The art form of photography has been around for almost 200 years. During this time, you could summarize the advancement of photography technology into 3 broad eras; vintage plate photography, vintage film photography, and modern-day digital photography.
What is vintage photography?
Vintage photography can be defined as any type of photography captured on film by an analog vintage camera that is at least 20 years old. With the comeback of film cameras, there hasn’t been a better time to get into film photography to capture vintage photos. A common characteristic of vintage photography that makes it attractive to modern-day photographers is what is referred to as the vintage aesthetic.
Types of vintage photography
There is no shortage of types of vintage photography, as the same types exist for film photographers as they do for digital photographers. Some of the most popular niches are:
How to get started with vintage photography
So you want to do your first vintage photoshoot?
As the type of photography suggests, vintage photography is all about using a vintage film camera. Lucky for anyone who is new to film photography, and looking to get started, is that it is fairly inexpensive to do so.
With as little as $100-200 USD, you can buy a very capable film camera, alongside a vintage lens that comes standard with that camera. You can find a lot of local film camera stores where you can buy cheap beginner cameras in your city.
How to shoot with a vintage film camera
If you are used to shooting with a modern DSLR or mirrorless camera in full manual (ie. manually controlling shutter speed, aperture and ISO), adjusting to shooting with a film camera will be a sinch.
The first time I shot with film, choosing the right camera settings on film came almost as second nature as I had been so used to manually selecting all of these variables and getting them right on a digital camera on my first try.
For those who are a little less familiar with shooting in full manual, let us cover some basics.
The Exposure Triangle
The exposure triangle is a concept which explains the relationship between the three adjustable variables in a camera, lens and film that when combined together for exposure.
When one variable changes, there is a direct tradeoff in the relationship between the other elements. To maintain the same exposure at least one other variable must change.
Setting your film ISO
Before you even begin to shoot, you will likely be deciding what film you will be using, so the first variable you will have control over is the film ISO. Depending on the setting you are shooting in, you will want to choose the right film ISO.
For outdoor shooting consider using a low-speed film with a range between 20 – 200 ISO. For lower-light conditions shoot with a faster-speed film ISO between 400 – 1,600.
Choosing your lens aperture
The next step in the process will often be choosing what aperture you want to shoot with. Your aperture will directly impact your style of photography. For example, if you want to shoot portraits with a super blurry background you will want a wide aperture of f/1.2 to f/2.8.
Bt if you are shooting film landscape photography, you might instead want to use a narrower aperture between f/5.6 to f/8, the point where lenses are their sharpest. With a narrower aperture, more of the image will be in focus as well, which lends itself well to landscape photography.
Selecting your shutter speed
Now that you know what you’re shooting, and with what, the shutter speed is the last variable to figure out in your exposure triangle.
Let’s say you wanted to shoot a portrait in a sunset with a film ISO of 200 and a wide aperture of an f/2.8 for that blurry background, you would need a shutter speed of around 1/500th of a second to capture an image that is exposed correctly.
To calculate the exposure triangle you can use an app or exposure calculator.
When in doubt you can always bring your digital camera and test the shot digitally before using your precious film roll! That never fails.
Nailing focus with a manual vintage camera lens
Last but not least is nailing your focus with a vintage camera lens. If you are uncomfortable with using manual lenses there are a lot of brilliant vintage film cameras with auto-focus capabilities so consider starting with one of those.
For the braver beginners who want to try manually focusing on their own, there’s a variety of accessories that can help you achieve this, or depending on the camera, you might be able to see your focus through the viewfinder if it’s an SLR or medium format camera.
Many SLR and medium format cameras have microprisms, a focusing aid made of small prisms built into a focusing screen. This causes a slightly out-of-focus image to look blurrier alerting you that you’ve not yet acquired exact focus.
Otherwise, it simply comes down to practice. Lenses have markings on them for the distance, and if you have a good instinct about how far something is from your, it will be easy to nail your focus.
Here’s a bonus tip. If you are using a wide-angle vintage lens, you can just set your focus to infinity and forget about it. Just don’t get too close to your subject and you’ll be good with perfect focus every time.
