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!
On a gloriously sunny winter’s day we decided to head to Packwood House, and thought that it would be fun if everybody took cameras. Eugene and the girls chose film cameras loaded with black and white film, I decided to go with the Fujix100s: an excellent digital camera that is compact; takes great shots, and I am enjoying learning the ins and outs of. I set the camera to shoot in black and white, using the yellow filter setting, and put it in aperture priority mode. The beauty of this camera (and what probably gave me a bit of a head start over the rest of the family) was that the electronic viewfinder was in black and white, so I could see the monochrome image as I was shooting. This greatly helped me to focus on the shapes within the image that I wanted to capture. The garden at Packwood House with its crisp cut hedges provided an excellent example. Can you spot the two photographers in the image?
As everyone was enjoying taking pictures, and playing in the woods, there was ample opportunity for me to take candid photos, and to be photographed, without it turning into a formal photo shoot!
I particularly enjoyed capturing other family members, whilst they were taking photos.
It was interesting to discover, after getting home, and processing our pictures, that even though we all took photographs of the same area, no two images were alike: a slight change of angle; our different heights; what we each chose to be the focal point, resulted in such variety. Another factor was the environmental conditions: the constantly shifting winter light; the movement of the clouds; and the sun getting lower and lower; this made for a great day’s photography.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the photos. For these and more of my photographs, please take a look at my Flickr feed. Check out Eugene’s article and Elisabeth’s article too!
So what is the best way of getting black and white photographs? I use a few different approaches. If I am using a digital camera I tend to shoot my picture in colour and then convert the image in software on my computer. Sometimes, I used to use the various black and white settings on the camera itself, but now I tend to prefer conversion from colour done on my computer. Sometimes I shoot colour film and after processing and scanning, I convert the colour image to black and white in software the same way I would with a colour image taken with a digital camera. Other times I will shoot black and white film in a film camera in the first place. Shooting film is great fun, and with the abundance of low cost film 35mm SLR camera available on eBay, this can be an economical way to get a great camera. I have included some images below that have been captured using a few different methods:
The shot below was taken on a Fuji X100s compact digital camera whilst on a frosty morning walk out of the village near where I live. I shot the picture in RAW format and then once in Adobe Lightroom I converted it into black and white in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 software. The Nik software is really fun to use and I typically take about a minute doing the conversion. The image at the top of the article used the same camera and method and was shot a few minutes later on the same walk.
This portrait of my youngest daughter was shot on a Minolta SRT303 35mm SLR film camera with the standard 50mm lens. This was the first time I used this fully manual camera and had loaded it with Kodak Ektar 100 which is quite a slow colour film, so ideally used in bright conditions. This was not the case on the day I started to use this camera; it was a dusky overcast late afternoon. I had to have the lens aperture wide open to get enough light, so focusing was tricky with such a shallow depth of field. I missed the focus, but it looks quite cool in the final image so I don’t mind! I sent the film to be processed and scanned; after loading into lightroom I went over to the Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 software to spend a couple of minutes converting the shot to black and white.
Barbed wire in the rain. Not the ultimate day for photography but I was needing to get a film shot off to take to Banbury Camera Club the next day, to have a go at film processing myself, which I really enjoyed. I brought the developed negatives home and then scanned them on a film scanner into my computer. This was traditional black and white film, Ilford Hp5+ to be precise and I shot it on my Nikon F65 film SLR that I had picked up on eBay. This film is quite grainy but I do like the look. It was also developed in Rodinal, a film developer that hails from the 1880’s, so suitably old school. I think I may have slightly adjusted the contrast in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, but really the image is as it came out of the camera.
I am not sure if there is one best way to shoot black and white photographs. On a personal level, I enjoy using various approaches. What do you think?
You can check out more black and white photographs I have taken in my monochrome album on Flickr.
More recently I have written another article on a different variation of getting great monochrome images, take a look.
Years ago there really wasn’t any choice: photography meant making black and white, or monochrome, pictures. Photography in the 21st century, however, is now predominantly colour: the vast majority of photographs are captured on the sensor of a digital camera, most probably on a mobile phone. Photography is about light: some people rather romantically, refer to photography as painting with light; without light you don’t have a photograph. You could argue that a solid black rectangle capturing a pitch black scene is still a photograph, but alas no light has been recorded. You could save yourself the trouble of going through the photographic process, and just place a piece of black paper in a frame, or turn your computer monitor off to get the same effect! The word photography means a recording made with light: black and white photography, simply, is recording different levels of light with a camera to produce a picture. If there is no light in part of a scene you get black; areas of intense light produce white. Pointing a camera at a subject records the light coming from that subject: the black and white photograph does not care what colour the light is, only how intense that light is, recording the various intensities as shades of grey.
Some argue that colour simply confuses everything: when we look at a scene with our eyes, we tend to filter out all the irrelevant details around the edges, and focus on what is in front of us. When you take a colour photograph, unless you compose it very mindfully, these details, that were unnoticed previously, become super obvious, to even the most untrained eye, when looking at the reproduced image: this distracts the viewer from the main subject. Although I love colour photography, removing the colour can really help sometimes: often once we remove the colour we can actually see more in the image, or we perceive the balance of the scene very differently.
Another thing to consider is that colour photographs taken during the middle of the day on bright summer days can be quite problematic, due to very harsh contrasts. This is sometimes down to the fact that our eye can record the scene far better than a camera, which can’t deal with the range of light values: this can make the colours and contrast just look harsh on a print, or on the screen of your mobile device or computer. Some of these photos may work much better when converted into black and white, where the high contrasts can often be regarded as an asset. I have put some images below that I have taken in colour, and then converted to black and white: some of them I think, possibly, look better in colour; some in black and white; some I can’t decide or I like both equally. What do you think?
If you want to see more colour vs. monochrome comparisons you can click through to my colour vs. black and white album on flickr.
I am really enjoying shooting film and it is great fun experimenting with different film stock. I have used Kodak Ektar 100 colour film, Ilford’s classic FP4+ black and white film and thought it was about time to try the photographic legend, Kodak Tri X. This black and white film, first introduced in 1954, has been used to capture history as the medium of choice for intrepid photojournalists reporting from around the globe. More recently it became an integral part of the storyline of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and is still a firm favourite of many classic photography aficionados. So what is so special about this film? Well,it is quite fast at 400 iso but can be pushed to 1600 easily. This means you can capture great low light scenes without a flash. It also gives good contrast making it ideal for the photojournalist who wants an arresting image for a newspaper. I chose to shoot the film at the standard box speed of 400 iso but may well try pushing it on another occasion. Pushing the film gives a bit more of a contrasty, gritty look.
So earlier in the year I loaded up my Nikon F65, which I had recently purchased from eBay, and set out on a maiden voyage. My youngest daughter Esther grabbed my old digital SLR and we set off for a walk and to take some photos. I shot half a roll of film or so and Esther logged up about ten times that on the digital camera! I then put the Nikon film camera away and got it out again on a trip to the Austrian Alps, not developing the film until a few days ago. I’m quite pleased with the way the photos came out. I sent the film off to Ag photolabs to be developed and scanned. Everything looked pretty good. I did however slightly tweak the levels in the scans as they didn’t seem quite as well balanced as the scans from Ilford or Photo Express. Here are a few of the photos.
Hello, my name is Esther. I am eight years old. I love doing photography with my family. I took these photos yesterday with my Daddy’s old camera. This was my first experience with the Nikon D50 camera and I really enjoyed using it. I took so many photos that I had to choose my favourite ones out of 131 photos!
It was very hard choosing which ones to keep and also which ones I was going to use for this website so, my sisters (Elisabeth and Rebekah) had to help me choose them. It was a very difficult task to do because I liked all of them so much. But those photos (the pony ones) were four of my favourites out of 42 photos. So… I ended up with only 42 out of 131 in the end! I liked the photos that I am keeping now because, they have interesting subjects. We also had to think about the rule of thirds for deciding which ones to keep. The rule of thirds helps to make photos that are pleasing to look at, more interesting, and also allows you to glide into the photo.
I decided that the photos of the pony looked better in black and white so I tried different filters to see which one suited each photo.
I hope you like them too!
I am really enjoying shooting film and decided it was time to try some black and white. This time I used a Nikon F65 film camera which I picked up on eBay for £30 which included delivery from Germany. It was in mint condition, boxed and with a 12 month guarantee. I am not sure it has ever been used. It was also in black, which I happen to think looks better than the metallic silver version. I already had a 50mm F1.8 lens that I use on my Nikon DSLR so I put that on the camera and loaded up a roll of Ilford FP4plus ISO 125 Black and White film. The great thing about this camera and lens combination is that the lens is small, light and optically extremely sharp whilst the camera body is also very light, so this setup is easy to carry around. The housing of the camera is plastic with a metal lens mount and the overall look and feel is very similar to a Nikon DSLR, being one of the last consumer film cameras that Nikon produced. The camera is very easy to use having several automated modes but I tend to choose aperture priority so I can control the depth of field and get that lovely background blur for portraits. I may have used the sport mode too, for fast moving children! Unlike the Minolta SRT this camera has autofocus but you can switch focusing to manual. I didn’t!
Once I had shot the film I sent it off to Ilford Labs to have it developed and scanned. Once they had processed the film, which took a couple of days, they sent me a download link for the images and put the negatives in the post. I chose standard resolution for the scans and they are absolutely fine for the web and displaying on the computer but Hi Res scans are available and I’m slightly kicking myself I didn’t go for that option. Having said that, this was really a test run to make sure the camera was working properly, so I didn’t want to pay extra if the photos didn’t come out. Of course I now have the negatives so I could take them somewhere to be scanned or scan them at home. My office scanner is probably not up to the job though. Anyway I was quite pleased with the results particularly the monochrome tones which are captivating. With the higher Res scan I would have more scope to manipulate the images and make my own prints if I wish but you can get enlargement prints from the negative too. In this post are some of the shots from this first roll of film. I haven’t cropped, adjusted or retouched the images at all. They are displayed as shot, just resized for the web with a little sharpening for the screen applied. I must admit I do like monochrome and the Ilford FP4plus is great film to use.