In this day and age, why spend money on an expensive hobby? We already have enough expenses with food and rent. So I think the best hobby is one that can be enjoyed thoroughly without as much expense. Hence shooting medium format. Having these huge negatives gives me a lot of joy and can be done cheaply. Here’s how to do it.
First, get an inexpensive medium format camera.
Sure, you can get a 120mm Holga for $100 new (and probably $50 used). But really, who wants to shoot with a plastic camera? If you have decent software on your computer, you can always add hipster effects afterwards…. but if the hipster effects are already on the negative… then you are stuck with them. So skip the holga.
- $200-$300 : Minolta Autocord. This is a great TLR. Don’t be intimidated by something new (I was when I first bought the pentax 67 though…). This comes with a fixed lens… but it is a beauty!
- $400-$700: Pentax 6×7. This is currently what I use. I got a whole setup for less than $800 (with 5 lenses). Other choice, Fuji GW690 or the like.
- $800-$1000: Hasselblad 500. At this price, you could only get one lens (probably the 80mm). Nothing wrong with that, it’s a great setup. The Hasselblad engineering will blow you away. Other choice: Mamiya 6.
- There are more choices of course that are much more expensive. But this post is about how to do things on a budget (remember?).
**Above prices are estimates based upon used deals on craigslist and ebay.
Now that you have a camera, it’s time to shoot. So what about the recurring cost of medium format film? Well there are a couple of ways to trim the fat. Brand new, most film goes for at least $5 per roll (and up to $7-9 for more expensive stuff). Here’s how to go on the cheap:
- First, open yourself up to shooting black and white. BnW has a longer shelf life and therefore can be had for cheaper.
- Buy in bulk. Film can last a long time in the freezer so buy big batches at a time and stick them in there with the popsicles.
- Always keep an eye on craigslist (for both cameras and film). People can sell film on there for around $2 a roll. So don’t be shy and go out there and find some in your neighborhood. I bought non-expired E-6 provia 100f for $3 per roll. This would sell for new for over $7 per roll…
- Ebay is another option. I haven’t seen deals on here like I have on craigslist but it’s worth a look.
- The cheapest film I have ever seen (new) is Artista EDU. It used to cost $2.89 but the price went up to $3.19. I bought 150 rolls of this stuff. It is really Fomapan – a cheap Czech film that has been rebranded. One thing about it though – you can’t push this more than 1 stop. Also of note, the 400 iso is really 240 iso. So be aware of that. You can buy it here:
I think you will be hard pressed to find film for under $2 a roll (and shooting medium format will only give you 12 shots at most, so that is 20 cents per photo… without taking into consideration development). Here’s how to save on developing:
- Develop yourself!!!! Developing with a lab is outrageously expensive. Develop the film yourself with your own equipment. You’ll not only learn more about film, contrast, resolution, density, grain… but you’ll gain a much better appreciation for your images.
- Buy developing gear on craigslist (and possibly chemicals too). New reels and tanks can cost quite a lot (especially good ones). I bought my setup for $75 on craigslist which new would have cost over $300.
- Don’t use stop bath (just use water). Don’t use PhotoFlo (a chemical that keeps water droplets off of your negatives). To keep water off the negatives use a squeegee (bought mine for $2).
- Use Diafine developer. This developer can be reused for over a year (as long as it is stored in the refrigerator). While this developer is meant to be reused time and time again, D76 can also be reused quite a lot. Experiment with this.
Hopefully this will get more people to be less afraid of medium format and go out and shoot it. Ours is an expensive hobby, no doubt about it. But there are ways of cutting corners. I suggest using all of them :-).
Happy, reasonably priced, shooting.
There is one montage in Scarface that I have always loved. That is the scene where it shows him getting married, making loads of money, giving a hair salon to his sister and owning a tiger that lives on its own little island in the backyard. He does all of this of course to the tune of “Push it to the Limit”.
The 80’s were glorious indeed.
Dont worry, your humble narrator isn’t interested in dealing illicit substances or buying tigers. My interest is in pushing film to the limit.
What we are looking at is Fomapan 400. Its normal rating being 400 iso, I have pushed north of 1600 (more than two stops). Normally this film takes 8 minutes to develop but I let it develop for 26 min. Of course this gives me greater flexibility because I can shoot at fast speeds in low light.
