Why Film?

Let me start by saying that I’m a digital camera junkie. I love technology. I love everything about working with digital images… the number of images that can fit on a tiny memory card, the sharpness and amount of detail that can be captured with good bodies and lenses, the instant gratification that comes from looking at an LCD screen and the amount of flexibility available while editing. Why, then, would I ever want to shoot film instead of digital?

First off, this is not a film vs. digital debate. Some people like shooting film, others prefer digital. Each has its own unique benefits. Each also has a downside. I’m not trying to defend either medium of photography. I think everyone should shoot with whatever makes them happy. Instead, I want to tell you why I started shooting film last year and why I’m still shooting it today.

About a year ago I was browsing the stalls of an antique shop and came across a Yashica-D twin lens reflex (TLR) camera. For some reason I felt compelled to buy it and shoot a few rolls of film. Having never used a TLR before, the first time I opened the lens shade and looked inside I was mesmerized by what I saw. I became infatuated with peering down through the ground glass viewfinder at the reversed image of what was in front of me. While I metered for my exposure and slowly focused and composed each shot, I found myself really paying attention to my composition and waiting for the perfect moment to trip the shutter. After all, I only have 12 shots per roll of 120 film. Each shot has to count!

Once I finished a few rolls of film, I needed to get them developed. The wait was agonizing! I was so used to the instant gratification of digital that waiting for film to be developed and scanned was torture. I could barely even remember what was on those rolls of film. Eventually, the day came that the lab let me know that my images were ready to download. I felt like I was back in the days of dial-up while I waited for my zip files to download… it seemed to take forever! When they were finally on my computer, I opened up my first film scans.

I really didn’t know what to expect. Would they be in focus? Would they be properly exposed? I didn’t even know if the camera worked or if I loaded the film properly, so I wasn’t sure there would even be any images to see! To my delight, the images on my computer screen were beautiful! They were vibrant, properly exposed and in focus. They had a very different feel to them than I was used to, but it immediately felt right to me. I was smitten.

It’s been over a year now since those first rolls of film. I finally feel like I’m figuring out my personal tastes for cameras, film stocks and applications. Although I have started weaving film into my professional work, I don’t plan on it ever replacing digital. Instead, it’s more of a “product” that I can offer my clients, similar to a new type of album or canvas. Film is something that my clients can choose if they wish, but my default remains digital.

For personal work, I choose to shoot film. For the last four trips I’ve taken, the majority of my images were captured on film. Even as I type this, I’m sitting on a plane that’s heading towards San Francisco. In my camera bag I’ve got my Nikon F100 and a Polaroid SX-70. It’s not that film is easier to work with. Believe me… lugging around a TLR or a Polaroid camera that uses pack film is far from convenient. Instead, I feel like it allows me to see more of what’s around me. I don’t feel compelled to take a photo of everything that looks interesting just because I can. I ask myself, “is that worth taking a picture of?” and, based on the answer, I either take a photo or move on. When I do decide to take a photo, I slow down my entire process. I carefully consider my subject and composition. If I’m using a rangefinder or a camera without autofocus, I take my time focusing. Instead of taking 1/500th of a second to take a photo, my process can stretch out to a minute or more. I usually take one photo, hope that it was properly exposed and in focus and then I move on.

When I send my rolls of film out for developing and scanning, it can sometimes take up to a month to get the scanned images back. When they do come back, they are essentially finished images. It’s amazing what a good lab can do for your images. They take care of exposure, white balance and contrast. If you just want to download them and print them, they are going to look great. Of course, some are inevitably soft, but that’s just the way things go. The majority of my film images are good shots that I consider “keepers” (a much higher percentage than compared to digital).

The Appeal of Film

So what exactly is the appeal of film? It’s going to be different for everyone, but I can tell you why I love using it. First off, I slow down when I shoot with film. I shoot more carefully and I shoot fewer images. The images are not as “perfect” as digital images, but the tone, softness and grain of my film work is something that I enjoy very much. I love sending off my rolls of film, waiting anxiously for the scans to arrive and having beautiful images (and sometimes unexpected surprises) come back to me. I really enjoy trying new types of film and seeing which ones fit my shooting style best. But most of all, I think I love the cameras. To me, there is a certain thrill and satisfaction that comes from using a camera that is considered by many to be a useless, antiquated piece of history. I have found that many older cameras have their own unique qualities and feel, both in the way that they function and in the images that they produce. My Yashica-D gives me very different results than my Holga, which gives me very different results than my Mamiya 645 did. Although they all use the same type of film they all create entirely different images. Given the number of film cameras available and all of the different types of film that can be used, the combinations that are possible and the unique images resulting from any given combination are endless!

