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Contax 645 film camera | A First Look

After much thought, I recently decided to start exploring medium format film photography. Naturally, I needed a medium format film camera, and for me there could only be one: the Contax 645 paired with a Carl Zeiss 80mm f2 lens. All of a sudden, there are more things to think about a little more seriously…do I really want to press the shutter button right now….is the composition exactly as I want it….what’s the film stock and how does it need to be treated….am I definitely in precise focus (given that it’s mostly a manual focus camera) and at f2 the plane of focus is razor thin. Digital cameras certainly make the process a quicker one: you can check your exposures on the LCD screen, auto focus is pretty good most of the time, and it costs you nothing to take a number of repetitions of the same shot to counter blinking subjects, and make slight changes in composition.A statement that gets banded around a lot when guests talk to me at weddings is how easy digital makes wedding photography. Without sounding too defensive, I usually try to work one particular thing into my reply, and it’s that digital or film, at a wedding you still get just the one chance to get each moment. In any case, my view is that wedding photography in some aspects is more demanding on the photographer than it’s ever been. Years ago wedding photography was often about just shooting a string of formals at f11 outside a church. I like to think that wedding photography nowadays is in a different place and certainly more artistic, and though often snubbed by other genres of photography, modern wedding photographers have to have competence across many genres of photography…landscape, portraiture, product, photojournalism…in uncontrollable, changing light!

I got off topic there.

There are number of things that attract me to film photography. I like the fact that it slows you down and I like that it makes you really think about what it is you want to capture. Then there’s just the look of film. There are plenty of ways to make a digital photo take on the characteristics of film, but in my view all those ways fall short. Then there’s the comparison of medium format with 35mm, and then there’s the magic of a Carl Zeiss 80mm f2 lens and it’s creamy rendering of a scene. What don’t I like about film? I’m not totally sold on having to wait for my images! As I write this, there are 4 rolls of my medium format film at a lab in Hollywood where they’re being developed and scanned, and I can’t wait to see the results. I was so impatient to get an idea of what shots from my Contax are going to look like that I decided to buy some Fuji instant film to go into the Polaroid film back that I bought with the camera, and whilst the prints that come from it are tiny (not even 2 inches long), you get just a little taster of film. Here’s one I took of Erica this morning, manually exposed at ISO100 on Fuji FP100c at 1/500s and an aperture of f2. No processing/photoshopping has been done- this is straight out of camera with the print having been scanned with my all-in-one Canon printer/scanner/fax machine at high res to make it a little bigger. The texture on the image when you look closely is the texture of the print itself.

In my view it looks pretty good for instant film, so I’m even more excited to see what my Fuji 400H and Kodak Portra 400 rolls look like! I’ve also got a project on the horizon with Stephanie where I hope to use film almost exclusively, so that’s going to be challenging and exciting all in one!

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