Up until the past few years, most of the film cameras that I have in my possession have been decoration. The small shelves I purchased makes them a perfect addition to my home office. On the rare occasion I pick one up, it is usually to dust it off, not to take photos with.
Lately, my interest in film has been rekindled, along with a desire to learn more about all these cameras that have been sitting around doing nothing. One of the most intriguing to me has been the Kodak Tourist camera given to me by my father-in-law. I don’t have a lot of information on who originally owned it, other than we believe it belonged to his father. Still sitting in the original box, the Tourist was in decent condition.
Given my limited knowledge about film, I wasn’t even sure where to purchase film for such a camera, much less get it developed. The Kodak Tourist takes 620 film which stopped being produced in 1955. The good news is that the only major difference between 120 film and 620 film is the spools that the film is on. The 120 spools are slightly longer and slightly wider than 620 spools. The bad news was that I immediately knew getting my hands on film no longer in production meant my cost would go up, but this was worth the experiment to me. Most people would think it is crazy to spend $17 for a roll of film knowing you would only have eight exposures. I won’t even mention the cost of having these developed as well because when I think about what I paid per photo, sometimes I question my own sanity. For this little experiment, I opted to go with a roll of Ilford HP5+ black and white.
Some digging around on YouTube gave me some pointers on using the camera. Aaron Collins put together a video about how to measure the distance of your subject in relation to the camera so that you could make the correct adjustments. Going in, I figured that this would be the issue I would run into with getting the shot that I wanted. Once I got the photos back, I was right.
Getting Out and Shooting
To take a step back just a bit, I knew having only eight exposures that I did not want to just randomly go out and shoot the first thing I saw. My oldest daughter, Lauren, volunteered to be a test subject for the day which meant a fun trip to the local Good Will to grab a dress and some props. After that, I jotted down a few ideas in my notebook and we drove over to the park.
There were a few shots where the focus was off. I attempted to take a portrait of her and the entire background is in focus while her face is blurry. Since she is a teenager and hates most photos of her, she won’t mind that I don’t share the photo because her expression in it is not approved for public release. Look, at the end of the day, she will be deciding what nursing home I end up in, so I don’t want her to be haunted by these memories of me sharing unapproved photos of her with the world.
Moving over to an open pathway, I set up the camera on a tripod and captured an image of her walking. Overall, I would have loved to have seen more clouds in the background come through in the image as it feels rather plain. I also noticed some very interesting light leaks coming through on the film despite the camera back feeling pretty sturdy and locked in. Personally, I am a sucker for light leaks and absolutely love the randomness of them, so this was a bonus for me.
Next, we made our way over to a wooden bridge where I was once again confronted with how to properly focus the camera. You’d think with all the photos under my belt that this would not be such an issue.
Still, I love the light leaks and the grain in the photo. The only real correction that I felt like doing here was with regards to the horizon line and making sure it did not look like I was drunk while holding the camera.
With the pose of Lauren reading a book while sitting on the park bench, I tried to add a little depth to the image by using some of the tall grass off the path. In the far background, there is a soccer field and parking lot visible which meant that I had to try and position everything in such a way as to hide all of that. Overall, I was pleased with this one, and ironically, it was one of the only photos on the roll without any light leaks.
With the light of the day fading faster than I would have liked, we skipped a pose or two and headed over to an area where we could take some photos in the water. It was starting to get dark so I questioned if I would even be able to take the photo that I wanted but gave it a shot anyway.
The result wasn’t exactly what I had wanted, but I wasn’t entirely upset about it either.
The focus was off and there is a large, ghostly apparition of a light leak, yet I somehow still love the photo. It was around this moment that I realized I was standing nearly waist-deep in water with a backpack holding 4 different cameras, none of which I was prepared to fully submerge in creek water. Since I was already in the water, and I had no idea how the film would come out, I grabbed a digital camera to fire off a few frames so that I would have something to show for the session.
For comparison, here are a few shots taken with the Sony A7RIV and an 85mm f/1.4:
Given that we were now entirely out of good light, and that I was too afraid to drop anything in the water, I took my time walking back over to the car with a single exposure remaining on the roll.
There is a house for sale about a mile from where I live and the vast expanse of green in front of it always impresses me. With a single shot left, I figured, why not? Besides, the wooden fence surrounding the property made for a perfect tripod since I did not have one with me at the time.
Here is the result:
This photo turned out to be one of my favorites from the roll. Not only did the clouds come through, but I was also once again given some random light leaks. As I punched up some of the clarity in the photo within Lightroom, I noticed a faint image of trees in the clouds. I also caught some patterns in the grass which told me that this was some odd double exposure effect where some of the creek exposure was coming through this image.
Shout out to the fine folks at State Film Lab for developing this roll of film for me. While their website does not state they handle 620, I emailed them and they said they could. I also paid for a digital contact sheet, which tacks on additional costs, but I love having them. Now that I have sent film off to several companies to compare their process, scanning, shipping, etc., I can say that State Film stands out as one of the very best. They are usually pretty swamped with orders and I can totally understand why; they do a fantastic job. I have ordered the digital contact sheets when shooting with my Holga as I want to leave the border in the shot, such as this photo, or this one.
Was it worth $50?
Overall, it was a fun experiment. If I do this again, I want to shoot some color film. Was it worth paying the money I did? Absolutely. My daughter and I had a blast doing this. I could probably save money in the long run if I learned to develop the stuff on my own, but I am just not there yet. Too afraid to screw something up. The next time, I will continue to shoot with a tripod and perhaps try to do a better job of getting the shot lined up and in focus. Before I tackle another roll with this camera, I have a roll of color 127 and black & white 127 film that I plan to run through another old camera I have. For that experiment, the plan is to actually put together a video on it since I have not found a video of anyone shooting with this particular camera yet.
August 2022 Update
I had a casual conversation with my wife’s grandmother recently and asked her about the camera. She said if she saw it, she might have more info. I printed out all of the exposures as 5x7s and brought them to her, along with the camera. As soon as I walked in, she recognized the box and said, “That’s my camera!” She knew it immediately and went on to give us a history of it. The camera was a gift to her from her father for finishing nursing school in 1950. She also mentioned that she never got to use it a whole lot as she couldn’t afford film for it. I kinda know the feeling.