My Next Obsolete Hobby: Film Photography

So here’s the thing. Compared to my other camera, the Nikon D7000, what I just bought is a 100% complete downgrade. However, I cannot resist the possibility of experiencing an era that had more or less ended before I was born. So, what did I do? I bought a 39 year old Nikon FG, which takes… 35mm film. But I won’t be stopping at just taking pictures… you’ll see shortly ;)

For the record, film cameras of this era (1980’s) can get cheap. Like, “camera body + mediocre 80-200mm lens + carrying case for $40” cheap. Get something like a Nikon F6, a modern1 film camera, you’re paying $1,000 minimum, but… a camera that’s fully automatic, electronically controlled everything and the likely only noticeable difference for me is that it’s not using a digital sensor, well, if I wanted the point-and-shoot simplicity and automatic operation of a digital camera, I’d use my digital camera. This is one of the few things that I’ve bought just for the experience.2

The FG

I’m not going to really get too detailed about the camera (I’ll make a dedicated post with that, including some pictures taken), but I’ll tell you this: I feel like I’m holding an antique. This was something that, when I pulled it out of the bag, my grandfather immediately lit up and went “hey cool! I remember those!” The mirror bounces when it drops down, the shutter sound is so clunky that, well… I honestly don’t know if I’m hearing a worn camera, or that’s just what ’80s-era SLRs sounded like. The biggest downside is that it’s got manual focus. Yes, why should I consider for a second going old-school and not eternally pain myself with having to correctly focus a lens?

The Film

Ah yes, films. There’s not just one. And for me the choice of film I use is important for three reasons:

  1. Price
  2. Ease of development
  3. Ease of use

You didn’t think that I was going to have some lab handle development, did you? Me, the person who gets down into the low-level details and tries to build things up for no reason other than “because I can,” stopping at “dip the plastic in some slightly seasoned water?”3

That’ll come later (partially for monetary reasons), but that’s the reason I’ve got some black and white, 400/27° film for now. It’s actually a longer process than color, but the chemicals that you need are somewhat cheaper, and the process itself is less strict, so, a good starting point. Using ISO 400 film means that, while I might need a flash for most indoor work with the current lens I have, well, the next thing I can find is 3,200, which is (supposedly) horrendously grainy (film grain size increases with ISO!), and is much more expensive. And since flash hot shoe designs haven’t changed much, just “when these two pieces of metal have continuity, flash,” that’s easily sorted with a modern flash unit, though I might (in the future) look for a matching Nikon flash unit…

Either way, that’s my latest little endeavor. For some people, it’s cool, for other’s there’s nothing special, and for a good majority of people reading this, they’re probably thinking “wait I thought this guy ran a tech blog-” But, well, this’ll preface some of the upcoming posts, once I get the product shots… and, well, the everything else I need to get those product shots.

  1. Produced 2004, discontinued in 2020, the last remaining film SLR in production. ↩︎

  2. Though, given that experience, I can say that after taking 10 shots, I realized I dearly miss my autofocus. ↩︎

  3. Yes, it’s cellulose triacetate, I know. Also, if you’re not aware, film development happens under some pretty dilute conditions, but as you could guess, that’s for another post! ↩︎