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Going old School: How to try your hand in film photography

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Those of us born before the new millennium most probably would have handled some sort of film camera one way or another, and whether that was a 35mm or a 120mm, thinking about dad’s camera brings back many warm memories. I still have my dad’s camera, a 1965 Nikon F and apart from the broken light meter – a common problem with the first series of this legendary camera – it still works like it just came out of the factory

And when I arm and click that shutter and I hear that beautiful sound, I think of the memories that this camera has captured, from my parents move to the UK when I was just a baby, to me using it today. This camera has captured my entire life.

So, if like me, you are getting nostalgic or just want to try your hand at film photography, the amazing thing is these cameras built in the 50s, 60s and 70s are practically bomb proof. Even bullet proof it seems as one such Nikon F managed to save the life of legendary war photographer Don McCullin in Vietnam. If you don’t believe me have a look at the photo below. 

So you can pretty much find incredible film cameras at amazing prices and if you look past the wear and tear of years of use and abuse (something which to me ads to the overall charm of using an old film camera) then you will have gotten yourself an absolute gem of a machine.

Nikon or Canon doesn’t really matter as it is a matter of opinion and taste. When it comes to DSLRs I wouldn’t change Canon for the world and that shows you how stubborn I am, but when I want to shoot film, well,  Nikon is where my heart is.

Back then pretty much all mechanical cameras where good, so my best advice to you is to visit Aperture in London and have a chat with the very helpful guys there and they will help you choose the right camera for your style. That being said, I really wouldn’t spend more than £300 on an old SLR and you can find many cameras on eBay so don’t take any rash decisions. Take your time and you will find a gem of a camera, for that I am sure.

My favourite 35mm are the Nikon F (no surprise there then), and the Nikon FE2 and FM2. If you want a reliable camera then avoid the Nikon F as the light meter will probably be broken, and if it isn’t it will be very soon.  Go instead for and FE2 or FM2 Nikon, they are pretty much indestructible.

Most of these cameras were and are being sold with a standard 50mm f2 or if you are lucky f1.2 lenses so if you really want to stick to old school these lenses are really amazing for everyday use.

But like with cameras, you can also find amazing lenses at incredible prices as well. When I was in Cyprus I walked into a photographer’s studio where I found five brand new 135mm f2.8 Nikkor lenses as well as five brand spanking new Nikkor 35mm f1.4 (my personal favourite lens). I bought both lenses for the amazing price of 85 EUROS! So keep looking around and you will find amazing deals.

I would avoid zoom lenses if you want to stick to old school photography. My recommended lenses would be a 24mm and 35mm for your landscape shots, 50mm for your street photography, and 135mm for your portraits.

When it comes to film, you will be pleasantly surprised to hear that there are still many different types available in both colour and black and white, and although some films have been sadly discontinued, a recent explosion in shooting 35mm has managed to save legendary films like the Kodak Tri-X Black and White film, and many more. Talk to the guys at Aperture and they will be able to advise you on what films you can buy. I will write an article soon about how to set up your own dark room, so watch this space.

Good luck and happy shooting.

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