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06-19-2009, 08:36 PM   #1
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Possible Freelance Kit / Need Help With Equipment

So, I've decided to jump into the murky waters of freelance photography. Focusing primarily on families, wedding, models, and marketing.

Problem is I need some equipment. I have no intention of going digital, so the Spotmatic F is the camera. Spotlessly clean and in good repair or not, it's 35 years old, so I'm going to need a backup. I've found one in Moose Jaw Sask. on Ebay for $100 plus shipping, looks in just as good condition as mine, in fact better in some respects, and recently serviced. I'd like a couple more lenses to round out the collection (28/55/135), preferably an 85 or a 105 for portraiture (the Tak 85 is horrendously expensive, any decent alternative?). I'll also need a flash (thinking Vivitar 285) and a tripod (Manfrotto 190X). I'd like to find a line on boxes of films (specifically Ektar 100, Portra 100MC/400NC/800, and Fuji Pro 160) to save myself some expense in that regard. I'll be having scans made of the film at 25Mp resolution and using Photoshop/Aperture for digital editing purposes and to proof before printing.

I'm not in this to make a ton of money, but more to enjoy myself, make some extra cash on the side, and to offer a service that is readily disappearing: a photographer who knows enough about his craft to use film, and use it well. Any suggestions? Am I nuts for taking a Spotmatic F into the field, or do you think I can do this? I'm comfortable enough with the equipment that I confident I can, and my wife seems to think it's also a good idea to get into it, while I have the cash to sink into it.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

06-20-2009, 08:08 AM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by drewdlephone Quote
Am I nuts for taking a Spotmatic F into the field, or do you think I can do this?
Yes, you are nuts, and of course you can do it, if you can find the clients who will appreciate it. I would add a spotmeter to your kit, especially for weddings, and as an alternative to the Tak 85 consider the wonderful Tamron SP 90 Macro (2.5 or 2.8 versions) with a cheap M42 Adaptall mount. This lens is beautifully sharp and has gorgeous bokeh. It's a great portrait lens.
06-20-2009, 08:39 AM   #3
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having shot weddings with film and now digital. forget the film end of things. Seriously forget it.
1) Prices are very competitive now and reducing costs is key to survival
2) Costs for film and processing is an added expense your competition does not have
3) The bride does not care if it's film or digital as long as the photos are a) artistic b) as good or better than every other photog in the same price range. That is unless you want to shoot medium format.
4) A scanned slide or negative is good but not the same as a RAW file. You could have a 25mb jpeg and I could have a 12Mb RAW. I can do way more non-destructive editing to the RAW than you can to the Jpeg. So I don't see the point.
5) If you think this is a way to save money and do this on the cheap, you're looking at everything the wrong way. Film is far more expensive than digital in the long run. Heck two good wedding packages will cost you about the price of a used K20D with film cost and processing, not to mention the stuff above. Also this is not a business where you want to be thinking cheap when it comes to gear. You need backups of everything. each lens needed should be the best (not second best) in it's class. You can do a wedding etc all in manual and manual focus but it's far tougher and requires a lot of experience. I shot weddings with K1000's, LX's and a 6x7 for several years. the first 15 or so were either with an experienced pro as an apprentice or free to gain experience. The learning curve with a digital is shorter just because of the automation of the gear. You can learn the skill for better shooting instead of how to use the gear in a fast moving situation.

Finally and the most important point in my book. This is serious business. I hear guys say this all the time.
I am a good photographer and want to try shooting weddings. I know I can do it.
I see it in my market all the time. But look at your customer's point of view. They (hopefully) get married ONCE. They take the first kiss at the alter ONCE. They have planned this day for 2 years and picked out the perfect flowers, cake, dress, hairdresser etc for that ONE big day. You want to have a little fun and make some spare cash. Ask Wheatfield, I bet he'll back me up. This is tough work and to be taken seriously with 110% commitment. Use the best gear in your chosen platform or go back to shooting flowers. Sorry but this needs to be said bluntly.

I guarantee you that if we were in the same market and we we both charging the same price. I could beat you every time for the business. In fact I could charge more and take every deal from you. It would be a piece of cake to beat a film shooter that used Spotmatics as the main platform. I'm not being arrogant but realistic. You are going to have a tough time winning consistent business with old film gear over modern digital shooters.

So I don't see the point. You shoot in film and without a darkroom, you transfer the negatives to Jpegs for editing and printing. Your cost of doing this is higher with lower quality (again unless you want to shoot medium format). The client gets a digital product that is not as good as the average digital camera and can't be edited as much without dithering and a number of other editing problems.

I encourage you to learn the ropes, Apprentice with a pro, buy the right gear and get into this. But get into it the right way or please don't disappoint your customers because their expectations are higher than most of us can imagine.

Last edited by Peter Zack; 06-20-2009 at 08:48 AM.
06-20-2009, 10:09 AM   #4
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Thanks Peter for the thorough response. I think that weddings would have to wait a bit until I was comfortable doing them, so perhaps more model / fun photography is in order. I understand that I would have to take the utmost care creating someone else's memories, and I would never want to disappoint.

