On my last vacation to Vietnam, I set myself a very special challenge: I wanted to take all vacation photos with a complete renunciation of electronics. If some of you are now asking yourself: “How can you take photos without electronics?” The answer: mechanical cameras.
With such cameras, all the functions necessary for taking photos are completely mechanical and therefore they can be used without batteries and rechargeable batteries. How I went about it and whether my little experiment was successful, I’ll show you here.
What have I limited myself to?
I used the Nikon FM2n as a camera. The M in the name stands for “Mechanical” and it’s one of my absolute favorite cameras of the last few years. It is almost entirely made of metal, the design is timeless and there is a huge amount of high-quality glass for the Nikon F-Mount.
So, as the name might suggest, all of the camera’s settings are available without a battery. The aperture is adjusted on the lens – which I’ll come to in a moment – the exposure time via a wheel on the top and the sensitivity is determined by the film inserted.
The FM2n does have an exposure meter so that you can see the correct exposure settings in the viewfinder, but I deliberately removed the batteries from the camera before the holiday – I wanted to choose and assess every setting for each picture myself.
When it comes to the lens, I decided on another limitation – No zoom, but a fixed focal length: The Voigtländer Color Skopar 28mm f/2.8 SLII-S. This is a wide-angle lens, but it is not so wide-angle that perspectives are distorted.
There are no electronics installed in this lens either. The focus and aperture are set manually.
And while we’re on the subject of restricting: All photos should only be shot in black and white – this forces me to keep a sharp eye on compositions, since colors are no longer used as a stylistic device. For the approximately two-week vacation I packed 10 rolls of Fomapan 100 – enough »memory« for 360 pictures.
Anyone who is a fan of the 28mm focal length but not a fan of restrictions can of course also use a modern camera with autofocus. A very compact 28mm lens is available for Canon system cameras.
How did I estimate the correct settings?
In times of high-tech smartphones that use AI to create pictures, taking pictures completely manually sounds absurd and difficult – but it’s not.
To find the correct settings, I used a technique that is rarely used today: »Sunny 16«.
The rule says: If the sun is shining on a cloudless day, the aperture is set to f/16 and the shutter speed to 1/100 when using ISO/ASA 100 film.
With 1/100 second you can take very good blur-free snapshots, which is why I hardly ever changed this setting. The film is also fixed at 100. That leaves only the aperture as a variable.
I left the aperture at f/16 for bright sunlight, opened it to f/11 for cloudy sunlight, f/8 for heavier clouds, and so on. Only in dark indoor scenes did I increase the exposure time to a maximum of 1/30 second.
Ultimately, I had to estimate before each photo how much light the lens needed and adjust accordingly. Did I succeed? see for yourself
The photos from Vietnam
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Ha Long Bay is a dream to photograph. We spent three nights there – one of them even on a ship. Unfortunately, the weather was rather cloudy, which wasn’t too bad for the photos – shadows and lights appear softer as a result. I shot most of the photos at f/4.0.
A large part of my relatives live in Ho Chi Minh City and this city is just perfect for street photography. There are countless people on scooters and cars and there are small shops and street food vendors on every corner. Here I shot most of the time at small apertures of f/8 to f/16 – for a lot of depth of field and because it was very sunny.
Last but not least, we made a detour to the rural areas of Vietnam – Tây Ninh, to be precise. Another part of my family lives here.
Life here couldn’t be more different from city life. It’s idyllic and quiet. At the same time, people are much more relaxed. It was very sunny, which is why I mostly took pictures with small apertures.
Well, those were the pictures for now. Of course there are many more – after all, I used up all 10 rolls – but these should give you a little insight into my challenge and Vietnam.
To my own surprise, there was hardly a single picture that I misjudged beyond measure. Most of the pictures were exposed the way I wanted them to be – who needs a light meter or automatic?
How did I get the pictures on the PC?
One of the reasons why I really like taking analogue photos is the surprise factor that comes with it: As weird as that may sound, I couldn’t wait to get back from vacation to develop the images and see how they turned out.
So that I don’t have to send the film rolls to a laboratory, I develop all my film rolls myself. This is also relatively easy with black and white film and, in contrast to color film, it can also be done with a less strictly controlled temperature – 20 to 24 degrees cold water works for me preferably.
You don’t even need a darkroom. A dark room that is as dust-free as possible is sufficient. I just go to the bathroom, turn off the light and put a towel under the door slot – voila, darkness!
I don’t have to stay in there long either. It just has to be dark while you take the film out of the film canister and put it in the developer canister. The entire development process can be carried out in daylight.
It takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to develop two rolls. After that, the negatives have to be hung up and allowed to dry.
Once they’re all dry, I have to cut them up and put them in my scanner. I use a flatbed scanner that can scan 35mm and medium format negatives.
After scanning, I remove any grains of dust that are still visible from the images in image processing and adjust the contrast and brightness if necessary. Complete!
What did I learn from this challenge?
After overcoming this »challenge«, I realized that it wasn’t as challenging as I initially thought – it was actually a lot of fun.
The very best thing about it: Every photo taken is really my own creation:
- I chose the settings myself
- I developed the images myself
- I scanned them myself
- I digitally edited them myself
- I printed them myself
That feeling of having created the images myself, from start to finish, is extremely valuable to me. That’s exactly why I’ll be photographing this way more often in the future – just no more than a challenge.
Have you ever done a similar photography challenge? Have you ever taken manual photos yourself or would you rather not do without automatics? Or are there other photography challenges that you have faced and can share about them? Or do you prefer a camera that can do everything and is hardly restricted? Tell me in the comments!