A return to film. Again… For the fourth time.

Yep, FOUR TIMES. I learned on film, eventually abandoned for digital due to work, got bored of digital and went back to film, got a digital Hasselblad, got obsessed with pixel-peeping and left film. Sold the ‘Blad, picked up a shitty Kiev 88 for $60 with three lenses, bought a Phase One and once again left film… See a trend yet?

I was constantly getting sucked into the resolution and tech game, so I always seemed to just abandon film for shiny digital things. I was also making all my income shooting digital at this point, so film didn’t quite have a place anymore.

My latest (and final) return to film happened in the fall of 2017. I had just finished 9 months of chemo and needed a bit of a creative outlet that would work as a bit of an escape. A way for me to separate work photography from personal photography while I started to shoot again. I’ve had a number of cameras in all formats, but had always loved shooting medium format (my main digital camera at this time was a Phase One). I started checking local listings for a cheap kit to get back into it, in case I decided to jump ship again. This way I’d be able to get my money back. After a month or so, I found a photographer selling his entire kit from when he was shooting weddings in the 70s. It was two original 1970 Mamiya RB67 bodies, two 90mm, a 150mm SF, a 180mm, three 120 backs and one 220 back. He also included the case, prism, grips, some old film and a bunch of accessories. The ad had only been up for about 10min when I called him. He lived about an hour away and I confirmed the price again before telling him I was on my way to get them. I picked up that entire kit (and had an amazing visit with him and his wife) for less than I paid for my Mamiya RZ67 250mm about 18 months ago. 

My Mamiya RB67 at Palm Springs Air Museum
My Mamiya RB67 at Palm Springs Air Museum

I was headed for a quick trip to Palm Springs to see family and thought I’d just bring the RB67 and a single lens. I grabbed a few rolls of film, popped them into my carry-on and left with the RB being my only camera for the trip. I spent an afternoon at the Palm Springs Air Museum, and fired off a couple rolls. I had shot here before with my Hasselblad 500C about ten years prior, but this was still a solid afternoon of wandering around shooting and talking with vets that loved the old film camera. 

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The thing I think I find most interesting about this roll, was it was the beginning of something, again… but different. The more film I shot, the more I loved shooting. I was motivated to create and experiment again. I started bringing the RB kit to almost every shoot where there was a chance I could use it. Over the next two years my Phase One got used less and less, until I eventually sold it. I picked up a couple 35mm bodies to carry regularly and this meant I shot my Sony bodies less. I adapted my workflow to allow me to focus on using film for as much as I could. (I have projects/clients where it’s not feasible, but I don’t mind that)

I now probably shoot almost all of my personal work on film and other than my architectural work and some of my commercial work, the rest is shot on film, too

This one little roll that I shot with a camera weighing as much as a VW bug changed the course of my photographic career.

After about a year with the RB, I sold it and upgraded/sidegraded to an RZ kit. I actually regret not keeping that RB, just for what it represents… but hopefully it’s helping someone else on their film adventure now. 

~ Ryan

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About the author

I'm a full-time portrait/commercial photographer. In the last 2 years, I've slowly migrated almost my entire workflow to film. I'm currently living on a sailboat on the Pacific Ocean, shooting and developing aboard.

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  1. Congrats on the completion of the chemo course! I’m glad to see you called the Hasselblad by it’s proper nickname! “Hassie” is an abomination!
    Nice pics. All mechanical devices/structures are a goldmine of great shots. Love the instrument panel shots.

    1. Thanks Dan!
      The “Blad” credit goes to EM for sure… I originally had it as “hassy” in the article and I’ve referred to it as a hassy for the last 20 years, but I’ll do my best to catch myself now. 🙂
      The Palm Springs air museum is such a great place to crack off a couple rolls. So many cool things sitting around. I shot a couple custom motorcycles for a magazine in the museum and it was an awesome setting.

  2. You’re living my dream Ryan! Glad for you. I spent some time trying to figure out how to live on a sailboat, and keep doing photography. Kudos to you.

    1. Thanks Monty!
      It’s a challenge, that’s for sure… but the cost of living really helps manage the commercial slow-down from being in a marina and not a city.


  3. This was my first “real” camera that I shot with in the late seventies. I eventually traded it for lenses for my Canon A-1 but those negs and transparencies are still some of my most prized. I still think about it as a lost love. Mine had the prism finder.

    1. That’s awesome. I had the prism for this one too… I wasn’t a fan at the time, but in the last year or so I’ve used my RZ and AE Prism a ton.