Shooting Film in China – Some Thoughts

Hi friends,

A few months ago, I went on a trip to China to revisit my roots (sort of) and see some classic scenery. Food and photography were definitely the top attractions for me and China was the place to be. Gear-wise, I decided to bring both digital and film with me – carrying the slick Fuji X-T1 and the venerable Nikon F3. I had plans to shoot as much film as possible to hone my skills which I did to some success. I learned a couple of things that I want to share with you; I hope these tips will help you have a successful photo trip as well!

 

X-Rays!

When I fly with film, I typically ask the security agent to do a hand search if I know I have a few flights before getting the film developed. This may not be required but does offer me peace of mind, especially when I tend to favor shooting ISO1600. This can slow you down a bit but it’s not like I have flights daily. What I do have in China is daily commutes on the subway… and guess what… bags need to go through X-rays!

I’m not sure if this is tied to the heightened security in big cities like Shanghai or maybe due to the big government conference in China at the time (sort of like the elections, without the democracy part), but every subway entrance had a bag scanner. Now, due to the pure volume of people, the search is pretty swift and they don’t care if you take a small item through un-scanned. This meant if you want your film to be out, you just need to take it out of your larger bag. I managed this somewhat by buying a film case so all my film were in one little box. Still very annoying to take in and out, especially when your hands are full, but knowing your precious film is safe and sound is worth it.

My basic film setup for China… Used the Fuji X-T1 to take the pic!

 

Buying film?

I can only offer my input on purchasing film in Shanghai, which was the start of my trip. I have always wanted to check out the analog photography scene in China and Xingguang Photographic Equipment City did not disappoint. This place is a multi-story complex of two connected building. The first two floors were filled with the latest and greatest digital fare, while the third floor had all your photographing accessories. The fourth/top floor was my main attraction – the used camera section! Shanghai seems to have a pretty solid analog market, the gear found there was top-notch and priced very high (analog is a luxury I guess). I expected to have to haggle for some deals but in all honestly, I already have the F3 and not many other cameras were worth the effort. I did browse thoroughly before heading to purchase some film for my trip.

There was a couple of shops that sold film in the building but you could tell one was super legit. It was the only complete deal – darkroom equipment and all. Looking at their stock, I was pleasantly surprised to see a full range of black & white film from my go-to Kodak to more exotic brands like Rollei. The prices were very reasonable too and I ended up getting a few rolls of Tri-X and also a few rolls of AGFA Vista 400. This Japanese made everyday/pedestrian offering was dirt cheap at less than $4 a roll! Even cheaper than ordering online from B&H. Couldn’t say no haha.

Results were excellent from the Nikkor 50mm F1.4. Not bad for the cheapest film around!

 

How to Lug Around Your Gear?

I originally brought my hipster backpack with a camera liner. This worked well in NYC when I carried just the Canon F-1, but was not really working for two SLRs. The liner would shift and drift to the bottom of the bag and be awkward to carry on the back as well as difficult to access. I needed something more agile and fit for China’s busy streets and packed subways – where you want to have your valuables close and discreet.

I needed a shoulder bag that didn’t look like a camera bag.

This way I can just swing it in front when I need security and also blend in with the millions of other people (man satchels are the norm in China, in fact, a messenger bag is more rare!). I found my answer with the Benro Traveler S200. This super sleek bag has a removable liner bag just right for two medium sized cameras while still leaving space on either end for lenses and film cases. The sides can be unzipped to expand the whole bag and has pockets for your water bottle or umbrella (key!). I love that feature as when you want to travel light and it’s all zipped, it’s sleek AF.

Straight from Tmall – the Chinese Amazon…

 

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