Putting myself out there

The newest member of the family, a vintage (circa 1972) F-1.

I know, it’s been a while.

I apologize for that for anyone who checks in on the blog.

In 2021, I made a promise to myself to do more of what brings passion to my life — film photography does this like nothing else. That said, our Instagram is ready and this blog is reborn.

The hope is to become a hub for film shooters all over the world.

We’ll talk about everything from vintage gear, to film stocks, to photographers and just about everything in between for the film photography lover.

I’m also vowing to be totally honest and transparent on this blog, meaning there will be highs and lows discussed. The intention is not just to share my life with each of you, but it’s also to encourage you to share yours with me, as well as other readers.

It’s important to interact, to converse, to engage in the community.

I know first-hand how wonderful and supportive this community can be, and it’s my string belief that this blog can be one of the places people can come for information, education, entertainment and support.

That’s the mission — short and sweet.

Now, let’s do get it done.

-John

It’s enough

I’ll admit, this one is tough for me.

The thought that the camera, the film, the lenses, all of it, aren’t that important is a tough one for me to swallow.

But it’s true.

Believe me, I have spent way too much money on gear that was, and is, considered to be the top-of-the-line, the pinnacle of the format and the best of the best.

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with this stuff.

In fact, reputations are often earned and well-deserved.

Leicas, Hasselblads and the like are incredible machines built to last lifetimes and perform at this level for years and years.

But…. it just takes the picture, it doesn’t make it.

That’s on you and I, actually.

Think about it, some of the most iconic photographs of all time were taken on cameras that would be archaic by today’s standards.

Editing was done in darkrooms where the precise combination of timing, vision and knowledge were needed to produce an image with richer contrast, clear focus or perfect exposure. The process would take hours and hours.

Today, we often do that with the punch of a key or the adjustment of a few slider in Photoshop — a half-of-a-second worth of adjustments and you’re done.

Some would call this progress.

I’m not so sure.

Either way, if you’re a film shooter, or your hope is to become one there is really only one rule you need to adhere to:

Shoot.

Simple as that.

If you have a Leica M6 or a classic Hasselblad… great.

If you don’t then use whatever you have.

Having shot with all kinds of film cameras, including the aforementioned, I can honestly say, a great photograph is created by the photographer and not the camera he or she is holding.

Sure, reliability and precision are important, but one of my favorite images was taken on a Nikon FM body with a 50mm 1.8 E series lens. In total, the outfit cost me less than $125.

So please don’t wait until you have that M3 or that 500 c/m.

Please don’t wait until you have the fastest most perfect lens on the planet to start shooting film.

Instead, just shoot.

One of the true treasures in shooting film is this very quality.

As long as the camera works, regardless of what brand or price range it falls in, it’ll work.

It’s enough.

The Hasselblad Experience

I have a 2015 Kia Soul, Alien Green color..

It’s a great car. I am grateful for the dependability I’ve found in it.

I’m grateful for the value I seem to have found in it.

I’m grateful that it gets me from here to there, and, for the most part, to this point anyhow, I don’t worry too much about whether or not it’ll get me to my destination.

It’s a great car.

I once drove a corvette.

Along with getting me to where I’m going, in the same way my Kia does, it’s an experience to drive.

Everything about it is just… well… better.

When I think of my Hasselblad 500cm… I think of Corvettes and Rolls Royces and Bentleys.

Although other medium format film systems will get the job done, none do it with the same regal manner or distinction.

Simply put, the Hasselblad 500-series is the pinnacle of medium format film photography.

Now, this is anything but an original thought.

The camera is widely regarded as the top-of-the-line system, and even to this day, 40-year old kits sell for thousands of dollars.

Shooters still aspire to call one of these camera setups their own, and it is a conversation starter amongst film lovers and even those who are just dabbling in the genre.

There is a very interesting story behind Hasselblad and founder Victor Hasselblad. Details of this can be found all over the Internet, just a quick Google search is all that’s required to delve deeper into this tale.

In short, Hasselblad started his company in order to make cameras for the Swedish Air Force. Well, his design essentially altered the course of photographic history and created a brand that would become synonymous with top-quality photographic equipment.

