The Mamiya Sequence.

The sound you can hear above (my apologies for the quality, I had to use an app on my phone in lieu of a proper microphone) is something I have become increasingly familiar with over the last few months of shooting photos, what I have come to call 'the mamiya sequence'.

The mamiya sequence is the culmination of the wonderful act that is shooting film on a completely mechanical camera and can really apply to any such camera, regardless of whatever particular model it is that you happen to be using. The sequence as heard above can be broken down into the following constituents:

  1. The tripping of the mirror to enable mirror lock-up, thus reducing any unwanted vibration from mirror slap.
  2. The firing of the shutter using a remote cable release.
  3. The winding of the film on to the next frame.
  4. The resetting of the mirror so that the viewfinder is usable again for the next photo.

Making the effort to return to film shooting has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the shooting that I have done so far this year and it has really brought the enjoyment back into taking photographs. I do not wish to sound as if making photos on a film camera is some magical experience that you cannot get using a digital as after all they are ultimately just tools, but I cannot deny that there does feel as if there is something inherently different about the process that I definitely enjoy and it is perhaps moulded by my first experience with a camera.

The first camera that I ever properly used was my Dad's old Fuji AX-1 35mm film camera, which he still owns, and it is a camera that I still hold very dear to my heart even though I have not shot a frame of 35mm film in years. The act of firing off the shutter and then winding on the next frame of film was always something of a real pleasure when using that camera, and I think it is this tactile nature of using a completely mechanical film camera that I really enjoy and what makes it so different from shooting digitally.

Obviously using a digital camera still requires actual physical interaction with the camera itself but there is a different kind, or perhaps sequence, of interaction that I find occurs when I am using my film or digital systems. When taking any given picture using either camera both require the same level of attention to detail with things such as composition and exposure, but I will admit that i sometimes find myself being more contemplative when using my film camera. Perhaps one of the chief reasons is that with my film camera I am limited to a given number of frames per roll of film (and film costs mount up), whereas with my digital camera I can shoot hundreds of shots before space on the card may become an issue. After taking a shot using my digital camera I can sit and 'chimp' on the back of the screen looking at the levels and if the exposure is not how I want it I can simply delete the file, change my settings, and shoot until it is correct (which is admittedly very handy). With film, however, once I have arrived at an exposure calculation that I think to be correct I work through the mamiya sequence and have to wait for the results once the film is exposed, and this delayed gratification is something that I have found that I have missed when I was not shooting film that much.

I touched upon the physicality of film above but I think it can actually be expanded further into the core of the digital vs analogue sphere. In terms of photography, the entire film process is much more hands on than digital is ever going to be, no matter how much someone might argue to the contrary. With film you get to physically touch and see your slides and/or negatives and you are probably much more likely to handle a print of a photograph made using film than you ever are using digital; most pictures shot digitally remain on people's computers and at best maybe get put online. That does not make the photos any less real, but it is a very pleasing thing to actually see a photograph you have taken in print before your very eyes, and 99% of the time it looks waaaaay better than viewing it on a monitor. The same thing could be said of the audio world - there was (and is) something very nice about handing an LP, CD or a tape and inserting it into the machine that can play that medium and hitting a play button (or dropping the needle in the case of LP's). Much of the music listened to now is purchased digitally through services such as i-tunes and whilst you do have to click a mouse or press a button on a touchscreen, most people now never truly get to handle the music that they have purchased. Of course this does not actually affect the quality of the actual music flowing into your ears (though an argument about audio quality from services such as i-tunes is an extremely valid one), but there is something lost in the process.

What I have taken the long way about saying is that rekindling my relationship with film photography is something that I am very glad that I have done. Whilst I very much enjoy the immediacy and advantages that digital photography has to offer, the meditative nature of the film photography process is something that I find myself increasingly drawn back to once more and I am enjoying it immensely. I think the mamiya sequence is going to be a familiar sound for many more years to come.