I think where our opinion varies is on the film aspect. Say we took Spotmatics out of the mix and instead put an MZ-S or something similar in it's place. Most people would not be able to tell that camera from a digital, unless they watched me work. I think what needs to be challenged is the conception that film is somehow inferior to the digital platform when it's used by a skilled photographer. I'm not going to tell you I'm the best there is, because certainly I'm not, but I already elicit responses similar to "You shot that photo with that?" when I show people my work and then show them the camera I used. Certainly, processing and film is an expense that digital photographers don't face; however, I do not have to invest thousands of dollars into storing my digital negatives (the only way I'd be truly comfortable storing other people's photos would be a triple-redundant system) and thousands more to maintain that system over time. I just need to keep a single backup of the modified images, as I will have the archival discs from the scanning of the film, as well as the negatives themselves, unless the customers request them.

It requires extra work certainly, but I'm convinced the product itself still has a market. It's not like I'm going in there and shooting Fuji Superia 400. I'd be using all professional films, most likely Portra, and paying dearly for it.

Which comes down to the cost argument. I'd imagine things are pretty competitive everywhere, but it seems that a lot of photographers in this neck of the woods overcharge for their services. I was quoted $2200 to shoot my wedding by one such photographer, and that was simply for the service, no prints included in that, and they were working on digital. Conversely, if I purchase 20 rolls of film for a wedding, I'd likely by looking at $200 cost, and another $400 to process them properly, and I'd wager my time for a day would be worth $200-300, so I would charge $800-900 for my services. There would be no skrimping on the quality of the service, simply fair, equitable service with excellent results.

When soliciting a customer's business, of course, I would be forthright about the service I provided and it's benefits and drawbacks. If the customer isn't comfortable with it, then by all means they could seek out other services. I'm not going to be eating off what I make doing this. They would have to understand that there would be a lower number of overall pictures shot (which doesn't necessarily translate into less usable pictures, mind) and that they would be waiting the better part of a week to see their photographs when I was finished, as the processing would need to be done, and then I would need to proof/correct as necessary before showing them the final product.

Anyways, it's still a plan on the tale, not a plan in motion. I appreciate the feedback you've given me and will consider it. I just felt the need to defend the merits of doing this the old world way, and thought perhaps customers would appreciate it, as more and more I hear at work people coming in lamenting their digital camera's performance in comparison to their old film P&Ss. Our film processing is actually up considerably from last year. Processed properly and at the right labs, with the right shooter at the controls, I think I could match a digital photographer's results; in fact I'm sure I could beat many of them, based on the "professionals" who drop off their work at my place of business.

Of course, that argument only holds until film disappears, which I was hoping to wager wouldn't be soon. We'll have to see.

Last edited by drewdlephone; 06-20-2009 at 10:16 AM.
06-20-2009, 07:48 PM   #5
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Wow that was a well reasoned response. Again, I’m not saying to you or anyone that they shouldn’t get into this, With the proper experience and equipment, go for it.
If you want to gain some of that experience by shooting model work etc, that’s great. See if you can work with a local pro as an assistant and see what’s happening.

I have been (on and off) doing this for 25 years. The first pair of cameras were K1000’s which honestly are not much better than Spotties. Then to ME Supers and a Super program. The second the LX came out I bought 2 and added a 6x7 for some portrait work. So clearly I think film is fine. Yes if you shot with MZ-s’s or PZ-1, PZ-1p’s you’d have the features to do just about anything. Frankly film can render better images in certain situations and I still like film’s rendering of a B&W better. Plus digital sensors are ‘one size fits all’ they don’t specialize in anything and all basically render images the same way. Film on the other hand has so many nuances that you still can’t get in even the best digital sensor. I would die for a chip that could go to ISO 25 and looked like KodaChrome slide film.
It was the 35 year old Spotties that sorta threw me. They were great cameras and worked fine. But in today’s world, they really can’t cut it. I’m sure that you and many others can render a great film image and I hope you join this forum and share some of that work. If you decide to do more professional work, just get a better body as your primary unit. It will be easier on you and give you better products to sell your customers.
Granted that digital storage is an issue and negatives have a built in advantage. I’d love to have someone invent a system where I could send off the 300 photos for Jane Doe’s wedding and have the finished TIFFS turned into slides or negatives. That would be perfect.

When it comes to price, there again you have to stand on that side of the fence. If your primary income is photography, you’ve gone to school, invested $20,000 plus in gear, computers and software, having to amortize the cost of replacement equipment (cameras wear out and lenses fail) , the cost of either owning or renting studio space and you haven’t paid the car payment or printed a single shot. To make a living at this you need to earn $60,000 or more to cover those costs. Wedding season is May till October and there are at best 20 Saturday’s. That’s why the price for a working pro is over 2 bills. Frankly that’s low for a wedding. There are hackers out there who do it for $500 and hand you a CD (I have a bare bones package like that and never book it – it’s there to compete with those shooters). If you think of it this way. You charge at least $5000 per wedding, you spend a week with your client, portraits, engagement shots, wedding book, the works. Then you can shoot 12-15 weddings a year, make a decent living and offer top quality work. That’s a far better way to serve your customer and give them something that will blow them away.

