Retro photography

I’ve always been interested in photography – ever since I was given a box brownie when I was round about eight.

The ultimate point and shoot – 127 format film, and 8 shots a roll. You rapidly learned to compose your shots and be careful with them. (Well as much as an eight year old who wanted to take photos of trains and historic sites could)

Later on, as a teenager, I graduated to 35mm photography, at first with a basic point and shoot that only allowed some fairly simple control over the image focus, exposure time  image depth.

Enough to learn.

And around the same time, I started processing and printing my own pictures, not to mention rolling my own 35mm cassettes from bulk film.

All black and white of course. Colour processing required better equipment than I could afford, and a proper photo lab, but at the same time it was possible (and I did) to turn a bathroom into a temporary film lab for black and white developing and printing.

From there it was a journey to a proper SLR and a lot of colour slide photography. While there were nice lightweight Japanese cameras around, as a poor student I couldn’t afford them, so I was stuck with heavy, totally mechanical, Soviet and East  German cameras.

I kept my photo lab gear for years, only ditching it when I moved permanently to Australia. At the same time, I was finding that simple cameras like the Pentax Espio – all electronic, all automatic did an excellent job of everyday photography, even to the extent that I almost abandoned my SLR for day to day photography.

Though I didn’t recognise it at the time, cameras like the Espio represented the last gasp of film – as easy to use as one of today’s small digital cameras, they used film to get the image quality as hi resolution CCD’s were still expensive.

(I still have my old Espio – and it powers up and works, but to be honest my Canon Ixus does a better job.)

And then, some time around 2005, film just disappeared.

Processing labs just went, film was no longer available, and you could no longer buy the chemicals for home processing, and it’s been digital all the way since.

Until recently.

Every few years I’ve looked at my film cameras gathering dust and wondered if I could play about with wet film photography for old times’ sake.

And every time I’ve looked it’s been too difficult – too difficult to get hold of fresh film, way too difficult to get hold of processing chemicals, and if you wanted your film processed in a lab, no chance outside of Sydney or Melbourne.

This time, when I looked at the possibilities I forund there’s a retro photography scene developing which means that you can once again buy black and white film, processing chemicals, and even a small home processing lab in a box.

There’s no need for an enlarger, I have a film scanner and obviously the way to go would be to scan the images and then play with them with some image processing software like Gimp.

So, I’ve decided to jump back in.

I’ve still got an old totally mechanical Praktica SLR which still seems to work, so I guess the next thing to do is get some film and do some simple performance testing to make sure everything works as it should.

I’ve looked at buying a better camera, but old Japanese cameras in working order command a high price from collectors, and sometimes the electronics in early cameras can fail.

Prakticas have the advantages of being almost totally mechanical and reasonably well made. There’s also quite a few around, so if I needed a replacement, it wouldn’t be that expensive to pick one up via auction sites like ebay. And of course the same goes for peripherals like extra lenses, lens hoods, filters and the like.

I do have some old film sitting around, but it’s all about twenty years old, and while black and white film is fairly stable, it can degrade, so it probably makes sense to use some new film for performance testing.

There are also now some small mail order processing labs, so I don’t need to invest in the whole home film processing thing until I see how I go with my return to nineteen eighties technology …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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