One may wonder why I still shoot film when newer digital cameras are more affordable than ever and starting to close in on film camera advantages in areas like size and form factor.
Because I like to.
Long winded version:
Value. Process. Mystery.
…as long as you steer clear of the budget busting InstaTwitFace darlings and the like.
The ISO Part.
Digital cameras can change ISO at will from picture to picture. There are some exceptions, but once you put a roll of film in a camera you are restricted to that ISO. Exceptions:
- Interchangeable film backs are available for some medium format cameras that can be changed mid roll. Two cameras that come to mind are Hasselblad V bodies and Mamiya RB and RZ cameras. I have only owned one film back for any medium format camera I have owned. Some can cost quite a bit and this is a convenience I do not see myself using.
- I have also encountered 35mm cameras like the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7 that allow you to rewind and reinsert film rolls before completed. I had absolutely no desire to test this out.
Most other cameras restrict you to one ISO speed once the roll is loaded. And for me this is a good thing.
It forces you to choose a process in advance. One has to think about where you are going and what conditions you might be encountering.
Will you be shooting inside?
Shooting at night?
Inside at night?
Are you heading to an outside event on a sunny day?
Not sure what you will run into?
And if you get caught flat footed with a film ill suited for a given situation it will often force you out of your comfort zone.
- Not a fan of long exposures and rigid hand holding techniques or artificial lighting? Well when you find yourself in dungeon lighting with slow film speeds you had better adjust.
- Obsessed with razor thin depth of field? Well you better get used to having all the depth of field in the world if you find yourself outside with high speed film.
Developing and Scanning.
While it is possible to pay for developing and scanning film I believe that removes one of the greatest parts of shooting with film. As I shared in recent posts (here and here) I find developing black and white film therapeutic.
Paying others to have black and white film developed can be pricey and can take a considerable amount of time whether developed locally or by mail. As an example while my local camera shop develops color film quickly and inexpensively by automation…
…black and white film is developed by hand and you will sometimes have to wait until they take in enough film to make it cost effective for them to develop. In addition to taking longer it is more expensive since it is developed by hand. This can cost in the area of $10 per roll for black and white film if memory serves me. Cinestill Df96 monobath for black and white film costs about $20 and can be reused for many rolls. Develop three rolls and you are ahead. I recently developed two rolls at once as shown above so in one shot it paid for itself. Another advantage is that you can develop the film whenever you like so no waiting.
I do not choose to develop my own color film. My local camera shop develops it so quickly and inexpensively that there is little incentive in doing it myself and I welcome any excuse to stop by my version of Cheers. Doing so by mail is another option, but given the additional time needed I might reconsider developing color for myself if I did not have a local camera shop option.
But that still leaves the process of scanning. I find the process of perfecting scanning to ones own preferences up front and the actual scanning to be therapeutic as well. Scanning a roll of film goes for around $10 a roll at the local camera shop, but it costs you nothing to scan at home once you purchase the scanner. So even if you pay to develop a roll of color film for $5 you can save $10 a roll by scanning for yourself. And I have scanned so many rolls now that my scanner paid for itself quite a while ago. And again you do not have to wait.
Digital holds few mysteries. All digital cameras allow you to immediately review your images. Mirrorless cameras go further by showing what the camera will capture even before you press the shutter. This is often great admittedly, but when shooting casually there is something to be said for the often cited practice of slowing down. With seemingly bottomless memory cards and the ability to review what you produce immediately it makes it very tempting to just blast away and cull images later. There are some cheats.
Fully articulating screens allow you flip the screen around to help resist the urge to spend as much or more time reviewing images as creating them. Not a true no look commitment but far less expensive than picking up a screen-less Leica M10-D.
So being forced to accept the fact that you have to trust your skill, luck, timing, and/or your camera’s automation at the time the photo is taken does allow one to stay in the moment rather than constantly reviewing what just transpired. Who knows what could happen while you have your face buried in the back screen?
But there is another benefit. The excitement felt the first time you unfurl that developed roll of film and hold it up to the light. Followed by the first time the scan preview shows up on screen and then finally seeing the high resolution scanned image for the first time. I imagine seeing an image develop on paper before you would be an even greater kick, but I have neither the time, skill, supplies, or space to accommodate that for now. You have some idea, but you do not know until you see that final scan.
Did you nail that portrait of your son while starting yardwork?
Did that Raleigh double half frame exposure line up as you had hoped?
Did that night shot of a car’s taillights turn out?
Did you manage to expose properly for that background and window washer in silhouette?
Does this flash work?
Does this fancy pants dream camera you acquired even work and if so do you know how to work it?
But then there are the times that did not turn out as you expected.
I have no idea how I managed this multiple exposure, but I like it.
Took a shot in low light and mistakenly moved before the shutter closed. I like it.
In the end I am still regularly pleasantly surprised even after shooting film for so long. I recently proudly showed a roll of freshly developed film off in the camera shop like it was a newborn. Handed it around and everyone looked. Even after all of this time it was still exciting.
And others shared in that excitement once I posted the images online. Even received a text message from a friend saying “nice scans”.
What about the “look”?
I could and many do go on about the film “look”. Many discuss the added detail and subject isolation of larger analog formats that I either cannot afford in digital form or simply do not exist in digital form.
Some even argue that digital medium format is not truly medium format, but I will let others fight that out. I see their point, but would snatch up a digital medium format camera in a minute if I were ever able to locate that elusive money tree.
The look has as much to do with the lenses if not more so than the medium with which it is captured. With the aid of lens adapters perfectly imperfect optics like a TECHART AF or Helicoid MF adapter with a lens like the 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1…
…I can get close enough to the “look” with digital to meet my needs. There are even some modern digital cameras and lenses that remind me of what I love most about the look of my favorite film cameras and lenses.
In the end it really comes back to those three areas mentioned earlier.
So no matter how good or how “affordable” digital full frame and medium format cameras get as long as there is film on sale and a way to develop it I will also continue to shoot film. I may take breaks from film but I will always return. After a long hiatus I recently ran through quite a few rolls and I am working on two rolls as I write this.
I do not see digital as a replacement, but rather as a compliment to film.
- There are times that I just want the shot.
- There are times that conditions like weather do not make a good fit for film.
- There are times when I need a quick turnaround.
- There are occasions that are not special enough for film.
- There are times when the impracticality and lack of surety in outcome is not welcome.
- And there are time that I just want to burn through exposures.
- Sometimes I do not want to think.
The rest of the time you will likely find me shooting film.