In film photography circles, there's this implicit assumption that when you "grow up" as a photographer you'll move up to the larger film sizes--medium format (i.e. 120 film) and large format. By that benchmark, I guess I've never grown up. There are times I've been tempted to try medium format, and in fact last year I did for a short while. I picked up a 1950s vintage Mamiya 6 Automat folder camera. While I liked the look of the photographs from that camera, I couldn't get comfortable with the viewfinder, so I sold it on eBay. Actually, my very first camera back in 1969 was a medium format folder, the Kodak Duo 620. I didn't shoot it for long before moving to 35mm on an Argus rangefinder. Once I started shooting 35mm SLRs back in the 70s, I was hooked.
35mm film cameras allow you to get in to capture photos in tight places quickly. That's why they became standard equipment for photojournalists, conflict photographers, and street photographers. If you're into the reportage style of photography made famous by Henri Cartier-Bresson, then 35mm is for you.
Another advantage of 35mm is the cost of the film. I just checked on B&H, and a 36-exposure roll of Ilford HP5+ black & white film costs the exact same amount as a roll of the same film in 120 format, which will yield 12 exposures on average. True, if you're after higher resolution or that medium-format/large-format look, then you'll have to move up to those larger film formats. For me, there's a low-fi look to 35mm film that I just simply love.
Finally, there is the availability and cost of the used 35mm SLRs. These cameras are the best value going on the used film camera market. True, you can find less expensive medium format cameras, but the good ones still go for more than 35mm SLRs, and for the most part, they are significantly bigger than 35mm SLRs. And don't get me started on 35mm film rangefinders. Those prices have gone crazy. For me, it's 35mm film SLRs all the way. And if you can't tell from the photo above, I have a soft spot in my heart for Nikon cameras.
I had to go. I didn't know what I would do or think when I got to the site where George Floyd was murdered, but I knew I had to go. When I arrived outside Cup Foods I stood for the longest time taking in the scene, breathing deep and slow, recognizing that this was the place where George Floyd's breath was taken from him. This was sacred ground. The tears welled up in my eyes, as they are now. I then did something that seemed to come out of nowhere and yet seemed the most natural and right thing to do...I asked George Floyd for his forgiveness. I asked him to forgive me for all the wrongs committed against people of color by systemic racism. I asked for forgiveness and I cried.
Finally, I got down on a knee and made one photo. The significance of taking a knee was not lost on me. I debated whether or not to do it, but I knew that the perspective I was seeking in the photograph required me to take a knee. The image of George Floyd needed to be above me, not at my eye level. I needed to be at street level when making this photograph. He needed to be looking down on me. I needed his forgiveness. I still need his forgiveness.
One of the activities that fills my time while we live under this "Stay at Home" order is developing film that I've shot on my walks around the neighborhood. I've been shooting black & white film, because I only have chemistry for that at present. I do have some color chemistry coming though, so I'm going to start shooting some color as well.
There is something satisfying about getting my process down for developing film. These days when so much seems out of our control, it's comforting to perform a process that I do have some control over. I've gotten to the point where I'm getting consistently good results. I've settled on one developer–Kodak HC-110. I love the tones and contrast I get with this developer. The other thing I appreciate about HC-110 is its long shelf life.
I'm using a hybrid analog/digital workflow, as are the vast majority of photographers shooting film these days. Up through developing the film, the process is analog. After that it becomes a digital process. I scan the negatives and import the scanned files into Lightroom for final image adjustments. I don't do a lot of editing in Lightroom, mainly tweaks to contrast and the tone curve. I also clean up the odd dust spot. I'd love to have a darkroom for printing, but that's something for another day.
Living under a stay at home order, my photography is limited to what I see on my nearly daily walks and what catches my eye around the house. I think this has been a good creative exercise...forcing me to find interesting images in the mundane. I guess when your world gets smaller, you notice more things in that world, such as an outlet box that looks like an electrical inspectors nightmare, or groceries delivered to the porch, or an arrangement in a planter, among other things.
