Having gotten into vintage lenses a few years ago, using manual focus is not something I find difficult anymore – especially when I have the safety net of a digital screen to see how things look both before and after shooting.
With practice, you can be manually capturing your fluid and fleeting scenes of street photography without much trouble at all.
More recently, I started using film. It’s a slower and more methodical process as I don’t want to waste exposures, but I’ve been happy with the results I was getting there too.
And then I bought a Yashica Electro 35 GSN. It’s a beautiful camera. As a rangefinder though, it gives me a lot more opportunity to get things wrong.
So the aim when shooting this first roll was really to keep that to a minimum.
Part 1: Lee in the park
If you’ve never used a rangefinder before, the focus system can take some getting used to. It certainly did for me.
Unlike when using manual focus on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, where you can see exactly what is or isn’t in focus, film rangefinders like the Electro 35 leave areas for you to figure out (or estimate) for yourself across the frame.
A small circle in the centre of your viewfinder overlays a second, ghost layer of whatever is inside it. Turning the focus ring brings this into line with the original, which is when you know that section is in focus. When they’re offset, you’re out of focus.
It’s a bit like looking at your finger, then looking beyond it and seeing two transparent versions of the same finger, and then looking at it properly again.
While this system helps you to get your subject in focus, it doesn’t blur the out of focus areas in the way I’m used to seeing on my digital camera screen.
Because you’re not actually looking through the lens, shots lined up at f2.8 look the same through the viewfinder as those lined up at f11. You know the former will have shallow depth of field and the latter deep, but you can’t see exactly how much.
With this in mind, the first place I took this camera was a park. I wasn’t too concerned with the quality of the shots. I just needed to get used to the focus system. And that meant shooting something I don’t often shoot – inanimate objects.
As you can see with the yellow flowers, I wasn’t always successful in not getting things wrong.
Another thing I found myself having to get used to was a combination of the focal length and having to use the viewfinder.
When I shoot digital, I tend to do so from the hip whilst looking down at the upwards-tilted screen. I find, or feel, it helps to keep people from noticing me so much. Putting a camera to your eye just makes it really obvious what you’re doing.
This made me less confident with the Yashica Electro at first, which meant the few shots of people I tried to get in the park are really from too far away.
Added to me still feeling my way around the focus system, and one careless moment with estimating shutter speed, means these really aren’t my best work.
Part 2: Green street photography
Having gotten a little confidence with what I was doing from the park, I moved on and shot a few more exposures in the streets, with the greenery giving some visual link between the two mini-sets.
I still wasn’t sure how my focus was though, and I still felt the need to keep myself as unobtrusive as I could for the people who would be in them.
From looking at the results now, the people on foot are still all quite far from where I’d normally have them.
Those on two wheels are closer – perhaps because I would have thought they’d have been less likely to be paying attention to me.
Part 3: A trip to Zhujiajiao
The Shanghai subway system never stops growing, and one of the latest lines to open – line 17 – goes all the way to (and beyond) Zhujiajiao, a water town around 50km away from the skyscrapers of the Bund.
Having never been and finding myself with a spare intermittently-sunny afternoon, it seemed as good a place as any to get working towards finishing this roll of Fujicolor Industrial 100.
Still in a practising-the-camera mindset, I started off with a deep landscape shot and a flatter one across the canal.
After those, I went for more my normal style of setting up a scene and waiting for someone to walk into it. Most of these came out okay with the best, in my opinion, being the group walking down the bridge steps.
That looks down to the light, with some of the others being shot when the sun had gone in or when it wasn’t coming from such an optimal direction.
For the final shot, I gambled on getting a passer-by in focus with a shallow depth of field. And I missed.
It was the man closest to me that was supposed to be in focus but it wouldn’t have worked even if he was, thanks to him closing his eyes right as I shot.
I wouldn’t usually publish this image and am only doing so to show you not every shot was a success.
Part 4: Back on the street
After Zhujiajiao my confidence in shooting the Yashica Electro had grown. Certainly so compared to how I was with it back in the park, which is by now around 800 words ago.
I still wasn’t sure how the shots would come out but that didn’t matter. As someone who tries to be optimistic, all I could do was shoot presuming they’d be okay and hope they would be.
So I headed to the Shanghai’s touristy old street, a place where I’ve shot many a time before, and attempted to finally finish the roll.
Again, I played with a shallow depth of field. This time it came out okay. With that out of my system, I stopped down towards f8 and moved on.
The caricature shop at the top of this piece is from that day and is one of the strongest images from the roll. That’s why I put it at the top.
The motion blur in front of the mug shop is okay, but I missed focus a little on the group of people walking through the Yuyuan Bazaar. The idea was there though, as well as the light.
The street portrait came out okay too but the Shanghai tower shot not so much. The idea was there again but, this time, not the light. Or the framing either, actually.
Overall though, the trip to the old street gave probably my favourite mini-set of images from the whole roll, which makes sense following the narrative of me getting used to the camera the more I shot.
Part 6: Jimmy
I did say I went to Shanghai’s old street to attempt to finish the roll.
And I still came back with a few exposures left on it.
As I was heading to England in the next couple of days, I needed something – anything – to finally get this thing done.
I’m not sure Jimmy knows what a camera is (he doesn’t, let’s be honest) but he did at least sit still while I lined up and focused.
Wrapping up the first roll in the Electro 35
First is seeing the progression, both in how comfortable I was using the camera and in the (subjective) quality of the images, from the beginning to the end.
The hope is that by improving the results I get with a better camera, they’ll eventually be better than those I was getting from the point ‘n’ shoots.
That leads to the second reason I’m happy with what I got here. Looking to the future, I want to shoot as many different films as I can. I just didn’t think doing so in the aforementioned point ‘n’ shoots would be the best way to go about it.
I don’t think that’d do the films justice and I don’t think it’d do me and this blog justice. So now I’ve gotten to grips with it a little, I’m hoping this first roll in the Yashica Electro 35 is not merely the first, but really the first of many.
The easiest way to see how many I’ve got through since writing this would be to check how many other film essays I’ve written up with shots taken with the Electro by the time you read this.
Update 1: I got around to shooting another roll of Industrial 100 in this Yashica Electro. Want to see how the sequel to this blog post turned out? Go take a look right here. 🙂
Update 2: I’ve also now written a full review of the Yashica Electro. Go take a look and learn even more about this great camera.
If you found that post useful, why not take a look at these others to stay inspired or learn more about some other films I’ve shot and reviewed:
- My comprehensive review of this Industrial 100 film
- The second roll of Industrial 100 I shot in the Yashica
- Shooting another great Fujicolor film in China
And if you think others will enjoy this post on shooting a roll of Industrial 100 in the streets of Shanghai too, help them find it by giving it a share. 😀