35mm

A few weeks ago I dug my old film camera (a Minolta X-300S, camera geeks) out of the basement. I hadn’t taken any photos on film for over five years, and I found half a dozen rolls of film sitting down there as well. Would they still be useable, or would the results be marred by distortion and faded colours? I’ve worked in photo labs before and often people would bring in ancient rolls of film that they’d finally decided to develop after having it sit in their cameras for years on end, only to find that the prints were less than spectacular. I even once printed a roll from a camera that had been dropped into the sea, which resulted in 36 rather psychedelic green and blue swirls where there should have been family photos.

I bought the Minolta in 1996, and used it happily for about five or six years, taking it across Europe and to India and Thailand. I acquired my first digital camera (a compact Olympus with one million pixels!) in 2000 when I was working in a camera shop in Dublin. It didn’t replace film immediately, and I used both systems concurrently for a while, but once our first child arrived in 2004 I pretty much definitively converted, and last year I finally bought my first DSLR.

When it came to the using a film camera again, I had no problems getting back into the habit of only using manual focus, or remembering to wind on after every shot, but even towards the end of the roll I still found myself glancing down at the back of the camera every time I took a shot, to check how it had turned out. Probably more of a challenge was the fact that I decided only to use my fixed 24mm Vivitar lens. It’s a good, sharp, fast lens, nice and wide and with a close focus of about 10cm, which gives it some advantages over my DSLR’s zoom, but being unable to zoom in to capture a distant detail changes the way you approach taking photographs, as you may notice from the style of some of the scanned shots below.

As regards the other main difference between digital and film, I didn’t do too badly. Although it cost me 15 Euro to develop and print the shots, despite the fact that I hadn’t been able to see the images in advance and decide whether I wanted to keep them or not, there are probably only a handful of pictures I’d have deleted from the camera if they’d been digital, which is a pretty good ratio, I think. On the other hand I’ve never been too snap-happy, preferring to take the one shot I want rather than try out a dozen different takes on a subject. Having said that, digital does allow you to shoot away without worrying about developing costs or how much room those unwanted prints are going to take up in shoe boxes.

In conclusion, I may use up the other five rolls at some time in the near future, but I don’t think I’ll be reverting from digital to film. I may invest in a wide-angle lens for my Canon, though.

By the way, these last shots are from a secondhand bookshop I stumbled across in Antwerp. Amazing place – the musty smell hits you as soon as you open the door, teetering towers of books everywhere, barely room to walk between them, no order at all so you’re forced to browse and end up discovering gems among the trash. Plus, decent prices. I can’t see the point of a second hand bookshop where you only pay a euro or two less than you would for a new copy. My purchase cost me the grand sum of 75 cents.