First Time Using A Film Camera: Mistakes And Lessons

January 26, 2024
by
4 mins read

Analog camera, film camera, that weird box your mom has on some dusty shelf. We grew up with it, our first years’ pictures were taken with it. 

At some point digital cameras became a thing, making everything way easier. When smartphones appeared, and got better and better through the years, with those amazing cameras creating crisp images, the need for cameras separately became debatable.

I always had some kind of a camera with me, even now with the newest iPhone, I use my mirrorless camera when I travel. I really believe the experience is just not the same. 

When using the phone, it’s a point and shoot, the settings you can control are limited, and if you want to tweak the photo you took, editing just doesn’t work as well. On the other hand, with a camera you can do so much more. 

I’ve noticed lately how my for you page on Tik Tok is filling up with videos of people using a film camera again, enjoying the creativity behind it and the imperfect results. A few months ago we decided to buy a film camera ourselves, and I thought, why not share our experience with it.

The Story Behind It 

It was June, in times raining in others sunny. We traveled for a long weekend to Budapest and rented an Airbnb not too far from the big synagogue in the city.

On the other side of the street there was a second hand camera shop. We didn’t really plan to go in there, but after walking past it a few times we decided to go in and explore. It didn’t take too long until we found ourselves in front of the shelves holding film cameras, staring at it sheepishly.

We have no understanding of film cameras, never really researched it, and we had no idea which camera counts as a good one and how to use it.

After a few more minutes of staring we’ve made the decision to buy one, we thought why not, we can have fun with it around town, learning as we go, and maybe we’ll even get some good pictures. We had very low expectations.

After talking to the people working there and a few customers as well, we decided to buy the Fujica ST801. As I said, we had no idea how to use it but the price wasn’t too bad and we considered it a souvenir. 

picture taken with a film camera

Our Experience With Our Film Camera

In the evening, when we got to our Airbnb we researched thoroughly how to use it. Watched a few YouTube videos, and searched around Google. To be honest there wasn’t a lot of information, but there was enough to understand how to play with the settings, how to load the camera with film, and how to shoot. 

Seems like everything we needed and the next day we were strapped and ready to shoot with it. We walked around the streets of Budapest, admiring the buildings, enjoying the day, and from time to time took a picture with the film camera.

We were rationing the pictures we took to make sure we didn’t run out of film. We practiced squinting to get the right picture, and when we thought we got it, we took it, hoping we’re doing things right. It was so weird to take a picture and move on without knowing if it came out good or if we need to perfect it, but it was also so freeing. 

The use of the settings and moving the buttons to hopefully get a good picture, with the added bonus of the satisfying action of moving the lever everytime we were ready to move to the next picture, made the use of the film camera so much more fun.

At the end of the day, when we were ready to change the film, that’s when we made our first mistake.

The Mistakes We Made

We couldn’t figure out how to put the film back into its box. We turned a few nobs we thought would help in the matter, trying to follow the instructions we found online, and the noise coming out of the camera did not sound great to say the least. 

At some point the film got loose and nothing we did changed it. Scared we broke the camera after one day of use, we decided to do the only thing we could think of at the moment. We turned off the lights, closed the drapes, and opened the camera, manually pushing the film back into its box. 

I can tell you now, after developing the film we brought back with us, that creative solution didn’t work and all of our film got burnt.

On top of that, we repeated that mistake one more time, bringing us to 2 out of 3 films becoming unusable for development.

Another mistake we’ve made was not realizing the camera had no battery. That meant that we couldn’t know if the settings were correct according to the environment we had. Fortunately we were still able to figure out the settings without it and we got some cool pictures anyway.

And if we’re talking about settings and environment, at the times Budapest was rainy and gray, we took pictures anyway and some of the pictures came out way too dark to be used. 

The Lessons We Learned

Since using the camera in Budapest, we got a bit better with it. We even got a new battery.

We’ve learned how to use the battery and the screen it provided to understand the settings better. 

We learned what every button in the camera means so we wouldn’t make any mistakes.

We learned how to let go of the expectation of the perfect picture and let our creative way take us wherever, enjoying the process and appreciating the result whatever it was.

We learned to think before we shoot, and play with angles and perspectives before taking the picture. 

We learned to listen to our environment and explore it before making any decision.

We learned to not take anything too seriously. 

Conclusion

While a film camera would not create the most crisp, perfect picture, the imperfection of it actually will allow you to be more creative and the result more artistic. Try to have fun with it, don’t expect too much, and enjoy the journey. But just to be safe, use your phone or digital camera, to make sure when you come back you’ll still have some pictures to look back at.

Looking for the best film camera to start with? here’s a link for the 10 best film cameras for beginners.

Do you have a film camera? What do you think of it? Share some of the pictures you created with us.

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