So we’ve covered all the different types of film you can use as well as the formats they come in; In today’s post we’ll be looking at the different types of cameras that you can shoot with your newly acquired film knowledge. If you’ve ever picked up any camera, be it digital or film, some of this will not be anything new to you. What is available in the digital world also has a film predecessor, however the reverse is not true in the case of large format cameras as there is yet to be a sensor big enough to make a back for a Large Format body.
Each type of camera has its good points and bad points as well as when to use one over the other, but don’t be pigeonholed, some photographers love to break their boundaries and challenging themselves by going against the norm: i.e. using a Hasselblad 500C/M to shoot a wedding. Hopefully after part 4, you’ll know what camera will suit your photographic style and you’ll be one step closer stepping back into the world of analogue photography.
Article Continues After The Jump (Grab a drink, it’s a long one!)
Single-Lens Reflex Cameras (SLRS)
If you’ve left your house in the past decade, you’ve probably seen one of it’s digital counterparts toted around town by photographers, hipsters and fashionistas alike. Using the concept of DSLRs for reference, a film SLR simply replaces the LCD on the back and the sensor with a film door and curtain shutter mechanism, using the exposed film as the cameras “sensor”. Because the cameras do away with all the complex electronics a modern DSLR has, a film SLR is thinner but doesn’t lose it’s heft making them perfect workhorses.
In a nutshell, the way the SLR works is that the image is viewed through the lens via a system of a mirror and a pentaprism. When the shutter is pressed, the mirror flips up, shutter curtain opens and exposes the image onto the film directly. Some cameras are full mechanical, meaning that there is no light meter and that the camera will be able to function without batteries. Most film SLRs will have a basic lightmeter, be it light based, analog needle or even in the case of a Nikon F4, full DSLR like electronics. Focusing on an SLR is usually a manual affair, using a “split screen” style focusing for the older ones like the Nikon FE2 and a familiar autofocus in newer film SLRs like the Canon EOS 50.
The biggest benefits to using an SLR is the ability to focus and compose your image looking through the lens. With that you can check your depth of field as well, something not possible on say a rangefinder. SLRs are also easier to find and service than other cameras, not to mention you are able to use film SLR lenses with DSLRs and in some cases vice versa, just without the autofocus.
On the flip side, the reasons people shy away from this popular camera type is because of the “mirror blackout” when the shutter is pressed and mirror is flipped up, you lose sight of the exact moment when it is captured. Another issue some photographers have with the SLR is the vibration cause by the mirror flipping up. At lower light conditions, any slight vibration may affect the sharpness of the image as shutter speeds are much lower.
While not so common, there are also SLRs that take medium format film. Medium format SLRs don’t look like the traditional SLR and neither do they load film, focus, compose or shoot like one. With a medium format SLR, the film is loaded into a “film back” which is interchangeable mid roll, meaning when lighting changes, you can easily swap film without the fuss of remembering where you stopped! Also you can have different backs for different formats e.g. 1 for 6×6 and 1 for 4×6.
A medium format SLR also comes with either a waist level viewfinder like a TLR, or a prism finder like an SLR. The modular design of the medium format SLR is second to none as your kit can even go digital with the inclusion of a digital back from Aptus or Leaf in your kit bag. You can even have a motor winder if you are too lazy to advance the film manually! The medium format SLR (in both film and digital form)is popular amongst fashion and editorial photographers for the sheer quality of pictures you get from it (remembering the stuff you learnt from part 2). The availability of lenses and flexibility make the MF SLR a very evergreen camera for years to come.
Popular 35mm SLRs include the FE2, FM2 and F4 from Nikon, AE-1 from Canon and the X-700 from Minolta
Popular MF SLRs include the Hasselblad 500C/M, 503C/W, The Mamiya RB67 and the Kiev 88
Rangefinder Cameras (RFs)
Rangefinder cameras are uncommon but not unheard of in this day and age, in fact one of the most famous names in the camera world is renown for it’s lineage of rangefinder cameras. To many, rangefinders have been described as the tool for a purist photographer and on the flip side, a hipster accessory. More often than not, it’s the feel and act of shooting a RF is in itself a major draw to photographers as it differs greatly from an SLR.
Source: Rich Culter
The way an RF works is completely different from an SLR. Firstly, there are only fixed focal length lenses in the world of RFs (with the exception of the Leica Tri-Elmar one). You don’t do any viewing or focusing through the lens, rather through a complex series of mirrors and framelines. Each camera comes with a predetermined set of framelines to correspond with your lenses, however if your camera doesn’t have the frame lines of your lens, more often than not there will be an external viewfinder for that purpose. In the centre of the framelines there will be a RF patch, where when you turn the focus wheel of your lens, the image on the patch aligns horizontally, letting you know that your subject is in focus.
