My Old 35mm Film Cameras

Remember I went off on some sort of Olympus OM buying binge while I was at PhotoExpo in NYC? A reaction to the same-ole-same-ole depressing state of affairs with a lot of digital camera stuff at the show. Not one of them could be considered spot on 100% prime fucntional condition. They all work to a degree but the meters are generally off or not working at all. I actually use these things. I actually like them a lot. Maybe not quite as much as my Nikon 35mm film cameras but I do like them.

Here is a shot of my niece. Up close using a 50mm f1.4 wide open. The film was a complete unknown. It was a roll that came with one of the old cameras I purchased a while ago. Hard to tell how old it was. Consumer Fuji 200 film has had packaging about the same for a long long time. It might have changed a little here and there but I shoot Kodak so I am no expert on the minor variances on Fuji packaging. The film turned out to be in horrific condition. Speed and contrast were way lower than they should have been - much worse than my 10 year old Kodak Portra 400NC that I was using up a while ago. It also had a really bad layer of general fog which shows up as super grainy.

For all the film's faults metered with a wonky meter it still delivered an image that I find attractive. Yes I am sure that it is in no way technically superior to a modern digicam but it still has a couple of things going for it. Things that are hard to come by with digital cameras. Let me count the ways…

  • A very pleasing and useful angle of view to focal length relationship for most purposes. Obviously due to the imaging area size. In this case that would be "full frame". Neat term. This is one thing I don't think will get fixed on digital cameras for a long time - if ever. It's also one of the things that makes a 50mm so very wonderful on 35mm full frame. Not quire the same with a 25mm on Micro 4/3 or even 35mm on APC-C. The issue is that this angle of view vs focal length look pretty much just doesn't look as good at the same subject distances for each and every focal length and therefore perspective throughout the range that I give a crap about. Moderately wide to moderately telephoto. By the time you get to focal lengths that you cannot tell, I don't care. Not good for what I like to shoot. Crazy wide or crazy long.
  • My old film 35mm cameras ranging from Leica to Olympus to Nikon all have something great in common. Far far smaller with a fixed large aperture prime than the equivalent DSLR. Even a non-equivalent like my D7000 is much larger.
  • Simple and direct. Enought said.
  • Fantabulous viewfinders. Big, very big. You can actually see what is in focus and what is not. That's hard to do in the D3 because of the kind of screen it is, specifically almost clear.
  • They feel good to hold and to use.
  • They look great but very unobtrusive. I have no issue carrying one around compared to a DSLR.

I guess these kinds of things are what I am really longing for in a compact digital camera. Nothing has delivered yet. Yes you can get some incredible performance from DSLR's. Yes some of the compacts have some really neato features and movies. I still like the size, form factor, and most importantly the way images look on my 35mm film cameras better than I do any of my compact digicams. It has a lot to do with what I like to take pictures of and how I like to do it.

For me a 50mm lens coupled with an image capture device the size of a 35mm piece of film happens to be a combo that I find extremely rewarding. It has an almost magical ability to look wide or tele depending on how you use it. I probably wouldn't care as much if I happened to shoot super wide at smallish apertures, nor would I care as much if I shot super-telephoto at large apertures. The basic look and basic kit might not be so far off.

Still Searching…


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