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Considering shooting with film? Then you should have a little read and I shall try to give you some compelling reasons as to why I think it is a good idea.
My name is Bellamy Hunt and I run the Japancamerahunter website, and I am an avid film shooter. Now, before we get started, this is not an argument about digital vs. film. Both have their merits and both have their flaws, and I shoot with both. This is primarily a piece for people who are considering shooting film for the first time, or perhaps getting back into film after a long absence.
Shooting film is not some deep dark mystery and it is not an outdated form either. It is still a perfectly valid form, which is actually not dying, contrary to popular belief. In fact film shooting is actually going through a renaissance at the moment with the resurgence of Polaroid through the impossible project and groups like Lomo.
This has bought film to the attention of people who may not be familiar with the medium and I hear about more and more people who would like to give it a try. But why? Why would you give film a try? Isn’t it terribly expensive?
Well, it doesn’t have to be.
There are a few ways to make it a cheap experience. You can buy generic non-branded films from bigger stores. The secret is that these films are actually reloaded film, minus the brand name. They are Kodak or Fuji in a different box. And they are often a lot cheaper. If you are feeling adventurous you can re-load film yourself. Kodak and Ilford still make bulk rolls of film, which you can put into a film loader and re-load your old cartridges. Doing this brings the price down massively, it is also a very relaxing way to spend an evening.
Developing also doesn’t have to be a killer. Doing it yourself is obviously the cheapest way, working out to be pennies per roll. It is also a lovely learning experience that can yield some really exciting results. But if you don’t have the space or time then you can still get the big supermarkets and drugstores to develop on the cheap.
Shooting film is not as expensive as you might think, and the rewards make the outlay worth it.
Shooting film makes you take your time, unless you are the reincarnation of Garry Winogrand. You have 36 shots to a roll and you want to make them count so you become much more aware of what is going on around you.
In my opinion it makes you a better photographer too. You will not be able to fire off a burst of 10 shots, just to get one image. You will have to be careful about your settings, your composition and content, it is a disciplined approach to photography.
It will also give you patience. Unless you are developing when you get home you are going to have to wait for a couple of days for your shots, and that gives you time to think about what you shot and how you might be able to do it better.
There is also the magic of getting those negatives back and seeing your pictures sealed on film, there is nothing like that feeling, especially when you see a picture that you are really proud of.
No they are not. There are many many different types of film camera out there, so I guarantee there is something for everyone. You want a rangefinder? No problem. An automatic compact? Got it. A 360 spinning camera? Yup.
On my site I have written extensively about different types of cameras and the cameras that are available for all different budgets. You don’t have to spend the earth to get into shooting film. Budget rangefinders and compact cameras can be bought for as little as $50. Compare that to your new Nikanontax D3600X4 and you are looking at a camera that can give you a lot of fun for the price of a nice meal.
Obviously you can spend a lot more, but that is up to you. Remember though, many of your modern DSLR and rangefinder cameras use the same lenses as your film camera, so you will be able to crossover with the minimum of fuss.
I mentioned before about the magic feeling of looking at your negatives. Well, this is real. There is something different about film and you can tell the difference between a film image and a digital image immediately. Film has a glow and tone that still cannot be obtained by digital. Digital images are almost too clean, too real. You never know quite what you are going to get with film. Each roll is different, each emulsion is different and that is the fun of it. Changes in temperature or the age of the film can have an effect on the way things turn out.
There are so many different types that you can endlessly experiment. I shoot digital for work and it is stable and fast. But it is the same, the same for each and every sensor. Which is why I shoot film for my personal work.
Film cameras are gorgeous. Really. I have a passion for film cameras and I love they way they look. Nowadays all of the cameras that come out are generic machines, they don’t have any flair or quirks, they are designed to be good at what they do, which is fine. But film cameras are quirky and different. Some of them are brilliant at what they do, some of them have little eccentricities that make them all the more interesting. But all of them come from a time when they really cared about making cameras not just a practical object, but a thing of beauty too.
So, why not give film a go, you might be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Do you need some more help? Need to find a camera? Then let me help you.
