Analogue Lessons

That 70's vibe

I am gradually catching up with processing  the recent film shots and scanning the results. Rather than posting the better images I thought that it might be fun to first post some of the disasters and try to understand what when wrong. All the images here were taken with the Minolta XD-s using Fuji C200 colour film.

The first image (above) has a seriously 70’s vibe to it thanks to an incredible amount of unintended noise – the result of a seriously underexposed image.

When shooting with a modern digital camera you have the advantage of some pretty sophisticated metering algorithms that assess the exposure over a large part of the image frame. No so with the 1970’s Minolta design, which effectively meters just in the centre of the frame and assumes that it is looking at an 18% grey card. Unfortunately here, the meter picked up mostly the bright sky, causing the underexposure. Next time I need to take the meter reading from something darker…


Too fast!

Another example of a photographic failure – this time a “hip-shot” taken with far far to slow a shutter speed.

With a digital camera, I would normally use manual-mode to specify a shutter speed and aperture and rely on the camera metering and auto-ISO to manage the exposure. This works well with zone-focusing and modern sensor technology handles both high-ISOs and fairly large exposure errors with ease.

Unfortunately, I forgot that I only had an ISO200 film in the camera here. With the camera running in aperture-priority mode, the only way that it could meet the exposure requirement was with a long exposure time – far more than the 1/250th I would normally try to use. A faster film and doing something completely revolutionary – such as holding the camera still – would probably have yielded the intended image. Ironically, I think I prefer the blurred image than the likely result had it been sharp, so even the intent here was probably wrong…


Half Dome

Lastly, something you will never see on a digital camera – a half burned out image caused by not winding the film on sufficiently after it had been loaded. With digital we are spoiled – a single memory card can store thousands of images and is trivial to take in and out of the camera. With film, well it is not quite so simple. The photograph above was the result of struggling to get the film to bind to the sprockets in the winder – it had taken three abortive attempts at loading to get the film winder to work correctly.

I think that the biggest take-away from the these failures is how much more care is required to shoot with a film camera. It is very clear that shooting with a good modern digital camera allows you to get away with some very poor techniques and also leaves you reliant on computer automation for much of the process. With digital, the shooting process is much easier, there is essentially no cost in pressing the shutter and the feedback is immediate.

With analogue film, there is a real cost in making mistakes. The learning process is also made more challenging thanks to the lack of meta-data recorded by the camera (shutter speed and aperture settings are usually not saved by a film camera) and the long time between taking an image and finally seeing the final result. You have to work to understand what went right – and what did not – to a degree that is largely unnecessary with digital. Such focussed learning is usually the best way to improve a skill. Shooting 100 images with a digital camera and choosing the one that works becomes the technique itself rather than a means to understand what made the one shot worth taking.

The examples of failed shots shown here were deliberately chosen to show somewhat exaggerated technical problems, but the same principle also applies to less easily shown issues with composition and subject. For this reason alone I think it is worth shooting more with a traditional analogue camera and almost everything that is learned is relevant also to digital.


  1. And this is probably why I didn’t start taking photographs until I had a cell phone. It’s much more forgiving and economical than film. Thanks for the lesson! xoxoM

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