Shooting at night can be one of the most difficult tests of not only a photographer but also a camera. There are limited sources of light and even when there is, it is a fickle mistress. I couldn’t think of a better way to test out one of the camera’s we have on offer, the Contax G1. This camera is famous for its ease of use, being that it’s the only autofocus rangefinder ever made (bar the later iteration of the G camera), but also its fantastic quality. So I couldn’t think of a better camera to try out my film shooting skills, especially because I have never shot on film before.
5:50pm on Friday night – 10 minutes before George’s Cameras closes. The shopkeeper is digging through their ‘spares’ tub for stray film stock, looking for the highest ISO (light sensitivity), high quality film stock he could find for me; Portra 400 it is. This film is widely known as a sharp, fine grain, beautifully coloured, ‘professional level’ film. No pressure.
Living in Sydney all my life it’s hard to be excited about seeing the sights of Sydney, but I was excited to see what Sydney had to offer through a lens, specifically the Zeiss 45mm f2. Since the day was gone, and night had well and truly come, I set the aperture wide open at f2 and it didn’t move from there, I needed as much light as I could get. I started at town hall and made my way along George Street looking for every, and all opportunities to fire the shutter. Even though I had never been brave enough to try it until now, I personally find shooting people the most interesting, I am definitely no Vivian Maier, but the spontaneity and the character is my favourite part; trying to be inconspicuous while pointing a camera towards someone, not so much. But the fantastic thing about the G1 is its autofocus, its ‘non-threatening’ friendly exterior, and its quiet shutter, which makes taking candid shots really easy. All you had to do was fire the shutter and the camera figures everything else out. It’s the most automated experience you’ll find in a rangefinder.
I looked for wherever there was obvious light; shop windows, lamp posts, trams, walkways, you name it.
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman, Co-founder of Kodak
I had managed to make my way all the way down to Circular Quay, and still hadn’t used up a roll of 36 exposures. I noticed an ice cream shop I’d usually pass was ‘throwing out’ some really nice light, but there was only one problem, there were no customers. So I parked myself opposite the shop and waited for someone brave enough to spend $10 on one scoop of ice cream. It took 10 minutes but finally, a father and daughter arrived to treat themselves. I only had one condition before firing the shutter; I wanted someone pointing at the cabinet, which without knowing, the subject delivered.
Not too long after, I had ended up at the Opera House; I had finally run out of film. It took me about an hour and a half to take 36 photos which I was quite surprised with.
So for someone who grew up in the digital age and was never exposed to film, what did I learn? Firstly, it is not as daunting as it seems. I think a lot of that is because the camera I chose to use for my first time was really a no fuss, easy to use, but professional camera. It was also a great thing to be able to disassociate from technology from a bit and not be distracted by a screen, I was much more meticulous and thoughtful because of the finite number of shots available, but also I had to pre-empt and compose in a way I hadn’t done before. The adventure of it all was really the best part and the photos were really just a plus.
The next day I took the negatives to Rewind Photo Lab in Glebe for developing. They processed, scanned and uploaded my photos the same day for only $15 – even though I took it in 15 minutes before closing. Fantastic service.