The Frugal Film Project 2023

The Frugal Film Project is now in its fifth year and like a lot of film photography initiatives had its genesis online. From a bespoke website in 2019 it has migrated to the Facebook social media platform and this is my first involvement with the project although I’ve been aware of it for a couple of years now. The premise is simple – one camera, one film stock, one roll a month. The catch? Well, it’s frugal so a strict limit on the cost of gear and the cheapest film you can find. The following has been taken directly from the Facebook Group pages.

New rules from 2022 carried forward for 2023

When I introduced myself on the group one member, who I also converse with on Twitter, made reference to my panoramic credentials. I felt therefore that I ought to see what I could do in that respect but my Horizon and KMZ FT-2 are both well outside the budgetary limit, as was my RSS 617 pinhole camera. Then I remembered the Lomography Sprocket Rocket, a plastic-fantastic that I’ve never got on with at all … but it is panoramic and I only spent £29 on it. Dare I? Well, yes I have but after the January roll has been developed I’m really wishing I hadn’t!

Here’s what I wrote about my January roll …

First roll for the FFP 2023 was an eye opener … rather (a lot) under-exposed, seems the stated 1/100th second shutter speed of the Sprocket Rocket is rather ambitious! Kentmere Pan 400 rated (not that it mattered!) at EI800. I’m also experimenting with intentional camera movement and multiple exposures at present, something the Rocket facilitates very well.

Dave-in-Elland writing on Facebook

For the record, I metered the scene at EI 800, which suggested around 1/25th second at the nominal aperture of f11. The Sprocket Rocket claims 1/100th second so a multiple exposure consisting of four shutter actuations should, in theory, let in 1/25th of a seconds worth of light. Well, that was my theory but the negatives are so thin that I’ve not even kept them after digitisation. I will never be able to get a decent darkroom print so for the first time in my life I’ve consciously disposed of a roll of negatives.

They are that bad.

Seriously.

I have had to work hard to drag detail out of the negatives and even then I’m not a happy bunny.

So, what am I going to do? I’ve used my January roll so however unhappy I am with the negatives I’m stuck with them. I know, I could have pretended I never shot the roll and redo it but that’s hardly in the spirit of the project. I’m still cogitating, but I’m considering a roll of HP5+, a film I know well, and some test shots from a tripod. Meter the scene, then make a multiple exposure of the relevant shutter actuations as if the shutter speed were truly 1/100th second, wind on and repeat but with two more shutter actuations, wind on and repeat with double the suggested actuations. Repeat with a few different scenes, keeping notes, develop at box speed and see what the verdict is. I cannot influence the aperture in any way so playing with the shutter speed and nominal ISO is all I can do at this stage. I can expose the film in the garden one morning, cut the exposed part out of the camera and develop it that afternoon ready to scan in the evening.

One of the aims of the project is to encourage photographers to really get to know a single camera and film stock so I’m taking all of this in that spirit. The only excuse for changing cameras mid-project would be terminal mechanical failure (such as standing on it I guess) but I’m confident it won’t come to that!

In case you’ve had a thought about playing with development times let me reassure you that I used a semi-stand for this roll, a process that is to a large degree ISO-agnostic. I’m hoping my tests can lead me to a point where I can develop using my normal methods. Time will tell.

I shall let you know how I get on and how that influences my February roll.

Lomography: in an Instant

Scanned with an Epson Perfection V550

Lomography – love it or hate it, a true lomography image has a very distinct look. Despite being an old-f@rt I love the look of these lo-fi images and have indeed owned a couple of film Holgas for quite some time now. Imagine my delight therefore whilst exploring the world of instant photography for the Instant August project to discover a Lomography instant camera. Even better it was half-price in a flash sale on their website. Just as well because the full retail price is ridiculously expensive for what is in fact a cheap plastic box with an extremely basic, need I say cheap, plastic lens. It’s the one thing that spoils Lomography as a company for me – they price their cameras way too high and whilst the prime target market may well be affluent enough to afford them I for one could not justify that sort of expense. Even at half-price it was pushing things (even so, I told my wife it was half again of what I actually paid!).

Lomography film on the other hand is well priced but this may be because there is a lot more competition in the film emulsion market than there currently is in the production and sale of plastic cameras. I like to be even handed in my criticisms.

Three for the price of one – Halifax Piece Hall

One of the things I enjoy about instant photography is the (almost) immediate gratification. Now, it could reasonably be argued that digital photography actually does give truly INSTANT gratification as you can see the image on the LCD screen immediately after pressing the button. However, in my world the final product is a physical print, regardless as to whether it starts life on a piece of plastic or as a series of 0s and 1s is irrelevant to me; the ultimate aim of every image I make is to print it. Now, don’t misunderstand me I do not print every digital image I make, think of the time required if nothing else, but I am always aiming for an image worthy of printing and ultimately hanging on my wall. Instant photography therefore, whilst a side-line in my photographic interests, appeals to me because the objective EVERY time is a print.

