Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Film Rangefinder Experiment

Over the summer I was given an opportunity to shoot two rolls of film with a Contax G rangefinder camera. The camera, in near mint condition, was loaned to me by twitter follower Chris Jones (@betterlftunsaid), an avid black and white film shooter. Chris handed over his Contax loaded with a roll of Kodak TRI-X 400 ISO film, a spare roll and a promise to develop the images in his darkroom. Nice!

The Contax G series remains one of the most advanced, high quality 35mm film rangefinder cameras ever made. In the 90s it was marketed to the rich, but today with most people spending money on digital the G1 can be found used for an affordable price. The standard lens on this camera is the renowned Zeiss 45 mm f/2 planar, one of the sharpest lenses made for 35mm. This titanium beauty is built like a tank and the rangefinder design makes picture taking a simple pleasure.

I quickly became addicted to the simplicity of the camera and fell in love with the rangefinder design. The small size is easy on the shoulder and people are more relaxed as subjects when you bring the camera to your eye. Seeing the world through a finder vs single mirror reflex design is more immersive. Moments and expression are captured quickly, no fiddling through menus or buttons. The G series may just be the highest quality, easiest to use point and shoot camera ever made.

I forgot how fun it is shooting film. The creative process is different. Rather than the rapid-fire, machine gun approach one gets used to using digital, film requires a more intentional, reflective approach. A day of shooting often resulted in only a handful of exposures. In fact it took me most of the summer to get through a mere two rolls of film.

My favourite aspect shooting with this camera is its portability. After lugging around a heavy Canon 5D for an entire year as part of my daily photo project it was a joy to throw the rangefinder over the shoulder, wander the city and just shoot.

I would enjoy shooting regularly with the digital equivalent of this camera. Unfortunately, the only rangefinder design in digital format, that has a comparable-sized 'full frame' sensor size as 35mm film, is the Leica M9. At a mere $7,000 (without lenses!) the M9 is sadly out of reach. I am hopeful that in time more manufacturers will create affordable, interchangeable lens, full frame rangefinders.

A big thanks to Chris for loaning me this very cool camera. Check out his excellent black and white images on his website.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010