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August 22, 2012 03:27 pm
I shoot bought, digital and film but i have i am more happy when i shoot in film, so now i shoot 30% in digital and 70% in filme...and i might seel all my digital gear to stay what makes me happy... Film
June 4, 2012 06:02 am
I'm young enough that I can remember film cameras, but haven't really taken any photos with one. Someone recently donated a Zenit 12XP to me and I can't wait to give it a go!
May 31, 2012 03:36 pm
The latest post on the site is a piece about developing film for yourself. If you have ever wanted to get into it then this has all the info you need.
May 28, 2012 03:57 pm
Well that's great Phil, you have fun with that. I don't think anyone here cares that you hate film and only shoot digital. Go preach elsewhere
May 27, 2012 06:25 am
I have been dying for years to try out film photography. You've re-inspired me!
May 26, 2012 05:03 am
By the way - if you have never developed film by hand, find someone with a darkroom and ask if you can watch. Or better yet, ask if they will help you develop your own shots. It is a totally relaxing and enjoyable process. There is nothing like watching your image magically appear from nothing. Truth be told, it's my favorite part of the film experience!
May 26, 2012 04:53 am
Unfortunately I think Phil totally misses the point. You don't need a technical reason to shoot film - it is just relaxing and fun. While we may no longer use steam engines, there are thousands of people who will travel great distances to see one in action. It's about getting to enjoy and appreciate a beautiful piece of technology. I shoot both and enjoy both, but digital is a tool and film is an experience.
Don't even get me started on the environmental tripe. Unless you live naked in the wilderness and live off of sunshine and rainbows, you have an impact on the planet - as does every other living thing on earth. I have been developing my own film since the 1970's and I have never been overcome by the chemicals, not once.
May 26, 2012 01:06 am
I'm considering to give a go, but I have some questions:
What is better, scan the negatives or the printed copy?
Scan or use a digital camera to make pictures of the negative/printed copy? Ditigalize to TIFF ("raw" equivalent, I think) or directly to JPEG?
Sorry for the bad english.
May 25, 2012 11:51 am
I have my Father-in-Law's old Argus C4 rangefinder from the 1950s. It takes some getting used to being you have to meter it yourself. Fortunately I also possess a Sekonic L-398 (talk about "old school'). I cut my teeth on film and it makes you slow down when you're shooting-especially if you shoot with the larger sizes (medium and large format), that I've the pleasure of shooting with.
Don't get me wrong, I love working with digital too since it's my photographic mainstay. However, like others have suggested, a film camera-be it a "toy", SLR, TLR, or field camera-should be a part of any photographic toolkit. And (despite what our "eco-friendly" posters may feel, if you can process your own black and white (film and prints), that's even more fun.
Great post Bellamy!
May 25, 2012 08:31 am
The best, biggest benefit of shooting film? It looks freakin' gorgeous! Just check out these colors from my trip with Velvia 50:
Slide film costs a bit more, but it's some seriously brilliant stuff!
May 25, 2012 02:50 am
thank you so much for this article. my mom recently gave me her nikon em 35mm which she has had since mid 80's and had only taken 1 roll of film with! i had just begun to learn taking pictures with a digital so i am really excited about learning more about film. the last film camera i used was a kodak 110 so that should tell how long ago it's been:-)
May 25, 2012 02:26 am
I really enjoyed your article. I like to shoot with film for a multitude of reasons. Mainly because you have a picyure or you don't. I also shoot digital about 90% of the time. I usually add to my film camera collection by going to garage sales and flea markets. You really have to know what you are looking for at these venues.
May 25, 2012 01:13 am
Many of the arguments both for and against film are valid. Phil's argument that digital is better for the environment is absolutely true. Yes, harsh chemicals are used to make a memory card, but that card can be used over and over again. Film can only be used once. However, as other people have pointed out, film has it's merits.
May 25, 2012 12:52 am
Absolutely agree that film can and should have a place of pride in almost anyone's shooting arsenal.
