Get Thee to a Goodwill: How Buying a 35mm Point and Shoot Will Change Your Photography

Get Thee to a Goodwill: How Buying a 35mm Point and Shoot Will Change Your Photography

I'm not one prone to hyperbole. I don't easily get caught up in gear hype. However, I can whole-heartedly say that my decision to purchase and shoot with a little army of film point and shoot cameras early last year was easily the best decision I made for both my personal work and my own growth as a photographer. When I say that picking up a $20 camera will change your life and your photographs, I mean it – and other photographers agree!

Whether you're using a thrift-store Canon compact or a posh Contax T3, shooting with a little film point and shoot will change the way you operate as a photographer, how you interact with your subjects or people around you, and how you create. Over the last year, I've replaced all my silly day-to-day iPhone shooting with more deliberate work with a Fuji compact and cheap drug store color film, and I'd highly encourage you to try the same.

See the World, Not the DOF

A while ago, Ryan Muirhead (easily one of my favorite photographers) posted this:

I get a lot of compliments on composition and a lot of questions about how to get better.

So here it is, the simple answer: stop shooting wide open when you don't need to be. It's a crutch. Shooting with deeper stops forces you to use all the elements in the frame to tell a more complex story.

Also shooting a rangefinder really helps as you aren't seeing through the lens and thus are forced to deal with all the elements of the frame regardless of stop. If you can't afford a rangefinder go buy a $5 point and shoot with a big viewfinder from a thrift store and practice composing pictures even if you aren't shooting.

Using a compact camera is an awesome tool to encourage better compositional habits. You'll notice your pictures having added depth, more careful layered compositions, and you'll find yourself relying on f/ 1.2 as a stylistic crutch. I know... shots fired! If, like me, you're too broke to pick up a new Leica, using a compact for your day-to-day shooting might be the next best thing.

Limit Yourself

In the same vein as the above, having limited (and in some cases no) manual controls gets you to focus on the things that matter. When I travel, I don't bring a SLR, bag of lenses, flashes, tripod, etc.; I bring my Fuji Klasse and a grab-bag of film. Imposing limits on yourself will make you more creative and you'll be forced to see beyond the abilities of your world-class gear to focus on the things in an image that really matter – namely what you put in front of the camera.

Capture the Moment, not the Shot

I'm a perfectionist. As the child of a pseudo-tigermom, I tend to err on the OCD side. This is most apparent when I shoot digital — I'm constantly chimping. Is there a hair in the wrong place and are some of the lines crooked? Better re-shoot! With all things film you don't really have this option. I find that when I shoot with my compacts in particular, I am much more inclined to quickly pick up my camera, take a quick picture, then get back to enjoying myself. You're shooting the moment, not getting "the shot" and that's okay.

It's a Time Capsule — Don't Post Right Away

Building off the last point, when you shoot a 135 compact, you're at least an hour out from posting on Instagram. It's not that it's a bad thing, but it can certainly be a distraction. One of the coolest (to me at least) results of shooting film is the idea of every roll being a time capsule. Depending on what you load up in your camera, it could take weeks, sometimes a month or two, to chew through the entire roll. When you do finally get your scans back, you get the opportunity to relive an experience or small moment you'd perhaps forgotten about.

Technical Features

One of my good buddies, Anthony Peter said this about his Contax T3:

It's like the mixture between your mom's camera, a bar of soap, and a sports car — with a Zeiss lens.

A lot of cameras are nothing to bat an eye at. Contax T2s and T3s feature titanium bodies, and stellar Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 lenses; Leica MiniLuxes and CMs have a f/2.4 Summarit 40mm; my personal favorite, Fuji Klasse S, has a 38mm f/2.8 with Fuji's legendary Super EBC coating. From a technical perspective, there's a lot to love about these little guys and nothing with quite the same specs (full frame, awesome fixed lens, small form factor) really comes close (in my opinion) in the digital space.

Some Awesome Work All Done on 135 Compact Cameras

Below are the photographers in order of their appearance:

1. Kirk Mastin | 2. Dave Waddell | 3. Sandy Phimester | 4. Anthony Peter | 5. Andrew Jacona | 6. Jon Cu | 7. Rob Timko | 8. David Pexton | 9. Zane Yau | 10. Mike Murrow | 11. Will Yum | 12. Alpana Aras | 13. Jason Curescu | 14. Garrick Fujii | 15. Ignacio Woolfolk | 16.  Jack Chauvel  | 17. Ricardo Benavides| 18. Trent Brown | 19. Jonny Edwin Bennett | 20. Aaron Warthen | 21. Kornelio Mamic | 22. Thomas Tran | 23. Rachel Wells | 24. Austin Rogers | 25. Kristen Marin Papac | 26. Daniel Pellissier | 27. Jake Rhode | 28. Kyle Panis | 29. Brandy Jaggers

​Bonus Tip: BTS Re-Imagined

I always take one or two little Canon Sure Shot Max cameras (that I bought on eBay for under $20) to my shoots and give them to models, MUAs, stylist, etc to ask them to shoot all their behind-the-scenes work with it. This has a couple benefits, the first being that you get control over the images — having the BTS on film prevents people from releasing anything too important before you have a chance to process and edit the real photos. Second, you end up with much better quality, non-Instagram-filtered images that you'd actually be comfortable sharing and tagging yourself in.

Above is an image of yours-truly from last fall on Superia 400 X-Tra (cheap, drug store film).

Do any of you work with compact cameras, film or otherwise? I'd love to see your work in the comments below.

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Previous comments
Lester Cannon's picture

Nice article Austin. Every word is truth. Yashica T5 is on me all day everyday.

Soulseeker Fotograf's picture

I can understand this because I recently bought an old film camera and I've done some amazing shots. You could check it out on my website: