A Love for Film

Bronica SQ-Ai image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 film and scanned on an Epson V700 scanner.
Bronica SQ-Ai image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 film and scanned on an Epson V700 scanner.

A few weeks back I did something that was a little out of character; I bought a large camera. It isn’t the largest camera but it’s a quite big and somewhat heavy. The camera in question is a Bronica SQ-Ai together with 4 lenses and a 2x converter. If you’re not familiar with these camera’s, they were quite popular in the 80’s and 90’s and shoot medium format roll film.

Now I don’t intend to use this camera on a regular basis, although it is lovely to use. My reason for buying it is that I really like the process of shooting and printing film. I like the slow pace as you need to check and then double check the camera settings. I like the difficulty in using a hand held light meter, not knowing if you have metered correctly. I like the lack of feedback – no histogram and no image preview to distract you. I like the focus markings on the lens and the need to use a focus screen and magnifier in order to focus correctly.

I can’t say that I’m too happy with the process of scanning and spotting the images but then this is more than made up for with the images themselves. There is a certain look to film images that I really like and just can’t recreate digitally. And, it’s not just me who seems to prefer film…

Recently I printed around 10 images. All were digital captures using either the Sony RX10 or Olympus EM5. The exception to this was one image that was shot on Kodak Ektar 100 film using a Hasselblad XPan 35mm camera. I showed these prints to a friend and he went straight to image shot on film. I had to agree with him that the printed image stood out as it looked so natural, as if you were standing in front of the scene. When I returned home I repeated this exercise with my wife. Again she immediately picked out the film print as being different and having a look that she liked far more than the digital prints.

Image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film. Shot on a Hasselblad XPan with 45mm lens.
Image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film. Shot on a Hasselblad XPan with 45mm lens.

So my objective in buying this old film camera is to help me enjoy my photography more. To move outside of the repetitive digital process and challenge myself. Having recently started a personal project (Views from the Moors) I’m finding that photography is more enjoyable and I hope this latest adventure adds a little something extra.

21 thoughts on “A Love for Film

  1. good for you, sounds like a good pair of projects you are now doing. V Interesting about the film experiences.

  2. I can’t give an opinion on film print v digital print as but as you say you are not the only one to think film produces nicer results. I have many happy memories of still being in the loft darkroom at 2.am, desperately trying to produce a decent 10×8 whilst having to get up for work at 6.am – the smell of the stop bath and fixer, endlessly washing negs and prints, turning the white light on by mistake and starting over, backbreaking spotting and dodging. But in practice I regard film (scanning and spotting?) v digital processing as different as a steam train v HSR. Now I sit in front of my computer in the warm comfort of my kitchen, music playing and the kettle on the boil and produce results far better than I could ever get working for hours in the darkroom. I still look back with pleasure on the ‘old days’ but even for a slightly ‘nicer’ result, wild horses could not drag me back there. Having said that, if a decent Bronica or a Mamiya came my way at a bargain price…?

    1. I have to admit that I wouldn’t like to go back to a darkroom process so totally agree with you. Mine is a hybrid workflow but its still a huge pain in comparison to digital, which I won’t be giving up. I like the printed results of the film but I really like working with a film camera. That said, I really like working with my digital cameras. I think it’s the experimentation with different cameras and processes that I like.

  3. Cool…I have the ETRS but love the square. Good luck on your journey with film. I always soon to prefer the look of film even tho I sometimes like the ease of digital 😉

      1. I wish I’d bought up all the delicious film cameras when people were offloading them like they were going out of fashion lol. I have got a v nice Leica M6 TTL and 50mm cron that I’ll keep forever 😊

  4. Thank you: that’s really fascinating. But of course what WE see are digital scans of film images, which is also the only way I’ve been able to handle my forays into film. I take it YOUR prints are also analogue – own darkroom, enlarger, etc.? – and that is what makes them sing.

    1. Hi John, my workflow is hybrid so its the scan that I print with an Epson 3880. I think its the workflow and processing that makes the difference. I’m still trying to master the vagaries’ of neg scan scanning (I used to shoot mainly slide and some B&W). I’m going to publish my workflow in a couple of weeks as it might be of interest to some.

  5. How are you processing your film, are you using a lab or are you processing yourself. I used to process and print B&W a very long time ago and it is a great process and as you say full of surprises. do I presume you are processing the film and then scanning the negs through a digital scanner. Sorry for all the questions


    1. Hi Robert, no problem. If it’s B&W neg I process it myself but for colour neg I send it to a lab. I then scan the image and do a little post processing, sometimes then printing it on an inkjet. I’m going to publish the workflow in the near future as it may help some whilst others may be able to offer me some suggestions.

