Is 35mm Film the new Vinyl 12″ ?

Nikon EM circa 1982

So I bought a new camera – the 20- year old Nikon EM. 

I just read the following BBC article about the resurgence of film as a photography genre; a really good article about how a photographer in Baltimore is using film to document local life there.

It reminded me of a personal blog article I did 3 years ago, which I replicate here…it gives my own experiences of going back to the future!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The other week I bought a new camera – a 20+ year old Nikon EM 35mm film camera with original 50mm 1.8 SE lens and motor drive off Ebay. Why? Well, it was the first ever Nikon I bought and I think I’m starting my mid-life crisis that’s why..(and yes, I should never have part-exed it in the first place in 1986…).

My first experience of a film camera was my mum & dad’s Kodak Brownie; I took a picture of my dog, Bruce, running in the garden; I remember waiting a week for the return of the processed image and being really frustrated and confused that he was blurred in the final print; that’s when my photography journey started, I bought ‘The Puffin Book of Photography’ through the school book club and learned about F-stops, depth of field, shutter and apertures; just fantastic stuff. My first true SLR was the Russian-made Zenith EM with a behemoth 50mm brass screw fit lens; this was a revolutionary camera in that it had TTL metering (the Zenit E had an external light meter above the lens so the EM was a major advance in technology). It was a totally manual camera and I earned (yes earned not learned) the tools of my future trade with this unit. And you could have stopped a bus with it.

So, armed with the ‘new’ Nikon I put a roll of Ilford FP4 B/W film in (for those who are not old enough Google it…), took the kids to the re-opening of Queens Park Crewe and pressed the shutter. My experiences were as follows:

  • You have to think really hard about pressing the shutter as you only have 36 chances.
  • You have to wind on the film manually after each exposure with a lever, otherwise if you forget, you miss the next shot. This is why I loved the auto-winder – it was such progress, although if you weren’t careful you ended up having a couple of duplicate exposures as the winder double-kicked. 34 chances, then..
  • You have to manually focus the lens – try that without glasses..

  • You have to wind the film back when done, open the back of the camera, put film in a small box to protect from light.

  • You have to post it off to get developed and wait 2 weeks before you could actually see the final images.

    In my school days I processed a lot of b/w film and produced enprints from the massive pro-enlarger that was in the physics class darkroom (OK it was a cupboard..). A good education on dodging, burning and exposure timings which really helped me in my future digital darkroom. In the 1980s I bought a complete series of the magazine ‘The Photo’ (and still have every copy in a bound series at home). This was the film photographer’s bible; I used to drool over the developing kit printed in this mag and the processing articles were exquisite! I remember getting the mag on a Saturday morning, drooling over the article over the weekend and running straight to the darkroom Monday after school to try the new technique; we all dreamed of being able to process colour C41 negs, but we never got the chance, that really was ‘pro’ stuff. I suppose that’s probably why I chose to put the FP4 in the camera over colour film for my first try.

    The prints that came back from Ilford were really nice; they were packaged in a little presentation box and had a lustre to them that only film-produced prints have. Perhaps it was the age of the camera, there was a little light leakage showing on the prints, which was easily fixed with some tape on the hinge for future shoots, plus the contrast was not to my personal liking. Without a ‘proper’ wet darkroom I resigned myself to scanning each print into the digital darkroom to crop and balance the exposure to see the images on the Mac…(try doing that 36 times..)


I loved it. My friend recently gave me a Practika SLR camera and lens set, I’m going to clean it up and give it a similar try, I think! Ironically the above primary image of the Nikon EM was taken with my iPad 2  – 1.2mp camera – it’s dreadful isn’t it! Shoulda used the Practika methinks!.

Owning a Nikon camera doesn’t make you a photographer – it makes you a Nikon camera owner… ergo, the digital era doesn’t make your photo’s any better – it just speeds up the disappointment if you don’t practice the former 🙂

Here are some of the results with the Nikon EM..

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