Tag Archives: Kodak

Street Photography on a Budget

Now I am the first to admit that I am not a very good street photographer. I do enjoy it and I am getting better each time I go out in search of that “decisive moment”. I have read a lot of other “how to” and “best gear” blogs and articles about shooting street photos and there are some really great tips and tricks out there. One thing I have learned over my course of photography experiences is that there is not a hard rule on much of anything in photography. (Except exposure. A bad exposure means a bad photograph no matter what else is going right in the photo.) So I take every “do this” or “use this” tip with a grain of salt.

Many of the things you may find online about street shooting is focused around the gear. It seems that the holy grail of a street shooters bag is a Leica of some sort. I don’t know about you, but I can’t really justifying the cost of a Leica to do some occasional street shooting. Of course many street photographers use their phones, which is a good option, and others use mirrorless systems. It seems that what ever you end up using you must like and be proficient at using it. My point here is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to be able to make great photographs. The best camera is the one between your ears.

Monica's Pizza, one of the best pizza places in the North End of Boston
Monica’s Pizza, one of the best pizza places in the North End of Boston. Shot with Canon AF35ML and Kodak Tri-X 400

I am partial to traditional film photography methods, especially Kodak Tri-X 400 for street photography. So, when I was planning a trip to Boston last year I wanted to find a film based camera that I could use to make some walk around town photographs. I wanted something small, easy to use and cheap. I have a few 35mm cameras I could have used like a Pentax ME Super, or a couple of Nikons and even an Yashica Electro rangefinder. All of those, except the ME Super, are too big and imposing on the streets when you want to photograph strangers on the street. I needed something smaller and less intimidating.

Unfortunately my Olympus XA just bit the dust and quit working on me. I loved that camera. So with that, I decided I was on the hunt for a high quality point and shoot film camera. With this in mind I kept my eyes open anytime I went into a thrift store or an antique shop. In the 80’s and 90’s there were some stellar point and shoot cameras made. Many of them are still highly sought after even today. Cameras like the the Olympus XA, Contax T3, Yashica T5 and others are stellar examples of great point and shoot systems. The fun part about looking for one is that many people think they are out dated and are “no good” any more because of the new digital systems out there, and they just give them away. I found my Olympus XA for $2 at a thrift store because someone gave it away!

Canon AF35ML point and shoot camera for street photography
Canon AF35ML point and shoot camera for street photography

My efforts didn’t turn up a Contax but I did get my hands on a pretty capable camera at a thrift store. I picked up a Canon AF35ML in almost perfect condition for $10 bucks. It fit my requirements perfectly (almost, I will talk about that in a minute). It was cheap, small and was a “full frame” 35mm camera. I could slip it in my pocket and use it whenever I needed. Even better, my family that was traveling with me, didn’t have to put up with the “wait while I get the camera out” moments. I could just pull it out, point, shoot and be on my way.

Now, for some film. I wanted to use a bullet proof black and white film that could handle any funny exposure issues I might run into with this little point and shoot rig. One of my go to films is Kodak Tri-x 400. I knew I didn’t have much control over what the camera was doing so I needed a film that had a lot of exposure latitude. Another film I could have used was Illford HP5. It is very similar to Tri-x.

One International place boston
One International place Boston. Night shooting was no problem for the point and shoot with Kodak Tri-X loaded.

Once I had some film loaded I gave the little camera a spin… The auto focus was fast and smooth and the shutter has a nice quiet “click” when you hit the button. However, the film advance sounded like some sort of electric grinder, “grrr…ick”. So, there was no way I was getting away clean from some street shot of someone walking by me on the street. Bummer. The noise aside, the images this camera produced were fantastic. With a little practice I quickly understood where this camera excelled and where it falls flat on it’s face.

Puddle reflection
Puddle reflection

I still use this camera for street snaps and general travel/walk around shooting. My whole point here is that you don’t need to spend a ton of money to make some great photographs. I spent a total of $10 for the camera and about .20 cents a frame to shoot some fun street images. No Leica needed.

Repost – Kodak UltraMax Test

This is a re-post of an article I had on my old blog site. It was a popular one even though it wasn’t about black and white film photography. Whenever I can I like to encourage new photographers to try film and this article is a good example of how to get really good images from some really cheap film. Because this was an older post some of the links to external sites may not work.

I have a few more posts planed around how to shoot, process, print, scan and the whole film workflow in coming posts, so check back soon. Enjoy the re-post.

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Disclaimer: This is not a scientific test, my results may be different than yours and results may vary. 

I have ordered some of the new Kodak Portra 400 film and can’t wait to give it a spin. I have seen some posts on a few other blogs that have shown how wide the exposure latitude of the new film is. You can see some good examples over at Twin Lens Life. They are some great film shooters in the Riverside area. I have also seen a test of Fuji X-tra 400 consumer film that showed how much exposure latitude it has over at Figital Revolution. All films are different and behave differently, that’s the beauty of film. Knowing what you want to get right out of the camera and knowing what film will get you there instead of working for hours in photoshop to get there is a great way to work.

For my example I chose to shoot with some Kodak Ultramax 400. It’s easy to get your hands on and I figure that if someone wanted to start shooting film for the first time, or go back to it for kicks, they would be likely to pick some of this up and start shooting. It breaks down to about $2.50 a roll, not expensive and easy on the wallet.

 

Inexpensive color negative film
Kodak UltraMax 400 4 pack @ 24 Exposures for each roll. Single rolls retail for $2.99 each online today.

What I did on my first roll is to expose the first frame at 50 iso and then move each frame after that up one stop, all the way to 6400 iso. I did this so I could find the “sweet spot” to set my iso on my camera. You might be saying “But the box says 400 iso, don’t you set it at 400?”. The short answer is maybe. Just because the box speed says 400 doesn’t mean that you get the best results at 400. In the other examples from Twin Lens Life and Figital Revolution you can see that the films performed really well at just about all speeds. That’s right, you can shoot those films like you can with digital and move the iso around! The Kodak Ultramax however, doesn’t perform so great at 400 or higher (again these are my results, yours may be different). You can see my examples below.

Test exposers of Kodak UltraMax 400 35mm film
Examples of Kodak UltraMax shot at different exposures to determine the best ISO and settings to use with the film.

As you might be able to see, 400 iso is about the max this film can shoot at. It seems that the film starts to flatten out in contrast and the grain starts to get bigger at 400 iso. If a person didn’t know this and was excited to “try film” and shot this at box speed they might be a bit disappointed and think that all film looks like this. Now that I know how this film behaves with my shooting style and camera system I will be shooting this film at 100 iso not 400. The grain structure, color saturation and the blacks seem to be real nice at 100 iso and it still gives me about 2 stops + or – for error and I will still get a nice exposure. If you want to get into shooting film and you chose this film just for “testing it out” you would probably be better off setting your iso at 100 or 200 to start out. I think you will like your photographs more and it wouldn’t discourage you from shooting some more.