I shoot both film and digital, and each has merits and each has down-sides. My most recent acquisition - a Nikon F4s, which I'm rapidly coming to completely love... it will be the flagship of the few film cameras I will keep (an F90x, F80 and F801s being the others).
Recently, I'm dead keen on starting to shoot both slide film again - just because - and Black and White (which I hope to develop and print myself). The last time I shot slides was on a European trip some 27 years ago, and those shots are still glorious to see, rich and dense with colour.
Re: Pollution from film developing: I don't really think that the number of film photographers now (or even during photography's heyday) were causing nearly as much pollution in a year as any small to medium-size factory pumps out in a week, or the world's automobiles do in 5 seconds.
Sure, it's not good to pollute, but I think with the politicians we have being so in the pockets of industry, and the movers and shakers more interested in profit this quarter than a life for our children and grandchildren... well... I just presume we're pretty much all goners - we just don't know it yet. We're certainly not doing much to alter the course of history, so we might as well record it.
So, let us use whatever cameras we enjoy to capture the transitory beauty of our fragile little planet-home for the benefit of future legions of alien archaeologists.
They'll marvel that an advanced people with such an eye for beauty can have destroyed themselves, the miracle of life on this planet, and their only home... for what?
May 21, 2012 11:13 am
yes they are goregous.
[eimg url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7229/7206861330_470d1e0300_m.jpg' title='7206861330_470d1e0300_m.jpg']
May 21, 2012 03:37 am
loved this! it inspired me to get out there and shoot!
May 21, 2012 12:39 am
There is a reason why Phill rhymes with dill.
I think it's just fine that you don't want to shoot film any more. That's your right, your right to choose the way you wish to capture an image.
Yes digital is more efficient in the way it records and reproduces an image.
I enjoy shooting digital but I also long for the good old days sometimes.
I think film should remain a valid art form alongside digital.
If we follow phil's logic then artists should also put down their brushes and paints because hey guess what guys, there is a faster way to express yourself now.
Forget about learning how to draw and paint, you can just do it all on the computer now.
No Phil there is a warmth and a passion that sometimes can only be experienced from doing things the old way.
I have to admit, I never thought I would pick up a film camera again but just recently I have. There is a beauty in old cameras that you just don't find in a digital camera.
May 20, 2012 10:00 pm
For everyone who thinks film is such a great medium, what happens when, as mentioned, you want to actually use that piece of film? What is the dynamic range of paper -- both photographic and inkjet? Without playing the number game, if not mistaken it is many times less than the film (especially slide). What is the “feel” of your prints versus the image on the film? Now you are standing in some dark room burning and dodging half a dozen pieces of paper just to get that one you wanted. So, congratulations on taking all that time, effort, waste of paper and chemicals to get a one-off image you can hang on your wall.
Also, can we stop saying that by shooting film makes you take your time and compose every shot? This is starting to sound like it makes you a better photographer. It does not. In fact I think it's contradictory to the general consensus we have all heard that you should keep shooting! If anything, taking more photographs gives you more experience, not the opposite. If you can't control your shutter button finger just because you don't have to reload as often, I think you should concentrate on that issue. There is absolutely nothing stopping you from NOT pushing the button! Film itself does not slow down the world around us, but a photograph can freeze it forever.
It is true that harsh chemicals are used in the manufacture of all computer chips. Also in plastics. And, I would wager to bet, in today's world, metals, glass and other products as well. I do not see the point in adding to the mix (pun intended) with something totally unnecessary.
And, how about that passing around negatives on that light box with, what…a loupe and a statement, “just think negatively and the image will be great.” Or, “I know it’s kind of small but just look at the dynamic range of my slide film. Isn’t it great?” Yeah, Grandma really likes those sessions [/sarcasm]
No thanks, I’ll take my modern, 21st century, PORTABLE, electronic display device to display my images. I can “share” an entire roll’s worth of photos to more people in this world within a couple minutes after taking them. Better yet, I can make real PRINTS of my photos, again minutes after taking them, to pass around to anyone. Meantime, we’ll all just get together sometime in a few days to share your negatives.