Cheapest vintage film cameras and lens bundles for beginners
Let’s go through some great cameras so that you can get started with your journey in vintage photography with your first vintage film camera purchase. The cheapest way to break into film photography is shooting with a 35mm camera as it is the least costly option. Shooting with Polaroid can be cost-prohibitive due to the nature of the expensive Polaroid film and similarly shooting in medium or large-format both the cameras and film stock can be super expensive.
The Rollei 35 is a premium German ultra-compact 35mm film camera produced between 1966 to 2015 across many different iterations of the camera. Along with the Minolta TC-1. Revue 35 XE, Minox 35 and Olympus XA, the Rollei 35 shares the reputation as one of the smallest 35mm film cameras ever made.
Being such a small camera, it is perfect for beginners as it is easy and convenient to carry around with you. Its zone-focusing feature also makes it easier for beginners to nail focus with this camera.
Depending on the version of the Rollei you purchase, it might come with either the Zeiss Tessar 40mm f/3.5 or the Sonnar 40mm f/2.8 lens. Both versions are great, but having the extra two-thirds of a stop more light on the f/2.8 could be useful.
For around $200 for the camera and lens combo, this is a great cheap vintage film camera option for beginners.
An otherwise standard camera, the Minolta SRT-101 has a lot of great camera features to make it a great option for beginners. The primary feature of this camera was the full aperture TTL metering. A TTL meter system that worked very well, might I add.
This system allowed users to easily adjust their exposure based on the metering to ensure correct exposure, much like metering systems in digital cameras do today. Not only did this camera make exposure matching a breeze, but it also has a microprism focusing aid.
The Minolta SRT-101 comes standard with a variety of Minolta MC Rokkor lenses:
- MC Rokkor-PF 55mm f/1.7
- MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4
- MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2
- MC Rokkor-PF 55mmf/1.9
All of these nifty fifty are among many other sharpest vintage lenses produced by a variety lens manufacturers in the film era. The camera and lens combinations are a brilliant pairing to allow you to produce beautiful vintage photos.
For around $50 – 150 USD, this camera and lens combination can get you started on your first vintage retro photoshoot in the blink of an eye.
The Fujica ST801 is another beginner-friendly SLR film camera to take beautiful vintage photos. Much like the Minolta, the Fuji features a through-the-lens (TTL) exposure meter coupled with the shutter speed and lens aperture.
As you adjust the aperture or shutter speed an LED system will denote on a scale how over or underexposed the image is. This system also works when compatible Fujinon EBC lenses are used with the camera and is.
This camera comes standard with the Fujinon EBC 55mm f/1.8 lens, which is a great vintage Fuji lens. With its metallic construction, color reproduction and amazing bokeh, this lens is a sure hit.
Remember, you are not stuck with just the standard lenses these cameras come with. You can buy other vintage camera lenses that match your camera’s lens mount!
What film should a beginner use?
Choosing the correct type of film stock is almost as integral as choosing the right camera or lens when it comes to shooting film. Your ISO and color will be determined entirely by the film, so its a good idea to start with a 400 ISO film. This ISO is a great starting point as it is versatile enough for most shooting situations and has a great grain characteristic.
Remember you can choose your film based on the type of photos you plan to take. For outdoor shooting, you might want to consider using 100 ISO film, and for low light environments between 400 – 1,600.
Some examples of great film stock to use are the following:
- Fujicolour C200
- Kodak Ektar 100
- Lomography Color 400
- Kodak Ultramax 400
- Kodak Proimage 100
- Kodak Portra 400
- Kodak Gold 200
- Fujicolor Pro 400H
- Ilford Delta 100
- Kodak Tmax 400
- Ilford HP5 X 400
Shooting film photography will also require you to get your film developed or scanned. Finding a trusted partner to handle that process for you will require some trial and error, but a quick Google search or reading out guide linked above will certainly help you getting started.
No what are you waiting for! You know everything you need to know about vintage photography. Go out there and do your first vintage photoshoot!