Back to Film by Jay

Back to Film

by Jay

Hi Steve!

First I want to say thank you for all the great work. Your site has been part of my daily inspiration for some time now so I thought it would only be right to make a small photographic contribution. My name is Jay Lynn and I got my start in photography as a junior in high school back in 1985.

My school had a school newspaper and if you were selected to be on the paper’s staff you got out of school three hours early everyday to sell ads to local businesses and follow-up leads on local interest stories. That was too good an opportunity for me to pass up but I had one problem. The paper had plenty of stand out writers and my writing skills were average at best. Just as I was about to resign myself to not making the staff, the faculty coordinator asked me if I had any experience with photography. I did not but I knew that my father had an old Pentax ME Super along with a few lenses that had been sitting in a bag in our basement for years. I had never so much as picked it up but I sure wasn’t about to blow my chance to get out school early.

What followed was a steep learning curve but I got the hang of it and when I got my first good roll of film back from the lab I was hooked. I went on to “upgrade” to a Nikon FG and eventually began developing my own film. My passion continued unabated throughout college until I joined the Marine Corps and became a Marine officer. After the events of 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, I just could not justify making time for photography amidst the constant training and combat deployments. Of course there were so many moments that I experienced during those deployments that would have been amazing photographs but for obvious reasons I could not even allow myself to think about that. In those environments you have to be 100% focused on the job at hand. Still, the passion never died and every time I had a photojournalist embedded with my unit I did find some time to talk photography and admire their gear and their photos.

Leica M6 with 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit M and Kodak Porta 400

unnamed

In 2011 I was assigned to the Marine Forces headquarters in the Pacific, which is located in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. For the first time in over 10 years I picked up a camera again. So much had changed with the progression of digital photography since I had last enjoyed photography but so much remained timeless. I bought a Nikon D5100 and a few lenses to get back in the game. Within six months I sold the D5100 and purchased a D7000. Ergonomically the D7000 just worked better for me and I got a lot of mileage out of that camera. Being in Hawaii affords me an opportunity travel throughout Asia and to photograph a lot of amazing landscapes. In 2013 I jumped at the chance to purchase a D600 for use with wide FX lenses and that has been my primary digital body ever since.

I love digital photography and about half of my work is digital. But as much as I enjoy the convenience of digital I really began to miss the tactile aspects of film photography and the deliberate nature associated with the process of shooting a role of film. The other thing that had changed since I took my break from photography was that all the film cameras and older lenses that I had lusted after in high school and college were now readily available for next to nothing on online auction sites or even for free in some instances. So I bought them all! Well, practically all of them. And I do love them but I noticed that I was spending more and more time shooting the old manual cameras like the FM2 or the F2 versus the more modern film cameras like the Nikon F5 or F6. I have a Mamiya 6 rangefinder that I travel with a lot and I really began to appreciate the process of using a manual focus rangefinder over the more automated cameras. You know where this is going, right? Yup, you guessed it.

Leica M4 with Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 C Biogon T* ZM and Kodak TriX 400

unnamed

In October of this past year my wife and I took a three-week backpacking trip through Vietnam. I used that trip and the need to travel lightly to justify buying two Leica film cameras, an M6 that I used primarily for color film and an M4 loaded with Kodak TriX 400. With the addition of the wonderful Zeiss 35 f/2.8 ZM and a Leica 90 f/2.8 Elmarit M, I was set. I knew that I wanted to take portraits, landscapes, and street photography while in Vietnam. I carried only the two Leicas and the Mamiya 6 for the duration of the trip and I have absolutely no regrets. This was a huge step for me because I am usually the guy who brings along the proverbial kitchen sink “just in case”.

Mamiya 6 with G 75mm f/3.5 and Kodak Portra

unnamed

 

Traveling with light gear that I could carry in a small, inconspicuous sling bag was such a liberating experience and I am so happy with the results. I really do believe the adage that the unobtrusive nature of the Lecias allows for more candid shots because your subject is not intimidated by a giant camera and lens combo. I also love the all manual approach that the Leica rangefinders require.

It makes me think more about what I am doing and it also makes me feel like I am more involved in the decision-making cycle that occurs before the press of the shutter button. I especially enjoy the M4 which I do not use with a meter. I practiced estimating exposure for weeks before the trip and got comfortable enough determining exposure that I never regretted not having a meter when using the M4. I am attaching just a small sample of the nearly 1000 images I made during the trip. One from each camera. Of note, I have more “keepers” from this trip than I have ever had since I began shooting film again. I have to believe that the process of using all manual film cameras has something to do with this and that this translates to digital photography as well and will ultimately make me a more discerning photographer. Enjoy the photos and keep up the great work.

