Film photography is really good fun and part of that can be the feel of using superbly engineeered, classic cameras. I recently managed to pick up a Minolta XD7 SLR camera on eBay; some would argue that this camera is Minolta’s finest manual SLR. It certainly is very well built. Some people may prefer the Minolta SRT but this camera is far more compact. It was the world’s first camera to offer both shutter and aperture priority modes. As I tend to shoot in aperture priority most of the time when shooting Digital SLRs it was great to be able to set up this camera in the same way. Now I just had to concentrate on the manual focusing; I find my Nikon D7000 DSLR is so fast at auto focusing that you completely take it for granted that you can freeze frame fast moving children easily, and sharply in focus. With a manual focus camera you have to think a bit differently and with time I’m sure I will become more efficient; I find it very enjoyable though.
This particular camera was one of the cameras developed in conjunction with Leica, the legendary German brand who still make digital and film cameras today. Leica used the XD7 as the basis for their R4. As well as making superb cameras, Minolta make extremely good lenses, and one could speculate that this may have been one of the main reasons why Leica chose to collaborate with them when it came to developing their own SLR cameras. The Minolta brand sadly no longer exists and you can find some camera and lens bargains on eBay. Their excellent lenses, in particular, selling for a fraction of what you would pay for Nikon etc. So how does the camera perform?
I took my newly acquired Minolta XD7 out on a recent family photo shoot. I loaded it with Kodak Tri X and set about capturing a few images to see, firstly whether the Minolta was working correctly, and secondly to see how well the camera, and the lens in particular, performed. This was only my second roll of Kodak Tri X that I have shot; the last roll was taken on my Nikon F65 with a more modern Nikon lens. The other thing I wanted to try, this time, was developing film at home. I had managed to successfully develop some black and white film at a local camera club and was keen to repeat this success at home. So this film was the first film to go through the Minolta and the first to be developed at home. I must say when I had scanned the images I was very pleased with how they turned out. The camera appears to be working correctly and the lens adds a classic feel to the images, and is also very sharp! I was fascinated by the detail it resolved, particularly highlighted in the bark on the tree in one of the images below.
How does the camera compare to a Minolta SRT? Well, as mentioned previously,it is a lot smaller, and it is also lighter; but still very solidly built out of metal. The shutter is a lot quieter, using a Seiko titanium unit in place of the Minolta SRT’s cloth shutter. The SRT certainly draws attention to itself in that regard: whilst shooting my first roll of film with the SRT I managed to startle quite a few sheep several metres away! The SRT is a great camera though. I’m becoming a bit of a Minolta fan! I hope you enjoy the images from my first roll through the XD7.
Take a look at my Flickr feed to see more of my images. For more shots taken on the same photo shoot please see the articles by my wife Lisa and also my daughter Elisabeth.
This is the first roll of Kodak Tri-X film that I have used in my Olympus Trip 35. This film camera is an old classic one that is simple but efficient to use. It has a ring on the lens which you turn round to set the ISO depending on what film you’ve loaded and another part on the lens which you also turn to set the correct focus zone to ensure your picture isn’t blurry. It is marked on the lens barrel using various icons to tell you which one is appropriate for your photo, 1 person (for portrait-0.9 metres away), 2 people (for 1.5 metres away), 3 people (3-6 metres away) and a mountain (for focusing on far away objects like mountains!). This is very useful. Unlike most cameras, this camera doesn’t require any batteries at all, so won’t stop working in the middle of a photography session, which happened to my sister recently. This leaves extra room in your backpack for more films! This is very helpful if you are exploring and shooting photos all day. Instead of batteries my camera uses something a bit like a solar panel to power the exposure meter in the camera. This is located around the lens. The exposure meter checks to see if there is enough light to take a photo and adjusts the settings of the camera. If there isn’t enough light, the camera will show a red tab in the view finder and stop the shutter from firing.
Once you have finished your film, you need to remove it from your camera to be developed. It is important you follow instructions when not familiar with loading and unloading film ( I learned the hard way with another film which I shot after Packwood – I tried to rewind the film back into the canister forgetting to push a button in on the bottom of the camera, the film got stuck, I tugged it the wrong way, which then ripped the film away from the canister, sadly my film was ruined. Not very clever!). Firstly, you must press the small black button on the bottom of the camera; next you use the winder on top of the camera; you turn it clockwise to rewind the film into the canister. It should come easily and smoothly! You will be able to tell whether or not your film has been fully rewound back into the canister as the winder will move more loosely. Now pull up the winder further to release its grip on the canister and you are safe to open the camera by pulling down a tab on the side of the camera. You now have your film safe and secure ready to be developed. You can send it off to be developed, or you can do what we did, and develop the film at home which was really good fun!
Recently, my family and I each took a camera to take some shots around Packwood House and gardens. We had a great time and enjoyed a muddy walk with numerous photo opportunities! Here are just a few of the many photos I shot on film:
If you want to see more photos of Packwood, check out my mother’s article and my father wrote one too!
Following on from my article on a few ways to make black and white images, there is another way of doing it, or another variation at least. This involves using a colour process black and white film. This is essentially a colour film with the colours taken out. This is quite useful because it is processed in the standard colour chemicals that a regular photolab uses, this is called C41 processing. Specialist black and white processing tends to be more expensive these days, and can be harder to find, so this is quite helpful. The film I tried recently is made by Ilford and is called XP2 Super. It produces very sharp, well balanced images with very little grain, and is ideal for scanning.
When scanning the film into your computer you can use the infrared dust removal setting on your scanner, to get rid of the inevitable few specs of dust. I wished I had actually done this whilst scanning myself, rather than having to remove the dust specs in my Adobe Lightroom software! It is worth noting with traditional process black and white films you cannot use infrared dust removal, so that is a distinct advantage of this film: scanning does take longer using the infrared setting though.
One of the things I really enjoy about black and white film photography is the many different combinations of film and development processes. There is no such thing as standardised processing. This enables you to get different levels of contrast, grain structure etc. from the same film by using different developers and techniques. This creative advantage can also be a disadvantage where you need consistency. With colour process black and white film, such as Ilford XP2, you can send the film anywhere that does C41 processing and should get similar negatives. It must be said however, that film scans done by different labs may indeed look different, so it is worth trying different labs. If you are unhappy with the scan you can take the negatives elsewhere or scan them yourself.
I was very pleased with the way the images turned out, that I took one frosty January morning. The camera I used was my Nikon F65 with a standard 50mm F1.8 lens. This is a great combination and is very easy to use, very similar to a basic DSLR. I hope you enjoy the images, to see these and more take a look at my Flickr feed. I am looking forward to using Ilford XP2 again!