With shooting film there are many perks and a few seemingly disadvantages. One being the fear associated with the lack of immediate results to work off of. It was months of shooting film before I stopped checking the back of my camera in search of my LCD screen only to find nothingness. And that's just it with film--although it builds confidence and technical skill, there's no way to test out gear or film in the moment to make sure everything is running properly. You simply have to know your camera's functionality and just as an extension of your body, be able to tell when something just ain't right. At first this made me panic, thinking "the only way I can tell if something is wrong with my camera is when I get the film back....two weeks later?!?!? Eff that!" Thank goodness this isn't the case! Other than becoming familiar with your set-up, there are two easy and fairly inexpensive ways to make sure your film gear is functioning properly before you start snapping away! 2 Ways to Test Your Film Gear Before A Shoot:
1. Develop Locally. Shoot a test roll and have it developed close by via a one hour service. Walgreens and Costco still develop 120mm film as well as 35mm. I'd advise staying away from Target. To make the most of your tester roll--have fun and practice! Photograph your pets, try different lighting, or style up some things around the house. However don't expect much from your 1 hour film, as your scans may turn out lackluster with wonky colors (typically those people aren't professionals). It's cool, the roll is simply for peace of mind, to check for any possible errors with your insert (unusual blurs on the edges of photos could mean either the roll wasn't secured tightly in the camera or your insert is having trouble and needs repair), light leaks etc.
[Shot on a Contax 645 + Fuji 400h, this photo was developed 1 hour at Rainbow Photo to check for consistency, etc. Tested the day before a wedding + photographed in my house. Color isn't that great, but whatevs! ]
2. Invest in a polaroid back. This is a pretty cool addition to add to your collection. Some medium format cameras allow for the regular film back to be replaced with one that shoots polaroids. Don't get TOO excited, as they aren't usually the cool, hipster polaroids, often the film is limited however this contraption amps up the awesome factor of your camera's functionality. For the Contax 645, a polaroid back runs about $85-$120 and takes Fuji FP-100c film as well as Fuji FP-3000B. With the Contax645 it's important to note the images do NOT take up the entire frame of the polaroid, instead they wind up a little square that's about 1/3rd of the polaroid's frame. Still, super helpful in taking a quick, semi-inexpensive photo on-the-spot to test functionality and lighting. And, kinda cool. But if you're anything like me, figuring it out without wasting two entire boxes of film will be rather maddening. You were warned.
[Shot on the Contax 645 with Polaroid Back + Fuji fp-100c film. The photo is underexposed, as the film is 100 iso and I didn't have enough light to shoot it at a needed aperture of 1/13, so instead I underexposed it about 2 stops to get the image. f/2.0 1/60. This is the cropped portion of the exposed frame, the rest of the polaroid was black, due to the camera's format].
And, as always, BRING BACK-UP! Duh.