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07-28-2013, 03:06 PM - 2 Likes   #1
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Project: A brief foray into film.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to acquire a film camera, the Pentax MZ-S, through my local Craigslist listings. The camera was in perfect working order and in overall excellent condition. I only got into photography last October, but I've been shooting exclusively with digital Pentax cameras (a K30 and a Q) and I've always wanted to give film a try. Luckily this opportunity came up, so I decided to make it a project of sorts.

So off I went to London Drugs to get me some film and CR-2 batteries. A quick read of the pdf manual online helped me set the settings I wanted. The name of the game was being simple as possible, so I just kept it in P mode, with center-weighted metering. And from there, the shooting started. My goal was to get through one roll of film, and then decide after that if I wanted to continue shooting more with it.

(note: the pictures here were scanned from the only scanner I have easy access to, which is the crappy scanner at my work. The scanner is not that good to begin with, but as you'll sometimes see there are blobs of whiteout on the pictures thanks to people putting documents with fresh Whiteout on the scanner glass and ruining it forever. I probably would have been better off taking a picture of the developed photos with my K30 and sharing it that way since they actually did turn out quite decent).


This was the second shot I took with the MZ-S (the first is a blurred shot of my stove). It is a massive tree in my neighbor's backyard, a frequent test subject of mine.

Obviously the MZ-S and the photos I was taking with it would have to be treated differently from my K30. I would not be able to just take the MZ-S and go for a stroll to "see what might come up". With only 24 shots total per roll, and with each shot costing me a few bucks, I would have to be more careful. The approach I decided to take was greatly inspired bySteve McCurry's treatment of the last roll of Kodachrome film:

I would have to sort of pre-envision a shot, or at least be going to a place where I was almost sure a shot would present itself (because I had been to the place before), and once I was pretty sure I had something there, only then try and execute the picture.


There are several families of ducks that live near me. I see them everyday on my way to work. They're an interesting bunch. The number of ducklings fluctuate as some of them die and as new ones are born. I knew I had to get at least one picture of the ducks on film.

The camera came with two lenses. The first lens was the FA 28-200, an old workhorse superzoom. Being the owner of another superzoom (the DA 18-250) I was well aware of the limitations of such a lens. In good light, these lenses are unmatched for their versatility relative to their image quality output. But the second there is any sort of shade or cloud cover or decreased light, the image quality degrades quite precipitously. With that in mind, I made sure to give the lens plenty of help by shooting in good light. However as time wore one I got a little more bold, and decided to see how the lens performed in shaded areas or even at night. The results were surprisingly decent. Perfectly acceptable for casual memory capture, though I'm unsure how much of it was because of the lens, or how much of it was from the MZ-S.


This statue is of the late great Terry Fox, one of the greatest Canadians ever. It was horribly gimped up by the statue creators though. I was concerned about how the FA 28-200 would deal with the mottled shadows, but I think it's quite decent.




The second lens that came with the MZ-S was the F 17-28 Fisheye. Having acquired another fisheye lens recently (the 03 Prime for my Pentax Q), I had a little bit of fisheye technique under my belt so I was confident that I would be able to produce serviceable shots. The end results were all really good to me, and my respect for the fisheye perspective has essentially been solidified by this experience.







As the project wore on I began to take note of some of the differences between shooting with a film camera as opposed to shooting with a DSLR. The fact I could not just "spray and pray" like I do with my K30 really forced me to slow down and analyze a scene or situation before pulling the trigger. This sometimes meant walking around and around the same scene or doing multiple passes to and from a subject before deciding to pull the trigger. With my K30, I would have just taken a picture from any and all angles that presented a chance of potential, and then analyzed all the pictures at home to decide which one was best.


For this picture I first took a shot with my K30 to see if the angle was right before taking the shot with the MZ-S.

Another curious thing presented itself: anticipation! It showed itself after I took what I thought was a great shot, but knowing that I would have to wait until the roll was done to see if that was the case. Also, since the project rolled on for a few weeks, I actually forgot what some of the earlier pictures actually were, which led me to feel really excited about what was going to come out of the photo lab. This feeling is the sort of thing that is lost in today's era of the instant review.


I was really curious to see how this shot would turn out because of the sun being directly in the frame. It turned out surprisingly well.

There are drawbacks to shooting with film though. Buying film and processing it isn't that expensive, but considering that you only get 24 shots from a roll, it is. This leads to less shots, which yes can be a good thing in the sense that it leads one to be more thoughtful about what they're taking a picture of. But how many missed moments does that represent? How many shots have been ruined by something such as an errant blink or a person walking by or a misfocus? National Geographic reporters have reported taking between 20,000 to 60,000 shots and culling it down to just a dozen per assignment, which to me makes sense: It's all about capturing the moment, not how you capture the moment. The digital realm has removed that concern, and on the whole I think it has made photography better.