Heck, the camera system needed up on the moon!

To this day, Hasselblad from decades ago are routinely used to shoot everything from portraits to landscapes and everything ion between.

Sure, they’re boxy, expensive and sound like a small canon when fired, but shooting a Hasselblad is as close to a religious experience as one can get in film photography.

There is no meter in the 500cm, a leaf shutter in the lens, and the waist level viewfinder takes some getting use to, but all that aside, there are very few, in fact no other camera, I would choose to shoot ever a Hasselblad 500cm with an 80mm 2.8, waist-level finder and A12 back.

And I haven’t even began to tell you about the image quality from any of the system’s lenses.

They’re optically amazing.

Now that I’ve spent the better part of 400 words explaining to you how wonderful the system is, let’s spend a moment talking about a few of the drawbacks.

For starters, it’s not for everyone.

There is little or nothing discrete about it, although some have used it for street photography.

It’s not a light setup, regardless of which lens graces the front end of the camera body.

Focusing requires time and precision, which is a drawback to some, a blessing to others.

They can be fragile and temperamental machines.

Regular overhauls and CLA’s are recommended, particularly for the lenses.

And, last but not least, they are not cheap, regardless of condition.

You can look at this factor two ways, I suppose. For one, the quality is so good that the value hasn’t wavered much over the years. Or, you can look at it as you’re paying a premium for the nameplate.

That said, my Hasselblad is among my most treasured possessions and on a very short list of things in my life I would say I need.

Minolta X-700: Film Photogaphy’s Gateway Drug

A true beauty, the Minolta X-700 was a state-of-the-art camera back in the 1980s.

For nearly two decades, from 1981-1999, the timeless Minolta X-700 ruled the roost in the Minolta stable, offering consumer-and-professional-level photographers a camera suited for just about any photographic need — a fact that continues to this day for film shooters.
With program auto-exposure mode, TTL flash metering and state-of-the-art technology for the day, the X-700 quickly became a photographer’s staple back then, rivaling Canon’s A-1 and AE-1 models in both popularity and functionality, and is still a preferred tool amongst many 35mm film shooters even today.
Now, I’d heard a lot about it, read a lot about it, and watched more YouTube videos than I should have about this classic camera. It wasn’t until recently, however, I actually got one in my hands.
After a clean-up and tune-up in the shop, I loaded up a roll of Ilford HP5+ and set off to local parks, downtown areas and just around town— running this body through the paces with the Minolta Rokkor MD 50mm f/1.7 lens firmly attached.
After 36 shots in the freezing cold that day, one thing as clear — the Minolta X-700 is the gateway drug of analog photography.
To me, it’s the perfect camera for photographers looking to delve into the world of film photography, especially those who have lived in the digital realm since the first day they picked up a camera.

The metering on the X-700 is accurate and intuitive.
The focus is wonderful through the standard matte focus screen (other screens are available, but rare), complimented by a bright and vivid viewfinder, with LED lights illuminating pieces of information to the photog necessary for an ideal exposure.
The three exposure modes are rockstars, in my opinion, of the analog photography world.
Manual exposure, which allows the photographer to set both the shutter speed and aperture settings.
Aperture Priority, which allows the shooter to set the aperture setting and the camera’s brain takes over from there with shutter speeds.
Program mode (MPS, Minolta Program System), which allows the photographer to focus on composition and focusing alone. There is a caveat to Program Mode, however. The aperture must be set to f/22 and locked in before the mode is functional, and, the shooter has no idea of the f-stop setting while shooting in this mode. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is irritating for those who care about depth-of-field.
Myself, as dynamite and accurate as the MPS mode system is, I prefer Aperture Priority. It just gives me some sense of control of the exposure and I enjoy that part of shooting.
That said, the MPS mode is crazy-accurate and perfect for photographers just dipping their toes into the dark, deep waters of film photography.
Despite all the wonderful facets of the X-700, there are a few issues.

