Photo Chat Vlog – Yashica Samurai 35mm half frame and Kodacolor VR film

I think it was in season 3, episode 7 of Photo Chat Vlog when I got to the end of the video that I said that there wasn’t a loaded film camera in my life at that time, and that was July this year, 2019.

But I can tell you I was quite busy shooting film for the rest of this year and I went on some trips in August and September and did a whole bunch of photography right up until a couple of weeks ago, and so it’s from that batch of films that this episode’s pictures are going to come from.

Now the significant thing about the pictures that I’m going to show you in this episode is they’re all taken on a half frame camera.

pictures taken on a half frame camera using expired 35mm film

They’re all using standard 35mm film, absolutely standard film, but the frame size is known as “half frame”.

To put this into context 35mm film comes on a roll, and it’s so called because it’s 35 millimeters wide.

illustration of a 35mm roll of film

The images are always going to be restricted in one dimension by that 35 millimeter width of the film, but the other dimension is less restricted. It could be the entire length of the whole roll if you had a camera that could take a picture that wide, but as it is most regular 35mm cameras (what we call full-frame cameras) take an image that is 36 by 24 millimeters in size.

You have to remember that 35mm film has sprockets which are used by the camera to wind the film backwards and forwards and they are not meant to be part of the image, so 24 millimeters allows for roughly 11 millimeters of sprockets and a bit of space either side of them.

illustration of a 35mm roll of film

Then the 36mm measurement is just the size that all the camera manufacturers agreed on way back when, and that is really what has dominated 35mm photography for years and years and years. It’s why photographs taken on cameras like this have this landscape/portrait aspect ratio and the absolutely super popularity of 35mm meant that that’s what popular photographs were like for the latter part of the last century.

Now on average a roll of 35mm film can get you 12 or 24 or 36 exposures in a full-frame camera but of course there isn’t anything that logically means the pictures have to be that size, and so there were some camera manufacturers who came up with the idea of the “half-frame” camera, where the normal frame size of 36mm by 24mm is cut in half and you get an 18mm by 24mm image instead.

illustration of a 35mm roll of film showng half frame negatives

Which means you can get twice the number of pictures out of a roll. Now, they’re smaller negatives so they’re smaller images so there’s a tradeoff, but you also get some really cool cameras to play with. I knew that half frame cameras existed when I was younger but I didn’t ever use one until I started this current phase of my photographic life, in the early part of this century following the lomography trend.

I’ve since acquired a number of half-frame cameras over the years.

I’ve got an Agat 18k which is a Russian camera; it’s really cool and really small. It’s entirely manual, so there’s no metering. Winding on can be a bit of a chore and I haven’t used that one as much as I’d like. But it’s getting to be that as soon as I mention a forgotten camera, well it’s time to go and dig it out, and so I loaded this one earlier on with some expired slide film, and there’s a project ready for 2020.

Soviet Agat 18K half frame camera

The other camera that I have that I really love, and that took a long time for me to get a hold of, is the Yashica Samurai. As you can see it looks like a video camera from the 1980s or 90s, but because cutting the negative size down means the aspect ratio is reversed it puts the film vertically in the camera. That way when you hold it naturally it’s shooting in landscape format by default, so it’s very familiar-feeling through the viewfinder.

It’s also fully automatic and it has motor drive so it’s just really, really cool. I can’t tell you how much I love this camera, I just think everything about it speaks of “breaking the mould” and of “doing something different” and I think Yashica were really brave to put this one out.

Yashica Samurai half frame camera
Back in the 80’s you would also have probably been quite brave to have bought it as well, because as I mentioned I didn’t know about anybody using half frame cameras when I was a young person, which was back when everybody’s camera was a film camera.

I obviously bought mine online from a well-known auction site a few years ago and, like I said, I really like it. It’s got a really cool feature called burst mode which allows you to take a sequence of pictures relatively quickly, and I’ll demonstrate that later on in the episode.

So I took the Yashica Samurai on a trip to the north of England in late August to see my mate Natalie who lives up in Sheffield. Whilst I was up there we went on another trip to Liverpool to see an exhibition of paintings by Keith Haring at the Tate Liverpool gallery.

So as you can see, this is an ice-cream van at the Albert Dock outside the Tate. It was an overcast day in Liverpool, the 28th of August 2019 and I was using expired Kodak Ektachrome 100 HC film.

Half frame shot of the Ice Cream Van at the Albert Dock Liverpool on expired Ektachrome HC film

This is a slide film that I had cross processed and this image stuck out to me; it’s not heavy on the green which sometimes happens with cross processing. The color palette is actually quite pleasant which I think is partially due to the light and partially due to the unknown nature of the film. It’s really quite old film as it expired in May 1992, making it 27 years old.