But as with all things in life, pushing it to the limit requires compromise. In Scarface’s case, his drug peddling lead to murder, cocaine abuse, a barren wife and ultimately to his downfall in an epic battle scene with his “little friend”.
The compromise with pushing film isn’t exactly death but rather graininess. If you enlarge some of these photos you will notice their graininess. That gritty earthy grain that you need to eat like wheaties. That’s what I am talkin about.
But is graininness really all that bad? Nope. In fact, I rather like it. PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT DAWG!
The natives used to call Coney Island Narrioch. This meant “Land without shadows.” While the Lenape language doesn’t feel like it rolls off of this caucasian’s tongue the meaning is pretty apt. The beach runs parallel to the direction of the sun and therefore there are few shadows throughout the day. If only the Lenape could see their beloved Island now… they would probably eat a corn dog.
Coney is a quilt of different races, creeds and colors. I’ve met Senegalese, Russians, Israelis, Turks, Chinese… you name it. People are fishing, fighting, dancing, biking and throwing frisbees. The variety of people doing their variety of things eating their variety of foods and partaking in the variety of festivities can be overwhelming. All of these reasons in full technicolor make this one of the best places for serendipitous photography.
So why didn’t I shoot in color with the two above shots? Well black and white is appropriate for all occasions. And shooting film you don’t have much of a choice. The portraits on the boardwalk are also nice in bNw. But I wanted to do something different than my normal portraiture that day… it was time to get wet and get color!!
After moving to NYC, there was little I could do with my underwater photo gear. The equipment I had was sitting there like a pile of raw gold… Lots of potential but no application. So how to mix underwater photography with my love of street work? Coney Island, the land lacking shadows, provided me the answer!
I rushed into the water with my camera in the large black housing. Most people were really struck by it (about the size of a basketball, pitch black and all aluminum). Lucky for me, many people were simply curious and wanted me to take their photo. I got to work with a kid I met in the water. Shooting on top of the water was fun an can get good results but the kid wanted me to get him all the way under so I happily obliged:
Wandering around in the water some more, I found a dad and his little girl on his back. They were making nice V shapes with their arms, trying to maintain balance.
There were others interested as well. A Russian couple and a some Puerto Ricans. I had such a great time I could have spent the whole day there wandering around in the waves… getting photos… But when I was on my way back, I found a kid having the time of his life just throwing water in the air.
His enthusiasm was infectious! There was never a person so happy to just create water droplets. On the other hand, his dad (on the left) was not so amused with this random guy with a camera in his hands wanting to document the joy.
It was a successful trip and one I will not doubt repeat in the future! I highly recommend you visit the land without shadows (camera in hand!).
Happy (wet) shooting!
P.S. – all photos in color on this page were shot with a digital camera – the Canon 7D. While I almost always stick with film, I just couldn’t lie to you.
I really wish shooting color on the subway was easier. I really do. I know in your mind, you are asking yourself, “what’s the problem Jeremy?” Well, the fluorescent lighting of the subway makes the photos come out green. And now you’re thinking, “Illustrate that for me homeboy!” Well, I only aim to please.
Here is an un-color corrected photo in the Lorimer station:
Here is a version that I have color corrected (no other manipulations besides more magenta on the white balance):
Notice the difference? The un-corrected photo looks like it was tinted by nuclear farts. It’s an awful, vomitous color. But even the corrected photo still doesn’t look perfect and this just goes to show you that color correction cannot fix everything. Why is this so frustrating? Well the red in that photograph just provides a great example of some of the vibrant, saturated and synthetic colors present on the train. People dress down in lilac purples, sun spotted old yellers and ferrari red bedazzled jumpers. But capturing it in color… no matter how hard I try… just doesn’t work because of this light.
Here’s a photo of a guy I caught pissing in Union Square:
I just am never happy with the results of color in the subway. This forces me to really focus on my black and white down in that rabbit hole of a transportation system. Not that this is terrible… au contraire… I LOVE BnW!! And in some ways I am happy that the crappy lighting forces me to shoot in monochrome. Here are some fun ones I have taken recently: