With apologies to our younger or newer photographers, today I am wearing a fine pair of rose tinted spectacles. They are quite an old pair of spectacles, bought, in fact in the days of film photography and their effect on me is to induce a certain amount of melancholy for the days of celluloid, chemicals and red lights, photographic red lights, I should hastily add. Join me in a trip down memory lane to revisit some of the great (and not so great) things about film photography.
Fuji vs. Kodak
Forget your Canon v Nikon or Apple v Windows, the big fist fights back in the day were over what film you used. Up until the mid 70’s everyone used Kodak, except Germans who used Agfa. By the early 80’s Fuji had made huge inroads into Kodak’s formidable line up and the fight was on. Fighting the battle for Kodak were Ektachrome and the seemingly invincible Kodachrome. Lining up for Fuji were the incredibly rich and saturated Velvia and more sublime Velvia. It was a true battle royale, one that set photographer against photographer in the ranks of the local camera clubs. Who won? Well in that specific battle, no-one, digital came along , opening a third and ultimately victorious front. Fuji adapted eventually, Kodak didn’t.
A selection of analogue memory cards. Photo by kris krüg
Changing a Film in Ten Seconds
Whatever the film you used, it was a matter of pride how quickly you could whip out the used one and load a new roll. The pros and the rich enthusiasts would have motor drives on their cameras, bulky, battery sapping chunks of pig iron attached to the bottom that would allow you to shoot at up to 5 frames per second. By clicking the right combination of buttons and levers, that same motor drive would rapidly rewind the film, usually only about halfway because the batteries would die. Meanwhile, Joe Average with his non motor drive Nikon FM2 had flipped up the rewind lever, wound the film back and popped in a new one. By the time Joe was back shooting, Mr Motor drive was still changing batteries.
A nice looking Nikon with a battery vampire attached. Photo by Sompop S
A Mini Lab on Every Street Corner
Up until the early 80’s, there were two ways to get a film processed. Taking it into your local drug store and waiting two weeks or slaving away under a precariously balanced enlarger in your darkroom, sorry, I mean blacked out bathroom. That all changed with the introduction of the one hour mini lab. These amazing little machines would get a full roll of 36 prints developed, printed and packaged in less than an hour. I didn’t take long however, for the lab operators to realise they could charge a premium for the one hour service, and so the majority of films got developed in 24 hours not one. Still, the rise of the mini labs was seemingly unstoppable, even local grocers stores had them. Quality was another question, many of the operators did little or no training and the colors emanating from these machine often bare little resemblance to the original scene.
Instant Photography Without Digital
The name was Polaroid and it stood for instant prints for the masses. Their somewhat bulky and basic cameras, took a film pack underneath. When you press the shutter, the image was recorded directly to a print that was developed in the camera and then slowly eject out the front. What emerged at first appeared to be a blank white and slightly moist piece of paper yet magically, in front of your eyes, an image would appear. Tourist spots in the 1970s were often replete with people frantically waving their little instant prints in the air, trying to dry them off before showing them to their amazed friends. Today, sadly and like Kodak, Polaroid is just a shell of a company, a proud name used to adorn cheap electronics.
Polaroid, the digital of its day. Photo by Shaun Nelson
Mail Order Equipment
Even in the days of film, the high street photographic retailers had competition in the form of the mail order companies. Pick up any photographic magazine from the 1970s or 80s and the last third would be page after page of obscure companies selling the next big thing in photography. The adverts were sometimes comical but amongst the comedy were some gems. Also there were the big mail order retailers enticing us with photo adverts of all the camera we had read about but never seen in our local camera stores. In reality, it's not so different from today, we just read the adverts on paper rather than a computer screen.
The Olympus system in 1985. Photo by Jussi
This can only be a short trip down memory lane. There are so many memories from the halcyon days of film, I am sure those of you old enough have some to share. Do I miss it, yes of course but I don’t want to go back to it, except perhaps in a twice a year, nostalgic hobby sort of way. Let us know your memories of the days of film.