Category Archives: Photo Gear

Have Film, Will Travel

The sun sets over the gates at Newark's Liberty airport while waiting for the Belfast flight to board.

The sun sets over the gates at Newark's Liberty airport while waiting for the Belfast flight to board.

So, my brother getting married last weekend meant I had my first opportunity to travel by air with film since, well…about 1999 probably. Back then I knew no better, the film went through the x-ray scanners like all my other carry-ons and in truth I never had a problem.

But, Kodak recommend not x-raying if at all possible. What to do, especially in this era of intense security theater? What else might turn out to be a problem?

We traveled from Charlotte, via Newark, to Belfast, and back again several days later.

Arriving at Charlotte the TSA agents on duty were able to take my gallon ziplock of film (eight 35mm rolls in their plastic canisters) and perform a hand inspection. They were done before I’d picked up all my stuff from the other side of the x-ray scanner. Camera gear went through in the bag without a hitch. I left the camera unloaded.

Connecting at Newark, we didn’t have to leave the secured area at all (actually our departure gate was right across the walkway from our arrival gate, best transfer EVER). I loaded a roll of Ektar 100 and took a shot of the sunset, then another with the digital. Nobody freaked out about this, which was nice.

Things were a little less peachy on the return journey.

Again, had all the film in canisters in a ziplock bag. The camera and gear, no film loaded, went in the camera bag as before. The screener at Belfast International would not even consider a hand inspection: “the x-ray machine is film safe”; yeah mate, it bloody well better be. The camera bag, having been scanned, then had to be opened, its contents separated out, put in a tray, scanned again (along with the film, so now it’s been zapped twice, including the roll of Fuji Press 800 with wedding reception photos on it), then swabbed to make sure it wasn’t made of Semtex or something. Evidently it wasn’t, and I was left to my own devices to pack the bag as I saw fit.

Transiting through Newark, TSA again allowed a hand inspection of the film, but just like in Belfast, the camera gear had to go through again, separated out into a tray. OK, so how come this bag was OK in Charlotte but not Newark? I don’t object to the whole “separate it out into a tray” thing (much), but a little consistency would be kind of nice here so I know what’s expected of me. Maybe a more typical modern plastic-y camera would fare better than my heavy metal monster? Maybe the twelve AA batteries in the motor drive gave them a mild freakout? I’m sure it looks pretty imposing in an x-ray scanner.

Anyway, TSA in the United States are very accommodating when you want film inspected by hand. Indeed, I understand that they recommend you do it that way. No problems at all, quick and efficient, 10 out of 10. UK screeners, not so much, at least not at BFS. As far as they’re concerned, the machine is safe for film, end of story. My opinion? They could easily hand examine it, they just didn’t feel like being accommodating toward a customer, in typical British “rules are rules” fashion. That said, neither of the rolls I got developed this week had any apparent ill effects from the two trips through the x-ray system, even the ISO 800 stuff which had been exposed already.

I think I’d probably do the same thing again next time I make that journey, unless I had some really seriously fast or pushed film (1600 or faster), then I’d probably mail those rolls back home before going near a UK airport just to be safe.

Now with 100% more medium format!

I don’t win things very often. Won an art contest in my 3rd year of primary school, must have been around 1979 or so. Won the smallest prize available in the UK lottery a couple of times (paying several times the total I won to get there, hardly a good return on investment).

So when the Film Photography Podcast was giving away a Yashica-A twin lens reflex camera, I sent off an email asking to be included in the draw but with no expectation of winning.

Well, wasn’t I surprised when I found out I was wrong this time? Just about drove off the road I was so shocked! (I listen to the podcast, like all other podcasts I follow, while driving)

New Arrival!Anyway, here’s the camera and new owner (yes, that would be me). Michael threw in 4 rolls of film for good measure, so I’m able to get up and running right away. The Vivitar 3900 handle-mount flash which came with the Canon F-1 works great with it, or at least fires; I’ll see the actual results a little later.

