I loaded up my new-to-me Nikon FM2n with Ilford HP5 and spent a few days wandering around Washington, DC and Arlington, VA. Once I remembered to wind the film on after each exposure it was a pleasure to shoot with. I didn’t need to turn it on or wake it up. Once I had set the ISO for the film — 400 — I just had to think about composition, focus — which is very simple on a nice old fashioned focusing screen — and exposure — equally simple with nothing more than three red LED’s to look at.
Conveniently for me, I like lots of depth of field in my shots. I’m not generally a fan of blurred backgrounds and try to avoid them if at all possible. This means that being a little bit out on the focus isn’t a problem. I also love having a nice old fashioned depth of field preview button since it seems to me that it provides a much clearer idea of the depth of field than an electronic viewfinder or screen (though obviously this isn’t going to be as convenient when the light starts to fall.)
While I was a little hesitant about using a manual exposure camera (albeit with built in meter) I found it less of a challenge than I expected. This is partly because I stuck to the ‘Sunny 16’ rule quite a lot and partly because I was assured from my reading on film photography over the last while that negative film is very forgiving of exposure variation. The FM2n has a centre weighted metering system with (I believe) a 60–40 split, so there are times when it will not necessarily be as accurate as modern matrix or evaluative style metering, but it’s relatively straightforward to identify those situations that may give inaccurate readings and adjust accordingly.
Everything that I had read about the way in which film photography slows you down and forces you to be more thoughtful about each shot is true. I found myself taking a lot more time over each one, and thinking beforehand if the shot was really worth taking.
The one thing I do miss from digital is exif data. It didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t be able to look up all the information in Lightroom and so not having made any notes of the settings for each shot I now have no idea what exposure settings I used. So my first accessories will be a notebook and pen.
Further down the line I would like to start developing my own film — at least, my own black and white film — but that will be for later. For now, I sent the film in to The Darkroom, which is based in California. Developing a roll of 35mm film is $11, plus another $4 for better quality scans. This is a little more expensive than some labs I’ve seen, but The Darkroom is recommended by Ilford for their US based customers. They also upload the scans to their website so you can get them as soon as the film is developed without having to wait another few days until the negatives and a CD of your scans arrive.
I downloaded shots from my first roll this evening and imported them into Lightroom. I did as little editing as possible in Lightroom, simply straightening or otherwise adjusting each image where necessary using the Transform tool and doing some very slight cropping on a couple of them. There were one or two others where I did a little tweaking of the blacks and shadows, but most of my time was spent adding keywords. This in itself is refreshing — I don’t feel the need to make a lot of Lightroom adjustments and spend lot of time on the computer, partly because I think the images generally look good as they are and partly because I don’t want to lose the distinctive look that they have. I don’t want to end up with images that look like digital images that have been processed to look like film images.
So here is a selection of the more presentable shots from roll 1.