      First, we’ve brought in four in the past two months to the shop, only one came in without some kind of electrical issue. Minolta worked hard to cut costs on this camera, thus making it competitive with other consumer-level models from Canon and Nikon, for example.
The marvelous metal construction of earlier Minolta models was ditched for plastic. The vertical mega-speedy metal shutter of older model Minoltas was scrapped for a more traditional horizontal cloth shutter. This may not seem like a big deal, but it limits the sync speed to 1/60th of a second — an issue for those who rely on flash.
The entire body is now plastic as well. Don’t get me wrong, the construction of the X-700 is still very sturdy and very good, but keep in mind that plastic is still plastic and can be broken with a good fall or drop. And, it doesn’t have that metal-body vintage-camera patina so many film shooters love.
Of the faults, however, the complete reliance on electronics (a battery) to function is the one that bothers me the most. Like I mentioned earlier, we had three bodies come into the shop with electrical issues, two were repairable but a pain nonetheless, the third was beyond repair. If you’re looking for an X-700, make sure it’s been tested and fully functional. Unlike many mechanical models, a DIY repair on the X-700 body is a tall order.
Still, all things considered, the Minolta X-700 is a wonderful and enjoyable camera to shoot, particularly for digital photographers looking to add their first film camera to the bag. It highly recommend it to anyone who loves photography.

The Yashica MAT 124G: Okay, now that was fun!

Unless you’re used to shooting with a waist-level viewfinder, the Yashica MAT 124g is going to take a roll or two to adjust to, for sure.

Left is right, right is left, down is up… you get the idea.

I’ve been shooting a Hasselblad for a few years now, and I actually prefer the waist-level finder over the prism finder so I was quick to get right out and shoot with this tiny tank.

Now, I should say, that of all the formats of film I’ve shot, by far 6×6 medium format is my favorite.

The Yashica MAT 124g is in fact a 6×6 camera, and to me, that screams out “shoot portraits with me.”

I firmly believe that’s what this camera does best, too (although it’s a very solid performer across the board).

That said, I set out to shoot a 120 roll with one that came into the shop recently, and I wanted to shoot everything but portraits with it.

Why?

Well, because I know it can shine in that facet, I wanted to see what it could do outside of that comfort zone.

Before we get to the photos, however, let’s go all photo-geek on this classic TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera.

Here’s a quick rundown of the specs:

•Viewing lens –  80mm f/2.8 Tessar

•Taking lens –  80mm f/3.5 Yashinon Tessar

•F-stop range –  f/3.5 – f/32

•Shutter Speed range – 1 second – 1/500th & bulb

•Shots per roll – 120 = 12 shots, 220 = 24 shots

Ok, there’s the nuts-and-bolts of tech-specs, now let’s get to the meat of this camera.

The film isn’t any harder to load than my Hasselblad, and I actually found it a bit easier than the

Pentax 6×7. A simple twist of knob on the bottom of the camera opens the back and the film loads in nicely, no freaky wrist bend or finger dance required. Just as long as you line up the start arrow with the correct line you’re ready to go. Just close the back, lock it in with the same knob used to open it and get out there and shoot.

Aperture and shutter speed is controlled with two thumb knobs and both turn smoothly and easily, adjusting both setting with relative ease.

The focus pull on the throw wheel is silky smooth and if you’re coming from an SLR, you’ll notice right away that this machine is way more sensitive, particularly at closer distances. You’ll catch on to that before to long, though, do worry about it.

The viewfinder is bright enough in most conditions, but at times it could get a little dicey to nail that tack-sharp focus. There are places to buy replacement ground glass focus screens and I honestly think that is not a bad idea in this case. Nonetheless, the factory screen is adequate 99% of the time.

The shutter button has a lock so make sure to rotate it out of the lock position before getting that shot.  And, another tip, after you advance the film to the next frame, be sure to put the crank handle back in the slot. The camera won’t fire if it’s out of position. I learned this the hard way the first time I had this camera out.

It has a built in light meter, but this is often an issue with these bodies. Simply put, they don’t work. The body we got into the shop was in excellent condition and the meter functioned wonderfully. It’s something you’re going to want to check before purchasing one. A functioning meter greatly effects the value of the camera.

More specifically, one with a functioning meter can go from $250-$400. One without one can be had for less than $100.

