35mm Love Letter is a digital how-to book and memoir about the glories of analog film photography, written by comic book writer, filmmaker, and photographer Greg Pak. Please feel free to back the book today on Crowdfundr.
As a grad film student in the 1990s, I acquired a small collection of beautiful Kern-Paillard C-mount lenses, typically used on 16mm and 8mm Bolex cameras. I’ve held onto those lenses for almost 30 years in hopes of using them again some day, so I was thrilled to discover last month that Fotodiox makes an adapter to attach C-mount lenses to Nikon 35mm film cameras.
Since c-mount lenses were designed for a much smaller film gauge, they generally can’t focus to infinity on 35mm film cameras. In fact, my 10mm and 16mm C-mount lenses won’t focus on anything at all when attached to 35mm camera.
But on my Nikon FM, my 36mm and 75mm C-mount lenses have a narrow range in which they can focus on subjects just inches from front of the lens, which makes them perfect for specific kinds of macro photography.
I took the photo of the nickel below on Kodak TMax 400 film using a Nikon FM and a Kern-Paillard Macro-Switar H8 RX 36mm f1.4. The set up has limitations — as you can see, the center of the frame is sharp, but the edges go out of focus, and there’s some shadowy vignetting. But for this photo, I love that look. The vignetting and the focus fall-off give the photo a sense of movement that really appeals to me. I was also able to get incredibly close to the subject, close to a 1:1 ratio, meaning the size of the nickel on the actual film negative is almost the size of an actual nickel.
I also tested the lenses by attaching them to a Canon EOS Rebel T3i digital SLR — using the Fotodiox C-mount lens to Nikon adapter and a Nikon lens to Canon EF adapter. Again, the 16mm and 10mm lenses wouldn’t focus on anything. But the 36mm and 75mm made lovely macro pictures.
The first tree bud image below was taken with the Kern-Paillard Macro-Switar H8 RX 36mm f1.4. As with the nickel above, you can see the focus falling off as you move to the edges of the frame. But the effect is lovely and dreamy, and we’re incredibly close to the tree bud, almost a 1:1 ratio.
And here’s the same subject, but shot with a Kern-Paillard Yvar 75mm f2.8 C-mount lens.
The 75mm lens doesn’t magnify as much as the 36mm lens and doesn’t have the same focus fall-off issues. This feels like a much more standard macro photo look. It’s absolutely lovely, but it has a bit less quirky character than the 36mm lens.
I’ve had great results with more traditional macro photography tools for 35mm film, like the Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 lens or a Hoya +4 filter attached to a standard 50mm f1.4 lens. But it’s a thrill to get beautiful images from these much older C-mount lenses that have no real business being attached to a 35mm camera in the first place. I can see myself continuing to use the 36mm lens in particular for certain kinds of images because its “flaws” produce such evocative, dreamy effects.
This picture just makes me happy. I love the light gleaming on the Empire State and the more subtle light patterns on the building on the bottom right. I love the stark angles of the buildings and the awning in the foreground and the way they seem to guide the pigeon’s trajectory. I love the fact that I nailed the exposure and got the rich black of the awning on the upper left as well as the subtle textures of the cloudy sky.
I took several photos in a row from this general angle as a few pigeons circled in the sky. This was the keeper – the position of the bird made all the angles in the image make sense. I’m constantly dazzled by how much a single bird can improve a photograph in New York City. Thanks, pigeon!
This was my first time shooting a cheap, used Minolta XE-7 that I picked up recently from an auction site. I never shot Minoltas back in the day — I was an insufferable Canon snob who was very happy with an FTb and New F-1. But since I’ve gotten back into film photography over the last year, I’ve had a ton of fun trying out cheap, used cameras from other manufacturers.
The Minolta XE-7 is a big, solid camera that handles beautifully — the film advance in particular has a lovely, smooth feel. It’s a camera that’s just fun to hold. But it’s as heavy as my Canon New F-1 with a 50mm lens attached — which is a bit too heavy for a casual carry-everywhere-all-the-time camera. And I’m not quite sold on the manual metering system — a needle on the right of the viewfinder points to the recommended shutter speed while windows at the top of the viewfinder show the actual shutter speed and F-stop. So you have to move your eye from the needle to the window at the top to take note of the numbers and adjust the shutter speed. That’s better than cameras like the Canon EF and AE-1 that make you lower the camera from your eye to set the aperture. But it’s more confusing than match needle or LED systems that let you set your exposure quickly while looking at just one part of your viewfinder. The viewfinder is also noticeably darker than many of my other cameras — including the Minolta X-370.
Despite these drawbacks, I had fun with the XE-7 and love the photos I took with it. I’m sure a big part of that has to do with the Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4 lens I was testing. I’d heard great things about this lens and it’s living up to the hype, delivering sharp, punchy images and allowing for focusing as close as 1.5 feet.