Although film may be slower, less perfect, less predictable and sometimes even more expensive than digital, it has definitely found a place in my heart. I embrace it’s imperfections and celebrate it’s analogue nature. When I want perfect, predictable, immediate and consistent results, I shoot digital. When I want something else, I choose to shoot film.

But one thing that film experience taught me, which I now apply to digital as well, is to take time and do a better job with composing, framing and taking images, not spray and pray just because I can…

Cameras used, for photo pairs from top to bottom: Yashica-D TLR, Holga, Nikon F100, Polaroid 360/Polaroid 635CL.

Some more film samples:


Comments

  1. 1
    ) dino

    Hello
    I got to your same conclusion a few years ago and I can tell you about more.
    Such imperfections you like talk about LIFE. Life is never perfect and clean as digital makes our eyes to believe. They are for sure nicer as the classic shiny red apple you get at the market instead of another who underwent a bump.
    But think for a moment of another comparison. I’m sure you have in your wardrobe an old pullover made by your mom, grandmother, aunt or who knows else. I’m also sure you have a tech and modern jacket. When you go out, you’re likely to put your jacket on, while you’re at home you’ll likely use the pullover. Why ?
    They both keep you warm. The jacket is also trendy but it will be replaced at a certain point in time. Your pullover, instead, is there since many years because it’s not giving you “only” warmth, but much more. It’s still giving you the smell of who did it many years ago. Such smell will sparkle to your mind so many pleasant memories.. and such memories have no price, no time to be flushed from your memory.
    So, enjoy film and don’t forget that usually film is printed and really in front of your eyes. Digital images are often piled up in hard disks and amen. You take so many of them that most of them – even if awesome – statistically are later superseded by newer ones.
    I have only 1 DSLR ( D700 ) and three film cameras ( F6 / F80s / FM3A ), I decided to give my F100 as a present for a very dear friend of mine. I shoot Portra 160 most of the time and portra 400 when there’s no light. Tri-X 400 is for black and white, a “classic” that never lets you down.

    • That’s so true! Life is never perfect or flawless. Maybe that’s why film’s imperfections make it so charming.

      I also love the Portra line of films and tend to lean towards Tri-X 400 for BW work.

      Thanks for the great insight!

    • 59
      ) Alfredo Martin

      I am not someone who writes in English very well, but I shall try to explain two things:
      I aminvolved in this digital world sice 1990, but I process films by myself, merely because I started seriusly in photography in 1965 and there was no “digital anything” by that time.
      Why I send this comment?
      It is because I’ve discovered also that certain images, mostly in “transparency/slides film” are so luxurious in detail, that compared to digital, these are simple TREASURES in detail, definition and color rendition, and if you are using a very good camera with the right optics, it is possible to surpass in quality what can be obtained by digital means.
      I’ve also known that for instace, Ilford B&W film is still obtainable, and also same brand chemicals, to release the wonders B&W photography can render to anyone who knows how to excecute a good development of these films.
      I have a “doube rendition” scanner (Umax Astra 1200S) and even though it’s a “museum piece”, its possibilities of scanning negatives (B&W or color) and slide film, lets me enjoy digitalyzed images that are “out of this world”, and that is why I would strongly recommend to anyone to learn and deeply practice at least B&W development processes to obtain THE MOST out of what traditional B&W may deliver. Scanning these results will deliver delicious digital images difficult to surpass in rendition and quality in details.
      Thanks for reading.

  2. 2
    ) Prabhav

    Excellent article and beautiful pictures John! This is why I keep coming back to Mansurovs, to read articles like this. Now I feel like going out and shooting some Holga that has been gathering dust on the shelf.

    • Thank you! I really enjoy shooting with my Holga because you just never know what you’re going to get back from the lab. Go for it!

  3. Hi John,

    Really good article about film. I also got exited when I got my first film camera (a Nikon N8008) but was disappointed when I got my film from the “lab” (since it was my first time, I choose Walmart and the results where horrible). Which lab do you guys use?

    I also got a Polaroid 100 Land camera – which I think bridges the beauty of film and the instant gratification of digital.

    Thanks!

    Daniel

    • Hi Daniel,

      I currently use Pro Photo Irvine but am trying out some local labs as well.

