Back to film: Shooting with vintage cameras

I have been slowly building up a small collection of film cameras and have been waiting for time to experiment with them. Finally in August I brought some film so I could test them out. I purchased a pack of 3 x 24 exposure Kodak 200 film 35mm film from Hanafins at a cost of $29.95. The 200 stands for the ISO which in this case is good for outdoor and some indoor use. 

I do a lot of portrait photography. I love to photograph people and of course fashion for Admire magazine, but I also really love landscape photography. I find landscape photography very relaxing, and get a lot of enjoyment from it. I like to capture tree top canopies and still life images of old houses too; wherever I go Im looking through photographers eyes for that next magic photograph. 

For my film exploration I took the cameras away to The Pear Orchard Lodge were I had a lovely weekend taking photos of the farm animals, and surrounding views. 

Kodak ColorSnap 35 camera
Image taken using Canon 5DM3 with Canon 50mm 1.4 Lens. 

This Kodak ColorSnap 35 was my first ever camera, given to me when I was nine by my grandmother. I really wanted a camera to take away on camp with me, hoping for a nice little black one with a flash. I was mortified when I was given this thirty year old brown ugly thing. I never took it out of my camp bag. Twenty five years later and I am finally using it. 

The Kodak ColorSnap 35 was produced between 1964-67 which makes it now over fifty years old. I had no instructions for it, but managed to figure out how to open it an put the film inside. The half-century old camera is semi automatic. It has an adjustable shutter, but the aperture is changed via little weather pictures on the side of the lens, ranging from bright sun to cloudy and dull. There is a dial on the top for you to set with the film type you are using, in this case I chose Kodak colour. The film counter which you set at 24 exposures upon loading is meant to count back and let you know how many photos you have left to take, but in this case it wasn't working so I had to manually keep track on a note pad. 

The first problem I encountered was not being sure that the film was wound on - so I made the mistake of opening the back to check, turns out it was wound on. I wasn't sure if there would be any usable film left after exposing it to light but continued on taking photographs in the hope some might turn out. The second problem was judging the focus. This camera is fully mechanical relaying on no batteries - it has no auto focus and no exposure metre. I had to guess the exposure values and focal distance, which was really hard. There is a formula which lets you know the distance you should be in feet from the subject to achieve focus, but turns out I'm not too good at using it. 

I take my films to Hanafins, where they are sent to Christchurch for processing at a cost of $9.95 per film, the turn around is about one week.

I was surprised with the film from the Kodak ColorSnap 35. I had a hit rate of 18 out of 24 exposures even after I had opened the back. Out of those eighteen, nine images were well exposed and in focus, and about six of them I really like. 

This was the second exposure, you can see that it has line through the right hand side, the first exposure also had this line. 

I didn't have luck shooting portraits on any of the three film cameras, you can see in this photo of my daughter Eliana the focus is not clear. I found judging the focal distance very difficult.

Here I am using the Balda camera, thank you for the photograph Nikki (taken with the Kodak ColorSnap 35) 

Overall I would give this vintage camera a 5/5. While some of the photographs turned out beautifully sharp it was unpredictable and harder to use than my Balda, which I will review next. It will most likely spent the rest of its days as an ornament. 

The 1958 Balda - Baldess 1 a
Image taken using Canon 5DM3 with Canon 50mm 1.4 Lens.  

The 1958 Balda - Baldessa 1 a. I purchased this mint condition vintage camera from the Nelson Sunday flea market a few years ago for $30. It was in perfect condition and came with all its original packaging, the box, cover and instruction book. It looks like its never been used. 

The next of my film cameras that I experimented with is the 1958 Balda - Baldessa 1 a. This vintage camera is my favourite, it is not only a beautifully crafted camera from Germany but took wonderful landscape photographs too.  

Like the Kodak, the Balda has no auto focus or exposure metre. I found that the best images taken on it were of landscapes at infinity focus, for this reason when I next use it I will do so only for landscapes. 

I used a twenty four exposure film on the Balda, which produced 20 images. I would give it a 8/10

I quite like this Kowhai tree image taken on the Balda. It has a Lomography look to it with light spill, deep colours and some double exposure. 

The focus was spot on in this image, it also has a lovely light leak in the upper left corner. 
Taken with Kodak Gold 200 film on the 1958 Balda Baldessa 1 a

I discovered while using the Balda that what you see through the view finder is different to the final exposure. When I composed this image of Timo's lovely family farm house at The Pear Orchard it was not cropped. I looked through the view finder and saw the entire house in the frame. As you can see the processed image is cropped. Therefore in future when I use the camera I will need to take into account the crop factor when composing. 

This here, is why I wanted to experiment with film. It's hard to believe the image was taken on a 50yr old camera! A 1958 Balda Baldessa 1 a. The landscape photographs it produces are exquisite. It has now become one of my favourite photography tools. 

1979 Nikon EM
Image taken using Canon 5DM3 with Canon 50mm 1.4 Lens. 

The third camera I experimented with was the 1979 Nikon EM. I have never used a Nikon before, always being a Canon photographer. I must say out of all three, this camera felt the best to use. It was very satisfying winding on the film between exposures with a lovely mechanism that clicked beautifully, the lovely sound it made on depressing the shutter was also wonderful. It does take a battery for the exposure metre which I tried to use, but discovered it no longer works. This produced poor results. 17/24 exposures printed, most of which were under exposed. I would give it a 5/10.

One of the underexposed images taken on the 1979 Nikon EM

A lovely darker exposure taken of The Pear Orchard Lodge on the 1979 Nikon EM

In summary, I have to say the colours taken on all three vintage film cameras are so rich and divine. I could never capture anything like this on my Canon 5DM3 digital full frame SLR, or even process anything in Photoshop to give this look. I have learnt that it is best to use these cameras for landscapes or images with a focal distance of over a few metres. I will definitely be using the Balda Baldessa 1 a again, and perhaps the Nikon, simply because it feels so lovely to operate. 

Here are my favourite photographs from these experiments, I hope you enjoy them. 

Special thanks to Timo of The Pear Orchard Lodge for his hospitality.