Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The 35mm Project

It wasn't as exciting as my 100 Strangers Project or my Bate Island Project. There was very little interaction with people and not nearly as labour-intensive.

Many times, I carried the old Minolta SRT-101 in my camera bag, the weight pulling at my shoulders, compressing the disks of my lower back, forgetting it was there. Being a fully manual SLR, with the only part that ran on batteries was a light meter that would work some days, not so much on others, I had to rely on decades-old skills and a sharp eye.

Neither of which I seemed to have.

When the camera's meter didn't work, I had to estimate the shutter speed and aperture. Most of the time, I was pretty good, but I did find some of the photos were either a little over-exposed or they seemed washed out.

Perhaps because developing 35mm film isn't something that camera shops do often, the chemicals do not get replenished as often as they should. Perhaps the technicians are rusty at this dying process.

I shot a roll of Kodak EKTAR 100ASA film, with 36 exposures. The roll cost about three times the price from when I worked in a camera store. So be it. It took me about six months to shoot it, often because, as I said, I forgot to use it. I used it on a model shoot, in New York City, on an evening photo walk, and wandering around downtown Ottawa.

When I dropped the roll off for processing, I had to pay up front: regardless of the number of prints that would turn out, I had to pay $25, which is about twice the price that it cost back in my days at Black's Cameras, for one-week processing.

It took a month to get the photos back.

With SLR photography, you shoot 36 frames and hope to get six or so good ones. When you take your time, perhaps half the roll or more might be worthwhile.

I learned a couple of things with this project: first, my eyes aren't as good as they were the last time I used this camera. My focus was off. Not a lot, but enough to give a soft effect to just about everything.

Second, the light meter is not as accurate as it used to be, for even when it worked, it didn't seem to provide a balanced exposure. Maybe, I'm so used to modern technology that I remember my photos to be more vivid. In the digital age, I can manipulate so much data in RAW files that I may have forgotten what SLRs produce.

Third, I'm not sure whether it was the quality of the Kodak film, the quality of the chemicals in developing the negatives, or the quality of the printer, but I wasn't happy with a single photo. Not one.

I'm least satisfied with the shots I took, where I gave thought to the composition, to the lighting, and to the exposure settings. The model shots are flat. New York looks washed out and old.

I wanted to show something from this project, but because the colours in most of the prints were washed out, I chose to digitally scan the negatives and use my photo-editing software to try and improve the shots.

These are the best that I could fix, all of them shot near or in the National Gallery of Canada, in June.

I know: they suck.

As you can see, I converted most of the photos to black-and-white, to make up for the lack of any vibrancy.

I'm going to try this project again, but next time I will try using my last SLR, my Minolta X-700. Perhaps the upgraded technology will produce better results.

Then again, I may just stick to the new technology of D-SLRs. That way, I don't have to wait so long to see whether a picture is good or not.


  1. Might be fun to do a side-by-side project. Go around with your DSLR and SLR and photograph each composition with both cameras.
    Somewhere in my parents' house, I have an SRT-102 collecting dust. Can't say I've been overly tempted by it.

    1. For many of the shots that I took with the SLR, I also shot similar photos with my D-SLR. The digital photos blow away the film shots.

      My wife also has an SRT-102. Maybe I should compare it with my 101.

  2. This post is quite old now, so I hope you don't mind. I'd be curious to see the unedited photos for comparison, as well as your digital shots!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Simmon. I would have to dig up those photos. They're somewhere in my archives. My project was all about reviving my 35mm camera. Cheers!