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A Retro-Guide on Film Cameras

A Retro-Guide on Film Cameras
Film Camera Review: The history of the camera, as we know it, starts with the camera obscura...

There is a lot of recent hype, and I am beginning to believe, that film photography is coming back. Sales of photographic film have increased over the last few years, film photography products are back on the production lines, and professionals are publishing images and putting forward their theories on the artistic control as offered by manual processes of film photography. They are also heavy on the creative satisfaction of a physical end product.

History of Camera

The history of the camera, as we know it, starts with the camera obscura, which uses a pinhole or lens to project an image of the scene outside upside-down onto a viewing surface. Photographic images were first introduced in 1816, the daguerreotype in 1839, the calotype, in 1840, Collodion dry plates in 1855, and the gelatin dry plate in 1871. 1878 saw the discovery of gelatin emulsion that makes 'instantaneous' exposures practical. The first "Kodak" camera went on sale in 1888, and the 'Brownie' in 1900.

The first 35mm cameras available to the public, and reaching significant numbers in sales were the Tourist Multiple, in 1913, and the Simplex, in 1914. Kodak introduces the 135 cartridges which were used in all modern 35 mm cameras with the launch of the Retina I in 1934. The Japanese camera industry took off in 1936 with the introduction of the Canon 35 mm rangefinder.


So what do we have for the film camera enthusiast or the antique camera collector? Antique and vintage cameras are valued by collectors for many reasons, some for their historical significance, while film photo enthusiasts still capture images on cameras from 19th-century wood models to the fine optics of classic vintage Leicas.

Large-Format Film Cameras

Large-format film cameras are often the cameras of choice for exacting hobbyists and for commercial or industrial photographers who need to reproduce images with greater attention to clarity and precision. Large-format cameras use big film, typically 4x5 film or larger. The most common film sizes are 4x5 film and 8x10 film. The principle behind large-format film cameras is that larger film results in higher-quality photos.

Large-format cameras also produce superior enlargements that look crisper and have a better color tone. If you wanted to get an 8x10 print from 35mm film, you'd have to enlarge the negative eight times, and you'd lose focus and clarity. With a large-format camera, you'd only have to blow up the 4x5 negative twice, or you could simply shoot with 8x10 film.

Popular brands of large-format cameras include Horseman cameras, Linhof cameras, and Arca-Swiss cameras.

Medium-Format Film Cameras

Accepted for their bulk and weight, medium-format film cameras produce much larger images than 35mm cameras and are ideal for outdoor photography, portraits, and studio cameras.

These cameras accept 120 films or 220 films, producing attractive, high-resolution images with virtually no graininess, allowing for superb enlargements with better tonal and color rendition values. Models are available with interchangeable film backs that enable photographers to switch between the types of film they are using for a specific session. This is another film camera format that has withstood the test of time and still garners a stream of ardent and enthusiastic followers.

35mm SLRs

Single Lens Reflex or SLR cameras are the classic film cameras most used by professionals or serious enthusiasts, and the fully mechanical counterpart is still the core requirement for beginning students of photography schools. With SLR cameras, what you see through the viewfinder is what the camera sees through the lens. With metering, aperture control, and depth-of-field capability.

SLR cameras give you the most in terms of artistic challenges as well as rewards. Interchangeable lenses, a diverse selection of flashes and timers, and system add-ons make the camera for serious hobbyists, advanced enthusiasts, and professionals. At the opposite end of the digital world, analog film buffs and SLR film camera enthusiasts still swear by the images they capture.

35mm Rangefinders

The 35mm rangefinder camera is typically more advanced than point-and-shoot cameras and smaller than SLR cameras. These cameras have a parallax system built into their viewfinder which you use to adjust the distance between the camera and subject by adjusting the focusing ring of the camera lens. Used both by enthusiasts and professionals, rangefinder cameras such as Leica, Rollei, and Linhof can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars besides the normal consumer types which are relatively inexpensive.

Vintages and collectibles are very much sought after by collectors, film photography buffs, and enthusiasts.

35mm Point-and-Shoot

More for the casual and beginning photographer, most point-and-shoot 35mm cameras are fully automatic and you don't have much to worry about metering or adjusting the lens. These cameras are produced to be compact and affordable, ideal for people who want to capture special moments at parties, take on their vacations, or for graduation images. Popular options include Canon cameras, Minolta cameras, Olympus cameras, and Samsung cameras.

Vintage and collectibles are also popular with the current generation of photo enthusiasts and one makes that comes to mind are the products from Olympus, which coincidentally also popularized the 35mm half-frame format.

35mm Half-Frame Cameras

A subset of the 35mm film cameras is the half-frames, made famous by Olympus with the introduction of their Pen EE series right through to the Pen F series. The half-frame uses a film format that is half the size of a standard 35mm exposure, doubling the number of shots on a roll of negative film, in a portrait orientation, as against the normal landscape orientation of normal 35mm format.

Aside from Olympus, there were also other makes, from Agfa, Ansco, Canon, Fuji, and others.

Instant Cameras

Instant cameras, such as the Polaroids of the past, or the current Fujifilm Instax, develop images and print photos right out of the cameras. Equipped with either a fixed or autofocus lens, may come with a built-in flash usable both indoors and out, are reasonably cheap, and is fun to use.

Fujifilm currently supplies a few models of instant cameras and each has its own propriety film sizes. The FB-3000B, a high-quality black-and-white instant film is also available.

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