Soon I'll write about another pursuit that's been filling my days, making sourdough bread. I need to make some good photos of that process and then I'll share them here.
I'm sure it won't surprise you that I have a few opinions about what cameras are best to start out with when getting into film photography. Some of the cameras that I recommend are on other's lists, but other commonly mentioned cameras are not on my list. Read on and you'll get my take on best cameras for getting started in film.
First, I'm going to step out on a limb and state that the best camera type for starting out in film is a 35mm SLR (single lens reflex). Here are my reasons for making that claim.
SLR Shooting Experience
With an SLR, when you look through the viewfinder you see what the camera sees. The image coming through the lens is reflected up to the viewfinder using a mirror and prism. You are seeing the image as it will be captured on film, not a rough approximation of it. An SLR viewfinder typically shows you 93% - 100% of the total image. I am a stickler for doing edge patrol on my frames, so an accurate representation in the viewfinder is extremely important to me.
The best values going on the used film camera market are 35mm SLRs. Even though film camera prices have increased with the resurgence of film photography, it's still easy to find good condition 35mm SLRs for under $250. Conversely, the prices on point & shoot and rangefinder 35mm cameras have increased to crazy levels.
35mm SLRs are among the most portable cameras available. Some of the more modern 35mm SLRs are beautifully compact, such as the Olympus OM-2n. The Nikon FE2 is another great example. Both these cameras are extremely well built, though, so don't confuse compact with cheaply constructed.
In their day, 35mm SLRs were super popular, and for the most part, they were extremely well built, so a good number of them are still working and available today. For example, the Nikkormat FT2, which was a brand of Nikon, is available for under $100 in good condition. If you're not completely comfortable with your knowledge in making a purchase, I'd turn KEH, a reputable online retailer of used cameras. If their rating says a camera is in excellent condition, you can count on it. You can also look on eBay, but you have to be more careful there. I've actually found prices to be better from KEH than eBay. Another good buying option is your local camera store. Most have an inventory of used film cameras. I bought my Nikon F3 from my local camera store, National Camera Exchange.
My camera recommendations are based on actual shooting experience. If I haven't shot a camera, I won't recommend it. I'm targeting my recommendations at the inexperienced film shooter. Here are my criteria for recommending cameras from among those I've shot.
My Camera Recommendations
I fully admit that my list is not exhaustive, and yes, there certainly is a Nikon tilt to my recommendations, since that is the brand I have the most experience with. There are a lot of fine brands I haven't shot, including Minolta and many other Canon and Pentax film cameras. I'd rather stick with my own personal experience when making a recommendation.
If you were to ask me to recommend one camera from all the 35mm SLRs I've shot, I'd go with the Nikon FE2, with the Olympus OM-2n a close runner up. If you're looking for the most affordable option I'd go for the Nikkormat FT2. Those can typically be had for less than $100.
A camera isn't any use without a lens. I recommend for starters you get a 50mm fixed focal length lens from the camera manufacturer. Generally, these are going to be f/2 or faster lenses. The 50mm lens was the standard kit lens in the day, so there are a ton of them available at reasonable prices. Once you've got the standard lens covered, then you can start expanding your collection. But for starters, it's hard to go wrong with a good old 50mm prime lens. If you're buying a Nikon film SLR, you need to be sure that the lens you're considering is compatible with the camera body.
If you have any questions or want feedback on a potential camera purchase, please submit a comment. I'll do my best to get back to you.
In these days of social distancing and now a stay at home order in Minnesota, daily walks have been my little sanity pill. I'm thankful that the snow has melted now and the trails are free of ice. Priscilla and I have been getting out for a two-mile walk pretty much every day. I'm also taking longer walks on my own, with a camera in hand. When out on our walks we can't help but notice the sounds of the birds. We can hear them so much better now that the traffic noise is reduced. The woodpecker drumming in the neighborhood sounds like an entire percussion section.
