to frame one. That might solve the problem.
I have thought about ways to make black-and-white film photography cheaper but shooting 120 film complicates things a bit. Years ago I bought film in large rolls and rolled it into empty film cartridges. I then developed it myself. I even bought an enlarger so I could print my own photos. It was quite fun. Unfortunately, that was all 35 mm film and I have no experience with developing 120 film. I’m sure I could learn to develop my own 120 film but then there is the matter of scanning that film. I have a 35 mm film scanner that was relatively cheap but a similar scanner for 120 film is way out of my budget. I could afford it but I wouldn’t scan enough to make it worth buying. Perhaps that will change in the future. I don’t know. For now, I will continue to shoot digital and bring along my Yashica for those times when it is a better fit.
I have a friend who is a semi-professional photog along with her husband. They shoot portraits, weddings and such as a side-business to their regular day jobs. Most of their work is film these days. They do 35mm and medium format, and develop their own work. Sometimes, they rely on a professional lab for larger prints. Light leaks, that is all part of the game with film cameras, particularly if you use roll film for the older cameras. The Christmas photo of your son with his girlfriend, that’s a good one with the light leak. It makes the print look ‘older’ than it really is.