The decision as to which camera, which lens, how much can I fit in my bag, which bag shall I use, and can I carry it all day comfortably, will be familiar, I am sure, to a lot of photographers. I mean it’s a complicated game we are playing. To capture any potential scene that we might encounter! I wanted to go through my take on it, to present day anyway, and talk about where I have ended up.
I am old enough to remember a time when, if you took a picture, it was on film. That’s it, no other options. I also remember borrowing a medium format film camera way back and marvelling at the depth of the images compared to my 35mm SLR shots. This was another level. I discounted ever owning one of these exotic beasts as they were the preserve of the wealthy or professional.
The digital age happened and I gave away my SLR to the local charity shop when sorting through things for a house move. I had no use for this obsolete lump of metal, glass and cogs. Digital is the new age after all. When I could afford I went feet first into digital, eventually owning what was my dream camera, a Nikon D610 with a Sigma Art 24-35, f2 zoom. This was the answer. I had all the tools I needed to record any scene. Bags of dynamic range, a lens to cover all the bases. I could store almost 1000 images in RAW if I wanted to. Auto everything… That’s it!
Then… in late 2017 I decided on a whim to buy a Hasselblad 500C/M with the classic Carl Zeiss Planar CF 80mm f/2.8 lens. It was simply a curiosity after looking at the work and working process of a good friend that owned one. He had been shooting with one for many years. It sparked a little question in my head, “Might it be kind of fun to go out and shoot film as a different look occasionally? Why not?”
After all I remember lusting after that medium format kit from my younger days. To think I can buy one now was intriguing. I mean, why not buy the one that was supposed to be the Porsche of medium format cameras, a Hasselblad? It was exciting to me. That was the start of my ‘which camera, which lens, which bag’ conundrum from the introduction.
I went through a period of indecision and hesitation now. I had made my life more complicated… The photo trips now consisted of a series of questions as to what should I carry and what am I doing? You can easily imagine the amount of space I needed in my shoulder bag to accommodate a full frame DSLR and a Hasselblad. It fitted, just. It was awkward to get them in and out of the bag.
I would find myself spending most of the time using the digital and then coming to a snap decision to make a film image of the same scene to take advantage of the square frame that the 6×6 afforded. I was basically using the medium format film camera as a novelty. In my mind I already had the shot on digital but what the heck, I have been lugging this Hasselblad round. Why not do a shot with it in order to justify carrying the extra weight? Ridiculous isn’t it? I was making my photography cluttered, too many choices.
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The crunch came, I think, when I was out with friends on a shoot. It was a weekend event and there was a particular shot that I had already shot on my DSLR that I thought worked, but my friend coerced me to shoot it on the Hasselblad. As soon as the frame was set on the viewfinder it was clear that the 6×6 had everything there that was needed, with a little extra height for balance. I was intrigued. Perhaps this square frame might make me look at things differently…
Things didn’t immediately change but I think that was a catalyst. It was further cemented once I started home developing my film. I no longer had to wait several days for the negs. I could have them in my sticky mitts in less than an hour. Big bonus.
After a while I was happy just setting out with the Hasselblad. I mean it was a wrench at first, felt like I was leaving my comfort blanket at home. It was unquestionably easier on my shoulder. The freedom to just see what worked with what I had was a different experience from the Sigma zoom lens that I used on the digital. It was in theory a constriction but the challenge is only perceived, in fact I have learned to just walk past things that don’t frame or work. Mostly…
See you again soon.
Note: This article originally appeared on Paul’s blog on October 19th 2020 and has been published on EMULSIVE at the author’s request.
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Wow that is spooky Jo! I was sure that there were more people that are going through the same thing but to see your post and your reaction to it is quite something. I hope you find your “thing” be it digital of film, and it frees you from the conundrum. Thanks SO much for your reply. It is so lovely to read.
It is strange isn’t it Steve. I never would have believed it..
Hi David, thanks so much for your kind words. My pleasure.
Paul, this is a brilliant article and the photos are tremendous. Thank you for sharing.
Yup, I think you might be a film shooter now! There is a quality that is very enticing about film, I rediscovered it nearly three years ago and now use my DSLR very little!
Great article but oh my goodness this is spooky! You have described my morning today! I have both digital and film gear and always spend the night before a shoot trying to decide with to take out. Unusually today I took both a digital camera and a film camera out to play as I just couldn’t decide. 90% of my shots were with the digital and then a ‘thunderbolt’ – I realised I was not really ‘seeing’ and was just going through the motions and with that revelation I just downed tools! I lugged all the digital gear back to the car and spent the rest of my session 100% analogue – and loved it. I know I LOVE film and I always have a much more satisfactory day out with my film camera but the digital presence looms BUT you’re right – digital is indeed a comfort blanket! Enough of the ‘conundrum’ and enough sitting in front of the computer screen for the rest of the day post processing. After this morning, and having since read this article, I’ve decided to take time out for the rest of the year (!) and shoot film ONLY and who knows what will happen in 2021 as a consequence!. Thank you Paul for helping me see the light!