On you other point, being able to shoot more is a huge plus for a digital photographer. I can rip off 5-6 images of a group shot to ensure everyone is smiling and they have their eye’s open. So I’ll shoot 1500 images on wedding day to make sure I have one great shot of every scene. With film, that’s also possible but the cost is tough. With a Spottie, it’s nearly impossible to pull that off.

I don’t think anything you said requires defence. I just took a few comments (that’s the problem with the written word) the wrong way. Sounds like you have a good perspective on this and just consider it carefully. If it were me (I’m considering this as a plus to my work next year) I’d add a 645 or 6x7 as a portrait camera. Imagine the best of both, Digital for speed and accuracy and medium format negative film for that stunning enlarged portrait they have framed in the formal living room. Then you can charge $5000 and be the best in your market.

I also hope film doesn’t go anywhere and it’s still the best format for many shooting subjects. I miss some of the films that are no longer available.

So hang around and post some of your work. I’d also be happy to discuss this at any time.

Now it’s grad season and I’m behind on 4 projects. Gotta go open Lightroom….

Last edited by Peter Zack; 06-21-2009 at 06:41 AM.
06-21-2009, 06:14 AM   #6
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I think you could sell the Spottie thing for its retro appeal, the way people rent out antique wedding cars. You'd just have to be careful with your marketing, and not take on any massive jobs. Small-scale, alternative and low-key could be your selling points. Why not shoot in black and white? Market yourself to style-conscious young people who want something less formal in their wedding photos. Negative film is probably better for weddings than digital anyway (the dynamic range thing with the white dress/dark suit).

But Peter is right - you'd better be damn sure you know what you're doing! I've shot a couple of weddings for friends; I'll never do it again! It's exhausting. Weddings crack on at their own pace. Everybody wants a piece of the bride and groom. Nobody wants to wait around for you to change a roll of film at a key moment. It's a serious business. I spent a lot of time buzzing around backstage, meeting the relatives, watching the last-minute arrangements. The small, discreet film cameras were a positive bonus then. And afterward I had a folio of nice, candid images to show the happy couple, who were too stressed out to enjoy the occasion themselves.

FWIW, I had a fully manual main camera, but an auto exposure and auto focus back-up in case things got out of hand .
06-22-2009, 12:58 AM   #7
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I think this could work, but you should probably drop the weddings for now. I've shot at a couple of weddings with a manual film camera and it's hard. I wouldn't dare charge for the results. But for other less critical work I say go for it.

One thing that I came to think of is that you say you would be sending the film in for scanning, I would not recommend it. Scanning at a lab is by my experience often not so good, and if you want good scans, i.e. individually scanned, you'll pay a lot for it. When I got my scanner I calculated that a little over 10 rolls scanning would cost the same as buying a consumer grade film scanner. Scanning film can be a real PITA, thinking portra and other colour negative film. So to get full control of the results you're best of doing it yourself.
06-22-2009, 04:07 AM   #8
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I don't do anything so glorious as wedding photography, but every now and then I do have a chance to shoot events for folks. And even a manual-focus, manual stop down, Takumar prime diehard such as myself knows to take along autofocus zooms and do it in digital.

But if I foresee having an opportunity to use one, I will often take along some old film camera just to get some shots from it for myself.

06-22-2009, 05:26 AM   #9
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Peter's first response should be a stickie or article or something so everyone can read it and understand what being professional means.

It's not about the gear, it's about pleasing the clients.
06-22-2009, 09:46 AM   #10
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Seems there's a niche for "old style" but I would not do it just Spotmatic. Actually....I'd prefer my Mamiya DTL 1000 for major screw mt stuff due to the spotmeter and also because they are calibrated for 1.5v as-is. You get better metering. The Mamiya is also a bit more rugged. Short of using it as a hockey can hardly make it quit.

I use a ZX-5 for my AF/Autowind...again..has spot.but so does the PZ-1 and MZ-S (expensive). A thing I like with the ZX 5 is that the built in TTL flash can trigger a Vivi 283 bounce on a slave + bracket so I can get very manageable lighting with little fuss. I'd wonder how much resolution you really NEED. I have an Epson V500 scanner and can get damn good scans. For the few big prints..I'd just use regular darkroom printing to photo paper. MOST shots won't be seen bigger than a 5x7.

Weddings are in large part a matter of timing,location as opposed to detailed composition. There will be a dozen or so "must have" moments you want to be ready for,,,maybe 2 dozen if there's things planned for it. A lot will be improv.
I could see times where I would not be packing a lot of gear...would work low profile with one camera,less intrusive. Other points...I may want a body with B+W and a sharp prime and a body with a faster color film or flash and an AF zoom.

I think a lot is about the prep. Know the plans,know the main people, have a sense of what they value. You could fire off 500 shots,but really,there's 20 that are the ones that will REALLY matter most and nailing those is the thing.

Note that a few shots that are ultra wide angle, very close in short tele, or multi-exposure can add a lot of dazzle to the package. The bride is the star of the show..if she looks look good.

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