Rebecca Watkins Photography
Where fine art meets wedding photography.


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Filmy Delicousness: My Adventure Back to Film

This summer has been rough; an absolute roller coaster. Saying I'm due for a vacation may be an understatement. HA!In spite of the chaos, I have been so blessed with amazing support from my family, Mike and his family, friends, and the photography community. It's been almost overwhelming (in a good way!). Photography has been an incredible outlet. I have some of the best couples ever, and photographing them has kept me sane. Along with my usual stuff, I decided to go back to work with film. Needless to say, I have received some strange looks. In a digital age, why would I even bother? Can you still get it developed?!

The why: I love the look of film. I love the feel of film. The colors are amazing without any help. I take the photos and then send the film to a lab to develop and scan. Then, I download the photos, and Voila! I'm done. This lets me spend more time shooting and less time in front of the computer. There are tons of places to still get everything developed and scanned. I've decided to go with a prolab, Indie Film Lab. They're very hands on with the entire process and know everything there is to know about film. I made a profile of what I wanted my scans to look like and they match it.

Finding the equipment: I've been spending a lot of my free time searching . The place is magical and filled with unicorns and rainbows. It is the best place to find used photography equipment. Since most companies aren't producing film equipment anymore, you have to buy used. KEH is the place to do it. The customer service is incredible, and they are to be trusted. Their "bargain" rating just means it is a little scuffed up, but works PERFECTLY. If there is a problem, they will take care of it for you immediately. WARNING: has the ability make your bank statement a scary thing to look at if you don't exercise some caution.


So what equipment am I exactly using? A Mamiya 645AFD. The 645 means that the negatives are 6 x 4.5cm. This is huge compared to your typical 35mm film. The camera body takes different lenses just like the dSLR, but the film is loaded into a separate back attachment. The backs' interchangeability allow me to use two backs filled with film. One can use 400ISO color film, and the other can be loaded with 1600ISO black and white film. Instead of waiting to finish the roll before I can change, I can just swap backs! This body also allows me the option of buying a digital back down the line and taking digital photos rather than film photos. For lenses, I have the 80mm 1.9 lens and the 55mm 2.8 lens. The 80mm focal length for medium format cameras is the equivalent of the nifty-fifty 50mm lens on normal dSLRs. The 55mm for medium format is roughly the equivalent of 35mm on a dSLR. Photo taken using VSCOcam.

I am also using a Mamiya c330f. Unlike the 645AFD, this camera is a 6 x 6cm square format and looks way cool. It has a viewing lens (where you compose your photo) and a taking lens (the one that actually opens up and exposes the film). With this set up, there is no viewfinder or prism (where you look to frame and focus your photo in your dSLR). The c330f is also designed to be focused while it is at waist level. It also utilizes interchangeable lenses like the 645, but it does not take different film backs. Whatever roll is in there, you're stuck with until it is finished! Perhaps my favorite feature, the c330f doesn't use batteries at all. It is completely mechanical! Right now, I have a 80mm 2.8 lens only.

They are both absolutely amazing cameras. I could not be happier with my choice of tools.

The film choice: There are so many film choices. For the meantime, I'm working with Kodak Portra 160, 400, and 800 for color, and Kodak Tri-X 400 for black and white. Why Portra you may ask? Simply put: it is forgiving. I have the ability to fudge the exposure just a bit, yet still get an incredible image. Once I am consistently nailing exposures on film, I'll play around with different films like Fuji 400h.

FINDing help: I picked up a copy of Film Is Not Dead (aka: FIND). This book has been immeasurably helpful. I would consider it to be a great resource for those looking to rediscover film in a digital dominated era. It talks about the effects of different film stocks, labs, equipment, and much more. I definitely recommend it to any photographer or enthusiast.

The photos... so far: I am still relearning the medium. Many photos aren't perfect yet, but that's the beauty of this process. I am rediscovering old tricks and learning all sorts of new ones. The change of pace is welcome and refreshing. For a moment, it felt as though my techniques had grown stagnant. With this new adventure, however, I feel myself going forward as a photographer again!

All of the photos in this post are from my 645afd and with Kodak Portra 400 or 800 film with a 80mm 2.8 lens. (I had not gotten my 80mm 1.9 or my c330f by the time I sent this batch to the lab.)


The first photos are from a quick portrait shoot I did with Stephanie:


And the corgis... of course:


A summer lacrosse game at Georgetown University:


From a shoot I did with the fabulous Moshe Zusman and the hooligans (his blog post is here).

So... Will I completely switch to film in the immediate future? No, there is still a place for digital in my workflow, but I will supplement my digital with film as much as I can. No matter what, I will continue on this adventure with film, and see where it takes me.