I shot the Area 51 Raid 2019 on a Pentax 67 using Portra 160, and it was (almost) the perfect camera for the job. Film has a way of making moments special. Shooting 6×7 and having only 10 frames per roll turns every shot into a conscious decision. The framing, metering, and intended message must be carefully considered to maximize each roll’s utility, and this extra effort is visible in the results.
Film also carries less inherent risk in an environment like the Raid. As an Air Force veteran, I’m all too familiar with the hazards of military and civilian lasers, and their potential impact on a DSLR sensor. With all the uncertainty surrounding the event, from a largely unregulated “festival” to threats of militia action from Rachel, NV residents, the possibility of catching a stray beam seemed high. Rather than risk my Nikon D850’s sensor, I got the best of all worlds with the Pentax. A stray laser can only ruin one frame of film at the worst, and the incredible images made with the 105mm f/2.4 lens speak for themselves.
Unfortunately, the Pentax 67 is not without its faults. Loading film is incredibly fiddly and the TTL meter all but gives up after sunset, which prevented me from getting many night shots despite plentiful artificial light. I also had to be extremely careful to keep dust out of the camera, which was especially important given the huge clouds kicked up by Raiders driving on miles of dirt roads.
I’d never used Portra 160 before this project, but I eventually settled on it due to its legendary flexibility and pleasing color palette, which was especially well suited to desert landscapes and Raid portraiture. Other contenders like Provia 100F seemed too risky in situations where I had to rely on the TTL meter to get a relatively fast shot off.
While I wasn’t sure how the project would turn out, the results have given the Pentax 67 a priority spot in my camera bag”
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