When I first used the all manual 35mm camera I purchased, my major take away from the experience was how incredibly slow I shot with it. A trip where I might shoot a few hundred digital images, I might only take five or so photographs with my 35mm. As evidenced by the fact I now have rolls of films that contain five or more different trips. Each frame of my 35mm is precious, I think long and hard before committing film to an image. The more I shot with it the more I loved it. But I must say I wasn't content with the 35mm for the simple fact it was still too much like my DSLR.
I started looking at large format cameras, the massive film size, tilt and shift functions were appealing, but the high cost and use of sheet film was not. Yes, I want to shoot slower, but being limited to a single film holder with one to two sheets of film, or having to carry numerous film holders was not so appealing. The sheer bulk of some of the large format cameras also didn't help their case.
My camera search proceeded on to medium format cameras. The smaller form factor, and availability of roll film were pros, but I lamented the lack of features offered by the large format cameras. Then I found the perfect solution. The Graflex Century Graphic. A medium format camera that was made in the spitting image of Graflex's large format cameras cameras. Small enough to fit in my camera bag, tilt and shift, bellows, ground glass, and roll film. It was absolutely perfect. With a 6x9 Film back I get eight photographs to a roll. I absolutely love the wider frame for landscapes and eight shots is just enough for me. And the price tag you ask? $140 bought me a Century Graphic that looked like it was brand new, despite being made between 1949 and 1970 equipped with a Kodak Ektar 101mm f4.5 lens.
Shooting the Graflex is lovely, time consuming process. Deciding to take a photograph means opening the camera up, pulling out the lens board, pulling out your tripod, securing the camera to the tripod, winding the shutter, opening the shutter, throwing a dark cloth, or in my case, a jacket over your head to view your image on the ground glass, slowly focusing the image, adjusting tilt and shift if necessary, focusing some more, finalizing your composition, closing the shutter, removing the ground glass, securing the film back, double checking you advanced the film, winding the shutter again, light metering with another device, setting the shutter and fstop, pulling the dark slide, and then finally, after all that, hitting the shutter release and taking a single photograph. You do not take frivolous photos with this camera.
So far I've shot with it on several different occasions with varying circumstances and have found it to be a joy. My first time shooting with it was out in Joshua Tree for a photography day trip with a few fellow photographers. It was small enough for me to cram it, and it's the film back into my small 18L hiking back pack. A basic Manfrotto tripod was more than sturdy enough to hold it. Sadly, I've not developed this roll of film yet. It currently resides with another five or so rolls of color film not yet developed. Black and white film I can develop myself, so that's what I've been primarily shooting, and all i have to share here today. The other two shoots are both on display in this post. The first being another example of landscapes taken in Sequoia National Park and the second, a fine art shoot from a series on reflections I'm working on. One thing you'll immediately notice about the portraits is that not one of them is in focus. Everything I had shot previously had been focused using the camera's ground glass. For my reflection shoot, I decided to use the camera's rangefinder which apparently needs to be calibrated. When properly focused, the Kodak Ektar 101mm lens is tack sharp as you can see below in the photo of the forest floor.
Film Compared to Digital
Since I happened to shoot nearly identical images with both my digital and film cameras I thought it would be nice to show them side by side. Now, both images have been edited, so it's not a great technical comparison. On the film image I increased the contrast as I scanned the film image to get the full range of info the scanner could pick up resulting in a very low contrast image. The digital image was converted to black and white then I brought down the highlights and increased the contrast a bit.
As I shoot more, and actually get around to developing my film I'll make sure to share the new work as well as update my thoughts on shooting with the Century Graphic.