I would have loved to play with the colors on this one in Lightroom and made them super punchy. Maybe a bit of cropping too. And using Lightroom to suck back some of the blacked-out details on the dock and on the bridge.

Processing film is another thing. A few of the shots I developed I would have liked to give some processing work to in Lightroom, but with film, that's way harder to do. This leads to a reduction in keeper rate, where a shot that might be salvaged through some manner of processing gets ditched because it's not worth the trouble.

Out of the 25 shots taken from the roll of film, 3 turned out to be just blurred blobs, and from the rest, half fall into the keeper category, while the other half count as just casual snaps. I think the keeper count could have been increased if I was able to process some of the pictures in something like Lightroom.

This experience was great for me. It gave me a glimpse of how it was "back in the day". And it doesn't seem that bad. My respect for the photographers of yore has just gone up tremendously, and I'm sure there are many more things I can learn from continuing to shoot film with the MZ-S. But there's even more things in the digital realm for me to learn, things such as new processing techniques, or new ways of shooting. I've been playing around with bracketing and combining shots recently, and I've seen just about enough inspiring time lapse videos (virtually impossible to do with film) that I feel like I should give that a go too.


There was one more shot left on the roll when I brought it up to the photo lab counter for development. I asked the lab tech to take a picture of me. To my horror, he just raised the camera an inch off the counter and snapped a pic. I tried to duck down so at least my face was level with the lens, but it turned out all blurry. Luckily, the film gods allowed the roll to exceed the 24 shot limit that was labelled on box. With one more shot left, the lab tech actually raised the camera up to his chest before pressing the shutter button. I wasn't sure how it would look since he didn't try and focus the lens, but it turned out quite all right.

So the MZ-S is now sitting on my shelf, ready and waiting to be passed on to another fellow photographer. Right now, it's not for me, since there is still so much out there to try out in the digital realm. But since this project was a great experience, I would definitely give film another go in the future (I just don't need a Rolls Royce film camera like the MZ-S to do it). I know an old film pro can really make this camera sing and make magic with it, but I secretly hope that another person who was like me, someone who knows nothing of film but wants to try it out, picks up this film camera and gives it a go.

A few more pictures that were taken with the MZ-S.

















Last edited by EarlVonTapia; 07-28-2013 at 03:13 PM.
07-28-2013, 03:32 PM   #2
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Very nice story. Too bad the MZ-S is now sitting on a shelf. Are you aware that many people consider it to be the high point of Pentax AF film cameras and that a good copy generally goes for over $400 USD? In short, it is a highly desirable camera.

You did not say what film you were shooting, but since it was 24 exposure from London Drug, it is safe to assume that it was consumer-grade Kodak (usually not bad) or consumer-grade Fuji (not my favorite). With pro-grade film and decent scans from the negatives you should be able to expect photos with quality that compares favorably to your K-30.


Steve

Last edited by stevebrot; 07-28-2013 at 03:37 PM.
07-28-2013, 04:03 PM   #3
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If this is your first film series, you did very well. I have gone back to film several years ago and have focused on black and white film in particular leaving color for my DSLRs. One of the things I've learned with color film is to get the lab to develop and scan only, no prints. Then I can just process the digital images as I'm used to. B&W though, I do myself including printing.
07-28-2013, 04:33 PM   #4
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I enjoyed the read - If you are keen on scanning at home - hit Epson Home Page - Epson Printers, Scanners, Projectors, Ink, Paper and More - Epson Canada, Limited. where you can p/u a refurbished Epson Perfection V500 for just $89!! I love the fish eye work. Skytrain pedestrian overpass in Burnaby?
I'm stunned at the London Drugs technician... Go figure. I bought my Kr at London Drugs on a visit back home. Film will be more fun if you relax a bit about the costs. I felt the same as you initially, but then I shot a few "Single In" challenges with film and now I buy film by the half dozen or more rolls at a time.

Congrats and enjoy!

07-28-2013, 07:21 PM   #5
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Hey Earl,

Great story. My prediction is that you will pick that MZ-S up in about a year or so and give it another swing.

I got into photography just a couple of years ago, and after I had been shooting digital for a couple of years a friend of mine thought it was time I learned photography and so gave me a K1000. I shot my first couple of rolls just like you did, and I remember being intimidated by the mystique of film and using a fully manual camera (my K1000 battery was a dud when I used it that first time, so Sunny Sixteen all the way). The film was straight Kodak Gold 400 and the lens was a classic M50 f2. Anyway, I was amazed to discover that after a full day's worth of shooting around Melbourne, I had only taken the 36 frames of those two rolls. When I picked the film up from the lab (I rushed off and had them processed at a i hour joint) I was amazed at how wonderful that film effect was.... and how forgiving the format was, too. But most of all, it was just somehow intangibly different.

