How to get started with analog photography

Nikon EM, with Nikkor 50mm 1.8 Ai lens and Fuji Superia 200 film

Nikon EM, with Nikkor 50mm 1.8 Ai lens and Fuji Superia 200 film

I’ve written a little about analog photography in the past, but for those of you only used to digital photography and curious about good old analog photography I thought I’d write a little short introduction.

Though the way we capture and process images have changed when moving from analog to digital photography, the very basics of photography remains the same! We compose and expose in much the same way, using the same tools. However some things are different.

What camera should I get?

Find a camera that suits you! There are a lot of cameras to choose from and you can find good cameras cheap on the eBay and in thrift shops. Some are easier to use than others. Cameras from the 90’s are packed with electronics and can be quite advanced. They have highly advanced auto modes. Personally I think they are a little too boring and remind me too much of modern digital cameras in the way they operate. Cameras from the 70’s and 80’s I think are great! They have good metering, are cheap and easy to use, but they still have that classic feel to them. You can still be creative and use them in manual mode. Cameras that are older are often a bit harder to use. They may lack proper metering, and some are less intuitive.


Asahi Pentax Spotmatic

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic is a typical classic SLR camera from the 60’s.

There are also different types of cameras to look for. SLR’s are great and is a good place to start. They have good metering and good manual control. You can change the lenses which is handy. They can usually be found cheap, and you can find high quality lenses fairly cheap as well! If you own a DSLR you’ll be familiar with how it operates.



Olumpus 35 SP

Olympus 35 SP is an example of a rangefinder camera.

Rangefinder cameras are also great! They work a bit differently than SLRs. You don’t actually see through the lens like on a SLR which at first seems odd. However, they have a different, and in some ways better, way of focusing.

Rangefinders are usually smaller and more compact than SLRs, and more quiet due to no flip-up mirror. Some rangefinder cameras have exchangeable lenses, others do not. Rangefinders are typically a bit more expensive than SLR, unless you find a bargain!

Pentax PC-550

Pentac PC-550 is a simple automatic viewfinder camera.

Rangefinders are easily confused with viewfinder cameras because they may look similar. Like on rangefinder cameras, on viewfinder cameras you don’t look through the lens itself. However, unlike rangefinder cameras, viewfinder cameras have no way of accurately confirming focus. Viewfinder cameras are often consumer models and have limited metering and manual controls.


Adox Golf 45 S

Adox Golf is a camera that uses 120 film. It’s an older camera from the 50’s and lack metering and focus system.

Older box cameras and twin-reflex lens cameras can be fun and interesting, but often a bit harder to use. Especially older box cameras. They often have limited or no metering or way of telling focus accurately. You basically point and shoot and hope for the best. You should have some skill to handle these cameras well.




What types of film can I use?

There are a lot of different films available still today! First we can look at the different film formats. Most of the films you’ll encounter will be either 135/35mm or 120-format film. These formats are still commonly used by analog photographers today and films in these formats are still produced.

135 or 35mm film you probably know already. It’s what you’ll most likely encounter. Used by most SLRs, rangefinders and compact-cameras this is beyond any doubt the most common film format in use.

120-film is larger than 135. It’s also know as medium format. This format is typically used in older cameras. It’s commonly used in older box cameras. Some films may also be labeled 220, but this only means that the film is a bit longer and can still be used.

There are other types of film formats as well, such as APS, 126,  110, 127, and so on, but most of these are no longer in production and can be hard to get and of poorer quality.

Film rolls

Different kinds of film. A roll of 35mm black and white and a roll of Kodak Portra color negative C-41 120-film

In addition to the film format there are also different film types and different development process. First is regular color film like Kodak Gold or Fuji Superia. Regular color film uses a process called C-41. Other names in use for this process is CN-16, CNK-4 and AP-70. This is the cheapest and easiest film process and most local photo shops with a lab can develop this kind of film.