I'm shooting black and white film to document our lives during this pandemic. I'd like to move to color film as things green up, but the color development chemistry is sold out everywhere I've looked. At least with black and white I can continue to develop at home. Somehow black and white seems to fit the times anyway. I've got enough black and white chemistry to last me several months, plus I just took delivery of ten rolls of black and white film. That ought to last me a while.
I'm finding this time of forced isolation is a good opportunity to check out the functioning of my camera gear. I have amassed a bit of a collection of film SLRs (12 at this counting). A few of them are in need of a CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust). I just got my Olympus OM-2n back from a CLA. A few other cameras are in need as well, but that'll have to wait until after the dust settles on COVID-19.
One project I just finished up is a Blurb photo book of our Paris 2019 trip. I included favorite film photos from that trip. Looking at those photos brings back such wonderful memories of our time there. Priscilla and I have decided that we're going back to Paris in the spring of 2021.
In this frightening time of the global coronavirus pandemic, I find photography is a calm place for me to retreat to. I can still get out for walks and make photographs, and I can still develop and scan my film in our home. As our boundaries tighten in around us, photography is still something I can do. I won't be doing any street photography, but I can still photograph around our home and neighborhood.
Somehow, black and white photography seems appropriate for this time. I've been experimenting with different films. Most recently I've been shooting with Ilford FP4+. I'd never shot with this film before. It quickly made its way onto my favorites list. I also tried some Bergger Pancro 400. Contrary to the FP4+, the Bergger film did not impress me and will not be a film I return to again.
I have a feeling an awful lot of my photos in the coming weeks will show us hunkering down, trying to stay healthy and safe. When we're on the other side of this awful contagion I'll have to put together a portfolio of the photographs I made during this time. It'll be interesting to see how they hold up as a body of work.
It’s hard to believe that this is our last full day in Paris, day 57 of 58. I suppose I shouldn’t really count tomorrow, since we’ll only be in Paris until our ten-something takeoff time, but I chose to count it way back when, so 58 days it will stay! Speaking of “way back when,” last night I got a bit nostalgic thinking about when it was that we first hatched this idea. I checked in the VRBO app and found that we had reserved this flat on March 24, 2018, exactly one year to the day prior to when we arrived in Paris to begin our adventure. On March 24, 2018, Priscilla was in the middle of her first cycle of chemotherapy, the AC cycle, which was tough going. By March 24th she had gone through two of the AC chemo infusions, which were basically like going through a bad bout of the flu each time. I remember sitting in the living room with a fire burning in the fireplace, talking about needing something to look forward to on the other side of cancer treatment. That was when we came up with the idea to spend two months in Paris in 2019. I suppose that explains the melancholy I felt last night, knowing that this dream that was conceived of during a deeply difficult time in our lives was coming to a close.
The biggest surprise for both of us has been the number of connections we’ve made here in Paris. We never expected that in just two short months. In fact, I remember thinking before we left on our trip how it would be different spending two months in a place where you don’t know a soul. I needn’t have worried. Our last week in Paris has been a series of goodbyes mixed in with some hellos to new friends. Friday we had lunch at Mokonuts and said our goodbyes to Moko. Saturday we said a long goodbye to our friends Claudia, Charles, Eileen, and Anaïs at Miss Lunch. We got there at one and didn’t head out until around four o’clock. It feels so strange to be saying goodbye to these friends. We have had many wonderful times with them. This afternoon we will be saying our goodbyes to Rasmus and Elissa, the owners of the store right below us. We’ve had to say our goodbyes to Ellen and Jean-Pierre via email, as they are back home in Brittany.
Thursday and Friday night we walked down to the Seine to say goodbye to this beautiful river, which we will surely miss. Friday night we joined a party of three at their table for drinks and live jazz. Fabrice and Annie and their friend Inno welcomed us to their table for what became a lively night filled with much conversation and laughter. It was one of those magical nights. We stayed until 11 pm. Saturday night the packing began in earnest. You know we’re at the end of a trip when I pack my camera gear. The flat hardly looks lived in now that all our stuff is put away.