As a recent DPS pole reinforces, film is not only dead, it should be put to rest. Not with distain or with lack of respect for what it provided us, but with honor of a technology that helped shape our world.
May 20, 2012 09:40 am
Yea, for the longest time, I have coveted using medium format photography.. I've got my eye set on a Mamiya RZ67 system. However, my wife wants me to move from film to digital.
May 20, 2012 08:50 am
PS: Even though I shoot film, I can still learn from digital photography. After all, some things do not change, such as lighting. I am using the year 2012 to photograph the year exclusively using B&W film. Black and White photography has a classic look about it. 2012 is a year for me to experiment and grow; I am learning to visualize in B&W.
PSS: Digital photography is basically B&W photography. What the sensor reads is either a 0 or a 1..
May 20, 2012 08:33 am
Toxic and noxious chemicals are used are used in the manufacture of the digital chips that you are so dependent on. Chip foundries that create the digital sensors that you so desire require lots of water and lots of power. Do you know that your water you drink is pure? Where do you get your power for your home from? Coal? Nuclear? Hydro? Are you contributing to global warming?
A simple chemical battery powers my Canon A-1 for more than a year, How long does your battery last before you have to recharge it? Again, how do you get your power?
For the rest of us and Bellamy Hunt:
Persoally, I think this was a great article. The use of film forces one to think before they click the shutter button. I was at an airshow a few weeks ago, I ordered 6 rolls of ISO 400 B&W film prior to the show and I ended up using almost all six. I learned something the other weekend that when photographing high-performace, precision jet pilots, such as the Air Force Thunderbirds, during their "knife edge pass", use the motor drive that I have for my Canon and bring more film. I used the motor drive a while ago and got some great action shots.
But there is the "digital shoebox:. Those are the photographs that were taken that will never, ever be shared with another person. Sharing digital photographs involves passing around the camera for the "Ooohs & Ahhs!" or passing around the laptop. Perhaps, Phil uses the proverbial "slideshow" and subject his friends to a PowerPoint presentation of his travel photography.
I can look at the negatives of the photographs of what I took and see the subject. Pill, looking at a CD, just sees 1001001100011.
May 20, 2012 04:53 am
I love this article. I love film and film cameras too! I think back to when I was a teenager, and all of the power I held in my hands, just having my camera. Wow, I have to get one again. Thanks for the inspiration, passion, and tips.
May 20, 2012 03:36 am
I still have my trsty Canon AE-1. I'm in the process of purchasing a high res slide scanner and upgrading my computer to manage very large files. My plan is to do 3 or 4 images on color slide and stitch them together for panos.
May 19, 2012 10:37 pm
Thanks for all of the nice comments guys. I really like to hear peoples stories about getting back into film.
May 19, 2012 04:24 pm
What do you shoot with Tim?
May 19, 2012 12:43 pm
Bellamy, very nice article. As you point out B&W film photography had so many variables involved it is surprising we got the pictures we got. There were many choices for film, chemicals, papers and processes you just kept trying until you found what worked best for what you were trying to do. The camera was just a tool to capture the image. The photograph was made in the darkroom. Today we have photoshop. I think it is pretty funny that Leica wants us to believe they have reinvented the wheel with the M-Monochrom. All that they really have done is try to sidestep the process. Those who pay the Leica high price of admission will never admit that they are not the next generation of Ansel Adams.
May 19, 2012 11:07 am
Dont jump into film with 35mm. right now Medium format 120 or 220 is dirt cheap. and you get to play with a format that makes 35mm look like a joke.
right now you can get a like new incredible medium format camera with a lens or two for less than $500 all over the internet or camera shops, so it's dirt cheap to get into with a gigantic upgrade to 35mm.
I utterly love the medium format square, and the photos are magically spooky sharp. Sharp enough to put my 24megapixel DSLR completely to shame.
May 19, 2012 10:29 am
I have recently gone back to using an old Canon and loving it. Just as you said, I needed to learn to be patient in waiting for the right image. This has also served to help me 'slow down' and take the time to enjoy the world a little more as well.
I have just picked up a Diana. It and the film were so cheap I could not resist it. And it's so much fun.
