The sudden closure of everything in mid-March due to Covid-19 had a devastating effect on all live music, including the blues. Nearly everything was closed down through April, but as weather warmed up in May, things began to slowly reopen, and I began to venture out more. Having acquired an iPhone 11, I decided to experiment with its photo capabilities, using some of my favorite photographic apps. I am especially partial to one called Filca, which lets you photograph with filters based on popular color and black-and-white films. The Agfa and Ilford filters really do resemble the old films they are based on, and the effects are really neat. Furthermore, the iPhone 11 boasts by far the best camera ever on an Apple phone.
Although live concerts did not resume in May, several artists performed live concerts intended for streaming. Duwayne Burnside did such a show outdoors at Red Banks in Marshall County, and the next day R. L. Boyce and Lightnin Malcolm did one at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale for the virtual Oxford Blues Fest.
Although I have spent most of my life working with electronic cameras, both during the film era and since the advent of DSLR cameras, I have always wanted to own a Leica camera. The Leica, with a rangefinder rather than a viewfinder, was famous as a great camera for street work, at least in part due to its almost silent shutter. Unfortunately, Leicas, even the film ones, are extremely expensive. But while searching for them on Ebay earlier this month, another kind of rangefinder camera appeared, a Petri 2.8 “color corrected super” 35 milimeter camera. In contrast with the Leicas, it was eminently affordable, and a beautiful instrument as well. Reading descriptions of it, I learned that it was fully mechanical and needed no batteries. Having desired to experiment with film photography to see how the final product differed from the look of today’s digital pictures, and feeling that it would give me good practice on using a rangefinder, I bought the camera.
What I have since learned is that film, particularly a good film like Agfa Vista 200, if you can still find any, gives a vibrant, rich color palette that is missing in today’s digital photos. Agfa film isn’t made anymore, but I was able to find some online.
However, there have certainly been some bumps in the road, too. Film is hard to find, and has become really expensive. You cannot buy just one roll anymore, at least not at retail. Black-and-white film is not available in stores, and most stores, if they sell film at all, only sell one ISO speed, usually 200 or 400. Fuji and Agfa are out of business, so Kodak is the only option currently made. as best I can tell. Developing, too, is a chore. Gone are the days when you can get same day processing, or even next day processing. Walgreens takes more than a week, and you won’t get your negatives back. The local place I ultimately used, Memphis Photo Imaging is much quicker, but charges $20 if you want scans, which of course I do.
The hardest part for me of course has been learning how to use F-stops and shutter speeds, since cameras have been largely automatic most of my life. My first roll of film was not usable at all, and my second was destroyed by the camera, as it wasn’t threaded properly on the take-up reel. But my third roll, a 36-picture roll of Agfa Vista 200, resulted in the images above, after I had done some research on what is called the “Sunny 16 rule” and thus had some idea of proper F-stop and shutter speed for a bright and sunny day.
As the day wore down, of course, the light level grew less, and I failed to change the settings to account for it, resulting in less-satisfying pictures. But I enjoy the occasional use of film. It probably won’t replace my good Nikon D3200, but I intend to keep playing with the Petri rangefinder, and seeing what results I get.