      I really enjoy the Polaroid pack film cameras, as they do give you instant gratification in an analog format!

  4. 4
    ) Tim

    Great article!! I only recently left film for digital, so I still set up, compose, and shoot one, maybe two pictures. I then don’t immediately look at the results, rather wait until I get back home (or in my tent when backpacking) to go over them. So I’m still trying to maintain the joys of film shooting that you have described here. Thanks for reminding me to keep that focus!

    • Thanks Tim! I have noticed that as I shoot more film I look at my screen less and less when I shoot digital. The opposite was true when I started shooting film… I’d keep looking at the back of my camera, only to see nothing!

      • 20
        ) Tim

        John – I actually turned off the screen on the back of my digital for two reasons…first, I prefer to shoot through my viewfinder (old habits never die), and second, I backpack for multiple days on end, and want to be sure the battery lasts for my trip. You know, just thinking, the other big advantage of my film camera….weight and size!! My new digital and lenses easily double the weight of my old film camera/lenses and take up much more pack space!! So for hiking/backpacking, that heavy pack just gets heavier!!

  5. 5
    ) Jim

    Love it. I’ve seen several well known digital photographers (David duChemin most recently) who have begun shooting film again. There have been a number of threads even in DPReview (with the usual DPR caustic comments) on this subject.

    About a year ago I dusted off a couple of Polaroid SLRs I had stored away for years and purchased some film from the Impossible Project folks. Then I began looking for a MF film camera. Incredibly a friend of mine who is a retired professional photographer gave me his Hasselblad equipment. So now I just need to actually start using it.

    Film isn’t going to steal people away from Digital, but it definitely adds another dimension to photography.

    • There are definitely a lot of photographers who are starting to shoot film again. It might be a bit of a trend right now that will eventually die down, but I don’t ever see it disappearing completely.

      Go use that Hasselblad equipment!

  6. 6
    ) Peter

    I had a Yashica-D twin lens reflex in 1960 and loved it. I shot film for 47 years – color 35 mm slides and developed and printed my own B&W prints. The discipline of shooting with film is with me today. I still frame and shoot like I had 36 exposures in a 16 GB memory card. It was a great time, and I’m glad I experienced it.

    However, I would never go back to it. Digital is far more fun, allows for greater creativity, and opens up many more opportunities to get published. And…if you so desire, you can make your digital prints look like film prints with the right plug-ins. I see no redeeming factors associated with film use in the 21st century (sorry Ken Rockwell) except for nostalgia and reading interesting articles like this one.

    • Film is definitely a good way to develop shooting discipline, but I agree that learning curves and creativity can be greatly expanded with digital. As you mention, it’s also quite easy to emulate the film look with plug-ins. I think for me, although digital is superior in so many ways, it’s the nostalgia and mystery of film that keeps me interested.

  7. Hi John, it’s very refreshing to me reading an article like this. I started with digital photography about 3 years ago but just a year later I got a Nikon N75, and since them I haven’t stopped shooting film.
    I own many cameras today, digital and film, from a Nikon D800 to medium format cameras, just like the Yashica-D you mentioned.

    I couldn’t agree more with your point of view. For me, film has a special character that can’t be described with words, and digital can’t replace it. While I do use my digital camera a lot, I choose film for my family shots and for those pictures I really care about.

    • That’s great that you’ve found a balance between digital and film that works for you. I’m glad to hear it!

  8. 8
    ) david distefano

    i have just purchased my first dslr a nikon d800. i have shot film from hasselblad to 8×20. i shoot the d800 the same way i shoot my f5, hasselblad, or large format. if the image is not worth film, it is not worth digital. photography is not point and shoot for me. i have my 4×5 and 8×10′s drum scanned at 10900 dpi and no dslr or mf digital can equal the images from these scans. and finally there is a feel to images from film that is not there from digital images, similar to the better sound quality of vinyl albums over cd’s. i like the d800 and use it for prints up to 16×20, but if i know the image is going to be printed at a larger size i will use large format film. i also am using the d800 for black and white but not to print digitally in black and white. i make a black and white negative and print on a silver gelatin contact paper or make a platinum image. also for you young guys a 4×5 is a great chick magnet. i was backpacking in the sierra mountains and when i had the camera out the humans of the female sex were always coming over wanting to know what i was doing and i had many long conversations but alas i was married etc. etc. i do have 1 complaint with the explosion of digital photography. there has been a loss of etiquette when people are trying to shot because everyone wants to get their shot. if i’m shooting sports no question d4, low light situation d3s-d4-d800 with any one of nikons 1.4 lenses, weddings d4-d800 mf digital, landscapes large format film or betterlight scan back, high end mf digital d800. pick the right tool for the right job.

