Film Is Back — If You’re in No Hurry

Just when digital photography makes the life of a photographer easier than ever there is this new trend: film is back. Noisy, grainy, less convenient film. Not only is it more and more difficult and time-consuming to develop a role of film as compared to just uploading digital images. You’re limited to the 36 shots a roll of film can take and have no instant feedback, not to mention no delete button. You won’t know what your images will look until they’re developed. Still, film is back, just when you got digital technology. How come!

Film is back |
Does Kodak ring a bell? Old traditional film’s on the way out? On the contrary. While digital photography is booming, film refuses to die.

Film cameras and rolls of film were not too long ago relics of technology that anyone born after the 1980s may never, ever use. But contrary to “relics technology” such as typewriters, rotary phones and VHS tapes more and more people think that analog cameras are the real thing.

Are you from the generation that never handled a film camera? Nah, there was no wireless connection. Film needed to be loaded and all the rolls could easily fill a rather big bag when going on a longer journey.

Today a year’s photography can be compressed onto a tiny little memory card. If you’re not shooting medium format and are no artist or professional photographer, what’s the charm of shooting with film?

Or ask yourself this: Why is it that a photography app such as Hipstamatic that simulates film is one of the most popular photo apps. How come Lomography is taking off, a trend to leave the digital grind behind, and why is The Impossible Project possible, the saving of analog instant photography from extinction by releasing various, brand new and unique instant films. And don’t forget Fujifilm’s Instax instant photo system.

Lomography, The Impossible Project and Instax bring film to the attention of people who may never have thought about shooting with film — or people who are getting back into film after a long absence.

Seemingly archaic photography enthusiasts and hobbyists resurrect the art of film by embracing the imperfections of a roll of film — deliberately doing without the clean precision today’s digital cameras are churning out.

As with everything there are many pros and cons. Both digital and film photography have their merits and their flaws.

We talk about image quality later. First:

An analog camera seems to invite less operational problems than a digital camera filled with circuits and electronic parts. The mechanics of an analog camera are basic. As a luxury the film roll might rewind automatically. But that requires an extra battery…

Other than the shutter mechanism and the optics there’s not much that can break down. Today’s electronics-filled digital cameras though better be dust- and weather-sealed.

Then there are the economic considerations. Shooting with film might be cheaper, or not.

Let’s say if you absolutely want to shoot a Leica it will be cheaper for years to come if you buy a film Leica instead of a digital M. You can even set up a professional darkroom for the money you save, so there’s a convincing reason to go film.

But that’s if you’re fascinated by the magic red tot. Costs can become a major factor when shooting with film. Buying film, developing film… Even finding a place to develop film can be a challenge.

Developing it yourself — and we’re talking black-and-white film — is obviously the cheapest way. It’s also a fascinating way to widen the whole experience of photography.

You’ll most likely want to develop larger prints soon. Being the master over your photography from the capture to the print hanging on the wall can be a truly rewarding learning experience.

Instead of use pressing a button you know what the whole process is.

And you’re shooting “full-frame,” so lenses project the image circle they’re designed for.

But then again, with film you start counting your exposures. After 36 shots another roll of film is gone while your smartphone’s vast memory bank can document your breakfast, your lunch and dinner and meetings and night out without the slightest symptoms of fatigue.

Film makes you carefully weigh what you want to capture and what’s a waste of celluloid. But hey, that makes you more present in the moment. You’re not just glued to an LCD. You’re more aware of what’s going on around you, of what’s worth to capture and what not.

Shooting film makes you take your time. You’re not shooting by the dozen. Each capture counts. That can indeed make you a better, more aware photographer. Never mind the occasional out-of-focus. Overexposed? The more you get to know your gear the better your photography gets.

For a starter, until you know your camera, note down aperture setting and shutter speed of each image. No, there’s no EXIF data.

Last but not least, you’re quite an attraction with a film camera. Everyone’s shooting digital. Film? You’re the talk of the party while everyone wants to try their hands at wielding your old-fashioned gear.

Film is so retro that it’s cool again.

The transition from celluloid to digital film and its effective democratization of photography gives good old film a slightly snobbish, aristocratic aura. Well I can live with that.

Talking about film’s aura, and maybe this is for entertainment purposes only, but true film photographers insist there’s a magic to film which digital hasn’t touched yet.

I’m not so sure about that. Filters and post-processing offer so many opportunities to achieve “film look.”

The purists insist, resolution-wise yes, there’s equality, but film has a glow, tone and grain that to this day cannot be obtained by digital.

Much has to do with the film you’re putting in the camera. But film though has more emotion to it, more drama, they say.

Digital images can be almost sterile, clinical. Too clean, too real.

There’s something to this. Photos do somehow look more real when they don’t look too real.

So, now you only need a film camera. Which one?

I love the old Rollei 35mm with Tessar optics. World’s smallest top-notch quality rangefinders.

Any good camera dealer can tell you where to get one.

Now enjoy. Film cameras are gorgeous and the shooting experience can be beautiful.

If you’re in no hurry.

  • Ken Akiva Shapero

    Been shooting film continuously for 35 years. But the combination of digital and DXO FilmPak pretty much gets me the same results.

  • ronn aldman

    No it does not. Get the same results. The results are very good, and during some testing of digital cameras I have confirmed this, but the differences far outweigh the similarities.

    Beside other aspects, a digital file is still just a meaningless abstraction. A negative is for real. It exists in the real world.

    Another aspect is with digital post processing you can do…too much.

    Congratulations for sticking with film for 35 years. That makes two of us…and then some.

  • ronn aldaman

    I do not at all buy into the idea film is less convenient. If I go out and shoot two or three rolls of film on a weekend, my workload, beside being more enjoyable will be less than the guy or gal that took 2,000 digital images and will spend hours and hours uploading them, filtering them, probably making a lot of bad choices about which to keep and killing most of them through over post-processing.

    Then there is the storage, with back ups, exterior hard disks, EHD to back up the EHD etceteras etceteras etceteras.

    As for cost, you could get a very good film camera and two or three good second lenses for a fraction of the cost of a new digital camera. If you sell the film cameras one day down the road you will probably get most of your money back, or more. Sell a digital camera after five years? More like “give it away”.

    I will return…

  • ronn aldaman

    Another thing I find sadly hilarious is so many digital photographers searching for post-processing software that can make their digital images look like film.

    This sentence is great: “Photos do somehow look more real when they don’t look too real.”

    But again, when I think of moments in the post, I do not have a crystal clear image in my mind. It is a bit…well…grainy. And photographs are to some extent memories.

    So in a sense, photograph are more like real memories.