So let’s give it up for some 27 year old film because that’s pretty good. The fact that it can still render these images is quite something. Obviously it’s grainy and obviously there’s something very vintage about this ice cream van against the backdrop of modern architecture. On the right hand side there’s also a very old-school ship, and you can just see another one on the left hand side near the lamppost, which is itself kind of vintage.

You therefore have a lot of cultural signs from different eras; old ships, vintage lamp posts, an ice cream van, contemporary architecture and then the ubiquitous plastic traffic cone in the front.

It’s quite a humdrum image, even a banal image; it looks like a grey day at the end of the summer holidays on a day out, which is exactly what it was, so it absolutely wins in that regard.

I also think it’s nicely framed and I love the muted color palette. I liked pretty much all the pictures that I took with this film and camera combination, and they will be shared eventually on social media. As my regular viewers will know I like slow photography. I don’t rush getting these out, so it may well be August 2020 by the time these turn up in your Instagram…

I took a lot more pictures because I had lots of film to play with, and on the train that we took from Liverpool back to Sheffield I took a sequence of images using the burst mode. The Samurai shoots at 2 frames a second and whilst these aren’t particularly exciting pictures on their own, when they are put together in sequence there’s something super cool about them (check out the video a the bottom of this post). You get a real sense of movement and there is something about the grainy film and the gaps in the frames and the rush of lines and light that is worth spending these frames on.

The next day when we were back in Sheffield we had a little tour around the city, walking around and when we arrived and parked in a car park I saw this huge sign, and rather like the ice cream van I thought “that is just gonna look fantastic on this camera with it’s expired film”.

Half frame image of Welcome to Sheffield, Eyre Street on expired, cross-processed Kodak Ektachrome film

The sign is on a street called Eyre Street in Sheffield (I’m guessing it’s pronounced like “Jane Eyre”) and that building in the background is called the Eyre Street car park and it’s definitely a modern building. I don’t know about the age of that sign, but this is right in the centre of Sheffield and somebody on a blog called the long-lost Walker said by the time you’ve seen that sign you’ve actually been in Sheffield for quite a while and so it’s sort of late for a welcome message 🙂

Now with the old film bringing out these vintage colours it really feels to me like looking at an old picture, a really old picture because although that building is modern and has definitely got a modern 21st century cladding thing going on, in this lo-fi image it could equally be some kind of far-out modernist, brutalist cast-concrete piece from the past.

The wall where the “Welcome to Sheffield” sign is might once have also been inside a building if you look at the paint around it and the remnants of perhaps the inside of a factory or something.

So the image, although contemporary, looks like the urban renewal of the 60s and 70s rather than the urban renewal of the 21st century, and to me, that’s all down to this flavour that expired film gives.

It’s always hit and miss of course; you never know what expired film is going to turn out like because you never know how the film has been stored, but this one ticks all the boxes for me for a successful experiment.

If I think back to my very early memories of childhood as a child of the 1970s, because I was born at the start of the decade, they feel like this. Of course they don’t look like this because I didn’t live in Sheffield and there weren’t any high-rise blocks in the town I grew up in, but via my own cultural conditioning, my own nostalgia and my own invented rose-tinted view of the past this “looks right” to me.

I have a fondness for the building where I work since I know that building was built in about 1973, which is around the time that my very, very earliest memories stem from. Now with film you don’t know what the image is going to turn out like, especially when the film has expired, so I only knew that this was going to be an interesting image when I took it. But the result fits in so brilliantly with what I imagine life might have been like in and around that building from 1973 when it was built.

If I can put it another way, there’s a really cool film about the Northern Soul dance scene in the UK in the 1970’s, a drama called “Soul Boy”, and though it was filmed in 2010 it was set sometime in the early 70s and it uses some sort of vintage filming technique and it’s a good example of the director or the producer choosing to use a colored palette to push the sensation for the viewer of a time that has passed, and in a sense for me with this image that’s what it does for me.

On reflection you know I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction from this image even though it’s me putting my own nostalgic twist on something. If you’re watching this and you’re from Sheffield, or you’re familiar with this view I’d be interested to see what you think about this this image and what I’m rabbiting on about as well…

For the next set of images I was using Kodacolor VR 100 colour negative film, which was also really expired. I did some surfing about this film and it said it was only made between 1982 and 1986, however I actually filmed myself loading the camera with this film.

In the summer I experimented with some livestreaming and this was on one of those experiments. The livestreams weren’t very successful, either technically or in terms of the channel’s popularity, since one of my viewers unsubscribed after one of them, on account of me apparently looking bored. But if you watch the video at the end of the post you can see me talking about the film, getting my maths wrong and loading it into the camera (and you get to look inside the Photo Chat Vlog studio).