    • It sounds like you have a great system and more experience shooting film than I will ever have! One of these days I’d love to shoot with a 4×5 and make some prints from those big negatives.

  9. Great Post John. I’ve also began shooting film in the past few years and it’s been a rewarding experience. You’re so right that it’s not about “digital vs. film” – each has it’s unique style and look and I enjoy shooting both. Fantastic photos by the way!

    • Thanks, Barry! I never thought it would be as rewarding as it has been. Glad I’m not the only one!

  10. Excellent post! Since I bought my Nikon F5 camera 4 years ago I have continued to buy more cameras until totalling almost 40. Then I reduced my analog cameras arsenal to a few that I really enjoy. You’re right in this article, each camera gives a different look. I really enjoyed this article.

    • That’s a lot of cameras! I’m afraid I’ll get there before narrowing it down to the few that I really enjoy, too.

  11. 14
    ) Art

    Thank you for a wonderful article. I almost exclusively shoot digital these days but about once a month I started to break out my old Nikon FA and shoot about four rolls of Velvia 50. It brings me back to the basics of what photography started out as. Since I started shooting film I have noticed a big improvement in my digital shooting. Thanks again.

    • That’s great! It’s definitely good practice, especially shooting slide film. That will keep anyone sharp!

  12. I used to shoot 35mm, 5×4, 6×17 and several intermediate formats, mainly on Velvia and printing to Cibachrome. I now have a D3s, a D3 and a Fuji X100. I haven’t shot film for a couple of years now but I still have most of the cameras and lenses and might go back to 6×17 or 5×4 some day. I shoot live music, some street photography, wildlife and landscape. For live music and wildlife, digital is far better. Street photography could be either but my film cameras aren’t that suitable. With landscape, as David Distefano says, large format film (5×4 or 6×17 and larger) still has greater potential for image quality.

    For shooting film with a digital workflow, the big bottleneck is the scanning. Resolution from film isn’t going to be much more than 4,000dpi. A good flatbed scanner like an Epson V700 will be good enough for most purposes but will deliver something like 2,500dpi. You could purchase an Imacon to get full resolution but that costs $10,000 and scanning services that use an Imacon or a drum scanner are not likely to be cheap.

    For myself, I want to take responsibility for all aspects where skill contributes to the final result – otherwise it isn’t really my image and also if I applied myself well enough I could probably get it better. Therefore unless your scanning service is using something like an Imacon or a drum scanner, you’re better off getting a V700 and doing it yourself, provided you’re using enough film to justify the cost of the scanner. And if I were getting scans made, my preference would be to get the scanning equivalent of a RAW file, with all highlight and shadow detail intact (so a somewhat flat appearance) and minimum adjustments – then process myself in Photoshop or Lightroom.

    There’s another reason to get into film, though. I believe it’s the cheapest route to quality photography. You can pick up good medium format cameras and lenses cheaply and darkroom equipment for next to nothing. Use black and white or chromogenic film and print monochrome in the chemical darkroom. You’ll need to purchase film and processing chemicals and you’ll use much more paper but it will work out much cheaper than digital with technological obsolescence, memory cards, computers, data storage, software and software updates. I didn’t say it was easy, though. It’s not to hard to get average results; it takes a lot of time, dedication and skill to get excellent results. I’ve given away my enlargers and I’m not tempted to go back. But it is much cheaper.

    • 32
      ) Peter

      You brought up a very good point that I failed to mention above. In film days you could buy a good camera and have it for many years. The only thing that would change was film. My Nikkormat EL still works but hasn’t been fed for 8 years.

      The issue of planned digital camera “obsolescence” – a new model every 12 months – is something that I once got caught up in but have learned my lesson. That is the one thing I dislike about the digital age, but it no longer affects me. I don’t NEED more than a 12MP full-frame camera – a D700 – and I refuse to get sucked into the marketing hype.

  13. 25
    ) JL Cortado

    find it funny that after watching this video, this article popped up in my FB newsfeed.

