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Friday, November 20, 2009


Mamiya C220 TLR
© 2009 Simon Hucko

I am a whole-hearted believer in digital photography. It is a wonderful learning tool, and the flexibility and control you have over your images is stunning.

So why on earth have I started shooting film? There are a couple of factors that have motivated me to cross over to the analog side. One of the main ones is simply the fact that I've never really shot film before, aside from the occasional snap on the family point n shoot. I was curious, and wanted to see what it was all about. Another big factor is that my dad used to shoot professionally, and still has all of his darkroom gear (and a bathroom in the basement that could serve nicely as a darkroom). This made it very easy for me to consider developing my own film, since the costs would be limited to film and chemicals.

Finally, along came the Mamiya C220 TLR (pictured above) that pushed me over the edge. Cornell University has a photo society, and they have a small repository of gear that you can borrow on a weekly basis. When I saw the TLR on the list, I couldn't help myself, and arranged to borrow it. Luckily for me, there isn't a very high demand for it (since no one here knows how to use it, apparently) so I was told I could hang onto it as long as I wanted, or until someone else put in a request. When I picked up the camera, the guy in charge of the lending said "I have no idea how to use that. Good luck. Just don't break it."

So far it's been quite an experience. The camera is all manual, all mechanical, all the time. No built in meter, no automatic exposure, no batteries, you even have to manually cock the shutter before every photo. I've been metering with my DSLR (either as a spot meter or digital polaroid), and spending plenty of time setting up each photo. The camera uses 120 (medium format) film, and gets 12 shots per roll, so there's no room for sloppy shooting. Each frame costs somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 cents for film and chemicals, not to mention the time involved. To add to the fun, the viewfinder is a mirror image of what's in front of the lens, so it takes some getting used to. There are also parallax and bellows effects that come into play when focusing on anything closer than 15 feet or so, so you have to adjust your framing and exposure to counteract these. And of course, there's no display on the back that pops up the image review and histogram each time you press the shutter. You get to find out after you finish the roll and develop it whether or not you got the shot.

All of that adds up to being much more deliberate about taking a photo. I find a subject. I scout out the angles and lighting to find the framing I want. I meter the scene. I set the exposure on the camera. I spend time framing the shot, fighting with the reversed viewfinder and the lack of zoom. Finally, I take a deep breath and press the shutter. *Click* I say a silent prayer that it turns out ok, and move on to my next subject. Rinse. Repeat.

I find this process to be very satisfying. A lot more thinking goes into each frame than when shooting digital, and pressing the shutter has a feeling of finality to it (like an emphatic period at the end of a long sentence). Then the excitement and anticipation begins wondering how the roll will turn out.

Which is where I will end this article. I developed two rolls this past weekend, but more on that later along with some sample images (still working out how I'm going to get those). In the mean time, turn off your image review and shoot on manual for a day or two, see how it turns out :)


[title of blog] on flickr


  1. My grandma actually gave me a TLR last year. She was cleaning out a closet or something and came across it. I have no idea how to use it. Do you have any advice on where to find that kind of information? And where do you buy film? Camera shop? Online? I love shooting with black and white film and developing it myself, though it's something I haven't done in a while since I don't really have access to a darkroom anymore. I'd really like to do some more film work.

  2. @ Catherine - Your best bet for figuring out how to use it is to google the camera (hopefully it says somewhere on it). I found a manual for the Mamiya that way. If that doesn't work, you could take a picture and post it in one of the film or TLR groups on Flickr, someone might be able to identify it for you. The camera probably takes 120 or 220 film (again, see if you can find a manual), which are still widely available. You can either order them from a camera store online (I got mine from B&H), or some local camera shops still carry it. Just about every photo lab that's not in Target or a drug store should still develop it for you, or you can try to find a medium format tank/reel and do it yourself (check Craigslist, people are dumping their old film and darkroom gear all the time).

    Good luck!

  3. Gorgeous camera! I look forward to seeing the resulting shots. (Or have I already?)

  4. @ Kristan - Nope, not yet. Still working on getting them scanned. Soon, I hope...