Dilemma: I fell back in love with 35mm
I have to get this off my chest since it's been on my mind the last handful of weeks. I've come across a serious error in my equipment, expectations, and process.
Years ago, I felt 35mm wasn't giving me the crisp and smooth images that I thought I wanted. Oddly though, after a year or so of experimentation, I settled on Neopan 400 in 120 as my go to film, developed in PMK and printed with color heads on VC papers. Life was good. The images had a subtle amounts of grain, sharp edges, and overall the look I had created in my head of what I want my images to look like. Then, Neopan 400 died, so I switched to Acros 100 and Pyrocat. Combined with my Mamiya 7, the results were flawless--perfectly sharp, beautiful contrast, zero grain and easy to print.
....But then over the last couple of weeks I have been teaching my lady friend how to use film (converted her from a Nikon D80 to a Nikon FE and Canon AE-1), so I figured I'd shoot 35mm as well for shits and giggles; nothing serious. Except I found a serious problem: Acros 100 in 35mm form and Pyrocat re-created the look I have been searching for since the demise of Neopan 400 in 120. In fact, I went into the darkroom to print a picture of my buddy (attached) that I took with a $20 rangefinder. It looked great. I then tried to print it larger at 11x14--it looked even better!
Then it hit me: I've been fixing my mistakes with 35mm by using a larger format, but now that my technique is better, 35mm does exactly what I want. And the Nikon FE is a so much fun to use, my Mamiya hasn't been touched. Have I been chasing the wrong tail the whole time?!
So now I have a conundrum, where I really love the larger negs and potential for larger prints, I also love "not-perfect images". Grain, maybe not perfectly sharp, tonal transitions not perfect. It looks beautiful in not being perfect. I love 35mm!
Ok, I got that off my chest. Now someone talk me into not selling my MF gear to get a Nikon FE with an epic set of lenses and spend the rest on a 8x10 wet plate setup.
That's all, thanks for listening.
Don't sell anything - just buy nikon FE and 50mm/2. This is great and cheap combo. Later you may regret selling .
I started with 35mm, later went to large format, which is my favourite, but over the past few years I have also started to use 35mm again for some things.
Since there are pluses and minuses to each format, there is nothing wrong with using multiple formats. Having said that, I also believe one should work to get as much as possible out of a particular format before deciding to move up a size. With careful technique, 35mm film can produce results most people would not think possible from a small negative. For a long time when I started photography, larger formats than 35mm simply weren't financially feasible for me. Instead, I worked my ass off practicing and figuring out ways of getting the maximum out of small format. It paid off big time when I finally moved up to sheet film.
I think too many people write 35mm off without developing enough technique. They think bigger film will magically make better prints. The result is I often see prints from medium format all the way up to 5x7 film that might as well have been made with much smaller negatives.
I'd keep using both -- unlike matters of the heart, when it comes to camera gear, monogamy is not an ethical requirement! :-)
Nikon 35mm, Mamiya 645 & RB67, Leica IIIb, other bits and pieces
Well, I think that was my problem earlier on. I had yet to actually understand each step in the process and how they interact--after a few years I've become more competent as well as confident and now I just want to take pictures and forget about the equipment side of things. Acros 100, Pyrocat, Schneider Componon-s and I couldn't tell the difference between some of my MF formats at 11x14. It was gorgeous.
Only reason I brought up the selling was because I really really want to start doing wet plates. Damn it!
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Using LF cameras improved my 35mm photography hugely. All formats/cameras have their place and purpose.
I wholeheartedly resonate with your experience!
In the 1990s I shot 35mm Pentax cameras that I inherited from my dad. Like you, my technique wasn't very good, and I didn't get to print very often, so I was firing off a lot of shots in the dark, so to speak, developing them without really knowing what would come out the other end.
A few years later a friend loaned me a Yashica TLR. That was fun, so I got a Rolleiflex. Loved the bigger square negative. But I liked the convenience of changing lenses. Enter a Mamiya 645. But square negatives are better , so enter a Hasselblad.
Then I thought that if the 6x6 negative was so much 'better' than 35mm, what about 4x5? So I got a 4x5 Crown Graphic, and then I swapped that for a 4x5 Osaka (hand built in Japan). Just to make sure I wasn't missing anything I got a 5x7 Century as well.
Guess what, though - my pictures didn't get any better.
Then I got to try a Leitz enlarger, and my life was transformed. I have used thousands and thousands of sheets of paper over the years. Many of them go directly to the trash can. Getting this enlarger was like rediscovering my entire library of 35mm negatives. And, I found that my technique had improved significantly over the years, allowing me to eke a good deal of performance out of any camera or format.
Today I have two great 35mm cameras, one great medium format camera, and I kept the 5x7 for shits and giggles. But I love shooting and printing 35mm these days. The quality of the enlargements is so high that I am never left wanting higher print quality. It's a little bit grainier than 6x6 is, but so what? Grain is supposed to be there. And with something like Acros I have a really hard time finding any grain in an 11x14" print, even 16x20" from more than a foot away. Or, I can use TMax 3200 and get really crisp and sharp grain that's beautiful. That sort of flexibility simply isn't obtainable with any other format, in my opinion, and that versatility in combination with the print quality has sold me on using 35mm a fair bit more than any other format. C'est la vie.
But please don't sell your medium format equipment. Some day you will have a real urge to use it again.
"Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank
"Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh
I can relate... all formats have their place.
Good for you! 35mm is the hummingbird of formats, the do-anything, be-anywhere, versatile get-it-done format. Enjoy it. I hop between formats constantly, it help keep things fresh.
Wet plate stuff can be done on the cheap, no need to forsake one to do the other.
What about shooting slides in 35mm and enlarging to wetplate...
I am always tempted to try formats other than 35mm. Every time I do, I end up realizing that I'm just a 35mm guy. I'm pretty sure that medium format is not for me. Though I might try my hand at 4x5 some time