  14. 26
    ) Arvind

    Thank you very much for the excellent post, John. Glad to see an invaluable addition to the Mansurovs team. I am yet to venture into SLR photography, saving for a D7000 or its upgrade and a good normal prime. However, I have been visiting Nasim’s Web site quite for a while. I would admit that even without having a DSLR of my own, I have learned so much from the Mansurovs that I would not have imagined learning at a photography class. Keep it up.

    • Thanks, Arvind. I think that you can always learn concepts and techniques, even without having a DSLR to practice with. Hopefully when you get yours your learning curve will be much easier!

  15. 27
    ) Pascal

    Great article; enjoyed reading it.
    Not to start a debate here, but I wouldn’t say that film is less perfect. I find that film produces “more natural” looking pictures compared to digital. And it is that part that makes some people fall in love again with film. Digital is so flexible and it allows a lot of manipulation in post processing. Maybe this is the reason why film is more natural.
    Anyway, I bought my first digital camera not long ago (D7000). And I must say I like the flexibility of digital a lot. I love it so much that I’m not going to bother with film anymore but I won’t sell my film gear either. I’ll give it place in my personal museum.

    • Thanks, Pascal. I can’t argue with anything you said, as I agree!

  16. 28
    ) Mike

    John
    Thanks for the interesting article.
    I am a digital shooter but your article made me think about being careful when composing rather than just press the shutter release over and over thinking at least one shot will be good.
    Take the tome to peruse the scene,thnk about what you want to achieve,compose carefully,then take the shot.
    Digital can make one careless.
    I think we have lots to learn from those”old time” film buffs-and I use that term with respect!
    Mike

    • Mike, you make a good point. You don’t have to shoot with film to slow down and be more careful with your photography. It’s very possible with digital as well, just not necessary like it is with film.

  17. 29
    ) Graham

    I remember how my composition matured immeasurably after looking down onto the screen of a Mamiya RB 6*7 (through the underrated and hard-to-find, lightweight Spot Hood), having previously used 645 and Nikon. It gives an overview of matters of balance, and makes you consider the corners especially.
    I also remember endless disappointment at the grainy lack of quality from even ISO 400 slide film: I often chose Kodak 100 over Velvia as a compromise, when carrying just one body, to allow for the many occasions when film-speed mattered. And photo libraries rarely accepted these results at 400 (I am not a pro sports specialist.) Not to mention underexposed slides, until at great cost I learned better (when they returned, with luck unscratched, from even the best pro labs), that Velvia should have been rated at ISO 32 or 40…
    So the ability with Digital instantly to switch ISO speeds and Colour Balance is of incalculable value, unless one is shooting a single assignment in predictable lighting. Enthusiasts are doubtless cheered too, that so many ‘near-misses’ can be rescued from RAW after the event, successfully to reflect what was envisaged (where a pro would have exposed and filtered with more skill in the first place). Not to mention adding contrast and saturation in less than perfect weather…
    The real lesson of course is to think before you press the shutter. There is a ‘gut’ recognition, in shooting, when everything comes right simultaneously: the knowledge that you have realised what is pre-visualised. Why waste hours at a computer screen afterwards, sorting and correcting, hoping to rebuild what you know you did not recognise at the time? (Film would have gone in the bin.) Better still, it then leaves you time to reply to blogs like this one, and even to type Capitals and other punctuation!

  18. 30
    ) Alan

    Hi John, excellent article which got me thinking.
    Being a semi-retired pro in the autumn of my years, who was brought up on film – Hasselblad, Rollieflex AND 5 x 4 plates, I was never really satisfied with the results from my D300. There was always something missing with the image quality. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem – they where nicely exposed, had good colour and contrast – highlights not bleaching out as on cheaper digitals and very little obvious grain/noise.
    Recently I bought a D800 and now I know what was missing! DX formats and the like, are just not, consistantly, good enough for someone brought up on film. My results from the D800 (even with a shaky hand) give my back the quality I have been missing. A further advantage over film is the superb sensitivity of the D800. I shoot aerial pictures and on a recent test I let the auto ASA (sorry, ISO) do what it wanted. I was amazed at the quality, particularly in shadow detail, at 1600 ISO. I could never have obtained similar results with film and certainly not DX formats.
    Another aspect, which you mentioned, is that I also now take more time over a shot – mainly because I’m not able to spray off several hundred shots on a card because of the D800 file size!
    So what am I saying? In my humble opinion, film can give beautiful results but digital is more adaptable, and now, with the D800, I am able to give results with which I am content.

    • You’ve got that right about the D800 file sizes. It will definitely make you a more careful shooter once your cards start filling up more quickly and your processing times increase due to the larger files.

