LOOKING FOR A 35MM CAMERA
(The Ultimate Alternative Process, Part II)
If you want to try film, and you don't already have a usable camera somewhere, the obvious choice is 35mm. It's easiest to process or have processed, and easiest to scan. Most very early cameras – before the mid-1930s, say – are now worth more to collectors than to photographers, but there are countless others made since then. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that if you ask around among your friends, you will probably be given at least one 35 mm camera, and you will have the chance to buy many more at low prices.I'll deal with other formats later in the series.
Market, Lijiang. The 35mm camera
revolutionized street photography with its small size, light weight and
unobtrusiveness. The lens was a 35/1.4 Summilux, but I'm not sure which
camera I was using. I think it was a 1960s Leica M2, but it might have
been a 21st century Leica MP or an M4-P from about 1980. The film was
Ilford HP5 Plus, developed in Ilford DD-X and printed on Ilford
Low camera prices are in fact a major risk. There are so many cameras around, and they are often so pretty, that it is tempting to buy just about everything you encounter and can afford. Then you start feeling guilty about not using them... Unless you deliberately decide to collect cameras, you'll probably do better to turn down as many as possible, unless they're actually at risk of being thrown out, in which case it is hard to deny them cupboard space.
Zeiss Ikon Contaflex, 1960s. This was a staggeringly expensive camera in its day, and sports a built-in meter, interchangeable backs and a rather curious system of interchangeable front lens components. I was given it because no-one else wanted it: "Here, you're interested in cameras." Despite its distinguished lineage, and despite the fact that it still takes excellent pictures if you can handle its quirks, it is worth next to nothing.
The origins of 35mm are perhaps surprising, but obvious once they are explained. George Eastman introduced his first Kodak roll film in 1888. It was 2¾ inches wide. Less than a year later, Thomas Edison bought long rolls; slit them in half; added perforations; and made moving pictures. There are 25.4 millimetres to the inch, so 2¾ inches is 69.85 mm: near enough 70 mm. Halve that, and you get 35 mm. Even before World War 1, there were still-picture cameras using movie film, but it was not until the introduction of the Leica in 1925 that the 35mm format really started to take off. By the start of World War Two, there were countless 35 mm cameras available, at all levels of the market. After the war, there were even more.