So as I mentioned in that clip the film expired in May 1990, making it 29 years old (not 19 as I said), but this image was taken on the 21st of September 2019 in Oxford, and that was the last really good day of summer. I took this image at the end of the afternoon, and I’d been in town with my mates Andy and James and their kids and we’d been hanging out and we went down to the river where they do the college rowing in a place called Christchurch meadow and we sat around talking about classic vinyl whilst the kids ran around.

Half frame image of Christchurch Meadow Oxford on expired Kodacolor VR film

So you can see there are dead leaves on the ground but it’s also one of those golden summer days, and I just felt really lucky that my mates said “do you want to come out and hang out in town?” and I said “yes I do!” and when we got out into town it was like “let’s go down to Christchurch meadow and hang out down there because we want to make the most of this day”.

The sun was going down on a beautiful summery afternoon when I took this photo and I think it’s great. It’s got a muted thing going on where you can see that there is no black in the image.

So the film’s ability to render black has suffered as it has got older and at the most we have a gritty, grainy brown, so in that mass of the tree on the right hand side of the picture, if it were taken with a digital camera or with fresh colour film we’d see black in the darkest part of the image.

There equally isn’t a super white part of the image, so the contrast is low. I was going to say it’s poor, but that’s a kind of value judgment that I’m gonna pass on because we’re looking at this from an artistic sense.

It fails as a realistic colour image and you would not be able to do any kind of forensic investigation of the scene using these colours, but through its own vernacular and its own palette or its own colour vocabulary I think it is a lovely representation of the time when summer is turning to autumn and the afternoon is turning to the evening.

The final image is of two bins in the town of Banbury in North Oxfordshire in the UK which was taken on the 30th of November 2019, so just about a month ago from when I am recording this.

Half frame image of two bins in Banbury on expired Kodacolor VR 100 film

As I recall it was a nice day, a nice crisp, winter day and it seemed like the perfect day to nip out and take some pictures, which is exactly what I did, and I went for a coffee later on.

But this picture was a case of walking down towards the cafe and spotting these two bins. They caught my eye…I don’t really know why, but I knew I’d got expired film in the camera and there was something about the very bright colors of these two bins…they aren’t beautiful items but they’re part of the reality of what life is like today, and they’re part of the reality of the fact that we produce so much waste and that it all needs to go somewhere and that it’s a commercial interest to process the waste.

So they are just something very modern and I knew it would be interesting to shoot it on this old film because if it turned out to be as it did indeed turn out, that is very, very old and very, very nostalgic looking, then it was going again to create an interesting kind of…paradox.

Paradox is really the wrong word but what I mean is something around how it mixes up modern subject matter with a vintage feel.

So do I like this image? Well yes I do in that I do have a fondness for banal everyday stuff. I think a lot of people might think it’s weird that I choose to take pictures of things like this, but I do and this one works absolutely fine.

I don’t think I need to go into really very much greater detail about it. It’s a picture of two bins taken on out-of-date ancient film that’s nearly 30 years old. Any right minded photographer would just think “why?”, but for me it’s okay.

But just as an aside, the background to taking this picture was that I was walking down to the cafe and I saw these bins and I knew that it would be a bit of a spectacle for me to photograph them. I would have to be seen in what was quite a public area, getting my camera out and framing the shot and “being a photographer”.Yashica Samurai camera and a latte

But I’m a bit of an introvert and really very self-conscious and so I walked past it thinking “now don’t do it mate” and then immediately the other part of me said “what do you mean don’t do it? If you don’t do it you won’t get that image, and then you’ll regret it, and then if you have your coffee and decide you’re gonna do it afterwards the light might be different and you might lose the moment! Go back and take the picture!”

So I did. I steeled myself and I walked back up the street and pulled out the camera and tried to get over my self-consciousness and stood about taking a picture of two bins. I don’t know if anybody saw me doing it and if they did what they thought. Certainly nobody mentioned it to me, and I was able to go off and consider it a job done, and looking at the picture I’m glad I bothered. I’m glad I took the time.

Again like the riverside shot there is no black in this image. Everything that is the darkest point of the image is just dark brown, and there isn’t anything super-bright white, though if we look at the text that says “general waste” that’s kind of a mid gray.

The image is murky and smoky and dirty and in a sense for a picture of two bins you couldn’t get much more perfect than that. It’s just the way it is round the back of the building where the bins are; that’s what life is like.

I showed some of these pictures to my friend from work and he was like “it’s like they’re from the 1980s” and it is, except that I don’t think we had these bins back then, so again you’ve got some interesting signs and signifiers coming together in conflict.

But I’m ok with this and I think it works.

Hopefully that gives you a feeling of what you can achieve with expired film with half frame cameras, with getting out and about and taking pictures and I hope you enjoyed it. I have some more half frame adventures with a different camera coming up, so if you liked this one…stay tuned for that.

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