The experience was fun for all the reasons you state... except I was hooked. These days the two cameras you will most likely find in my bag are the K1000 and my Q. My K5 gets a run only when I need to do something that requires its capabilities . I have started the long road of learning to develop and print my own film.

So, my advice is keep that camera... or sell it at a good price if you can and buy an old manual camera instead. I don't say I prefer film, but film brings another dimension to my photography, another process to explore.

Again, great story and thanks for sharing.
07-29-2013, 02:41 PM   #6
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Thanks for the kind responses all!

QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
You did not say what film you were shooting, but since it was 24 exposure from London Drug, it is safe to assume that it was consumer-grade Kodak (usually not bad) or consumer-grade Fuji (not my favorite). With pro-grade film and decent scans from the negatives you should be able to expect photos with quality that compares favorably to your K-30.
The film was Fuji Superia 400. I just picked whatever was on the shelf.

QuoteOriginally posted by blackcloudbrew Quote
One of the things I've learned with color film is to get the lab to develop and scan only, no prints. Then I can just process the digital images as I'm used to.
That is a great idea. I didn't even know that was possible. I will keep that in mind for next time.

QuoteOriginally posted by mattt Quote
Skytrain pedestrian overpass in Burnaby?
I'm stunned at the London Drugs technician... Go figure. I bought my Kr at London Drugs on a visit back home.
Yes it is!

You would figure that someone working as a photo lab tech would know how to operate a SLR camera. Guess not. Although I do like giving London Drugs business. They're the only big store that sells Pentax gear. They have pretty decent prices sometimes too, maybe only $10-$20 higher than what you can get online. Not much selection though.

QuoteOriginally posted by TheOtherRob Quote
So, my advice is keep that camera... or sell it at a good price if you can and buy an old manual camera instead. I don't say I prefer film, but film brings another dimension to my photography, another process to explore.
I think that is what I'm going to do. The MZ-S is too much camera for me! Someone else can really put that horsepower to work. And there are plenty of Pentax film cameras and old manual lenses floating around for cheaper on the local Craigslist listings.

Thanks again all.
07-30-2013, 08:24 AM   #7
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From what I can see in your photos, they are underexposed, give the film more light. It shows because of all the large patches of blacks. Negative film likes light, give it to it, you can safely overexpose it unlike dslrs.
Also try it with better film, like Ektar for saturated photos, or Portra 160/400. Not to mention Fuji pro 400H. Not to mention great array of BW films.
08-03-2013, 09:15 PM   #8
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With digital cameras you have to be wary of overexposure and blown highlights that can't be recovered. With film the bigger danger is underexposure, and it's best to err on the side of more light.

I'd suggest putting a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 through that camera before packing it away for good. It's a modern wonder film, and I haven't yet figured out how to match the look of its colors, dynamic range, or subtle grain with my digital cameras. It's not for every purpose, but for my money Ektar 100 really is better than your common budget film, and it's better than anything we had back in the "good old days" of film dominance. Kodachrome may be gone, but now we have Ektar, and that's a trade I can live with.

I'm not sure where you had your film processed, but that's an important factor too. The local pharmacy with their mini-lab machine is not the way to go, unless you want your negatives all scratched up. I've been mailing mine out to The Darkroom, where they typically do a great job of scanning and correcting it, then I can download the scans from their website (and of course they mail back the negs and a CD, as well as prints if I ordered any).

Recently I've been playing around a lot with four cameras: Ricoh XR7 (and its re-badged twin, the Sears KS-2), Pentax ZX-5n, Pentax K-01, Olympus OM-D E-M5. Using such wildly different cameras that originated over a span of 30 years has been an education. They each have their advantages, and I certainly won't be giving up the film cameras anytime soon.

I've really been enjoying the XR7 for the last couple of weeks. It's a body that I snagged off eBay for $5 plus shipping. (To be fair, I then had to replace a missing battery cover and the rotted foam seals.) In its own way, at least in daylight, that XR7 holds its own against the $900 OM-D. It's not that surprising if you think about it. If you look up the original selling price of the XR7 and adjust for inflation, it would be somewhere over $900 in today's money. It's got a bigger "sensor" and optics than the OM-D (despite being almost the same size, only about half-inch wider!), and film emulsions are better now than they were in 1982.