Next is color reversal films. Also called slides, positives, dias and reversal. Unlike your regular color films which produces a negative image on the film, these kind of films actually produce a positive image. This meant that the negatives could be displayed on a large surface using a slides projector. These films are developed using a process called E-6. Once more common, fewer labs develop these films today and it may cost more to get these films developed. Small local labs will probably not be able to develop these films, so be prepared to ship your films off and get them back in a week or two.

The third alternative is black and white. These films use a very simple develop process. So simple in fact that a lot of people actually develop black and white films themselves! However, like the E-6 process it’s rare for smaller local shops to develop this kind of film, so you may have to ship your films off.

So where to begin?

If you think shooting on film sounds cool and would like to check it out, here’s my advice to you: First find an old camera. Either you go searching in the attic/basement of you parents, grandparents or uncle etc. or you go to your nearest thrift shop/flea marked/garage sale. In worst case you go online. If you end up on eBay you may need to know what you’re looking for. Try searching for a Canon AE-1, Minolta X-570, Pentax K-1000 or Nikon FM-2 and try to find one with a fast prime lens, 28mm, 35mm or 50mm f/2.8 or faster.

One you have your camera in hand, go to your local store and pick up a roll of cheap standard color film, like Fuji Superia or whatever is cheapest. If you’re lucky and have a proper photo shop nearby this is where you’ll go. There you should be able to get help loading the film, and get a quick lesson on how to use your camera if you need it. Once loaded take the camera with you and shoot a test roll. Make sure it’s not just waste, but also make sure it’s not too important in case there should be anything wrong with the camera.

Once you have your roll developed and see that all is well with the camera, you’ll pick up some more film. Now remember that when you buy film, you need to look at the ISO value to find out how fast the film is. Once you’ve selected a value it can not be changed like on digital cameras. Also remember that films are calibrated for different lighting such as daylight or tungsten. So in essence when you buy your film you choose the ISO and white balance and you can’t change it later! When it comes to buying film for the first time I’ll suggest getting a couple rolls of different film to see how they differ in look. Try a couple of different until you find one that have the look you’re after. I’d suggest starting with a couple of Kodak Portra films, a roll of Kodak Ektar and maybe some Fuji films. Also get a roll of Ilford Delta and Kodak T-Max or Tri-X black and white films just for fun. Then go out and start shooting analog!

Changing technique for a creative boost

With modern digital cameras and their workflow it’s easy to just let the camera do all the work. Today’s image files are cheap and too often I just fire away and come home with way to many images, much more than I need. Just a couple are useful. The rest is either out of focus, badly composed or badly exposed. I’ve been lazy or my creativity has run dry.

Used film rollsThough the way we capture and process images have changed when moving from analog to digital photography, the very basics of photography remains the same! We compose and expose in much the same way, using the same tools. However, today modern digital cameras have a vast number of options, buttons, dials and possibilities. It’s easy to get confused and end up focusing on everything else, but the actual picture. Therefor I find it refreshing to sometimes step out of the digital work flow and back to the analog world. Stripped of electronics I can focus on capturing images.

As a photographer I like to get back to basics every once in a while.Think before I shoot. The best way for me to do so, is to load a roll of film in one of my old analogue cameras. These cameras are 30-50 years old and they’re stripped of electronics and automatic modes. All they got is good old mechanics and sometimes some low tech light metering. This frees my mind from all the technical details such as ISO or white balance. These parameters are set with the film. There are no buttons to push or menus to enter. Just adjust exposure with aperture and shutter, frame the shot, focus and click!

Now I only got 24 or 36 exposures. I better make them count!

This restriction is a great way for me to force myself to think before I shoot. Instead of just firing away, I closely consider each shot. Is it worthy of being photographed? And if it is, can I make it even better? When shooting analogue I only use fixed focal lenses, no zooms. This means I have to move around, and the moment I start moving, I start thinking of different angles. Not just the regular ones. I start being creative!

Of course this doesn’t mean every shot turn out to be a master piece. Most of it is useless. But it’s about the process. It’s about taking the time. It’s about getting in touch with the craft that is photography not just taking photos. It’s about taking a different approach. It’s about having fun!