      1. You have got me going now. I have just bought a NikonF Photomic which was always on my list. So I will now try and get hold of a dioptric conversion lens and away I go. Dev tank arriving next week film loading in the boiler room!!!.
        I have a question though. Which film scanner do you use. I see there are lots out there ranging in price, some very expensive. I borrowed a friends and it was ghastly giving terrible results. So if you can recommend one that would be a great starter for ten.

      2. Sounds like your also bitten by the film bug.

        Film scanners are a real pain if I’m honest. I have been using an Epson V700 which I bought about 10 years ago. It’s OK for Medium Format but I have found the various software packages a bit questionable. Silverfast seems to do a good job so long as you don’t use the multiple sample option. I had terrible trouble with that. If you want to multiple sample you should try VueScan. This is my current package and the software can make a huge difference. I recently compared a scan using the Epson software that came with my scanner and the results were dreadful. The same neg using VueScan was much better.

        The V700 is also the old fluorescent light source rather than the newer LED. The V700 seems to work well with B&W films and makes a nice job but LED scanners cause the film grain to look too harsh. The V700 also makes a good job of scanning Colour Neg film and some slide film such as Provia. Velvia is just too dense for it though. Another factor is the film size and resolution you want to scan at. For 35mm work it’s OK but really much better with Medium and Large format.

        For 35mm film you really need a dedicated film scanner rather than a flatbed. I also have a Minolta Scan Elite 5400 which is excellent and on a par with the Nikon Coolscans (also great scanners if you can find one at a reasonable price). The only downside to the Minolta is that it makes B&W films appear too harsh so don’t develop your films in Rodinal if you buy one of these. For colour Neg and Slide, including Velvia, this is a great 35mm scanner. Again though, they stopped making them a long time ago and they cost quite a bit second hand.

        In terms of new film scanners, you don’t have much choice. I have a friend who bought a Plustek and gets nice results. They are good value but lack dynamic range so best used with Colour neg film.

  6. Odd, that I sent a note under this title and it appeared as a bona fide entry but is not shown in the current list, so I will paraphrase another attempt. I thought it is beautiful and has saturation and contrast similar to reversal film like Velvia. What I was interested in was how it relates to conversion to BW as it offers the ability to use software sliders to adjust tones of gray. What I am driving at is the ability to make a better BW film version from a color negative but insuring that the classic look of BW film is retained. In other words would you have used a fine grained BW film if you wanted a BW print or is Ektar capable of making a worthy BW conversion? Also, for the V700 scan, what 120 holder did you use, the Epson or a third party? Or is it a wet scan using the Epson wet scan attachment? Thanks, John Marsh

    1. Hi John, It is strange because I also replied to your queries and can see both your and mine listed in the site admin but not on the site. Here is my original message

      I have to admit that the Ektar scans very well. I found it easier than the Provia slide film I used to use and much easier than Velvia. The difficulty I have had with Ektar is getting the colour balance right. I use VueScan and it does a cracking job of pulling detail out of the neg (much better than Epson Scan) but the colour correction profile isn’t quite as I would like it. I then need to do some further adjustment once I have it in Photoshop. I’m going to write up my workflow and add it to Lenscraft as a tutorial. Should be available in the next couple of weeks. In terms of detail, Ektar is excellent and very sharp. I use a third party mount which is a plate of Anti-newton glass which you then tape the negs to. It’s crude but works better than the Epson holders I find.

      And now I have done a little more testing I can say that the image responds very well to black and white conversion. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this but it looks good. I also found that there is a reasonable response from all but one of the colour sliders. The film isnt quite as sharp or structured as B&W but then you can also use an infrared clean whih you can’t with black and white. Hope this helps.

  7. Glad to see you entering back into the wonderful world of film! I’m following a similar path, in that I’d been using 35mm digital, then Micro 4/3rds, and then suddenly bought a Bronica ETR-Si out of the blue and made a foray back into film (which I’d been contemplating for some time). It wasn’t but a few weeks later I bought a Mamiya RB67 Professional so I could shoot larger frames. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the Mojave Desert in and around Death Valley National Park, along with some other work.

    I look forward to seeing more results from your film work! It’s true they have a “look” that digital has been trying to replicate in many forms for years but ultimately fails to achieve. The grain structure and tonality of certain black and white films in particular have gotten me hooked! 🙂

    You can see some of the results in the film gallery on my site, here: http://lowerylandscapes.com/film .

    1. To be completely honest, I have never left film. I have still been shooting B&W 35mm using an XPan. It’s Medium Format that I left because of the size and weight. The Bronica is quite light in comparison to the Pentax 67 I was using. Actually, I used to shoot slide film and havent shot colour neg for years. I’m finding the new Kodak Portra and Ektar films very nice to use. It’s good to hear you are having a similar foray.
      I had a look at your work and you have some very nice images on there. I can see a lot of dune images which look like the Mesquite Dunes – I love sand dunes but we don’t really have them in the UK, at least not on the same scale. Hopefully I will share more of my film work in the near future.

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