The Secret to Falling in Love With the Outdoors Again? Film Photography.
Recapture your love for the outdoors, one grainy picture at a time
I’m not sure what led to my abrupt disinterest in the outdoors. Maybe the pandemic was to blame, as record-breaking crowds flooded once-secluded spaces — locals hellbent on traveling anywhere beyond the home. Or maybe it was the wildfires charging across the west, as smoke made its way to city streets where it settled like a polluted blanket. Layering on the masks, I braved the crowds and atmospheric contaminants to find solitude, but it wasn’t there.
So I was left wondering when the shitstorm would end, and I eventually decided, like most of us, to pick up a quarantine hobby. I started by sketching in a dusty notepad before taking up pyrography and eventually learning how to work on my car, but every distraction led to monotony. Then one day, as I scrolled through online ads in search of the next times-suck, I came across a film camera for a decent price. So I contacted the seller, negotiated and picked it up the next day.
I was mildly aware of the camera’s legacy. A product of the mid-’70s, the Pentax K1000 was one of the best film cameras for a beginner like myself. Its dependability was matched only by its ease of use thanks to a built-in light meter, lack of battery and plenty of compatible lenses to choose from. It was the same camera used in every high school photography class, the one seen hanging from the necks of pseudo-hipsters that live and die by every roll of film. And this one, with its scratches, dings and decades of patina, was mine.
The Problem With Smartphones
Years ago I wrote a blog piece as a wannabe writer on the obsolescence of cameras now that smartphones dominate our lives. My argument back then suggested full-size cameras were irrelevant, especially for those of us that aren’t professional photographers, thanks to the technology that continues to improve our smartphone cameras. After all, why shell out a few thousand dollars on a new camera when the one that fits in your pocket is perfectly suited for 95% of your shots?
When I picked up this Pentax, I was forced to reevaluate that argument. What’s the point of film if it lives in the shadow of digital, and why haul a film camera when your phone works perfectly fine? Over time, I came to understand that film isn’t wholly better than digital, but our relationship with it is.
When we take pictures at every moment with our phones, we’re detached from the picture itself because it’s taken in a moment — technology does the work for us. Film, on the other hand, requires us to pause, adjust settings, line up the shot and push the trigger, hoping what we captured will look as it did through the viewer. Beyond the obvious symbolism, digital photography is also a paradox — it’s an endless supply of photos that exist everywhere yet nowhere at the same time. And film is the antidote.
Getting Back Outside
As I made my way outdoors with this new-to-me vintage apparatus, suddenly I found myself probing every scene with a new eye. Lonesome pines posed as mother nature’s models while sunsets offered a renewed sense of vibrancy and life.Every pull of the film lever offered an opportunity to capture a scene with a new frame of mind.
While my phone remained in my pack, tucked away for emergencies and trail references, this cumbersome camera rekindled my love for the outdoors. The pandemic-induced crowds went back inside at the slightest chance of rain and the smoke cleared with a strong breeze, but the K1000 still joins me on mountains, city streets and everywhere in between.
Film, On the Rise
I’m not the only one revisiting film. Be it the rising popularity of instant cameras or the revival of Polaroid through The Impossible Project, younger generations are drawn to analog’s vintage appeal and tactic value. Sure, mistakes on film are met with blurry images or bad rolls, but trials teach us the errors of our ways. When we get it right, there’s no denying the dreamy, vintage veneer of a photo shot with film. If you need more evidence that film is back, check out #filmisnotdead on Instagram to find over 10 million posts of stunning analog images.
Maybe you find yourself suddenly compelled to pick up an old camera. If so, follow these tips to ensure your journey goes smoothly.
Tips on Finding a Film Camera
Before you visit local pawn shops and elderly neighbors in search of film cameras, understand that you’re buying a used good. It won’t be new, but it should be a 35mm camera in working order. Though different 35mm cameras exist, focus on SLRs (single-lens reflex), compact cameras (point-and-shoot) and rangefinders. These are mainstream options that offer reliability and affordability down the road.
There are many considerations to make when finding the right film camera, from different lenses to whether it uses batteries. For the sake of simplicity, classic beginner models include the Canon AE-1, Nikon FE2, Olympus OM1 and Pentax K1000. Whenever possible, consider one with a 50mm large-aperture lens that offers sharpness and performance, as zoom lenses leave a lot to be desired.
Once you’ve identified a model that meets your needs, harness the magic of the internet to shop locally. Like a used car, it pays to have firsthand experience with a used camera. I had a positive experience using services like Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp and Craigslist but auctions and estate sales turn up similar diamonds in the rough. Look for obvious wear or damage and test it by advancing the film, shooting and rewinding to ensure mechanisms work as they should.
Once you’ve found one that meets your needs, there’s nothing left to do but make some 35mm magic.
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