No Chimping

Click on image for sample galleryAs promised, I thought I'd report back on the results of my first outings shooting 35mm roll film and the Leica M5 rangefinder.

First, I'm delighted to say that the results were much better than I had hoped for. I will say, you don't realize how much convenience new technology provides until you take it away. Shooting with film rangefinder is a whole lot of manual. There's no bumping up the ISO in between frames. No selecting focus points…. since there's no autofocus anyway. No zoom. No burst frames. No aperture or shutter preferred modes… and most importantly… NO CHIMPING. :)

Needless to say, suddenly there's a whole lot going on. Suddenly you find yourself trying to figure out a workflow prior to pressing the shutter.

First, it's very critical to set the ISO when you first load the film. As you prepare for a shot, you start analyzing the scene figuring out how to best meter for the shot. Next, I've found that aperture is a bit more important to me with this camera. The depth of field can have such a dramatic impact on your shot and I find myself really wanting to take advantage of it accordingly. That's not to say I want everything with a shallow depth-of-field. Obviously, there are lots of general shots where corner to corner sharpness is fitting. But applying selective focus with the right depth-of-field is very intoxicating.

Lastly, you working on focusing and composition. I's pretty easy to get tripped up in this department too. WIth autofocus you can lock on to an object then slightly recompose your shot without much issue. But with lure and desire to capture that incredible bokeh, manually focusing and then recomposing can be the kiss of death. The depth-of-field is so shallow, if you lean in or back a 1/4 inch or so with your head, it's over. You've missed. Of course the answer is to stop down a bit… but then you give up the high you get form all that creamy bokeh. I guess that's what makes the good guys good.

The sum total of all of this ultimately you're distracted. Mastering the process to where you don't think about it is the goal. Like any endeavor, you've got to become fluent. The steps need to become second nature so you're free to concentrate on creating the image you see. That takes time and becoming familiar with the camera, we'll get there.

What I'm truly disappointed in is the post process. Honestly, I hadn't given much thought to processing the film. I've learned quickly that 1-hour processing is not as it is advertised. For the most part, if you can say "you want fries with that?" you too can become a photo lab technician at Walgreens, CVS and even…. yes even Ritz Camera. I've tried all three. And I've even tried multiple locations. Oh my.

Now in fairness… not defense, mind you… but in fairness, I intentionally started out with drugstore films so I could take advantage of getting it developed quickly while the shots were still fresh in my mind. They sell mostly 400 ISO, though Ritz did have some 200 ISO FUji color film.  The films are not all that great. Grainy in nasty kind of way… not a classic film noire kind of way. But even with that in mind, the quality of the 1-hour service output is an absolute waste of money.

I've been getting negatives only and a CD. No prints. Very cost effective… except what you get back is useless. So, not cost effective at all.

As I said, the film is grainy… thin emulsion and color, muddy grain and worse, inconsistent. So bad, I don't know if it was the film, the processing machine or the operator. No two… not film, not operator, not scan.. nothing has been alike. All I've been able to tell from what I get back is the exposures are good and my focusing is good. If I wanted to compare color rendering from one lens to the next, or even the differences in film characteristics, I'd be out of luck.

The scans had lines through them and 4x6 at 300dpi leaves you with no latitude to make adjustments. The pixels just collapse under pressure. Looking at the scans, the negatives were filthy. And I do mean filthy. The scans had so many white flecks and what looked like white pubic hairs all over them, they were useless. They left me longing for a dusty sensor.

The real punch line was Ritz Camera. Ok… I can understand CVS and Walgreens being clueless. But you'd think a camera store would know better. NOT! In fact, I'd go back to Walgreens first. Ritz developed a roll of color Fuji 200 for me. How interesting that it would turn out gray. Not black and white. Gray. When I inquired as to why, the fellow told me, "you gave us black and white." To which I replied… "that's pretty amazing, because you sold me color." He continued with, "well I can't put the color back in, but… trust me, you're going to love these as black and white. They look really sharp as black and white." Suddenly everything around me shifted into slow motion… I had entered some sort of paradigm shift. I genuinely found myself without a response. I got in my car and drove home wondering how I had slept through the last four hours. Unbelievable.

This week I will shoot with quality film and head over to a professional lab here in Naples. I have my fingers crossed.  It has to be better. Lord knows, it can't get any worse.

And no… I'm not going to build a darkroom. - Stay tuned.