Kodak Feels: New Year with Old Cameras

Kodak Feels: New Year with Old Cameras

Any other year and we would be out in Canyonlands ringing in the New Year by freezing at night and hunting for secrets during the day. Given the current state of the pandemic, we decided to keep it local this year, instead heading just a few hours south of Santa Fe to wander in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Given the overall intensity of the year–particularly at work, Kim and I elected to abandon our digital equipment at home and spend the weekend sans screens, enjoying the simplicity of film and a campfire. We brought along four classic cameras, a Bronica S2a 6×6 medium format SLR, a Fuji GW690II 6×9 medium format rangefinder, Kim’s Yashica LM 6×6 TLR, and lastly my trust Pentax ME Super 35mm with a 50mm 1.7 lens.

In a departure from my usual black and white film, we brought along the colors of Kodak: Portra 400, Ektar 100, and for 35mm, Pro Image 100. These color palettes would be an ideal match for the mosaic of reds, browns, yellows and blue skies of the mid-winter desert.

We would be joined again by Cari and John and their four-legged companion, Max, camping beneath the cottonwoods. As fellow film snobs, they were regretting not bringing their own classic film cameras!

The low-angle sun and steep canyon walls provided our canvas as we spent our days out wandering the various canyons, ridgelines, nooks and hollows of the area.

This was the first time I had spent appropriate time shooting the Fuji since I refurbished it. After my first few test rolls, I learned there was a light leak and the rangefinder was out of adjustment so I spent a half day recalibrating the camera and applying new foam. I was hopeful my skills were still sharp enough.

Adjusting the rangefinder on the Fuji GW690II

Kim’s Yashica we keep loaded with black and white, given the uncoated nature of the lens. It has a dreamy look and lacks the clinical sharpness of more modern lenses. Unfortunately, a developing error on my part left us with few workable images. Lesson learned.

Bronica S2a Gallery

The Bronica, although I am currently selling it, is a gem of art-deco Japanese design. The shutter is loud and ridiculous, the lenses gorgeous and beautifully crafted, and the interchangeable backs and viewfinders make it a joy to use. Overall, though, the weight and clumsiness do not inspire me to use it often, hence its going out the door.

Fuji GW690II Gallery

On the other hand, the Fuji has rekindled my love of medium format. The simplicity of the camera and the insanely high quality of the lens leaves little to be desired. One can take the 6×9 negative and crop to their hearts content as the negative is so large and high quality it feels like a handheld 4×5. My adjustments and refurbing were true and the images it produced have me aching to use it again soon.

Pentax ME Super Gallery

The Pentax is a hand-me-down from a close friend who had it aging in their closet for decades. After a little lube and foam, it performs flawlessly–a true testament to simple mechanical design. The miniscule, but well-crafted 50mm is an absolute gem, proving to fully resolve any 35mm film. The contrast, sharpness, and bokeh rendering still compete 40 years later against modern designs.

Ektar and Portra are well known films that never disappoint, providing a unique color palette and smooth grain. Ektar, in particular, has so much dynamic range that I can easily shoot backlit scenes otherwise impossible on a similar slide film. Portra provides the speed and latitude necessary for handheld shooting, especially when you’re out without a meter.

The Pro Image 100 is an interesting film. While it’s been the go-to film in Southeast Asia, developed specifically to survive humidity and heat, the colors lend themselves well to our desert environment. Reds are punchy, yellows are warm, and blues are true. The grain is more noticable than it’s Ektar counterpart, but in a way, I appreciate that for 35mm. There’s no illusion that 35mm is ever going to be grain free. Given the higher contrast and punchy colors, I can see using this film for a quick journeys in the high desert.

Ektar Colors on the Fuji 6×9 vs the Pro Image colors on the Pentax.

The decision to leave the technology at home and enjoy the uncertainty of film was the right decision. Given all that has transgressed in the past year taking a moment to simplify and slow down was a welcome reprieve.

We hope you enjoy the Kodak colors that have painted our lives for over 100 years.