Thanks for the article, and I simply love your in your bag feature. However I must admit I have gear envy almost every single day.
May 19, 2012 09:32 am
Nicely written Bellany. I just got my first film camera as you know and I am loving it...
May 19, 2012 08:31 am
Great to see film still hanging around, haven't shot any in years but do enjoy teaching a photo 101 class now & then. In a number of ways it just seems much less complicated than digital, figure out the f-stop/shutter speed & you're good to go, there's no having to dig thru piles of menus to find settings/modes. .
May 19, 2012 05:54 am
I started shooting seriously (briefly for a living) in 1990 and went as far as building my own color darkroom. I have loaded, shot, and developed more rolls of film, including large format, than I care to count.
I agree that film has larger dynamic range (at least for now) and requires more patience and discipline when it comes to composing, taking, and developing. But, aside from these points, I do not see the need, or benefit, of using film to take photographs. Well, maybe to be nostalgic. In which case, I suggest you don’t stop there and to try your hand at daguerreotype or cyanotype processes among others.
Also, there are the chemicals. These are noxious, toxic, concoctions that require serious safety precautions for handling. You should not touch them much less inhale them and they have made me physically sick many times. They are not good for either humans, or the environment! And, these chemicals are also unreliable because of varying factors such as PH levels, temperature, and dilution from improper mixing or previous usage.
I used to buy bulk and load my own rolls just to try to stuff as much of the film as I could get into the cans. Then try to cram as many rolls into my camera bags as I could. They got scratched, became dirty and were susceptible to swings in temperature, humidity and light until developed. Then they have to be placed in archival sleeves and kept in a cool, dark place until ready for use. I’m sorry, but I would rather carry a tiny piece of plastic and metal that is reusable and can hold hundreds or thousands of shots. Back in the film days, there was a popular saying “film is cheap” meaning never stop shooting. I did not then and more so now.
And, finally, speaking of using the images, I now have a collection of over 4,000 slides and negatives combined. Both color and B/W, and over the past six months have spent countless numbers of hours trying to get them scanned into a computer, at some sort of decent quality, so I can actually use them. Over the past 20 years, many have faded and obtained scratches even with minimal amount of handling. Nikon no longer makes the best scanners and I had to resort to another brand all the time trying to correct for fading and different color casts of the many types of film I’ve used.
As soon as digital sensors started matching the quality of film (surpassing it in some areas), I not only welcomed this revolution, but reveled in glory that it brought to the world. I could not get rid of my film camera quick enough and have never looked back at this archaic, harmful, and wasteful process. I just have to spend another six months getting the rest of my film scanned and hopefully will hopefully never have to deal with them again.
I wish everyone who missed out using film for photography would please keep in mind that our society no longer uses steam engines and we do not light our homes with whale oil for very good reasons as well.
May 19, 2012 04:42 am
Ooh timely and tempting (for me)--I've been thinking about a polaroid. The expense is definitely one daunting dimension. Any resources I should look into before I go for it?
May 19, 2012 03:30 am
Forgot to post my favorite photo I've taken, ever! With a disposable camera:
May 19, 2012 03:28 am
Finally, some sanity! lol, I follow your website and love shooting with film. Just a different look, but also a very different went of photography. Especially the manual the camera gets, the more interesting it is! And that does include developing and the whole lot alongside that.
Just a couple of shots I've taken. I use a Pentax Spotmatic; I have it with me right now!
May 19, 2012 02:42 am
Great timing. I just purchased a little film camera from ebay at the grand cost of £5. Took a photo of it http://www.flickr.com/photos/flixel/7217288866/
May 19, 2012 01:58 am
Last month I gave a new opportunity to my father's Zenit and that's what happened!
I really like it, now I've to see if it's the camera or was the film... big surprise!
May 19, 2012 01:31 am
I shoot film from time to time again just to keep the spiders out of my old gear and to keep myself sharp. I even revert back to a handheld light meter, and always have everything set to manual. Taking time to compose and think about your image is paramount in my mind...here is a shot of some of my old gear!
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