Gummy adjustment knobs are also an issue with cameras that sat for extended periods of time, as is dirt and grime build up throughout the camera.

These are very tricky to clean properly. I recommend either getting it professionally done or really do some studying up on how to do it correctly.

That said, a nice thing about this camera is the fact it’s a definite conversation starter.

Several people stopped me as I shot at the local city park to ask about the camera. I was more than happy to explain. In fact, I think the TLR style can actually break the ice some if you’re looking to do street photography portraits with this camera. For this reason alone, I highly recommend it for that purpose, despite the fact it is anything but stealth.

In fact, I recommend it for about every purpose.

The lens is sharp from corner to corner at every aperture setting and simply put — this camera is just plain-old an awesome experience to shoot.

If you’re looking to break into medium format photography, then I highly recommend this over the Mamiya RB67 or Pentax 6X7, and it’s cheaper than both.

They do make a 124 version of this camera, minus the “G” designation, and it’s virtually the same camera.

If you can find either one — snatch them up and enjoy every second, every shot taken with this tiny tank. 

Happy Shoting,
Johnny

The One Question Everyone Asks…

It wouldn’t be a film photography blog if I didn’t answer this question:

Why do I I shoot film?

Am I right?

Every single film blog seems to, at some point and time, address this issue.

Honestly, after reading through more than my fair share of film photography blogs, some good and some not-so-good, I’ve come to the conclusion that every single plausible explanation has been covered.

“It slows me down,” “It makes me pay attention to every frame,” “There’s a look you can’t get with digital…” “ I love the process…” and the list goes on and on.

And in short, Yes. Yes. And yes again to all these things.

They’re all true, but honestly, the reason I shoot film is simply because I enjoy it.

I don’t really know if I know exactly why, but I just do.

I also love the culture surrounding film… you simply don’t get this with digital photographers.

There’s a certain passion amongst the film-shooting community and a willingness to share that passion with others, too.

I think part of it is because there is such a wide variety of cameras and lenses and film stocks.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot to discuss with like-minded filmophiles.

And this doesn’t even touch upon what goes on during processing and printing in the darkroom.

That’s an entirely difference conversation (we will cover this at a later date).

Back to the culture and community aspect.

I’ve bought, sold, repaired, traded, and found amazing film cameras and lenses at thrift shops, online and at garage sales.

I’ve had wonderful conversations with folks about the advantage of entirely mechanical cameras compared to those with electric components.

I’ve debated the merits of rangefinders verses SLRs, and the joy and frustration of shooting medium format film.

And then there’s that rush that comes with discovering the images after seeing them travel across the country in some cases, to the lab. There’s a certain anticipation that comes along with this process that can’t be replicated on a digital camera.

Of course, there is that very pleasing and wonderful look to film that’s hard to dismiss.

There’s the smell of the film also, just as you open the case and let the odor wash over you. I swear that is addictive stuff.

So, why do I shoot film?

It’s all the things all the other film photography blogs talk about and one more component for me…

It’s the people, the culture, the community.

It’s my hope this site will become somewhat of a hub for all of you.

It’s my hope this site will become a source of information, education, entertainment and a conversation.

Whether it does or doesn’t…. we’re going to give it a go.

Welcome to John Shoots Film – It’s your blog

leica-m4-2-1John Shoots Film is a blog about photography, particularly film photography and the wonderful and timeless machines used for decades to capture some of the most iconic images in history and images in your own backyard.

As the blog evolves, it’ll be filled with how-to’s, gear reviews, and busines advice. It’ll be loaded with relatable content for film lovers and film shooters alike. Guest columnists and links to other informative and wonderful information will also be the norm at John Shoots Film.

I have a passion for photography, a love for creating an image, preserving a moment, capturing a memory in midair. It’s a stunning and beautiful thing to be able to do, and I am blessed for the ability.

It’s an interactive site as well. One where comments, suggestions, submissions and input from you, fellow photography lovers, is encouraged. It’s a site where we all learn together, grow together, become better photographers together.

I am a photographer, a freezer of time — this is not only what I do, it’s what I am.

-John