When I first started, I had no idea there are so many types of film camera formats- small, medium and large. Well, I definitely knew about the small format because that’s the usual 35mm camera my parents used to take my childhood photos. However, what I didn’t know was the different 35mm camera types.
35mm camera make image of 24 x 36mm in size. But have you wondered why they name 35mm as 35mm even though there is no ’35’ in the measurement? Now I figured it: 24mm is the breath/width of the image, 35mm is the breath/width of the film. Mainly, 35mm film camera only consists of Rangefinder and the Single-Lens Reflex (SLR).
Single-Lens Reflex Camera (SLR)
Single-Lens Reflex (SLR) has one of the prominent advantage: What you see through the viewfinder is what the lens sees. In this way, you can see the effect if you use eg. a filter. However, some SLR models offer only 90% congruence. This means you see 90% of the image through viewfinder but in fact the lens capture additional 10% of the outer frame as well. Many modern dSLR are like this, which irritates me.
I personally feel that if you are a pure beginner to film photography, start with SLR is a good choice. You can start by looking at second-hand Nikon F series or Canon A series. Currently, Nikon still have new SLR in its catalogue: Nikon F6. I personally prefer the look of the older models. However, note that SLR is gonna be damn loud due to the mirror flapping up when the shutter release is clicked, to allow light to hit the film. Nonetheless, the loud thug sound is rather therapeutic!
Besides the sound, mirror movement also cause a slight shakiness of the camera. Hence, it’s always wise to use shutter speed no slower than your lens focal length if you hand-held the camera, to minimise shakiness. For example, if you use 50mm lens, your shutter speed should not be slower than 1/60. Lastly, some people might not like it that there will be a split second of ‘black-out’ when the mirror is swung upwards. To me, I have no issue with it at all.
In contrast to SLR, the lens on the rangefinder camera is separated from the viewfinder. This means what you see through the viewfinder is not what the lens sees. So, what’s the problem? Parallax error. The lens is situated a level below the viewfinder, so naturally, you will see slightly more top proportion of the image through the viewfinder. But fret not, many rangefinder cameras include this framing line to help you determine what’s included in your frame. For camera with interchangeable lens, the lens itself will ‘tell’ the viewfinder where to locate the semi-invisible frame.
The advantage of rangefinder camera is that it is silent when the shutter is clicked due to the absence of mirror flapping. Thus, the design is smaller, or slimmer.
Pros of 35mm format film camera
For beginner, it won’t be too difficult for you to adjust to using 35mm camera because it is typically quite similar to your compact digital camera or dSLR, except it is film and you have no LCD to review your shots right away. Then, 35mm format camera is cheaper than medium and large format (the good ones). 35mm film is also easier to find, with more varieties and cheaper to develop + scan. For travel, 35mm film is better because it usually comes with 24 or 36 exposures. For medium format, it comes with 6 or 12, at a higher price. Oh, 35mm film camera is also smaller in size, suitable for travel. I know the picture quality of small format is inferior to larger format, otherwise why would people want to sacrifice by bringing bulkier tool around right? But I won’t comment much as I have not tried the latter.
Between rangefinder and SLR, there’s no right or wrong as to which type is better over another. It all goes down to a personal choice. For me, I chose my first film camera as a SLR because I didn’t know what was rangefinder. If time goes back, as beginner, I would still prefer to use SLR because I want to feel slightly more secured by looking into my viewfinder ‘real-time’. Furthermore, it is easier to get a sense of how image will look like if I want to attach filters to the lens. Moving on, once I have mastered zone focusing, I realised using it with rangefinder camera, I am able to act fast on the street. In conclusion, I hope my 1-cent worth of blog has given you some insights into 35mm small format camera.