Waikiki on a Canon F-1

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By Jackson Swain

This March, my girlfriend and I took a week long trip to Hawaii. We have a pair of friends who live in Waikiki and manage a small business downtown, so rather than stay in an expensive, touristy hotel, we were able to stay with them in their apartment in the middle of the city.

While we were there they showed us all around the island, and I proposed! I don’t have any 35mm pictures of the engagement, because my friend was the one taking pictures of that with a DSLR. I was understandably a little occupied in that moment.

I’ve enjoyed digital photography for a few years, and own a Mamiya RZ67 that I use occasionally for portraits, but have never owned my own 35mm camera until a couple months ago.

I had begun to take a more active interest in film photography, and decided I wanted to buy a 35mm camera in time to take it with me to Hawaii. After a couple weeks of lurking forums and message boards on 35mm bodies, I decided that the Canon F-1 was the right choice for me.

I found one in great condition, and bought the body and a 28mm FD lens for a little under $200. By the time we got on the plane, I had only shot and developed one roll of Tri-X, just to make sure everything was working properly.

I still had very little familiarity with the camera itself, and had only ever shot 35mm in black and white. In retrospect, maybe bringing a camera I had shot one roll through and a bag full of Kodak Portra 400 wasn’t really a recipe for success, but fortunately for me, everything turned out beautifully.

Waikiki is an amazing city. As our friends took us to their favourite restaurants, beaches, and hikes, I was genuinely moved by the amount of joy I saw in the people there. The city teems with life and culture, and every little coffee or apartment building has such unique character.

The locals we met all had a radiance to them, and I can understand why. It’s hard to be in a bad mood drinking a beer on the beach looking out at the Pacific Ocean. I had only seen movies and postcards with pictures of Hawaiian beaches on them, but neither of those compare to the depth and colour of seeing them in person.

Despite going in relatively unprepared, I found shooting the F-1 a revelation. The camera is truly a beautiful machine. It is everything I would ever want in a 35mm SLR. It is fully mechanical apart from the meter, which is extremely bright and easy to use. The controls are all classic and intuitive. The body is heavy and feels like you could drop it off a building and barely leave a scratch.

Taking pictures with it felt like finding the camera I’d been looking for ever since taking up photography. I got the pictures developed a few days after getting back, and was blown way by the incredible colours and richness the pictures had. Holding the pictures felt like holding tangible memories materialised and put to paper.

I love this camera. I’m so glad I chose to recklessly take this camera on my trip instead of a DSLR, or God forbid, just relied on my iPhone camera. The photos I took are such a better way to remember Waikiki and the experience I had there.

All of the photos here are untouched/uncropped, straight from the scanner, shot on a Canon F-1 (old version), and all with a 28mm lens. Most pictures are on Kodak Portra 400, and a couple of blocak-and-white images are Ilford HP5.

You can follow me on Flickr at Jackson Swain or Instagram @lil_swain_.

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