Besides the people, there are other things we will miss about Paris, like the fabulous public Metro system and the ability to walk a block and find fabulous cheeses, meats, vegetables, fruits, baguettes, pain chocolat, and wines. The Marais has been the perfect home base for us in Paris. We are within a half-mile walk to three different Metro stations that give us access to a broad swath of the city in thirty minutes or less. Plus, we are walking distance from world-class museums such as the Picasso Museum and the Henri Cartier-Bresson Institute. I will definitely miss the fabulous street photography opportunities and the little tucked away spaces that are photographically rich. I’m sure Priscilla will miss the shopping opportunities, although with the amount of things she’s having to pack right now, perhaps not.
Regardless of how much we will miss Paris and the friends we have made here, we are more than ready to come home. As I’ve said many times, we are died-in-the-wool Minnesotans. That is home and always will be. This much looked forward to trip has been everything we could have hoped for and more. We have absolutely no regrets coming home from Paris. There is nothing we would have done differently. That our family and friends could join us during this adventure made it even better. For those of you who traveled with us virtually through this blog, we hope you’ve enjoyed the journey.
Soon we will be stateside and I’ll be able to put my “grocery-store French” to pasture until the next time. Hmmm, did I just write “next time.”
Let’s see, we’d best review our list of things to do in Paris. Visit the Jardin de Rosiers—Check! Go on a Champagne Tour—Check! Get the flu—wait just a minute, how did that get on our list. Yes, I’m sorry to report in that Priscilla has picked up the flu this week. And the week started out so promising. Sunday was Mother’s Day, with fresh pain chocolat from our favorite spot, Blé Sucré, fresh brewed coffee, and roses from the Bastille Market. Monday we met our new friend Eileen for coffee and then a walk around her favorite gardens in the Marais. Eileen lives six months of the year in Paris and six in Philly. We visited three gardens with Eileen, but I’m only going to remember the name of the first, the Jardin de Rosiers. This garden has a community garden feel to it, with vegetable plots mixed in with beautiful flowers. Priscilla was our resident flora expert on our walk. Eileen soon learned to just ask Priscilla if she wanted to know the name of a plant. The weather has turned sunnier and a bit warmer this week, so it was a great day for a walk in the gardens.
Tuesday was to have been our Champagne Tour, but the photo below gives you a hint of what happened with that. While the vehicle we were to take on our tour was in for regular maintenance a day or so prior, the mechanic at the shop broke something to do with the oil filter, which is never a good thing. The shop didn’t have the part in stock, so they glued it and told our guide it should be just fine. It was not. They showed up to pick us up at Place d’Italie but their vehicle died and would not be resucitated. They were planning to line up two replacement vehicles for our group of ten, including the guide and his colleague. This meant our tour would be delayed by at least two hours. Apparently you need weeks to be able rent such a van, so two smaller cars it was going to be. Our guide gave us the option to bow out with a full refund. Since our flat was only 20 minutes away by Metro, we decided to head back there and think through what we were going to do. It didn’t take us too long to make up our mind. Priscilla was already starting to feel achy, and the thought of being crammed three to a row in a smaller vehicle with four-plus hours of driving didn’t sound appealing to us, so we texted our guide that we wouldn’t be going. Shortly after that, Priscilla’s seemingly cold-related aching turned into full-blown shivers. She crawled into bed and slept much of the rest of the day. It became quite clear to us that what Priscilla had was the flu, not a cold. Today has been much of the same, lots of resting and not much eating. Our friend Claudia gave me a piece of fresh ginger when I was up at the Aligre Market this morning, and she instructed me to make hot ginger tea for Priscilla. I have dutifully followed Claudia’s orders, as has Priscilla. She seems to be getting a bit more spunk tonight, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that she will start to be on the mend tomorrow, and that I will not pick up the same darned flu, just before getting on our flight home. Wouldn’t that be just lovely!
