Shoot Like a Film Camera Game

credit: Jim Grey


Instead of posting the next part in my Photography for Beginners series today I’m presenting Omar Gonzalez’s photography game as a change of pace. You can treat this as a game purely for fun or as a personal challenge.

It should be enjoyable for photographers of any skill level. But it’s also educational for novice photographers or those who have never used a 35mm film SLR camera before.

The thing I miss most about film photography is the simplicity. My camera had only five things I could set: aperture, shutter speed, film speed, exposure compensation, and the self-timer.  That was it. No menus to scroll through, no obscure settings to research in order to make sense of them.

This game attempts to replicate that simplicity while using a digital camera.
I’ve been following Omar Gonzalez on YouTube because he bought the same Fuji camera I did at the same time I did. It’s helpful to get tips from an expert photographer who uses the same exact camera model. Plus, I love his sense of humor.

Omar is a professional photographer and bought the Fuji X-T20 to have a small camera that made shooting for personal enjoyment fun again.

Anyway, now that you know who Omar is, I want to share his game with you that he recently posted. It sounds like a fun thing to do if you’re in a rut or just need some motivation to go out shooting.

The challenge is to pretend your digital camera is a 35mm film SLR camera and go out on a shoot. The photo at the top is of a Minolta XG 1, which was the first “real” camera I owned. When I do this I will be pretending to use it again.

The Rules

*  Set your ISO and don’t change it once you start shooting. Your choices are 100, 200, or 400. (No auto ISO!)

*  Pick your film roll size before you start. You can take 12, 24, or 36 exposures. You must stick to the number you chose no matter what, even if you waste a frame by accidentally snapping a pic of your foot.

*  Choose color or black and white. Once you start shooting you can’t change.

*  Shoot in Manual Mode, setting your aperture and shutter speed. You can use the camera’s exposure meter to guide you. (See below for easier alternatives.)

*  You must use your viewfinder if you have one. Turn off the back screen.

*  Turn off photo review. You can’t look at your pictures until you get back home!

*  Turn off live view. (If you are a beginner you can leave it on as an assist, but we didn’t have that kind of help in the film days.)

*  It’s okay to use a zoom lens, but if you have a built-in superzoom you need to limit the range. Alternatively, you can set a specific focal length as if you are shooting with a prime lens. (See below for details on the lens rules.)

*  Turn off image stabilization if your camera or lens has it.

*  To really get the film camera feel, use manual focus only. This rule is optional because film camera lenses with split prisms were much easier to accurately focus than digital camera lenses.

The Game

First watch Omar’s YouTube video. Some of his comments are specific to Fuji, since it’s mostly Fuji owners who watch his videos. You can ignore those parts. I’ve adapted his rules to also fit most point and shoot cameras so almost anyone can play.

Using the above rules set your camera up and then go out on a shoot.

You can go anywhere you like, and you can go to multiple locations if you want. But you should shoot your entire virtual roll of film on a single outing. (You can decide to stay in and shoot in your house if that floats your boat.)

Photograph anything that catches your fancy.

Do not look at any of your photos until you get home and download them to your computer. In the film era you usually had to wait days or weeks to see your results, unless you went directly to a one-hour developer on your way home and waited around for the prints.

Don’t cheat! The purpose of the game is to have fun, challenge yourself, and get a feel for the limits and freedom of older film cameras. As you can see in Omar’s video, the idea is to see what happens, not take 12+ masterpieces.

If you play and want to share your results, post a link to your photos in the comments below so the rest of us can take a look. Or you can just describe your experience if you don’t want to post actual photos.

There’s no time limit. You can play today, next month, or next year.


Alternatives for the Manual Mode rule.

When I bought my Minolta SLR in 1980, camera models with a semi-automatic exposure system had become common. The semi-auto cameras made “real” photography a lot easier for novices, and thus encouraged more people (like me!) to buy expensive 35mm cameras to replace their cheap 126 and 110 pocket instamatics, which were really only good for family snapshots.

Semi-auto cameras were made as either aperture priority or shutter priority. You couldn’t switch between the two like on digital cameras. Mine was an aperture priority model.

How it worked: I set the aperture I wanted by turning the aperture ring on the lens, and a needle in the viewfinder pointed to the shutter speed the camera selected in response, determined by the internal light meter. If the shutter speed was okay I took the shot. If I wanted a faster or slower shutter speed I adjusted the aperture ring until the needle pointed to an acceptable shutter speed. It was as simple as you can get.

Shutter speed priority models worked the same way, but in reverse. The photographer set the shutter speed with a dial on top of the camera body and the needle pointed to the resulting aperture in the viewfinder.

So for the game you don’t have to shoot in Manual Mode if you don’t want to. You can shoot in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority Mode instead. However, you have to make your choice of which mode before you start shooting and you can’t change it. (You can change back and forth between your chosen mode and full manual if you want.)

Choosing your simulated lens for superzoom cameras.

Most point and shoot digital cameras these days have superzoom lenses, meaning they have a large range going from wide-angle to telephoto.

So you if you have that type of camera you need to adapt how you use the lens in order to simulate film photography. No lenses existed for film cameras that the average person could buy with that kind of immense focal length range. (If you’re using an ILC for the game, then just play using whichever lens or lenses you want.)

For the game it’s best to choose just one simulated lens to head out with. It can either be a prime lens or a zoom lens, since both were common.

If you choose a prime, 50mm is the logical choice because that was the focal length that came packaged with most camera bodies. However, you can choose a different focal length if that suits your fancy. For wider angles, 24mm or 35mm are your choices. For a longer lens, 85mm, 135mm, or 200mm are your choices.

These are all 35mm equivalent focal lengths. So you will need to figure out what the actual focal length for your lens is on your cropped sensor camera if the zoom scale doesn’t display 35mm equivalents. Then remember it and shoot only with that focal length.

If you want to play the game using a zoom lens that’s fine, you just need to restrict the range to simulate a film camera zoom. You can choose a 35-70mm lens or an 80-200m lens. Again, these are 35mm equivalents, so figure it out for your camera before you start shooting.

If you decide to pretend you have two or three prime lenses with you instead of just one that’s okay, but don’t cheat by changing the focal length between every shot. If you were really shooting with primes you wouldn’t change lenses between every shot. You’d shoot appropriate subjects with one lens and then change lenses and do another series of shots. Same thing goes for pretending you have both zoom lenses with you. Stick to one focal range to start, then you can switch to the other range as if you had changed lenses.

Comments or questions always welcome!

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