08-04-2013, 11:11 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Tony Belding Quote
If you look up the original selling price of the XR7 and adjust for inflation, it would be somewhere over $900 in today's money.
Yep...it was not a cheap camera and was direct competition at a similar price point to the Pentax ME Super, though the Ricoh has a more extensive feature set.

In regards to Ektar 100, I concur that it is a great film. It is not as forgiving of over/under exposure as something like Kodak Gold 200, but it is easily one of the best films ever made. Properly exposed and it will deliver excellent color and tonal fidelity as well as extremely fine grain.


Steve
08-07-2013, 04:07 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Tony Belding Quote
I'd suggest putting a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 through that camera before packing it away for good. It's a modern wonder film, and I haven't yet figured out how to match the look of its colors, dynamic range, or subtle grain with my digital cameras.
I couldn't agree more. I posted this one elsewhere in the forum, from my first roll re-acquainting myself with Ektar. I'm just in love with the look:

08-07-2013, 07:44 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by alan_smithee_photos Quote
I couldn't agree more. I posted this one elsewhere in the forum, from my first roll re-acquainting myself with Ektar. I'm just in love with the look:
Brrrrr...I grew up in Seattle and immediately recognized the skyline and also immediately remembered how uncomfortable the swimming experience can be! Patient and compliant model, eh?


Steve
08-08-2013, 07:20 AM   #12
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Ha! It actually wasn't that bad. It's been a beautiful summer but with several cloudy/foggy mornings. This was one of those days. The lake was pretty warm! But yeah, she was very cool about it.
08-08-2013, 01:43 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by alan_smithee_photos Quote
I couldn't agree more. I posted this one elsewhere in the forum, from my first roll re-acquainting myself with Ektar. I'm just in love with the look:
WHOA. That's hot!

I'll definitely pick up some of that Ektar film when I get another film camera.
08-08-2013, 04:49 PM   #14
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I can understand how you would feel that the MZ-S is more camera than you might need.

When it started having more an more trouble focusing my old ME-Super I decided to change over to autofocus. At the time I wanted to get the best Pentax had and that was the MX-S, so I went all out and got it, the grip, and a new flash. After 20+ years of using the ME I was more than a bit overwhelmed initially with all the features and controls on the MZ-S. After a few months of using it I found that the ability to use the different exposure modes and other features really opened up a whole new way of seeing photography. Most of what I was shooting back then was black and white because I liked doing my own darkroom work and I never jumped into color printing.

When I finally moved over to digital with the K-10 it was a much easier transition because the camera was in many ways similar to what I had become accustomed to with the MZ-S. I still use the MZ-S, and even the K-1000, from time to time (again, black and white) just to remind myself to take my time and work on the composition. If you use the newer digital cameras the ISO performance of film will seem like a big restriction, but with the K-10D it's actually pretty much the same range, so it not so different that I'm wishing for more latitude in exposure range. The nice thing is that, like you mentioned in your post, shooting film can make you slow down and think your shots through better: paying closer attention to composition, lighting, exposure, and all the other parts of taking a good picture. Then I go back to the K-10 and apply what I just relearned.

Don't let the MZ-S collect too much dust, it's a great camera and it will both challenge and aid your creativity the more you use it.

Good luck with it and enjoy!
09-08-2013, 03:51 PM   #15
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Enjoyed reading this article. You have a high percentage of keepers for that roll - that's pretty good particulalrly given you've only recently gotten into photography. Superia 400 is an excellent film in my opinion, and actually, I find scans from film are often more amenable to post-processing - the colours seem to hang on to extreme curves adjustment well.

Personally, I don't do post-processing anymore. I realised that most of my post-processing was really failure to take the photo correctly in the first place, and what you might think of as an acceptable result often looks crude 5 yrs later. I think this is because you concentrate on one aspect of the image (i.e. the brightness) and don't realise that while you're optimising that, you're worsening noise, total range and introducing colour banding. Better to get it right the first time I think.

I personally shoot almost all film - for me the colours and subtlety of tones are unmatched. i like your photo of bridge shot into the sun - notice the tones in the sky going from the blues on the left all the way up to the white of the sun. You'll notice there isn't any major shift in hue as it does this, whereas on digital you'll find a transition to one or two colours (often orange and yellow) before white is reached (having said that dslrs are getting better at this now - but the Nikon D3 certainly still did it). The other thing is the film has done a great job of keeping tones in the highlights in the sky as well as the darker area under the bridge - useful information and colour retained in extremes of contrast.

For me, film gives me a more realistic image of the scene scattered over with a bit of grain. Digitial gives me more of a pictorial/painted image (albeit clearer). You should get something like a Pentax MX with a 50mm prime and several rolls of superia 200 - I think you'd get some great results with it.

D
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