Early Edition - 27 July 2015
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Having a go with Film
It came as quite a challenge to start The Vintage News with no previous film-making, photographic, or journalism experience. 5 years into this project I thought it was about time to try working with a proper camera, with film and developing costs and all.
With no photogaphic experience, the digital use of cameras quickly became the simplest form of learning, understand fully automatic operation and massage the content to fit what the camera likes. I know this is the wrong way round, but it does work as a theory so I feel no shame in this approach.
It has been quite entertaining listening to photographers who have all presumed we knew what we were doing quoting numbers of F-stop and aperture etc.

As an engineer I was a little confused by what appeared to be very complex number system employed with seemingly no effort by these learned folk.

So if I was to try a real film camera something about it would have to make it worthwhile.
I think it is fair to say that you don't have to spend too much on a digital camera to achieve the same quality that a 35mm negative can provide. I am sure there are 1001 reasons that this is not realy true, but for taking portaiture shots I could not justify the expense. While it would be nice to use a Graflex Speedgraphic (the classic reporter camera) these function on plates of glass negatives 5inch by 4inch. Having posed for Tobias Key and his plate camera previously I was keen to avoid the 30-60 minute set-up time, so this time round I ruled out large-format plate photography.
So having ruled out 35mm and Large Format, I am left with, any guesses?, Medium Format. Medium format is still the realm of the professional (I bet most use digital now) and with a negative size of 60mm square or 60mm by 90mm depending on the camera it would seem to cost around 10,000 pounds to capture this quality in digital, which for me is definately better than I have had before.
Using the idea that better tools make a better product, I thought it prudent to get the best camera I could, then if I should take a good picture ever, it will be, for want of a better term, poster quality.

I decided to get a Rolleiflex TLR (Twin lense reflex, 2 lenses 1 above the other) as these are hailed as the best. Its an easy choice but at least there will be spares and advice available if i need it.
Now that I knew what I wanted, it was time to visit ebay and start searching to understand the market. As photographic engineering was brilliantly inventive it did lead to highly compley designs with hundreds of moving parts so No 1 on the shopping list is a unit listed as either fully working, or CLA (clean lubricate adjust) which is camera speak for has been serviced.
As using film is a chemical process we have no choice but to understand the numbers used when taking a shot.

On a modern digital camera you are able to set (or the camera sets) the size of the hole the light will travel through (aperture), the speed of the shutter, and the sensitivity of the simulated film.

When you switch to a film camera you have to make a choice about what film to load and, for my rolleiflex this is then fixed until the roll of film is used up, a massive 12 shots per roll.

I switch between 100 and 400 ASA depending on light levels, 400 for inside or dull weather, 100 for sunny conditions.
Hold up now the numbers are sneaking in...

I still don't know who figured all this out to start with but the important thing to understand is that the numbers themselves are not what is important, they have been figured out so that each adjustment is half or double of the setting up or down.

Shutter speed is the simplest to understand. If the shutter is open for 1 second an amount of light will reach the film. So if then the shutter speed is changed to .5 of a second half the light will get through.

Aperture (size of hole) also works in the same way. These are the F-Stop numbers so F11 lets double the light through that F18 does. Suddenly this doesn't make sense as why is there no F12?

As I said the numbers are not important, just the relation to each other that makes the difference.

Film sensitivity also works the same way. Films are quoted as ASA100 , 200, 400, 800 etc and each one is twice as sensitive as the last.
I Admit this is starting to sound complicated as these settings need to be selected but how?

The all important addition is a light meter as this tells you what will work for your shot.

To start with I used an app on my phone, and this seems to do a very good job. Personally I decided to get a light meter that clips on the front of the Rolleiflex as I am keen to avoid looking like I am taking a picture with my phone.
What the light meter does for us is to measure the light coming from the subject and supply a range of settings that will work.

I set the ASA on the light meter to match the film so it knows how sensitive the film is. When pointed to the subject, however it works, the light meter will display the options you have for correct exposure.

Having set ASA100 and pointed it at my subject the light meter has told me that for any given aperture size (F stop) there will be a corresponding shutter speed to deliver the correct amount of light onto the film.

Having a range of options for shutter speed and aperture is where the 'art' of photography starts to become apparent.

In simple terms you select a high shutter speed to eliminate motion blur, or a large aperture (low F stop) to narrow the depth of field (subject in focus, background blury)

Developing costs work out around 2 pounds a shot and I always go for a 6 inch print so I can scan at home with a common place scanner.
That is enough, hopefully, to spark your interest.

I am still at the beginning of film photography so I advise you to do more research if you are going to give it a try.

It would also seem obvious to seek the advice of a local camera club, Do it now before the knowledge is replaced by digital technology.

Good luck