  19. 31
    ) Tim Layton

    John, I really enjoyed your article. As a 30+ year veteran of film I am delighted that you discovered the wonders and magic of analog film and ways to leverage it into your work and personal images. At the age of 14 I built a darkroom in my parents home and started with a Mamiya C220 TLR that was my dads from 1968. I’ve never looked back and have only expanded into large format to even include the older mediums such as wet plate collodion, paper negatives, and dry plate (glass plates) in addition to sheet film. I still have and use the Mamiya TLR camera to this day, by the way. For my commercial work I absolutely take advantage of digital (Nikon D4, Hasselblad CFV-50) because it is what makes sense for my clients and for the project. All of my fine art work has been exclusively made with film and hand printed in the darkroom since 1979 and that still remains true to this day. I think one of the things that I like most about my trusted Hasselbad 503CW is that I can put 120 film backs on it and the next shot I can mount my CFV-50 digital back. For a lot of my commercial work I shoot it with the digital back and then run a roll of Portra or Tri-X for my own purposes and many times the clients end up picking those images. Anyway, I really enjoyed your article and I hope you keep exploring film and analog in your work and for yourself. I host a blog dedicated to black and white film and all the associated subject matter over at blog.blackandwhitefineart.net that your readers may be interested in.

    All the best,

    Tim Layton

    • Thanks, Tim! I’ll definitely be spending some time browsing your blog and enjoying your work.

    • nice blog Tim

  20. 33
    ) Rohan

    Excellent Article John.

    Add another one (myself) to film.
    I have never done film before. Got D700 and a bunch of lenses.
    I stumbled upon a few film images on the net and fell in love with the ‘feel’ & ‘touch’ of it.

    Got myself a Nikon FA (for less than $50) not more than a month back – and I am enjoying it much much more. Seriously, D700 stays on the side.

    I believe my film experience will make me a much better digital snapper.

    regards,
    Rohan.

    • I know some people who have had the same experience. Once they started shooting film, they find themselves using their digital cameras less and less. Enjoy!

  21. 34
    ) david distefano

    when driving through springville utah on your way to zion national park, stop in at michael fatali’s gallery and see his images from 4×5 and 8×10 color transparencies. they will blow you away.

    • 35
      ) Tim Layton

      David, you are absolutely correct. I treasure my large format chromes like they are gold. Of course they look good scanned and the analog prints are brilliant, but looking at them on a light table is not comparable to anything else.

      Tim

      • 42
        ) david distefano

        if i was filthy rich i would buy a 16×20, load the film holders with velvia and have the chromes mounted on the walls framed with lightboxes. to me that would be the epitomy of color photography!

  22. So sad that my film pics STILL look better than my digital…I have much to learn.

    I still have an F100 and a F5 to compliment a D3 and D800. It seems film is catching on again as I’m seeing more choices in developing-and-scanning services. It was hard to find a good one though as some don’t take the time to color correct and clean up the artifacts their scanners introduce into a film image.

    Great article and reflects the sentiments of a larger number of photographers than you know. In January, http://www.techradar.com interviewed a Lomography executive and wrote: …Heidi Mace, Online Manager for Lomography UK, told us, “Film sales are growing month on month, film for us is our biggest selling category by quantity, in every country.” …

  23. 44
    ) Tim Layton

    I’m back again John… all these great comments from everyone keeps sucking me back in… Obviously you have struck a cord with this article! I read something today that I thought was interesting. There are over 2 billion people in the world today taking photos and we generate more images in 2 minutes then we did in all of the 20th century.

    We have more options today with photography than we have ever had in history but with that in mind the actual percentage of photographers generating a measurable income via their work is likely extremely low. We have a lot of people with disposable incomes that have the option of counting digital pixels versus learning a craft. I could draw several conclusions from this, but it would be subjective at best and it really doesn’t matter what my opinion is anyway.

    I want to remind people that it is okay to slow down and to make a few really good photos with digital or analog cameras. I have over 20,000 negatives in my catalog spanning three decades and I could count on my hands and toes the number of the prints that are exceptional. Some of the younger generation has no idea what it means to actually make a print. Photography to them is taking a photo with their smart phone and posting it on Instragram or updating their Facebook page. I have no idea if that is photography or not, but for me personally it isn’t even close. And, I have no problem with anyone that thanks photography is taking images with their iPhone and using the latest app to make them look like my darkroom prints. It’s all fine by me.

    It is still a viable option to have a completely analog workflow and simply not involve a computer. For black and white photographers it is a fairly easy process to develop your own film and a few classes at a local community college and they are making half-way decent prints in the darkroom. I can take any of my fully manual cameras and load some Tri-X, rate it at ISO 250 and using the Sunny 16 rule take beautiful photos all day long. I can develop the film in about 45 minutes and make a contact sheet in less than 5. My point is that you can absolutely have a computer-less workflow if you want to. You can jump into the modern world by taking a photo of your darkroom print with your iPhone and upload that to Flickr, Instragram, Twitter or whatever you feel like! In 20 or 30 years from now you will be really glad that you made those prints because those are the memories that we hang on to later in life. I recently lost my brother and that was a horribly painful experience. At his funeral we were able to share everything from Polaroids to a variety of prints over his lifetime. It is the one thing that brought a little bit of joy in our hearts. Those photos were invaluable and could never be replaced in my mind.

    In my day I took pride in learning my craft and ultimately being able to make beautiful prints with my hands. Computers in the late 70′s and early 80′s really did not play any type of role in my life on any level. I took my first programming class learning BASIC in 1980. I never connected the idea or concept of photography and computers on any level. In fact, as I type of this long-winded reply on my computer I wish I was out taking photos or working in the darkroom!

    A hybrid workflow is more viable than ever today. Anyone could use film cameras and scan their negatives to either post online or make digital inkjet prints if that is what they want. Having a negative and the option to make an analog print is a nice option in my opinion. Labs like West Coast Imaging can scan a 35mm negative and make 60″ prints now. So, it is no longer about the equipment because all of the barriers have been removed. We have gone full circle and for the serious photographers it is about the art and personal expression all over again.

    Just have fun with film or your iPhone or your Nikon D800. Make some memories, stop worrying about the technical details because anything over 12MP in a full frame modern DSLR is probably overkill for most people unless you are a professional and have a specific reason to justify something else.

    Tim

    • 45
      ) david distefano

      ansel adams said (i think it was in his auto biography) if he made 12 exceptional images a year he had a very good year. i think the best thing about digital is as a learning tool. see the image you want, shoot it, critique it, does it make the statement you want. yes, go on. no, what can you do to improve the image. re-shoot and critique until the image meets your vision. i know by slowing down, the amount of keepers will go up.

  24. 46
    ) Bob Pilgrim

    People:
    Your comments are priceless, & a significant contribution to what seems
    to be a very lively/healthy dialogue, vis a vis, analogue photography contrasted
    with digital photography. This topic is worthy of pursuing.

  25. 47
    ) Peter

    Does anyone out there in “wanna-be film land” know what the ASA was for B&W glass plate negatives?

    My guess, and only a guess, is 10 ASA.

    I’m curious since I scanned/printed hundreds of them for the local historical society. They were extremely sharp and with excellent tonal range. Subject matter was also a delight.

    • 48
      ) Tim Layton

      Peter, I live in real life film and custom made emulsion land on a daily basis. You did not specify but I have to assume you are referring to silver gelatin emulsion on glass plates (dry plate).

      The correct answer to your question is the ISO is different for each batch of emulsion made and then to make things more challenging it changes over time with age. If you are going to use a pre-made emulsion like Liquid Light or AG Plus then it will be a little easier for you.

      To get you in the ball park you can assume an ISO of 1 which will produce very good results when used with the Sunny 16 rule. So for example if you were taking a photo on a sunny day and you wanted to use f/16 then your exposure would be 1 / ISO or simply put 1 second. To adjust exposures just use the same logic as you would across all photography when adjusting aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.

      You can read about all of this on my Vintage blog at http://www.vintagelargeformat.com and my black and white film blog at blog.blackandwhitefineart.net. I have recently published a detailed article on glass plates and silver gelatin that you will find very helpful. If you want to see something extremely sharp and zero grain try wet plate collodion.

      Best of luck,

      Tim Layton

      • 49
        ) Peter

        Thanks for the informative reply. I put your site in my “favorites” and will study it after my movie is done (A Wing and a Prayer).

        The dry plates I worked with were a great experience. The photograpers who took them were excellent. The history they revealed was a pleasure.

        Never cut myself once!

      • 50
        ) Peter

        I reviewed your site. Human beings never cease to amaze me. How people get involved in esoteric things and to the depth you did are truely amazing.

