This week I wanted to try something different and fun. I asked my youngest son, Connor, to pick one of my 35mm cameras off the shelf to test for the weekend. At first he was extremely reluctant and gave me a whole list of excuses why he didn’t want to use one (i.e. it’s too heavy, I don’t want to pack it around). However, once he saw the manual process of loading the film and manually adjusting the focus, it intrigued him. Connor loves science. He loves to invent things. He spends his Sunday afternoons working on his science experiments and perfecting his inventions. When he saw the mechanical process of using a film camera, and changing the aperture on the lens, I could see the gears begin to spin in his head. Connor chose to use the Fujica ST701. It’s funny, but because of all the cameras I’ve acquired, he still doesn’t realize that he’s the one who actually found this camera at the thrift store. We loaded some Fujicolor Superia X-Tra 400, and went as a family to Swiss Days in Midway, Utah.
The Fujica ST701 was made in 1971 and was the first camera to use a silicon photo-cell receptor coupled to a field effect transistor (FET) circuit for light metering. I bought this camera at a local thrift store for $10. Unfortunately the cameras made in the late 60’s and early 70’s were equipped to use mercury-based batteries. After reading several blogs, they indicated that a Zinc Air battery could be used in place, but would require some padding as these batteries are smaller than the original. The batteries are required to operate the silicon photocell that operates the exposure needle in the viewfinder, like a Pentax K1000. Another unfortunate discovery, after using the Zinc Air batteries, I found the photocell or the meter is dead, which is another common occurrence with this specific camera model of this age.
Despite the dead photocell and meter, the 55mm f/1.8 lens is incredible solid and sharp. It makes it hard not to want to use this camera regardless of metering. That’s mainly why I selected the ISO 400 color film for Connor to use. My idea is the ISO 400 would be a little more forgiving in the sunlight and shadows. Half-way through Saturday, Connor asked me, “Dad, is this color or black and white film?” He was happy to learn it was color and I’m surprised it hadn’t come up when we loaded the film. For whatever reason, my kids dislike black and white photos.
Threading the 35mm film on the take-up spool in this camera is very difficult. After some additional research, I found that this is another common issue with this camera. And to say that it’s difficult to thread is putting it nicely. It’s a miserable experience that makes you wonder why the design is so poor when everything else on this camera seems so simple to operate.
After spending Labor Day weekend using the camera, I sat down and interviewed Connor. He did a great job thinking about his responses to my questions. This gives a great insight into the mind of a kid using technology that’s thirty years older than him.
What is your name and how old are you?
Connor Nelson, I’m 11-years old.
Can you describe the camera you used?
It’s a Fujica ST701, it has a small lens compared to what some people use. It’s made out of metal and plastic. When I hold it, it feels heavy and solid in my hands.
What did people say to you when they saw you with this camera?
One man asked, “Are you shooting with a film camera?” And another lady said to me, “I have the same one in my bag!” and she pulled it out to show me. Someone else said to me that they were happy to see me using a film camera because it was the same kind of camera that they used to use.
What did you take photos of?
Yesterday I took photos of things they were selling at Swiss Days, like glass pendants. I also took pictures of the steeple of an old building, and a big pine tree. Today I took a picture of a park with lots of trees, a heart that was carved into a tree, flowers, our garden with tomatoes and pumpkins, our dog, the leaves changing colors on the trees, and the playground at the park.
What did you like about taking photos with a film camera?
I like the way it worked. It was really simple. All the cameras they have now have all these buttons and things on them. I liked using the manual focus on the lens. I also liked that I couldn’t see my images after taking the photo. You don’t know how they are going to turn out.
What didn’t you like about taking photos with a film camera?
At first I didn’t like carrying the camera around. I didn’t like that I couldn’t zoom in on things with the lens. I didn’t like having to cock the camera before taking a photo.
What was the easiest part about using this camera?
It was simple. You don’t have to mess with the picture after you take it and you don’t have to use the back of camera to check every photo. You have to make the best of your shot. I liked that I could take the camera with the strap and sling it over to the side and I didn’t have to hold it all the time.
What was the hardest part about using this camera?
It was kind of heavy for a camera that size. I didn’t like not being able to zoom in on the things I wanted. You have to make sure that your shot is really good before you take it because you only have so much film.
What did you learn by taking photos with a film camera?
It was really important to get the things I wanted perfectly in focus. I learned that people still like to take pictures with film cameras because of some of the comments people made to me. When I was taking a photo of these glass pendants in a booth, a guy patted me on the back and said, “I’m glad to see people are still using film cameras.”
What do your photos will look like when they come back from the lab?
Since this was the first time I shot with film, I think some of them are going to look bad. I also think that some of them are going to look good because of the depth and focus. They will probably be different than what I expect.
Would you like to use a film camera again?
Yes. I liked it. I liked the way the camera works. It’s not hard to learn to use.
What advice would you give other kids about shooting with a film camera?
I’m not sure many kids would like using a film camera. Kids like to use newer stuff. Some might not get how to use it. You have to take your time and focus right so you can get a good photo. You have to try hard with your photos because you only have so much film.
This week we’ll send Connor’s roll of film off to the lab and begin the anticipation of what his photos look like. And like a kid waiting for their birthday to arrive, I believe the suspense of the unknown is going to irritate him. I’m glad Connor took the challenge to use a film camera for the weekend and I’m personally relieved that it wasn’t a disaster. He had a positive experience. He actually had fun using the camera. On a future Sunday afternoon, I suspect that he’ll invent his own camera using parts of boxes and pieces of plastic found in the recycling bin at home.