It’s a fun little camera, with pretty much just the bare essentials for shooting. A viewing lens and viewfinder with flip-out loupe for focusing accurately (you can actually see the entire frame through the loupe, too, which is handy). A taking lens with a simple 4-speed leaf shutter, an aperture iris controlled directly by a lever, a focusing knob which racks the lens board back and forward, and a knob to wind the film on (it uses a red window in the back which shows the frame numbers printed on the film’s paper backing).

No meter, no batteries required, no mess, no fuss. It slows me down and makes me think about the steps involved. Decide on and set the exposure. Focus on the subject with the loupe. Set the composition in the viewfinder (which is made extra-thoughtful by the laterally-reversed image!). Cock the shutter. Trip the shutter. Wind the film to the next shot. Perfect simplicity.

So now, in my film renaissance, I have 35mm interchangeable lens covered with the F-1, medium format with the Yashica, and hopefully when Kelli and I get over to Northern Ireland next week for my brother’s wedding, I’ll be able to find the Canon Sure Shot Prima AF-8 which was the first 35mm camera I owned, the first camera I bought myself, and the last film camera I owned before going digital in 1999, and I’ll have 35mm point-and-shoot covered too.

It’s the little things which make you smile

Like finding out that the motor drive for your 35mm camera is smart enough to leave the film leader out when rewinding a roll of film. I’m not sure how I got to roll 15 without realizing that, except that I’d just recently started shooting with the heavy motor unit attached.

This is handy if you need to switch mid-roll as I did a couple of weekends ago or if you’re planning to develop at home (no need to pop open the film canister, just leave the leader out, trim it off and feed the film onto the reel straight from the canister, you can even use the bit of  leader you trimmed to make sure your fixer is still good).

Of course for rewinding and reloading later you do need to remember what frame you’d reached. I scrawled it onto the film canister in blue sharpie – “” (I’d shot to 22, seems safest to leave a 1-frame gap to avoid any risk of overlapping frames). With the motor drive set to H, it took about 5 seconds to get to where I’d left off when I reloaded the fast film later on!

Incidentally, looking at the developed negatives it appears that the frame registration would have been accurate enough to not overlap frames. I might try that with a less important roll sometime, maybe when I run my first test roll of black and white soon. Then again, I’d rather lose one frame to blankness than run any risk of messing up two frames which might have been good otherwise.

The Week in Links: March 26th 2010

Note: all links open in a new tab or window, unless I forgot to set that when I added one of them!

First up is not photography-related, but is someone who I’ve known for a long time and who is at last going to be reaping the rewards for his effort and commitment to his dream of becoming a published writer. Col Buchanan’s first book, “Farlander“, has just been published in the UK through Tor Books. Check out his author site and excerpts from the book at

Back to photography, specifically film, and the Film Photography Podcast. It’s released in the middle of the month and is on its 6th episode so far. It manages to be informative yet entertaining and funny; not an easy combo to pull off. If my favorite computer magazine of all time had a podcast (yes, yes, I know podcasts didn’t exist in 1988, work with me here) it would probably have sounded a lot like these guys!

For stronger photographic results, Ken Rockwell recommends FARTing at all times. Pass the beans and some Ektar 100! And you, uhh, might not want to go in there for a few minutes.

The Figital Revolution has a test of Ektar 100 in 4×5 large format sheets. I’m not a large format shooter (well, maybe if someone gave me a Speed Graphic and a darkroom to call my own…) but Kodak even releasing this product is meaningful for film folk. Now they just need a good quality film scanner to go with it, maybe around the $500 price-point!

Many years ago, I had a brief interest in pinhole photography. I never did follow through on it, but I recall buying a book about it at some point when I was maybe 10 years old and thinking how cool it all sounded. Well just posted a link to a Make magazine article describing a printable 35mm pinhole camera. Only one small problem: it prints on A4 paper, which we don’t have here in the Land Which Metric Forgot. I’ll just have to buy a Canon FD body cap and make it into a pinhole lens, then, won’t I?

Finally, I would be entirely remiss if I failed to use this inaugural “Week in Links” to give a shout out to my employer – Lakes for Vacation and Recreation – Lake Lovers Love Lakelubbers. This isn’t just a shameless plug though, it has photo-relevancy as we have extensive and growing galleries of lake-related pictures on the site.

OK, that’s all for now, have a great weekend!