I did have a brief issue with the mirror of the XE-7 getting stuck in the up position for a few frames. That may be due to weak batteries — the manual says “If the shutter is released when voltage is too low, no exposure will be made on the film, and the mirror will remain up to prevent viewing.” Or it may be due to old lubricant in the camera getting gummed up. I’ll have to get fresh batteries and see what I see.
Incredible find in a random drawer of my maternal grandfather’s stuff: a roll of unexposed Kodak Ektachrome E135 slide film from the late 1950s.
Gonna have to research how to expose this and figure out something special to shoot with it. There’s a piece of masking tape on the can marked “ASA 32.” If I did the typical thing of overexposing a stop per decade, I’d have to shoot it at ASA 1/2, ha ha!
So here we are in the last 12 hours of the 35mm Love Letter campaign, and I’ve been thinking about this analog photography memoir and how-to book and why it might be relevant for my fellow comics creators and readers. And I have some big ideas!
35mm Love Letter will tell the story of how I developed (and continue to develop) my eye for images and story through analog photography. And that means the analysis of individual images in the book will be entirely relevant to anyone interested in reading or making comics.
35mm still photography is often compared to movies because of the shared aesthetics of the physical medium of film. But I’d argue that the act of capturing a story in still images with a 35mm camera is actually more akin to comics than moviemaking.
Check out the image above — a picture I took as a teenager in Italy in 1984 or so. I love this image for several reasons that relate directly to comics.
First, the framing is just great visual storytelling in a single frame — working as a wide establishing shot with the building and street in the background while also placing characters and action in the foreground that move the “story” forward.
There’s also great use of secondary figures on the left and right to fill out the scene and add dimension and character without distracting.
And finally, the motion blur from the low shutter speed on the foreground characters sells ACTION and MOVEMENT in a still image.
All of these elements work tremendously well in photography and comics. So the thousands of 35mm photographs I took over the years helped train me for comics, and all the photos I’m taking these days further develop my eye and expand my notions of what’s possible.
So yeah, I’ll be writing about this kind of stuff in the book. So if you’re interested in comics, I’ve got a strong feeling that this book will be right up your alley.
I’d be honored for you to check it out and back it. Here’s the link — thanks so much for your consideration!
Hey, friends! Hope you’re all doing well as the year closes out, and huge thanks to everyone who’s supported my latest crowdfunded project — 35mm Love Letter, a memoir and guide to the glories of analog film photography!
So with just four days left in the 35MMLL campaign, I have a big stretch goal I’m thrilled to share today! If we hit 200 backers before 11:59 pm PST this Friday night, I’ll organize and deliver a live, 90 minute online class in analog photography for all backers in 2023! It’ll be a fun, lively, practical deep dive into the basics of analog photography from both a technical and creative perspective and we’ll have plenty of time for questions.
Of course, folks who want an even deeper educational experience should definitely sign up for the three session online photography class reward — that will be much more personalized and intense in a great way, with plenty of time for students to go shoot and come back with photographs for individual feedback. So please do check it out!
But if we hit 200 backers, EVERY backer can get a fantastic, fun introduction in a single online class to everything you need to know to get started with analog photography!
If this sounds cool to you, please do feel free to back the campaign today! And please do feel free to share the campaign with your friends in these last few days and encourage them to back at any level! Here’s that handy link:
Hey, friends! I am absolutely thrilled to reveal a brand new passion project — 35mm Love Letter, a memoir and guide to the glories of analog film photography!
Like my previous how-to book Cooking Will Break Your Heart, 35mm Love Letter will be packed with incredibly practical information about a subject near and dear to my heart — and it’ll be a tribute to another aspect of my brilliant mother, Jane Pak.
My mother was an incredible amateur photographer who took hundreds of luminous black and white photos of her family and community when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. She taught me how to shoot and develop black and white film and gave me her Canon FTb when I was in high school, and photography became a huge part of my life. I started shooting film again after my mom died in 2021, and I do not exaggerate when I say that analog photography helped save my heart and soul this year.
So 35mm Love Letter is exactly what it says on the tin — a love letter to analog photography, celebrating both its glorious aesthetic look and feel and the slower but creatively inspiring process that it requires.
If you’re already an analog photographer who wants a little fellowship and inspiration from another shooter, this book is for you!
And if you just love a good story and want to know how film photography and the ethos of quiet observation taught by Jane Pak has guided the life of her son, this book is for you!
Please do check it out and back the project today! In addition to the digital how-to book itself, you can order physical copies of some of my previous books, or even pick up a vintage 35mm camera cleaned and tested by yours truly, or sign up for a three session online photography class!
Thank you so much as always for your interest and support. I literally could not make these projects without you, and I appreciate you so much.
I leave you with just a taste of some of the photos from the past four decades that may make their way into the book.
Writer of over 500 comic books, including PLANET HULK, MECH CADET YU, FIREFLY, and DARTH VADER