For the love of the half frame

I started shooting film in the spring of 2021. Well, I should say that I started shooting film again in 2021, as I am old enough to have grown up with film. I didn’t get my first digital camera until I was married in 2001; we were on our honeymoon and a resort photographer had a digital camera he used for a portrait for us. Looking back I have to think it was probably a Canon EOS-1D. At the time, I had a film Canon SLR that I did not know how to use well, but I distinctly remember the resort photographer also using a Canon. Of course, our wedding was captured entirely on film. When we came back from our honeymoon, we bought a Canon Elph of some sort. I used it quite a bit in the first couple of years, but I had no idea of digital asset management, and those photos all got lost in a computer upgrade; luckily I still have most if not all of them printed out, because in the early 2000s, we still printed everything.

Fast forward 20 years, and I was looking for a way to slow down my photography a bit. Since I shoot a lot of nature and macro, my work is already inherently slow, but I was feeling burned out a bit by the pressure to shoot and post daily. Mind you, this was all self-imposed. I became serious about photography in early 2008, and while I’ve only completed one full 365 project in that time, I shoot daily more often than not.

So in May of 2021 I took the plunge and finally got myself another film SLR. I was more than a little annoyed that I sold my Canon SLR when I moved to digital, but as I now shoot Nikon, that film body wouldn’t have done me a lot of good anyway. I picked up a Nikon F100 and started shooting.

A cautionary tale to anyone thinking of starting film: always run a test roll through and get it developed as soon as possible. For some dumb reason, I shot three rolls through the F100 over the course of about three months before sending anything out to be developed. When I got scans back, I knew immediately something was wrong. Of course, by this point I was past warranty with the store where I bought it, but the people at District Camera are amazing and worked with me so that I ultimately ended up with a different copy of the F100 that has been a joy to use.

But this post is really about the half frame camera. Once I started shooting film more, I started following more film photographers on Instagram. It’s amazing how many thousands of types of cameras are out there. I noticed one friend in particular would post these lovely little diptychs that were done in camera. And then my daughter mentioned that her photography teacher at school had just bought a half frame, and by that point I was completely sold.

And so what’s a half frame? With a typical roll of 35mm film, you get 36 exposures. With a half frame, as the name implies, the film only advances half as far. So you end up with 72 vertically oriented images. Of course you can end up with horizontal images if you rotate the camera. Half frames were originally designed as vacation cameras since you could get twice as many photos from a roll of film. This works out pretty well now, as well, in the days of film shortages.

I did some searching on eBay and talked to some of my film friends about what would work. The Olympus Pens are kind of the gold standard for half frames, but they use the old selenium batteries that aren’t made anymore, and I was warned that once the battery expired (which could be tomorrow or could be in 20 years), the camera wouldn’t work at all anymore. I was reluctant to buy a camera that could just stop working with no way of servicing it, so I ended up buying a Fujica Half with a non-working meter. Because even though the meter doesn’t work, it still has manual controls. I downloaded the app myLightMeter Pro and use that when I use the camera. It’s a little cumbersome and an extra step, but when you get the settings right, this camera produces some amazing images.

To be fair, the camera also has some quirks. As a rangefinder, you have to basically guess your distances, which is something I’m not particularly great at. I find that in general it works best set to the infinity distance and use it to capture a wider scene. However, I’ve had a couple of images taken as close ups that have really worked well, so I do occasionally use that as well if needed.

It takes a long time to finish a roll through half frame cameras. Seventy two exposures is a lot! Having learned my lesson with the F100, I did shoot a test roll over the course of a couple of days and processed it immediately. I fell absolutely in love. My copy of the camera has a couple of light leaks that show up intermittently, but I’ve not been one for perfection in my images for a long time, so I find it kind of charming. Maybe some day I’ll investigate the light seals, but for now I just live with the leaks. I started my second roll in May of 2022 and didn’t finish it off until October 2022. I did have a slight panic when the camera back opened slightly on the beach one evening this summer, but since I kind of like light leaks, this wasn’t a huge deal for me (I can say that calmly now that I’ve had the roll developed).

The Fujica Half is not a camera that I use everyday, but it’s small enough to easily fit in a bag to take with me where ever I go. (Whether I remember to use it is another matter all together.) I love the slowness of it, that I have to spend extra time metering with it, and that there is a slowness to finishing the roll. It reminds me of being a kid and never really knowing what photos were going to come back when you dropped your film off at the drugstore.

The first roll, as I mentioned, was just a test roll, so I did not plan images next to each other, and mostly ended up with 72 unrelated photos. The second roll I was much more deliberate and consciously tried to shoot pairs of images together. It didn’t always work, but I only ended up with a couple of single photos. In this post, the first roll are the black and white photos, some developed and scanned by me on Ilford HP5+. The color images were shot on Kodak Gold 200 and lab developed and then scanned by me. In a later post I will describe my scanning setup. It’s still a work in process, and I still make occasional tweaks to it, but I’ve largely got it down to a good rhythm now.

If you are interested in the joys of the half frame, Kodak has released a new one, the Kodak Ektar H35. I haven’t used one, and it’s fully automatic and mostly plastic. But especially to someone completely new to film photography, it’s probably a great entry into the world of half frame photography.

the image on the right is just before the camera back accidentally opened

As always, feel free to comment or reach out with any questions. And find yourself a half frame!

Follow along with my Project 52 in 2023

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