I am a digital photographer and after purchasing a Nikon D810 I was ready to take it for a ride in Newquay…however things took a turn and I ended up using an Ilford XP2 Film disposable camera. Read more to find out why…
Why the Ilford XP2?
Cornwall; one of the gems of the UK with miles of beautiful coastline, great surfing beaches and plenty of bars to enjoy in the evening, what’s not to like? Earlier this year, Sarah and myself headed to Newquay to take in some fresh sea air and get out of the city for a few days.
Seeing as I’d recently picked up a Nikon D810 I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to take it out for a test run. After the best part of 3 hours in the car we pulled up in the hotel car park, I popped open the boot and……no camera……..****! Unfortunately for me I was just coming off the back of a nasty cold and in my fuzzy headed state, I’d completely forgotten to pack it!
We decided to walk into Newquay (trudged in my case) for coffee, and found a nice cafe on the high street. I was holding onto my drink wondering what to do and how I’d made such a mistake, when Sarah suggested “why not pick up a disposable camera?”. Immediately I perked up; “that’s a great idea!” I said as I considered the possibilities. It’s often said that restricting yourself helps to spark creativity, and going from the 36MP beast, the Nikon D810, to a fixed focal length, fixed focus disposable is the mother of all restrictions.
With just foam left in our mugs, we headed to Boots. Keeping with the idea of restricting myself, I chose a black & white only Ilford XP2 camera (which I later found out is quite highly regarded).
Exploring Newquay by Film
My approach was simple; keep light and composition in mind and the photos should make themselves. This is no different to using any other camera, but I had the advantage of knowing I didn’t have to worry about setting the camera at all. I also had to keep in mind that I only had 30 shots so it was one shot per composition, and only shooting compositions I was confident with.
"Enjoying the View" - notice the focus fall off after about 10 meters due to the fixed focus of the camera
I found using the camera quite refreshing for two main reasons. The first is that from a creative perspective it’s very freeing to just find a subject, point the camera at it and shoot. Secondly, technically the camera’s quality is what it is – there is nothing you can do to change it. I feel like this is especially important in a time of ultra high megapixel cameras where people spend thousands to achieve every ounce of image quality. I knew that the quality of the images wasn’t going to be perfect, so I stopped worrying about it. Indeed the character and imperfections of film is what makes it so attractive in the first place!
"Palm Tree" - I really like the minimal nature of this shot, and the harsh light creates great contrast in a black and white shot
The pros (and cons) of the camera
As I mentioned before, Ilford XP2 is quite a highly regarded black and white film as it turns out, so I was quite lucky as I’d basically chosen the camera at random. I love the pairing of a nice grain with black and white, and I tend to add grain to my digital black and white images anyway so I really enjoyed the look that this film gave.
"Break in the Clouds" - I waited here while the beautiful evening light moved across Fistral Beach, eventually bathing the foreground and completing the shot
What I hadn’t realised is that the focus was fixed at around 10 meters from the lens, meaning everything from about 15-20 meters or more away starts to fall out of focus. I’d assumed that it would be set at hyperfocal distance (check back to https://andyintothewild.co.uk/blog/ for a future tutorial on this!). This meant that shots where everything was at a distance were generally out of focus…but I will know this for next time!
This focus setting does allow for cool shots like the one below, with the subject in focus and everything else slightly soft.
"Rock in Focus" - here the fixed focus works really well to capture the rock in focus, but allow the far distance to fall off into softness
In the image below, the pathway creates a nice leading line (another great compositional technique) to lead the eye into the frame to where the crashing waves peak over the rock.
I sat at the end of this pathway and got sprayed every time the waves broke, it was nice!
"Ocean Path" - standard composition guidelines are just as important with disposables, like this pathway creating a leading line to the breaking wave
Developing the Ilford XP2
I found a great film development studio in Bedminster in Bristol called Photographique (link here: https://www.photographique.co.uk/). They also offered high resolution scanning to digital.
It cost £17 for development and scanning which as a one off isn’t too bad, but may get expensive if you shoot a lot of film. If you did want to go down that route you’d probably want to look at home development or picking up a scanner for yourself.
"Windsurfer" - a well timed shot here to capture the windsurfer passing through the beach fence
The scans are high enough resolution not to be the bottleneck in quality and you can see for yourself how they look.
Overall I am very happy with the service and would be happy to recommend them to anyone!
I really enjoyed the challenge of shooting with this camera and I am very happy with the results I got from it. As long as you keep all the normal photographic guidelines in mind (light & composition is everything!), it really doesn’t matter what camera you are using to get good results.
Of course I would have liked to give my D810 a run out, but there will be plenty of opportunities for that 🙂
I would recommend that anyone tries shooting with a disposable, if only for the practice, and I think you will enjoy the results too!
Thanks, and see you next time!
"Selfie Time!" - the final frame of the Ilford XP2 with Sarah and myself 🙂