Jay

Related Post

17 Comments

  1. Sorry for the delay in responding. I’ve been in the Philippines on an exercise for the last three weeks. Thanks for all the positive comments. The real joy for me is in the process. Photos turning out the way I had envisioned them is an added bonus. I do have a 500px with a few more film pictures from this trip and a Flickr with lots of other photos, both film and digital.

    Flickr : https://www.flickr.com/photos/random-url/

    500px: https://500px.com/cblynnalt2

  2. Hi David, looking over some black and white prints I have done on my previous camera (M6) and my current camera (M8) with same lens- I often find myself in the same situation. The M8 produces black and white images very similar to the scanned images from the M6.

    However I mostly used to use Ilford XP2 which is smooth and almost grainless. It renders very similar to digital anyway -would be different if I used Tri -X and push processed for example. The film shooters I know shoot fully analogue and either print in a darkroom or have a selected few photos sent out for professional printing.Obviously it depends on materials used -but I must say I generally see a significant difference between silver films and wet printing as against scanned images and digital printing.

    From what I have seen of black and white images from digital Olympus cameras they render beautifully.

    Not totally familiar with the OM-4ti but my first camera was an Olympus OM-1 which was super light and compact had a brilliant bright wide viewfinder with interchangeable focusing screens and a really quiet smooth shutter.
    It was not that robust -lenses not quite as good as Nikon IMHO but what a camera ! Prospective film shooters on the look out for a film SLR should have a good look at the OM-1 or OM-2 or as per David above the OM-4ti – fun to use indeed not to mention cheap as well !

    Rgds

  3. Film v Digital… I think it is 90% down to finding the combination of tools & circumstances which motivate you to do good photography. I’m just doing a quick edit of a set from last week which is a mix of Olympus OM4Ti with Portra 400, and Olympus E-P5 with 1s and 0s. Both with 35mm FoV. Maybe it’s down to my custom import presets in Capture One, but honestly if you step back it is very, very hard to see and strong distinction between the digital default processing from RAW and film-lab scans.

    But the OM4ti was more fun to use…

  4. I think even the most enthusiastic digital photographers should do some work with film. It will get you to slow down better understand your camera and manipulate light. Your digital images cannot but improve.
    Love the photo of the little kid sitting on path looking curious. I would liked you to have posted more -so please post more in the future.

    Thanks

  5. good stuff. Reading your article remind me of my brother pictures that he took during his service in the marine corps too. thank u for your service and enjoyed your article.

  6. Congrats to you. I just bought a brand new M7. It has been more exciting than any digital camera I had so far for the last 20 years.

  7. Nice article!
    Do you feel Portra 400 renders asian’s skin tone too yellow (e.g. the 1st portrait of the girl)?
    I’m asian myself and when I use it for photographing my kids I often feel it is too yellow. Kind of puzzled because common consensus is it has nice skin tone. Maybe it’s my way of exposing it (tend to expose for shadows / overexpose by 1-2 stops)?

  8. Respect!
    Describing how you use the M4 without meter threw me back to my childhood, when my father teached me the basics with a Zeiss Ikon 6×9 folder camera, without meter nor any focusing device. I remember how we looked at the clouds, the soil, light reflecting surfaces etc. to make up our exposure. In B&W, this is indeed perfectly possible and a very interesting “exercise”. 🙂 With every article with nice pics about film shooting, I get kind a week in the knee. I’d love to see more of your pics, Jay.

  9. Jay
    First of all a heartfelt thanks for your service. You are a hero. Loved your article. Would love to see more of thhe photos. My memories of film are instamatic cameras and funky color and poorly exposed results. Yet one seemingly reads a post online everyday about the goodness of film, how film photography improves one’s skills etc.

    So I broke down and bought an olympus Pen F and some cheap color negative film. I took two rolls of mainly mundane subjects, had an absolute BLAST doing it, sent the film off, and waited for the results with really low expectations. Four days later I get a link to a zip file, download, and VOILÁ! i’m in love. I need to tweak my technique a bit and be braver about my subjects, but the dreamy, beautiful, detailed, three dimensional rendering of film CANNOT be denied.

    As you say, digital photography is way more practical and the only real choice in a lot of situations. But when one hears arguments of full frame vs ApS vs whatever, sony colors vs fuji colors vs the leica look, i now have the answer: FILM IS THE GOLD STANDARD SENSOR AND TRUMPS THEM ALL!

  10. Really liked the article and pictures, Jay. Apologies if I missed it, but do you have a Flickr, 500px or anything like that? I would really like to see more photos of your travels.

    Cheers

Comments are closed.