Night photography with a “dad” film camera–probably not the “right” way, but it worked.

You have probably noticed that I’ve gotten way into film over the past few months. My flickr account is getting jammed with pictures from one of my three film cameras. I haven’t started developing my own rolls yet, but I have moved on to just having my developed rolls scanned at the shop, since it’s easier, and if I want prints of a particular image, I can make it later.*

I’ve also wanted to replicate some of the things I did with my semi-fancy digital cameras, so that’s why I bought a late film era “dad cam” like my Pentax IQZoom 170SL. These cameras were highly advanced point-and-shoots for their time, but are definitely looked down by any serious film camera people. I get it–the mega zoom creates limitations, like not-fast lenses. But I’ve been liking this camera more than I probably should.

So I wanted to do some night photography, and catch the full moon rise on Monday March 9th. I decided to use the Pentax for two reasons: I hoped the zoom would get a semi-detailed shot of the moon, and the camera features a “Bulb” mode, meaning you can open the shutter as long as you wanted to. Bulb modes for this type of camera is pretty damn rare, and while the shutter-open mode maxxes out at one minute (my mechanical shutter Minolta could be held open indefinitely), it’s still better than no Bulb mode. The only way to effectively use this mode (you don’t want to hold the actual shutter, you’ll shake the camera) is with a wireless remote. I found one on eBay for $3, which was one dollar less than I paid for the camera itself.

But to prepare for this, I decided to do a little reading online about night photography with film. I probably shouldn’t have, because I encountered:

  • One site saying how easy it was, without giving any practical information
  • The opinion that you should just do it with digital
  • Stuff about “reciprocity failure”, which just made my head spin

So I closed the laptop, and decided to wing it.**

I got into position in the picnic area on the east side of Tabor. I love this spot for watching the moon rise. Not only does it give a great view, but I can easily mount my camera to a mini-tripod and sit it on the picnic table. I took several shots as the moon rose, and zoomed out to get solitary shots of the moon. I used the remote and held the shutter open for anywhere from two to eight seconds at a time.

And how did it come out? Good! I was amazed how well it all worked out. I got a decent few pictures of the moon itself, but to get real detail, I’d probably need a 300mm telephoto lens or the like.

The night shot of the Montavilla neighborhood was pretty cool too.

I even took a longer-exposure into the woods behind me, and when I got the images back, I noticed there was a couple sitting several feet behind me. I didn’t even realize they were there!

So I’ll be doing more night photography with the Pentax in the future.

When I went up to Seattle, I did some night shots with my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s:

And also with my Olympus XA2:

Some good shots too.

Technical film info: I used Fuji Superia Xtra 400 with the Pentax, Ilford HP 5 Plus 400 with the Minolta, and Kodak Ultramax 400 with the Olympus.

*This is the part where you may say, “Well then, if the end result is a digital image, wouldn’t it just be easier to use a digital camera?” And my reply is: Easier isn’t always better.

**Granted, I didn’t look that long, but I also didn’t want to spend hours researching this.

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