Last night, Priscilla went to bed quite early, so I took advantage of the longer days and took my Nikon F3 film camera down to the Seine to see if there were any images to be had down there. I was not disappointed. It seems every single millennial in the 3rd and 4th arondisements was down at the river last night. People were so into their thing that they really didn’t pay attention to one largish old fart with an antiquated camera. If you’re wondering how I was able to get the film scans below turned around so quickly, the photo shop that I’ve been frequenting on rue Saint-Antoine provides same-day turnaround on film development and scanning if you drop the film off in the morning, which I did today.
I just have to throw one more photograph in this post, although it doesn’t really fit the theme. I captured the photo below when Priscilla and I were with Eileen touring gardens of the Marais. It’s not often you come upon someone sticking half out of a manhole, so I moved into the street and made this image. I have to say that I think this guy is the most handsome man to emerge from a manhole in pretty much all of recorded history. I can’t tell if he’s pissed with me for making his photo or just curious. I surely don’t believe this photograph is disrespectful. He looks great, and the incongruity of this GQ looking man emerging from a manhole makes it work in my mind. But if enough folks told me it was disrespectful or made fun of the man, then I’d bury the photo in a heartbeat. I always intend to treat my subjects with respect and dignity.
Just to finish up, it’s hard to believe we are down to just five more days in Paris. I’ve been journaling over here in a little Moleskin notebook. Each entry starts with the day and date, followed by the phrase “Day XX of 58 in Paris.” When we were in our first couple weeks, I tried to imagine how I’d feel when we got down to the “Day 53 of 58 in Paris” days. Back then those days seemed way far off. Now they are right in front of us. While we are getting ready in our minds to come home, I do want to savor these last several days. It’s just such a shame that Priscilla is having to spend some of them down for the count with the crud. That just ain’t fair in my book!
Wednesday of this week we set off by train for Beaune in the heart of the Bourgogne (Burgundy) wine-making region of France. Our high-speed train left the Paris Gare de Lyon station at around 12:20. We arrived in Beaune around 3 pm and were met at the train station by Bourgogne’s flesh and blood version of the Energizer Bunny, Patrick Chabrolle, the proprietor of our five-suite, boutique hotel, Les Climats de Beaune.
Although it rained much of our first day in Beaune, we did get out to walk a bit of this quaint town. Things were a bit quiet around town, since the French observe a national holiday on May 8 to commemorate the end of World War II. We did manage to find a restaurant for supper, as did seemingly all the dog owners in town who can’t abide the thought of dining out without their hound at their feet. Three dogs in a small French establishment is three too many in my book. Sorry all you dog lovers out there, but I’d rather not dine out with other peoples’ dogs, especially not when it’s tight quarters and one of the dogs is a standard poodle and the other two are barking terriers who were a bit agitated about the larger poodle and were getting fed from the table. I won’t write about the meal, since the food was average.
Thursday morning, around 9, our guide from Burgundy Discovery, Patrick, picked us up in the VW van. After picking up one more couple, for a total of three couples, all from America, we were on our way to our first vineyard, Domaine Michel Prunier & Fille. The owner, Michel, was our host and guide. You will notice the word “Fille” in the name of the domaine. That indicates that Michel is passing the winery on to his daughter, which in the past would have been unheard of. You’ll see from the photos below, though, that women are making inroads into the winemaking industry in Bourgogne.
Michel took us through their 300+ year-old cellars and discussed winemaking in Bourgogne. One fascinating thing about vineyards in the Bourgogne region is that they are almost all small operations. This is unlike what you might see in Bordeaux or California. Many of the operators in Bourgogne own only 10 hectares of vineyard, or roughly 25 acres. The vineyards surround the villages, and the winemaking operations tend to be right in the villages. The wineries are largely family owned and operated, with extended family members helping in the vineyards. The way French law works, descendants must inherit equal shares of any property, so it can be a challenge for someone to amass enough acreage to support a winery.
