Choosing the Right Type of Film
Film cameras have been around for well over 150 years and the technology is mature and well understood. Film requires the exposure of Silver based chemicals within the film itself to light which in turn require to have further chemical processes carried out in order to produce the final picture we are all familiar with. In practise most people simply hand the film to a lab for the development and printing of the images.
Film is available in a range of speeds; this is an indication of its sensitivity to light. That speed or sensitivity is normally quoted in ISO ratings - the higher the number, the more sensitive the film is and the less light is required to produce an effective image. Slow speed film, normally considered to be ISO 100 and below needs bright daylight or a powerful flash to produce the best quality images. Fast films, from ISO 400 and above need correspondingly less light for an effective image to be produced.
So, you may think that we just get the fastest film we can, as in all things there are some additional factors that need to be considered. The increased light sensitivity requires a different chemical ratio and the resulting images have an increased graininess and less definition, colours may also be less accurately defined. Select a very high speed film with an ISO rating of 1600 or even 3200 and you may find that the image is a bit like looking through a fine mesh, very soft and with little definition in the objects. Fast films may also require specialist processing and developing that can cost a bit more money.
Film is also available in colour and monochrome (black & white) varieties, although realistically monochrome is rarely stocked by many stores and nowadays needs to be bought from a specialist camera store. Monochrome can offer some advantages such as it's ability to take pictures with a higher contrast ratio than colour but unless you are prepared to pay the extra costs for development it's perhaps best to stick to using easily obtainable colour film. Some investigators have experimented with film that is sensitive to Infrared light but this is a highly specialised type of film that cannot easily be used in many cameras, it needs careful storage and handling and is expensive to develop, at this stage we'll not consider it any further within this article. Overall then, in most investigation situations colour film in the ISO range of 400 - 800 offer the perhaps best compromise between the need to capture low light images and reasonable definition in the subsequent images.
Before You Rush Out and Buy
Not all films are created equal and the various makers use slightly different chemical compositions in the products. This leads to subtle and some not so subtle differences between them. Generally, it is better to go with one of the big name brands. Kodak, Fuji, Konica and Agfa are perhaps the best known. They have invested heavily in developing film technology and this investment shows in the quality of the final image. There can be subtle but significant variations between brands, Kodak for example tend to have brighter, some might say 'over the top' colours. Fuji films tend to be slightly more subdued, more natural colours although favouring greens and also flesh tones.
Another consideration is the development stage - if your local high street developer uses a Kodak or Fuji based processing system it may be that you will get the best final images by using the corresponding makers film although here we are getting into areas where the differences are almost too slight to be any concern. It is at the development stage where a lot of problems can also occur that may lead to the production of anomalies. Poor temperature control at the processing stage, watermarks and mishandling all are well known causes of reported paranormal images.
You will also come across own brand film offered by various shops and supermarkets, this can be tempting as it often considerably cheaper than a big brand film. Generally, this should be avoided, as the economy can be false. Own brand film tends to use older film technology and the final images can be softer, less defined and of poorer colour rendition that the corresponding big brand version of the same ISO rated film.
If you need to take a lot of pictures perhaps for a record of the locations visited then own brand film may be worthy of consideration but shop around and experiment to ensure you are happy with the final image quality.
Film still retains one advantage over the digital cameras images - the negative. For the purist this additional step can be used to show that the final image has not been tampered with after the picture has left the camera. Processing faults, which are a frequent cause of many photographic anomalies, are also easier to detect at the negative stage.
Choosing the Film Camera
Film cameras come in a wide variety of types. Here we will consider those that use 35mm film cassettes as these are the most likely to be already owned and the most readily available in the stores. 35mm cameras are available in two main varieties - the 'compact' and the SLR.
The 35mm Compact Camera is often designed to be simple and convenient to use. The controls are normally fairly basic although some models do offer a range of more advanced options. Normally the compact model has a small flash built in that is effective up to around 15ft from the camera. Many also offer the ability to automatically set the focus and the exposure - all the user has to do is aim and shoot and they are normally rewarded with a pretty decent image.
This ease of use is also one the chief drawbacks of this type of model. The maker has designed the camera to successfully take pictures of average subjects - people standing smiling at a distance of 6-10 ft in front of the camera or perhaps a nice holiday landscape.Certainly 'auto-everything' allows the investigator to take a quick shot of anything that unexpectedly may take place or appear but at the increased risk of a poor defined or badly exposure image.
