Old Dog, New Tricks

mickyatesContextualResearch, Critical Research Journal, Film, ICWeek12, Informing Contexts, Landscape, Photography, Practice, Street Leave a Comment

I learnt photography shooting film, and quite often still use it today. I find it a restful, more mindful way of taking photographs.

Years ago I had shot 120 film, in my simple Kodak, but I have never stepped towards Medium Format. Thanks to the MA (and especially Danny North), my interest in other formats has increased. Two weeks ago I was at the Frome Wessex camera fair. Having promised Ingrid that I was simply there to support the club, I found an immaculate Bronica SQ-A, with the Zenzanon-S 80mm F/2.8 lens, from Cameraworld. Boxed and totally mint, even the manual was unused. I have to say that their service and guarantees are exemplary, so a big thank you to their Managing Director, Jason Mitchell, who explained the camera functions really well.

It was a pretty easy decision to pick up such a beautiful object. The Bronica felt lovely in the hand, and it is extremely well built and finished.

Kodak Portra 400 is my preferred film these days, as I love the colour, which is still virtually impossible to duplicate in digital, and the film scans nicely. Thanks to Falmouth (last year’s F2F), I had although at the last F2F I had checked my iPhone App against a Sekonic, and it was very accurate.

In first using the Bronica, it took me a few minutes to figure out how to load the film, but the rest was wonderfully simple. There is a most satisfying ‘clunk’ when you press the shutter.

It’s fair to say that I have been blown away with the results.

I no longer have a darkroom, though I thoroughly enjoyed going back in time at Falmouth. So, for film I have been using a local firm to develop and deliver a quick scan. This time, I decided to send the film to Metro Imaging in London, on the strength of their reputation (and Danny’s recommendation). I asked for simple scans, which came back as processed JPGs, roughly 3mb each.

Bath Abbey, original Metro Imaging scan, 3mb.

This image is exactly as I received from Metro. Very clean, nice colour, and  sharp. The original scan was 2000px square. The usual size I crop to is 3600px, and I found the scan enlarged beautifully in Lightroom, with no discernible loss in resolution. A useable image for social media.

However, I also scanned it, with a ‘flat’ setting, so that I could control the final result. I scanned to a  TIFF, 3600 resolution, which delivered a huge 300mb file. I finished the image in Lightroom for contrast, saturation and so forth.

Bath Abbey, flat Epson Scan, adjusted TIFF.

A far more subtle image, of course, with beautiful tones, more balanced contrast and great detail.

Next, I scanned to a JPG, rather than TIFF, which delivered a 5mb file. I processed it to get as close as possible to the TIFF image.

Bath Abbey, flat Epson Scan, adjusted JPG.

Another fine result, and whilst maybe not quite as subtle, there is obviously a very creditable trade off in storage space of 300mb versus 5mb.

In all I used 3 rolls of film, and I was very happy with the hit rate. The only errors were mine – mostly underestimating the shallow depth of field of the Zenzanon, but that is easy to watch-out for in future. Metering was good, and when I checked the images, nothing was more than a 1/2 stop ‘out’, so the photographs were very easy to post-process.

I created a series in the village.

As is to be expected, whilst some were better than others, the overall result for a first trial was most pleasing. I tried the Zenzanon near and far.

Corsley Woods, original Metro Imaging scan, 3mb.

Corsley Woods, original Metro Imaging scan, 3mb.

So what do I take from all of this?

Firstly, it is an excellent camera and lens choice. The Bronica is very easy to use, and the Zenzanon delivered first-class results, with a lovely, soft, circular bokeh. Shooting ‘square’ also took me happily back to my teenage years.

I have researched a little since buying, and I find it often referred to as ‘the Japanese Hasselblad’, or less kind, ‘the Poor Man’s Hasselblad’. I was also intrigued by the response I got to posting a couple of images online, as it resulted in a quite passionate discussion, with several people wishing they had not sold their kit.

Secondly, I will definitely keep using Metro Imaging.

Thirdly, why didn’t I do this before?

I really enjoy shooting film, and this offers some nice, new dimensions. I have added a 150mm F/3.5 to the collection, which, in mint condition, amazingly only cost £80. Now I am hunting for a 40mm F/4.

I am sure the Bronica will get a lot of use. In fact, I have already decided to bring it along to the Arles F2F.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *