Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Sunday 7 August 2016

I have a new hobby

I might have mentioned that my interest in photography has been rekindled in the past several months.

I was given a camera in my teens, and I liked it. 

I worked for a small magazine publishing house after I graduated, and assisted in making photographs for its publications, too. The camera was more sophisticated than the basic, Russian SLR I’d started out on, but we still made pictures on film in the pre-digital age.

When the kids were small, I used a little instant camera with Advantix film, which, looking back, was nasty stuff.

Then came digital.

I had a pretty decent digital camera, a gift from the husband, but over the next couple of years I found myself making fewer and fewer photographs.

Then of course, I got a phone that made pictures as well as my digital camera ever had, and I stopped carrying a machine around at all.

With every advance in technology, I made fewer and fewer photographs, until I was only making snaps and reference pictures.

Then, several months ago, I found a couple of little box brownies in a junk shop. They were in perfect condition and cost a few pounds each. I sourced some film, and began at the beginning with a camera that had fixed everything… shutter speed, aperture, focus… everything! The cameras are so basic that the shutter will fire without the film being wound on; they’re so basic that they take 8 pictures on 120 film.

I used them, and I loved them.

After that, every time I went into a junk shop, I seemed to see cameras. I bought anything and everything that was pre-digital and in working order.

Taking photos on film is all about the light
It’s not difficult to check a camera to make sure that it’s operational. Simply open the body, hold the camera up to the light and press the shutter button. It’s easy to see the shutter working. If the shutter isn’t fixed, it’s also a good idea to check the shutter speeds, with the camera body open. It’s difficult to discern small differences in shutter speed, but at either end of the spectrum, the differences are visible. If the camera has an aperture ring, this can also be checked, in much the same way. Set the aperture ring to the various stops, press the shutter and you can see the differences in aperture. If the camera has bellows, it’s important that they’re light-proof. Again, open the body of the camera and extend the bellows. Then hold the camera up to the light. If the bellows are perforated light will show through the cracks, and the camera is useless unless the bellows can be repaired or replaced.

Once I’d collected about a dozen cameras, and was using them, I began to research old machines and make a wish list of those I’d like to own. I stopped buying everything, and began to buy the things on my wish list when they cropped up, which was surprisingly often, and very cheaply.

Of course, I had to source some specialist films for medium format and 127 cameras, and I needed specialist labs for cameras that made 50 square pictures on a 36 roll of 35mm film. There are still good labs, many of them independent who do this work, and I’ve been pleased with the results.

Every camera is different, each has a distinct personality.

Love the light flare on this shot of the Gothic Temple
I regularly use a tiny little 35mm Rollei, which I keep in my handbag. I use a medium format Rolleicord or Kowa, and I absolutely love the 35mm square format of my Robot Star… In fact, I loved the camera so much that I now have a little collection of them. None of my cameras has electronics and they are all film cameras.

I take my regular 35mm films to my local photography shop, the brilliant Ronald White’s, which gives a great service and offers lots of pre-loved bits and pieces to add to my collection. For other formats, I have a very generous friend, the photographer James Barnett, who regularly runs my films with his. And when I have a lot of film, and James is busy, I use Nik and Trick, which also offers lots of great film on various formats in its online shop.

I’m thoroughly enchanted with my new pastime; it’s a great creative outlet, the machines are beautiful in their own rights, and, even when the pictures aren’t wonderful, the process of taking them really is.

Last night, I took the next step in my adventures with film, and, with James’s help, developed my first ever roll of black and white. It’s a kind of alchemy, and, when I can muster the confidence, I shall try it again… This time, on my own.

What could possibly go wrong?

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