Traveling with Film

After my masters degree I decided to go on a trip through Asia. I wanted photography to be a big part of my journey. Choosing my equipment right for that trip was not an easy task. The only thing I knew right away was that I wanted to shoot film and see what I could come up with. I was about to travel for 8 weeks, by plane, train and by bus. Looking out for lightweight gear I saved up for a mamiya 7 and got a great deal on it. It happened to be an awesome choose for the beautiful photographs it is able to deliver, the small size considering it is medium format and its light weight. The only downside of the camera is it's reputation to be quite unreliable, but I'll talk more about that later on. As second camera I decided to take a rock solid piece of equipment: my Nikon FM2. On top of that I packed a Yashica T4 as small point and shoot that I almost haven't used. Lensewise I took the 65mm and the 150mm for the Mamiya 7. For my Nikon I packed a 50mm and a 28mm lens. My plan was to shoot some landscapes, Portraits and street stuff. I felt prepared with that gear. Bringing my Feisol tripod with me was not a good idea. It took a huge amount of space in my backpack and was quite heavy. This one will stay at home for the next trip.

I switched the Rollei 35 SE for a Yashica T4 because of the weight.

I switched the Rollei 35 SE for a Yashica T4 because of the weight.

The spotmeter was just a backup. I used it more then I attended because of my 150mm Mamiya lens stoping to communicate with the camera body. The only way I could use the lens was in manual mode. I tried to clean the pins which was completely useless. So the 150 mm lens did let me down in aperture priority mode from Hanoi on but would still fire in manual mode. So I lost a part of the convenience of the mama system along the way.

So what film did i took with me. I wanted black and white film, color negatives and some films to shoot at night in Hong Kong. So I took some Kodak Tri-x as versatile black and white film and some Fuji neopan just because I love it. Kodak portra for head shots , Ektar for landscapes and cinestill for the nightshots. I also took some other films with me that I had left in my fridge.

I carried a total of 103 films for 2 month of photography madness. 73 medium format films and 30 35mm films. Yes, I was afraid to run out of film! But there was something I really haven't thought about. Such an amount of film weighs A LOT! I had to carry them in my hand luggage, avoiding x-Ray and get them through security checkpoints. Most airlines have a limit at about 7kg for cabin baggage. With my films and my camera bag I haven't much left for camera equipment so I was forced to put my Nikon camera gear, body and lenses, in my main bag to reduce the weight. I don't know if I would do that again. I took about 7 plains in China, Vietnam and Germany, flying with Emirates, Vietnam airlines and jetstar. No one ever controlled the weight or the size of my bag. So I won't panic about that next time.

Now let's talk about the thing I was most nervous about. The x-Ray and security checks at airports and train stations in China. Most of the time it went really well. Only 2 airports didn't accepted to hand check my films. The Da Nang airport in Vietnam and the airport of Dubai on my way back to Germany. The Frankfurt airport in Germany accepted to hand check some of the films but not all of them. So I gave them all films with 400 ASA and more, the rest got x-rayed. Considering that I came up with 100+ Film to check, I guess I can be happy that my films got x-rayed only 3 times. The main point to look after is to make it easy for the airport staff. Be ready at the checkpoint. Get your films out and ready. Get them out of the packaging so they don't have to open any film boxes. Get them in transparent zipper plastic bags so they can see them right away. Be friendly and don't waste time with any other security issues. Sometimes I waited at some checkpoints before to get in line. If the checkpoint is very busy they most likely say no to your request. When I took the plain in the middle of the night from Dubai to HongKong, almost nobody was at the checkpoint. The staff was very friendly and hand checked my films while talking about photography. On the same airport on my way back, all checkpoints were completely full and busy. They didn't listen to me and told me to hurry. My films got x-rayed. I guess that sometimes there is just nothingyou can do about it. 

Plastic Zipper Bag for airport checkpoints

Plastic Zipper Bag for airport checkpoints

Almost all of my films took the x-rays well. Even the portra 800 did deliver as usual. The only ones that got harmed was the cinestill 800 films. As you can see in the picture below, they turned out to be very noisey in the shadow areas. The left picture is a 100% crop of the middle one which is as scanned. The one on the right side was retouched in Photoshop. I wouldn't take cinestill film on a flight one more time. 

Of course I thought about getting my film processed along my way in Asia. But I was worried getting them back on time. I stayed a maximum of 5 nights in one place and I was anxious about having to go without my processed films. Besides that I didn't knew about the quality of the labs I founded. So I just went on. I I would have been sure about the lab services, I would have processed my negatives while traveling.

67 Films shot in 2 Month while traveling in Asia

67 Films shot in 2 Month while traveling in Asia

The next time I'll go on a trip I will take much less films. I shot 67 Films along my way, which is a lot. But I really doubt that all those pictures should have been on film. So I might take a Ricoh gr or another digital camera and shoot only medium format on Film. My bag was way too heavy to carry it for 2 month. I thought I had reduced the weight well but it was still too much. Besides that, film photography was a pleasure and I absolutely love the results I got out of it. I'm already excited about the next time I'll take my film camera on a trip with me. 

The pictures of HongKong are already online. Check them out!