Alternatively, all RF lenses come with a distance scale on it, so hyperfocusing is a breeze! Depending on which RF you own, you’ll either be fully manual in terms of adjusting shutter speed and aperture (doesn’t require batteries!) or with aperture priority of sorts (for lazy bums like me).
The main benefits of using a RF are very subjective; They can be benefits for some people and very inconsequential to others, depending on the type of shooting you do. First off, RFs are TINY compared to SLRs; for this reason, people find RFs the weapon of choice when shooting street photography as they are less intimidating. The lenses of a RF are smaller and more compact than SLR lenses and have a much higher build quality than them too.
Secondly, the absence of a mirror means the shutter firing sounds much quieter than an SLR. This is true for cameras like the Leica M6 which uses a cloth shutter and the Yashica GSN which uses a leaf shutter. Thirdly, you are able to shoot at lower shutter speeds because of the lack of a mirror to vibrate the camera, making the RF one of the best available light cameras around. Lastly, as none of the viewing takes place through the lens, when the shutter is pressed, you will never get a blackout so you will know exactly what the camera sees when it captures your image.
One of the cons to using a RF are that all RFs are manual focus, which adds to the charm of using one depending how you look at it. Also you’ll not truly know what the final image looks like as you haven’t been focusing through the lens, especially when using filters. Another issue is that for extremely wide and extreme telephoto, the RF will definitely need an external viewfinder which adds an extra step to taking a photo. The killer downside to RFs is that at the high end, RFs are extremely expensive, especially when you are talking about Leica glass. With a 50mm lens costing the same as a small car, it’s unfortunate that if you start down the path of RFs, the eventuality is that you will somehow end up chasing after that silly red dot.
As with SLRs, there are also medium format RF’s like the Mamiya 7, Voigtlander Bessa 667 and Fuji GSW. You can shoot multiple formats and some cameras even allow you to shoot panoramic photos! The downside is that a medium format RF is HUGE!
Popular film RFs include the Voigtlander Bessa R3A/M, The Leica M6 Classic, M7 and M3, The Zeiss Ikon and the Yashica Electro GSN/GTN/GX
Twin Lens Reflex Cameras (TLRs)
TLR cameras (or that box type camera your grandparents had), have recently made a resurgence thanks to plastic “toy” cameras like the Blackbird, Fly and the Gakken Flex TLR. The most head turning camera that you’ll see (with the exception of the Large Format camera) and if you ask your parents, they’ll probably remember one in some way shape or form. TLRs range from the self assembled Gakken Flex camera to the beautiful modern Rolleiflex 2.8 Planar, but one thing that they have in common is that they are all beautiful.
Shooting a TLR camera is an experience in itself! The TLR garners its name from the fact it has 2 sets of lenses, one for composition and focusing and one for taking the picture. Focusing is done on a waist level style finder looking down into the top of the camera. A series of mirrors reflects a lifelike image onto the focusing screen and you can use a focusing aid built in to the camera to assist in getting the depth of field and sharpness you require. Modern TLRs like the Rolleiflex 2.8 Planar even come with interchangeable focusing screens to suit your tastes. After that, since most TLRs don’t have meters built in, everything has to be set manually. This shouldn’t really matter anyway as taking the time to compose and set up your shot is part of the beauty of using a TLR.
The best thing about a TLR is the sheer nostalgia value associated with these cameras. If you are looking for a full featured camera, a TLR is not for you as there are way more cameras that would be a better fit. The leaf shutters on a TLR often are discrete and the lack of a moving mirror prevents mirror slap, letting you shoot longer exposures.
The cons of a TLR are quite obvious in that waist level orientation is daunting for a newcomer to photographer, TLRs are often full manual and what you see in the finder is often not exactly what you’ll get because of a phenomena known as parallax error. Newer TLRs also don’t have interchangeable lenses, however there are attachments for the TLR for wide angled shots. Lastly, just like a plus sized model, they are big and beautiful.
Popular film TLRs include the Rolleiflex 2.8 Planar T, Mamiya 330, Lubitel 166+, Seagull 4B and Blackbird Fly.
Well that’s it for now! You’ll notice I didn’t include cameras like scale focus cameras (Minox GT), fixed focal length point and shoots and large format cameras. If there is any demand in the comments, i’ll write a part up for that later. Also in a later part we will cover the phenomena known as Lomography and other toy cameras. Until then, happy Photokina everyone!