Lomo’ Instant – Piece Hall, Halifax 12/9/2019

What the Lomo’ Instant does is offer me the best of two of my niche interests – lomography and instant photography. I shoot images every day, without exception, but I don’t shoot film, instant film or create images in a lomographically-inspired vein every day. The vast majority of my 365 images for example are straight-forward digital images. Year to date 71% of my 365 images have been made with a Fuji camera for example with only 9% coming from the iPhone and a mere 2% from my instant camera collection, none of which were made with the recently acquired Lomo’ Instant.

Piece Hall – a Grade I listed building

I couldn’t tell you exactly why it is for me that lo-fi photographs appeal so much. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the homogeneity of so many technically excellent yet sterile and soulless images that bombard us constantly these days. Or is it the fact that they are deliberately different thus appealing to the inner rebel? The “Perfectly Imperfect” tag sums it up for me quite nicely. These are not perfect images but flawed and therefore somewhat more human as a result – is that what gives them “soul”? Or are they actually just junk and I’m deluding myself?

The only image here not scanned on my Epson, this was copied with my phone

Before you start shouting hypocrite at me I do know that it is the wonders of digital technology that enable me to share my photographs, instant or otherwise, with a wider audience than the people in my company at any time. The fact is that even if I were not sharing my images online I’d still be making instant prints, I’d still be printing from both film and digital cameras and I’d still be framing prints and hanging them on the walls of my house. The digital sharing is a bonus and a welcome one at that – I’m neither a hypocrite nor a Luddite!

I thoroughly enjoyed my first outing with the Lomo’ Instant and you can bet it will be going out with me again very soon.

Instant Trials

To mark my resurgent interest in instant photography I have set myself an additional daily challenge for August. In addition to the ongoing 365 Challenge I am also making at least one instant photo a day using the instant cameras that I’ve been acquiring from a well-known online auction site. But, it seems that not every day is suitable for instant photography, at least not when you’re still only a tiny way along the learning curve; my SX-70 Sonar for example uses 100 ISO film and needs lots of light or a tripod.

August #16
Instax Wide 210 – slightly more forgiving with 800 ISO film

The Lomo’ Instant uses Instax Mini film which is rated at 800 ISO so I thought I would use it for my daily image on 16th. Now, I am already liking the aesthetic from the Lomo Instant – I am amazed at how differently it renders images than say the Instax when they are using the same film stock. One thing however that is becoming very clear is that setting the correct exposure first time is going to come from experience. My Fuji Instax cameras generally do very well in Automatic mode and do it consistently but results from the first pack of film in the Lomo Instant are certainly not consistent and I am already sensing a tendency to underexpose.

LOMO TEST STRIP
Three test shots – Lomo’ Instant and Fuji Instax Mini film

For my first shot I left the camera on the Automatic everything setting and the result was very under exposed so I then shot another at Automatic but with +2EV of compensation set with much better results. For good measure I also shot a third image at +1EV for comparison. The results are shown above. In the end I used the version from the Instax Wide 210 shown at the top of the page for my Daily Instant but I have to say that the Lomo has the potential for much more atmospheric images once I’ve mastered it’s foibles.

To be fair this was not an easy scene on a dull day when it was actually raining but it’s an exercise I can repeat on a brighter day to see what happens in different conditions. I will also put the camera on a tripod and play with an external light meter to see how well the camera settings relate to light meter readings.

LOMO’ Instant

First impressions count and on removing the box from its brown cardboard packaging this afternoon I was taken aback by the presentation of this instant camera from Lomography. Why oh why didn’t I take a picture of it, pristine and glossy in its box? Well, I didn’t, so you may have to Google it 🙂

Purchasing this instant camera was a spontaneous, you could say instant, decision; I’d previously researched the camera and it’s more recent siblings and decided that the unpredictability of the results was too much of a gamble given the cost of film. But then I saw a 24-hour flash sale which gave me not only the camera but also the three lens attachments for less than half the usual price. I clicked “Buy Now”, paid and only then remembered my earlier decision not to buy this brand. Well, too late to have second thoughts – at least that’s what I told myself.

© Dave Whenham

Of all the Lomo’Instant cameras, this one offers the most manual exposure control and as this aspect was important to me it made it the obvious choice compared to the Lomo’Instant Automat which does it all for you.  The Lomography website explains it in detail.

It effectively has one shutter speed (1/125th second – although it has a Bulb mode too), one ISO setting (Fuji Instax Mini film is rated at 800) and five aperture options (f8, f11, f16, f22 and f32). The built in flash can be set to fire, not fire or fire-when-needed. I have a light meter on my iPhone (Lux App) which enables me to check the light levels and set the camera accordingly. As an enthusiast photographer I also have a set of ND filters I can hold in front of the lens if I need finer control.

© Dave Whenham
The first 5 snaps

I only had time for a few quick snaps today but they were enough to settle my concerns about the potential results. It will take some careful thought and application but I’m sure from even this small test that this camera will enable me to produce some interesting and satisfying work. The Instax film itself is very stable and I’m thinking that my understanding of light and the exposure triangle will stand me in good stead when getting the best out of Lomography’s little box of tricks.

Watch for more over the coming months including a more in-depth review of using the camera. Cameras to me are about results and user experience not technical specifications so don’t hold your breath for those though!