In low light, some auto focus systems may not work reliably or rapidly enough resulting in an image that is out of focus or in some models a picture cannot be taken at all as the camera prevents it being taken until proper focus is achieved. The camera's in-built opto-electronics may also try to focus on something different to that which the investigator is trying to get a decent picture of. The subject will then be out of focus and difficult to see with any definition.
The shutter speed too, is also selected by the camera - often when the flash is used it will default to a shutter speed that may be too slow to capture some moving objects effectively resulting in blurred or out of focus objects that can often look extremely unusual and which can sometimes result in the picture being promoted as evidence of paranormal activity.
The viewfinder is another area of weakness in many compact 35mm cameras - the main problem is that the viewfinder does not 'see' exactly the same thing as appears on the film. This can lead to objects such as fingers, stray hairs and most frequently; the camera strap appearing in the final image, much to the surprise of the photographer. The slightly different viewpoint of the viewfinder also creates a parallax error and so even at a distance real world objects that are not seen at the time of taking the picture will appear in the final image, again frequently leading to the belief that some are perhaps paranormal.
Finally, the lens on the compact models of 35mm camera is generally smaller to fit the body style. The lens aperture is also correspondingly smaller, less light passes to the film requiring the flash to be used in many more situations to compensate. Some compacts provide a zoom lens although this is rarely very powerful (3x is the most common). Zoom lenses have many more individual glass elements further reducing the amount of light passing through whilst increasing the chance of internal reflections and refractions that may cause false anomalies in the final image.
The 35mm compact can be a useful tool for the investigator and its ease of use means that it is quickly available for taking many satisfactory pictures. The image quality with even the cheapest 35mm compact camera will often be better than all but the most expensive digital models. With a little care and though this type of camera can provide the investigator with a useful investigative tool.
The 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) Camera addresses many of the shortcomings of the compact models. The viewfinder uses a series of prisms and mirrors to allow the photographer to see exactly what will appear on the film. Although the majority of the available models have some degree of automation most also allow the user to make manual setting of shutter speed and the focus at the very least - in most cases the user can have total control of every function the camera offers.
Some SLRs have a small flash built-in but most models allow a more powerful flashgun to be attached. As the accessory flashgun is further from the lens axis this also has the advantage of reducing the amount of flash light that is reflected directly back toward the lens and reducing the amount of 'false anomalies' that this can create.
SLRs have traditionally formed part of a 'system' with many accessories being available - even for the budget models. Extra lenses, remote controls, data backs that print time and date information and many more gadgets are available for just about every make of 35mm SLR manufactured in the last 25 years. If you have a particular photographic experiment you wish to try then a 35mm SLR camera will almost provide everything you need to make it a reality.
Until quite recently 35mm SLRs were considered to be expensive and the preserve of the more dedicated enthusiast, with the coming of digital this has all changed. The camera shops and the auction websites are full of camera bargains - many almost at silly prices!
The lenses of 35mm SLRs are physically much larger and therefore allow very much more light to pass through them, flash is needed less. The optics are generally of a higher quality with more effective lens coatings to better control internal reflections and refractions.
As they are designed to be used by the more advanced amateur or also the professional, 35mm SLRs are generally built to take many thousands of pictures, the internal mechanisms such as the shutter and the film drive are stronger and more reliable than with most compacts which are designed to be used less frequently and so do not need to be so resilient.
Although they address many of the basic problems with taking effective photographs the 35mm SLR still requires careful use. The majority of photographs that are taken of apparent paranormal or otherwise anomalous objects are the result of the photographer making some error when taking the picture. They can be quick to use with automation taking care of the picture taking processes when it is appropriate and manual control being used when necessary. Overall the quality of any pictures produced with a 35mm SLR will also be better than those taken with 35mm compact models.
The films themselves will be around for many years and the quality of film will still be generally better than anything but the very highest resolution digital camera. Although it is difficult to make a direct comparison the amount of information contained in a single 35mm film frame is around the same as would be found with a 40 Mega-pixel digital camera.
For the investigator seeking to take pictures of the highest quality possible. For the ability to take successful pictures in difficult lighting situations, for those wishing to carry out experimental techniques including Infrared photography and for the investigator seeking the best long term value and usefulness from their camera investment then the 35mm film camera may still be their No.1 choice.