        I will email you some glass plate photos which i think required as ASA of over 1.

  26. 51
    ) Don

    Nice article John. A subject dear to many of your hearts. After discovering digital 7 years ago I figured there was no looking back …until several years back when I loaned my camera to my ‘poor student’ daughter for the first year of her Photography/Design degree, so she could see if Photog was indeed the major she would pursue before buying herself a decent digital. That year I went back to using film cameras and even upgraded very cheaply to a couple of film bodies that I could have only dreamed about 10-20 years ago! So when we headed to Bali for a 2 week holiday I took my F90x and a bag of Velvia and had a great time ….until I got back and dev & scanned all the films! lol – I could have just bought a second-hand digital body or a new lens for the price! However we still sometimes go on analogue holidays closer to home for some shooting discipline and adventure in creativity.
    Now my daughter has got me to turn the old woodshed into a darkroom as they never entered a darkroom once during her 3-year course! Talk about nostalgia, it’s great though : )

  27. 53
    ) Noons

    Hearhear! I never stopped using film. It’s nearly 80% of all the images I capture.
    Thanks for this post: it’s one of the strongest arguments I’ve ever seen for an enterprising digital camera maker to release a purely manual camera, a-la Nikon FM series.
    Yes, it’ll slow you down. And there is preciously NOTHING wrong with that!

  28. 54
    ) MKhan

    I have the FM3A with some Nikkor AIS lenses, I love shooting films, the only problem is that, there is almost no real filmer developers anymore :(

    • 55
      ) Noons

      Are you tellling me I am unreal?

  29. I have a simple image comparison photo I made to illustrate why I shoot film. The first shot is a D3100 with a 35mm 1.8g AF-S lens and the second shot is a Nikon N80 with a 50mm 1.8d AF-D lens.

    http://i.imgur.com/AHnWi.jpg

    The D3100 and 1.8g 35mm cost me total over $900. The Nikon N80 and 1.8d 50mm cost me $150 total.

    I just love the creaminess of peoples faces and how good they look when shooting film.

    Other things I like aside from the image quality is generally film cameras are smaller, you don’t have to worry about charging batteries because the batteries last for more than 50 rolls of film, and it really makes me think about photos before I take them. I really feel I am involved with the photo when I shoot with film, compared to when I shoot with digital and just hold the shutter button down hoping I get a good shot. Also the euphoric feeling of getting your photos back after a couple days and seeing how they turned out. I love the feeling.

    Digital replace film? Won’t happen, but I feel for personal work and personal photography film will always hold precedence over digital.

  30. And I thought I was all alone! I Got my journeymans certificate A’s a photographers in 1973 and never World professionally as such one day since. I took lots off pictures on various analogue cameras, the Nikkormat EL being my lifes companion. After some confusing years after 2000, were I fler from digital camera to the other without evner being satisfied, I sent back and bought a Leica ’5 TTL and three good lenses. And the joynof making pictures returned to me. I still have a Nikon D700 but it never gives mé A’s much joy A’s the Leicas og the Nikkormat.

    Indhave my film developed at the lab, but don’t trust Them with the scans, which I dó by myself on a Epson v750 with good results.

    Thanks for a great article and some really fine comments.
    Søren Thomassen
    Denmark

    • Sorry about the spelling. The iPad seems to live its own life right now

  31. It seems I’m a little late to this thread…another film lover here. It’s easy. being 65 I shot film for most part of my life. I appreciate the benefits of digital and I oft make this comparison: if I have to drive because of job or any other serious reason for a few hundreds kilometers of course a modern car with air conditioning, silent engine, automatic shift is the best choice. I arrive where I need more relaxed. But if I want to enjoy the feeling of drive a sport car from the 50s with manual shift gives a very different pleasure. Now, if “I need the photo” digital is the medium, but if I want to enjoy the process film is my way to go.
    I’m just back from a week in NYC with my wife and in my bag I had an old Zeiss Super Ikonta and a Leica x1. The Zeiss was my main camera, I used the x1 for interior (when needing higher iso) or difficult light situation (strong contrast or similar, the benefit of histogram!).
    Oh, yes the i.phone for snapping!
    Thanks for this beautiful post, sorry to be late in reading it!
    robert (from Italy)

    • Thanks for the comment, Robert! I really like the analogy of driving for a living and driving a modern car versus a vintage car. I feel the same way! Hopefully you got some great photos in NYC with all of your cameras!
      John

Leave a Comment

*