Our second vineyard was Domaine Desvignes. The young vigneron (grows the grapes and makes the wine) Gautier, is the son of the owner. Gautier studied in Oregon under a Burgundian winemaker, so he uses a mix of new and old approaches, although many of the wine-making methods are stipulated by French law and cannot be altered.
At each of the vineyards we visited we had a wine tasting. In traditional wine tasting style, we generally didn’t swallow the wine but instead swirled it around in our mouths, giving it a good tasting, before spitting it out into a vessel. While this might sound a bit nasty, believe me, when tasting four to six wines at three wineries, if you didn’t spit the wine out you’d be fairly well soused by the end of the day. I will admit to allowing myself to swallow the last wee little bit of each pour.
It was fascinating learning of the winemaking methods in the Bourgogne. We have always enjoyed the Chardonnays of Bourgogne, but I knew much less about the reds from the region, almost entirely made from the Pinot Noir grape. Our third winery for the day was Domaine Lejeune, where they produce some amazing Premier Cru reds. After kicking things off, Aubert, the owner, turned things over to one of his winemakers, Guillemette, a relatively recent graduate of winemaking school. The Premier Cru vineyards are rated just behind Grand Cru in terms of quality. After Premier Cru comes the Village wines. The ratings are specific to plots of land and were established back in the 1930s. Generally, the ratings do not change, although at Domaine Lejeune they are making an effort to get one of their plots of land designated as Grand Cru. To be honest, most of what we drink back home would fall into the Village category, which is just fine for this value-wine aficionado. One fascinating tidbit about Domaine Lejeune is that they still use humans to stomp the grapes. I’ll see if I can sniff that out in the two bottles we brought back to Paris.
Priscilla and I had decided beforehand that we were going to buy six bottles of wine today at each of the wineries we visited, assuming that shipping was available. So sometime in the fall, we will take delivery of 18 bottles of wonderful Bourgogne wine, 2 Chardonnays, 2 Crémant (Bougogne’s version of champagne), and 14 Premier Cru Pinot Noirs. We also picked up two everyday bottles of Pinot Noir to bring back to Paris with us.
All in all, we were extremely pleased with our time in Bourgogne. The tour we selected focused on lesser known wineries, which I’m glad we chose. The Bourgogne countryside is simply gorgeous, and the small-scale nature of the winemaking there helped make things seem super accessible and approachable. None of the winemakers were stuffy or pretentious, they were simple people who are rooted to the land in an incredibly intimate way. That attitude was refreshing, as were the lovely, delicate wines of the Bourgogne. I will conclude this post with a slideshow of photos to give you more of a sense for our time in Beautiful Burgundy.
Today we are heading out on a two-day excursion to the Burgundy wine country. Right now we are on the train that takes us to Dijon, where we catch a smaller regional train to our destination of Beaune in the heart of the Burgundy, or Bourgogne, region. Tomorrow we are taking a wine tour with Burgundy Discovery. I am super excited for this tour. Some of our favorite wines are from Bourgogne. I will write of that experience in a later post.
Last week we took in a free concert at the American Church in Paris. A touring ensemble from the U.S., the Atlantic Ensemble, was performing. They performed piano quartets from Mozart and Saint-Saëns along with a piano/violin duet rag from Bolcom. The performances were world class. I was particularly impressed with the Saint-Saëns. The young pianist was phenomenal. The American Church has a running series of these free Atelier (i.e. studio) Concerts. A free will offering was taken after the concert. We were happy to give.
It’s hard to believe we are only 12 days away from our return. I have a feeling these last days are going to fly by. Next week we are doing a champagne tour. We will also be saying our farewells to the new friends we’ve made here and stopping one last time at some of our favorite dining spots.
I thought I’d conclude this post with some recent photos in a slideshow so you can see what we’ve been up to.