I’ve spent over a decade of my life living and breathing photography. Like many, I started with digital but quickly realized that I wanted a more physical process. I was, and still am, spending entirely too much time behind a computer. I’ve shot multiple formats, from 35mm to medium and even large format. And then, one day, I lost the spark. It’s been three or four years since I picked up a camera for anything more than a snapshot of my kids.
A few weeks ago, presumably during a sleepless night, I ordered an Instax square back for a Mamiya RB67. I don’t remember placing the order and I was surprised when it showed up. I didn’t even own an RB67 at the time. It took me a few days of scouring eBay to find one, which incidentally came with a 127mm f/3.8 lens that was a little beat up but functional. A few days later, I was holding my new Frankenstax. It’s a beast, almost the size and weight of my 4×5 Graflex Speed Graphic.
My masochistic streak approves.
The first few frames were duds. One thing I quickly learned about Instax is just how little dynamic range it has. Spot metering, I learned, is the name of the game. It was a bit of a shock – black-and-white film spoiled me rotten. I also missed the fact that I needed to take exposure compensation into account based on where I was focusing. The bellows on the camera should have clued me in, but hey, I’m rusty. Once I figured that out, I was off to the races.
I’m still getting the hang of what my new setup is capable of, and I expect that it will take me months to fully get comfortable. It’s cumbersome and slow — again I actually like that — and the film’s lack of dynamic range is limiting. Anything in direct sunlight is particularly challenging, and indoor shooting with natural light is touch-and-go. f/3.8 is not slow, per se, but even at ISO 800, I’m routinely in camera shake zone, bracing the camera on wine glasses, stacks of books, anything that will provide me just enough stability to pull off 1/15th of a second.
I like it. The film has a nice grain structure to it, and while the lens is not exactly famous for its bokeh, I find it very pleasing. Watching the image fade in over a minute or two is both fun and, given how easy it is to lose detail in the highlights, shadows, or both, more than a little tense. Most importantly, I think I have the spark back. I am, once again, thinking about photographs to create. I missed that feeling.
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