It’s 2014 and everyone shoots digital. The iPhone is the new Polaroid. It is an exciting time. It is amazing because it has only been about 10 years since digital photography really took the world by storm. Even then, it was too expensive for most people. The Nikon D100, once a $5,000 technological marvel, can now be found on ebay for pennies. I was married in 2003 and our photographer shot medium format. A lot of kids today don’t even know what film is. Some local places don’t even develop it anymore without sending it out.
So, why on earth would you shoot film?
The reasons are simple. First, it will make you a better photographer. There is something that just makes sense when you use something like an old Nikon FE. You read the analog meter in the viewfinder. You watch the little mechanical needle move up/down (depending on light) and then set the aperture and shutter speed accordingly. You need to know the film speed, typically 200-800 ASA (equal to digital ISO). Once you have your settings, you have 24-36 photos. You don’t have unlimited digital files. What does all this mean? For me, it taught me to be patient. It still teaches me to “see the scene” and think. You really miss out on the importance of photography when you just click, click, click, then delete. You might get a few decent shots digitally. But, when you learn exposure, combined with patience, something magical happens and you are rewarded with more memorable moments. Think about the albums of 4×6 prints you or your parents have. There are a lot of keepers in there. The few wasted clicks are in the trash.
Secondly, film has something hard to explain that digital just cannot replicate. Sure, a D800 with 36mp comes real close. Even better in many ways. But, the dynamic range with true printed film is infinite. There are no finite pixels. Colors just bleed together giving film a natural look. Even film grain is tastefully joyful when compared to harsh digital noise. There are expensive programs you can buy that make your squeaky clean digital image look like old Fuji Velvia 50 with moderate grain. Hmmm.
Instead, I just buy Fuji Velvia 50 film from Amazon or Adorama.com, shoot the actual scene with a 1970s $100 Nikon FE from ebay, then scan the negatives I get back from the store. You get the best of both worlds! Sure, this seems like a little too much complexity for many, but then again if you are reading my blog, you enjoy photography and are perhaps as passionate about it as I am. It really is not that much harder and in the end, you are rewarded.
Below is a scene shot with a Nikon FE. Nothing really “special.” But, it has a little extra indescribable something. The way the dynamic range seems a tad smoother. Maybe even a little less crisp. Not better than digital, just different. More pleasing to me in many ways.
Here some shots below using a very old Yashica-D Medium Format TLR, or twins reflex camera. This takes bigger square 120 film. I scanned the negatives into my computer with an Epson V600 photo scanner. I brought them into Adobe Lightroom and just enhanced the colors a bit. I love the dynamic range.
I don’t shoot film every day. But, I try to shoot film often. It is certainly not going to replace the act of using your iPhone to take a snapshot and then upload it to Facebook for the world to see in 10 seconds. That technology is simply amazing and allows for so many people to share their images that otherwise would reside in photo albums collecting dust in some basement. But, like those that refuse to give up their vinyl, I am not ready to shelf my film cameras. When I am bored (and semi-numb) culling through 10,000 digital RAW files, it is a breath of fresh air to load my camera with 120 speed Fujifilm and try to capture something worth photographing.
When you go back and pick up your digital camera, the lessons learned with film are not lost. In fact, they’re so present that you approach the scene with wider eyes, a little more patience, and a lot more skill.
If you are a beginner to film, go to ebay and search for a used Nikon FE and 50mm AI-S f/1.8 manual lens. The total cost will be under $200. Grab some cheap 400 speed film from Walmart and go for it. As your skills improve, you can buy more expensive films like Fuji Velvia or Ilford Black & White. If you want to shoot larger medium format film, you can grab a Yashica TLR for $100-200 (has built-in lens).
…go shoot film!