Size Isn’t Everything … Or Is It? – UPDATED 29/5/2022

I have been contemplating this post for quite a while and it concerns what film size we choose as film shooters as well as the rapidly increasing cost if the majority of film stock.

I was always a 35mm (135) film user until about three years ago when I discovered the Joys of medium format (120) film. This also coincided with a bout of ill health, shortly followed by the pandemic.

Getting back to film costs, I now regularly shoot both 35mm and medium formats. However, there are cost implications that have to be considered regardless of the resulting image sizes. Using a Standard 35mm cassette of film we get 36 images by default but when we shoot medium format, we are going to get a maximum of 15 images, shooting 6×4.5cm format or as little as 8 images if shooting 6 x 9.

So Size Is Important
What can be done about this? Firstly 35mm shooters can buy bulk film and with the aid of a bulk film loader and reusable cassettes, the cost can be reduced once the cost of the loader and cassettes have been recouped. There is another solution … shoot even smaller formats!

Sub miniature, Anyone?

Lovers of James Bond and other spy movies will recall the sub miniature ‘Spy’ cameras such as the Minox. I have no example to show you! However, I do have a Minolta 16MG camera complete with accessories in its original presentation box. This shoots 16mm film which is available but needs to be loaded into a special cassette. Cards on the Table! I have never used it and it is destined to remain as a ‘Shelf Queen’ for the foreseeable future Its image size is 10 x 14mm.

Then There is 110 Format

Some may recall an invention by Kodak, the 110 format film which produced negatives 13 x 17mm in size. In practice, this was aimed at ‘snap – shooters’ who didn’t really want anything larger than a 6 x 4 inch print. However, mainstream camera manufactures were not going to be left behind. Minolta and Pentax, amongst others, produced some excellent 110 cameras. I will briefly discuss both here as samples from each manufacturer have found their way into my collection.

I should add that fresh 110 film cartridges are still available through Lomography, both in colour and balck and white films. There is still what I would class as a hardcore adventurous group that still shoot 110 format on a regular basis. The real enthiasiasts reload their own cartridges using spliced 35mm or 120 film which means that they have access to regular film stock. I have not attemped this as I am not as dexterous as I used to be!You get 24 shots from a 110 cartridge but despite its size is still not cheap. You pay for the rarity, I guess.

My first attempt at 110 photograpy was with my Minolta 110 Zoom Mk1, a strange looking single lens reflex camera. My first Minolta 110 Zoom worked fine but I didn’t have a lens hood, lens cap case or strap. I was so taken with it that I bought a second one that was not working but had all the missing parts! If I am honest, I was not over-impressed with the results. They certainly needed a bit of post processing I will include examples later in this article. On the subject of processing 110 film, I was forced to develop my own film which meant sourcing a used developing tank that could take 110 film! There are limited places that still process 110 film and certainly nowhere in Corfu!

Undeterred, I looked for other 110 cameras that were a cut above the average point and shoot versions. I narrowed my choice down to two – The Minolta 110 Zoom Mk11 which now resembled the familiar shape of a conventional SLR and the Pentax Auto 110. The Pentax won when I saw a Super version, complete with 18mm, 24mm and 50mm lenses, an auto winder and a carrying case at a price that I could not refuse! It is unique in that it has a fixed aperture of f2.8 regardless of the lens used. The Pentax Auto 110 Super is a lovely little camera and literally fits in the palm of your hand. The additional lenses meant that it was more flexible and I enjoyed shooting with it although I was still not over impressed with the results with this format. The camera is great though! Again, shots taken with it will appear later.

Before moving on, it would be remiss of me not to mention the ‘110 Film Photography‘ group on Facebook. I found the group welcoming, knowledgeable and helpful. Please note that this is a ‘Private’ group that you will need to join.

Finally …

Perhaps the best option for those that to save on film costs without taking too much of an image quality hit, is half frame 35mm photography. As the name suggests, half frame cameras take photos half the size of conventional 35mm cameras giving 72 shots on a standard 35mm cassette. As the resulting images are only 24 x 18mm in size, there is still limitations on size and quality of resulting images but they are far superior to those obtained on 110 or sub-miniature cameras. The cameras themselves tend to be higher quality and infinitely more versatile. They also command a higher asking price.

A half frame camera, unsurprisingly, shoots portrait images. This means you get portrait images instead of landscape when the camera is held in the normal orientation. You also get half the resolution per image and grain can be more prominent as it’s larger in relation to the image. However, don’t let this put you off! It can be quite fun!

There are major players when it comes to having manufactured half frame cameras, notably Olympus and Canon. Olympus were the first to introduce half frame cameras in 1955 with the Pen D3.There were Soviet camera manufacturers that produced half frame cameras such as Chaika (Russian: Чайка). These are obtainable on the secondhand market reasonably cheaply. The Chaika is not comparable to the Olympus or Canon offerings when it comes to quality but that doesn’t mean that they are any less fun. You can probably guess where this is going! I have a Chaika 2 amongst my collection!

The first thing to remember when shooting half frame is that the images appear in portrait orientation when the camera is held ‘normally’. Rotating the camera 90 degrees soon comes naturally though if you want to shoot landscape images. I enjoyed my first shoot with the Chaika 2 but there was one thing that I had difficulty with … I thought that the film would never end! Fortunately I had loaded my own reusable cassette with a shortish length of film.

In Conclusion
Film costs are unlikely to reduce any time soon. If you want to save money on film stock, you might want to consider smaller format film. If you do, I would highly recommend considering a half frame 35mm camera. If I am honest, the results are light years ahead of 110 or sub-miniature cameras. If going down this road, do your homework! Obtain the camera that suits you. My own brief excursion was the cheap option with the Chaika-2, whose overall quality is nowhere near that of the Olympus and Canon offerings. However, it has been fun using it and if your budget is tight and you fancy going down this route, I wouldn’t try to dissuade anyone from doing so. It worked for me but I still prefer 35mm and medium format!

Like a Muppet, I forgot to add some sample images! Now remedied!

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