Since starting with film and not only being digital all the way I found that there are much to learn and also much gear and formats I had never even heard about. For me a film camera was a “full-format” 24×36 mm camera as my old Yashica or Canon EOS 300. How wrong that impression was:)
My granddad used an old film camera with film on a roll I remember. I now know that was 120-film and he was shooting 6×6 cm frames. The make of his camera is unknown to me but he mentioned Voigtländer so perhaps that was the make, or perhaps a Voigtländer was the king of cameras at that time?
What is about this fascination with film? For me, first of all it is fun! Both for the techie parts and the manual developing with some chemistry involved. Secondly there are many formats to play with, all with the same film type, the 120. During the years I have been lucky enough to collect a number of medium format cameras, with film formats from 6×4.5 cm to 6×6 cm and even to 6×9 cm. Thirdly, film has another look than digital shots. In many instances I like the film look, perhaps only because it is different than the digital look?
In the same way that at full format digital camera sensor, 24×26 mm, can capture more detail than a puny mobile phone sensor (the iPhone 3 has a 2.4×3.2 mm sensor as an example) a 60×45 mm film or even a 60×90 mm film can capture an enormous amount of detail in comparison:
Sizes in millimetres. Actual film area is a bit smaller as there is a border of some 2-3 mm around each format. Digital sensors are not affected by this border.
Comparing areas, the 60×90 is 5400 mm2 while a common Canon APS-C measuring 22×15 mm is a mere 330 mm2. The 60×90 is about 16 times larger. As the area scales as the square of the side this roughly means a four-fold increase in height and width. Not only does this translate into large nice hand-holdable negatives it also means that transitions from light to dark is more carefully reproduced. While a smaller sensor perhaps only sees a light-dark transition as one step, the large negative potentially reveals a gradient with different levels of gray from light to dark. This has a tremendous effect on the “realism” of the picture.
Going up one notch, leaving medium format film behind, there is even larger formats (known as “large formats” by some coincidence) of 9×12 cm or 4″x5″ (102×127 mm, actual area 100×125, 38 times APS-C) or even 5″x7″ (127×178 mm, 66 times APS-C) or a whopping 8″x10″ (203×254 mm, 153 times APS-C)!
Cameras for these large formats are of course increasingly bigger but find use in landscape photograpy for example. Imagine being able to watch individual leaves of trees in a forest. Or being able to enlarge a photo until you feel you can step right into it! Film for these odd and large formats is also still readily available contrary to common belief.
(This far) The largest format I have tried is 4″x5″ – yes, I must be a nerd by now! The negative looks great with much, much detail. Unfortunately my scanner doesn’t go over 9×12 in size so I have to scan the negative in two gos and stitch them together in software. Stitching is apparently an art in itself as I have both succeeded and failed miserably with it. Probably contact copies onto photographic paper will be a likely next step, as that avoids the digital domain altogether. Another way of viewing the result, though not even half as fun, is putting the negative onto a light box and taking a digital photo of it and use the Gimp to reverse the colours.
While playing around with these more or less obsolete formats I have also grown a big admiration for early photographers and camera makers when photography was much more of an art, not only in composition but chemistry and handling skill too. Today we definitely stand on the proverbial shoulders of giants. I am also pleased to know that my granddad made his own glass plates with home-brewn emulsions in the 1920’s, I wish I could have a conversation with him about it now.