Rediscovering film cameras

A few months ago, Paola and I took some friends to Princeton, New Jersey. We were just looking to get out of the city and enjoy a sunny Saturday. While we were there we happened across a store named, interestingly and somewhat incongruously, New York Camera.

Struck by nostalgia, we decided to buy a disposable camera. This one, to be exact. We walked around town taking photos of ourselves and whatever struck us. It was a throwback — The last time I finished a roll of film I was still in high school.

We were hooked. Or at least we were temporarily obsessed like I’ve been with records, baking, beer making, and various other things. Which is funny because Princeton is home to the Princeton Record Exchange, one of the best record stores in the country and a must-visit when in town.

We were encouraged to find a reloadable point-and-shoot, which is when we realized we were several years late to this retro film craze. Prices have been going up for year last several years, particularly for high-end consumer cameras, as the last models were produced roughly 20 years ago.

In the end I found a few duds (broken, sold as-is), stumbled across a gem in Montreal, and dug out my old Fujifilm from high school. Still functional. Then I picked up another on our most recent trip to Princeton. I suppose we’ll use them until they break or pass them on to the next wave of retro fans.

Time will tell if this retro hobby stands the test of time for us given how easy it is to use a cell phone and particularly given the price of film ($10-15 per roll) and the price of developing ($10-20 for digital negative scans). For now, it’s a fun and impractical distraction with unpredictable and sometimes beautiful results.

P.S. One of the upsides of 35mm today is that digital negative scans are the preferred method of delivery, which means you can save your film together with your phone photos.

Below is a sample of photos we’ve taken over the last few months, uploaded directly from my phone:

Giorgio Moroder’s “From Here to Eternity” (1977)

Giorgio Moroder is most famous these days for being “that guy from the Daft Punk song”, referring to his cameo on Random Access Memories. Prior to 2012 or so, he was known as the producer of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”. He had mostly faded into obscurity unless you were into ‘80s movie soundtracks (Scarface, American Gigolo, Midnight Express) or disco music.

On the strength of his newfound Daft Punk cred and “I Feel Love”, I had my eye on picking up one of his albums. This wasn’t one of those “must haves”, but it was on my mind as I sifted through several stacks of records at Giovanni’s Room thrift shop in Philly the weekend before last.

Lucky for me, Giovanni’s Room has a policy of marking down by half any records that sit for more than six months. This one slipped under the radar and was tagged $3. Best find of the weekend.

When you listen to this album, the first thing you notice is that it sounds a lot like you know who. The vintage drum machine and vocoder sound is what our generation associates with the robot duo or Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak, but it’s clearly borrowed from Moroder and his contemporaries and reinvented for a new generation.

The nice bit about Moroder’s sound being so imitated today is that this album listens like a lost Daft Punk album. It doesn’t sound dated at all. It’s got a cohesive house music beat that goes well in the background while you’re doing other things, but you could easily turn up the volume and get a dance party started.