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Film Photography in Japan

Photo: Christian Weidinger on Flickr

Film Photography in Japan

Chelsea

Speaking in terms of famous and high quality digital devices, Japan is really famous and its products are the most favorites worldwide. While Japan's technology keeps updating with the latest innovation, and convenience plays an important role in human's daily lives, there're people who still keep their passion with the old, but bold film cameras. As the powerful revival of 'film-color effect' - a hot trend recently among photographers - arise, let's take a throwback to the origins and unlock the mystery why film cameras still attractive nowadays.

The Film Look

The Film Look
Photo: Author's Photo

The Rise in Japan


Film camera, also known as single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, with the first film camera, perhaps the Baby Super Flex, was made by Umemoto and distributed by Kikodo in 1938. The first Japanese SLR camera manufacturers were Pentax, Miranda, Yashica, Zunow (until now, Miranda and Zunow had become rare among SLR cameras).

Pentax's first SLR: Asahiflex

Pentax's first SLR: Asahiflex

Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/

In the following 30 years, most of the SLR are focused on developing the controls. Some cameras, such as Nikon's Nikkormat FT cameras (marketed under the brand-name 'Nikormat' in European countries and elsewhere) and some models of Olympus OM series, deviated from this layout by placing the shutter speed control as a ring around the lens mount. It was in 1959 that both Nikon and Canon released their cameras, the revolutionary Nikon F and Canonflex, which Nikon F has become the pride of the SLR and of the Japanese camera manufacturers. From 1963 to 1966, Olympus released its Olympus Pen F, the smallest SLR camera ever made.

A Nikon F3 HP (F series)

A Nikon F3 HP (F series)

Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/

From the 1970s onwards, the improvement in design, light metering and automation as well as the revolution of autofocus seemed to be an excellent option to attract novice photographers. Many Japan manufactures such as Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Minolta achieved great success in the industry with their new SLR cameras.

The transition


In 1999, Nikon, as the leading manufacturer introduced first ground-up DSLR design: D1 SLR, 2.74 megapixel for $6000. At the same time, other camera manufacturers introduced functionally successful autofocus SLRs but were not as successful as what Nikon and Canon did in the past. Some manufacturers eventually withdrew from the SLR market. Over time, DSLRs have become more affordable, and big manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon, Sony and Sigma have come to dominate the new and potential DSLR market. And then, Polaroid went bankrupt in 2001 and Kodak ceases production of film cameras in 2004 have officially put a stop to the production of SLR cameras. Not only Japan now has its place in the industry, but also people started looking for digital cameras and film cameras started disappearing in the market.

Nikon first DSLR D1

Nikon first DSLR D1

Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/

However, there're still groups of people who keep their passion with the SLR cameras. From the 2013 onwards, while many DSLR cameras are introduced with modern functions and Photoshop becomes popular than ever, along with the comeback of the vintage trends, people started to adored 'the film looks', 'film colors', and small little film rolls are hunted everywhere, and of course, they were the signs for the return of the old SLRs.

... and the return

The comeback has been prepared for quite a while since 2009, when The Impossible Project was founded, the Project's founders have started campaigns to raise money in order to save the format and they had to work with former polaroid engineers, eventually came up with the introduction of the Polaroid, which are polaroid cameras that have been salvaged and refurbished. Moreover, Fuji Japan also introduced their Instax camera which uses instant film and the photos that the mini camera spits out are adorable, and tiny, and people love hanging them on a wall or frame and give to a friend. The Instax soon became hot trends, especially in Japan.

The impossible project polaroids

The impossible project polaroids

Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/

Fuji Instax Mini10, Wide210 (black), and polaroids (from left to right).

Fuji Instax Mini10, Wide210 (black), and polaroids (from left to right).
Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/
While many photographers today spend huge amounts of time and processing time to try and recreate the film look, it's easier to get a film camera! and people started looking for film cameras everywhere: old shops, eBay, amazon, etc. Along with the return, many film photography communities are founded online and offline. In Tokyo, there is a company called Japan Camera Hunter, which is a company professional in collecting old vintage cameras, they also have the idea of opening a gallery, an all-in-one place for photographers, where you can sit down and sharing tips on photography with a cup of drinks, also there are cameras for sale in the corner. On Flickr or 5oopx, two most popular photography websites, it's not hard to look for exquisite film photos, the original film looks by the true film cameras, no matter those photos may come from professional photographers, or just from a person who has the passion. On Instagram, such famous photographers like Hamada Hideaki also expresses his love for these old SLRs, also there's an Instagram account which posts photos of the street wanderers in Tokyo who carry their film cameras with them, especially the owner of this account also a person who is passionate with SLRs and he also owns a film shop in Tokyo.

The Feel of Films


When I came to Japan that I started my hobby and it is an honor, I cherish so much the feeling when you carefully load your small film roll into the camera, wind it on, press the shutter button, then listen to the 'licking' sounds of the machine, then comes the excitement with the hope of how beautiful the photo will be; those addicted feelings were so nostalgic that no matter how much time does it take, it's still the hobby that you cannot easily get rid of.

Passion of collecting film rolls.

Passion of collecting film rolls.

When you spend time with your SLR, it brings up feeling in the old days of Kodak, Fuji and Ilford, it was something very special about putting your hands into the pocket and pulling out a roll of film. Placing the leader of a roll of 35mm into a Pentax, unwrapping a roll of 120, whilst trying not to expose too much of the film to light, those simple skills have marked you as a photographer.

Japan' Spring with cherry blossom through film camera.

Japan' Spring with cherry blossom through film camera.
Photo: Author's photo
Japan through single-lens.

Japan through single-lens.
Photo: Author's photo
Japan street through single-lens. 

Japan street through single-lens.
Photo: Author's photo
Ignore all the technology of the DSLRs, to use an SLR is a good way for any beginners who are interested in photography, besides affordable prices, film camera helps you to understand the exposure, the color temperature, especially the process of making a stunning 'film look' photo! Also for many of us as well as the former film users, cameras like Hasselblads, Rolleiflex, and Leica’s, were the stuff of dreams. They idea of one day owning one of these marvels of imaging filled up our passion for photography. Especially, it's the best to capture your own Japan by a SLR, since the most famous film colors are originated from those which are captured in Japan, about Japan's landscapes, sceneries, people's daily lives.

So if you have a curiosity for trying out, surf through mapcamera.com (famous Japan website professional in selling cameras, both old and new) or eBay, or your local camera store, find yourself a bargain. Most professional camera stores still sell film and will also know where you can get it developed and printed. For me, it's really nice to see Japan through the single-lens, under new angles, instead of iPhone camera or the fast and instant DSLR, film photography is a hide-away place, whenever I get tired of the technology surroundings and just want to come back to the slow living style, the way I use my camera is just like the way I enjoy a cup of good coffee, slowly but delightful