Photography using film

With digital photo equipment flying off the shelves, and greater and greater pixel densities (Nikon’s new D800 has a 36-MegaPixel sensor), I’d like to make a plea in favour of ensuring that film continues as a beautiful, expressive photo medium.

Fuji Superia 35MM Film Cassette

Fuji Superia 35MM Film Cassette

I believe film should not be permitted to die of loneliness, particularly after is has been used to capture the world’s history and memories for the last 100+ years.  Tragic enough that venerable Kodachrome has gone from the market after decades of being the medium of choice for the world’s best photographers, now it could be that Kodak itself is at risk of disappearing unless it can work some miracles through its Chapter 11 woes.  More remarkably, Kodak’s film division remains profitable (which I find worthy of rejoicing). In a way, that’s not surprising.  Despite the quick uptake of digital cameras, there must still be millions of film (35mm and other) cameras still out there, and still capable of taking as good pictures as they ever did.

Have you ever been amazed at the quality of the photographs in (say) National Geographic Magazine?  The majority were shot on 35MM slide film, and some on print film.

This is not to say that Digital doesn’t have a lot of benefits, but if I were a keen young photographer on a tight budget (as I was when I was 14 and first really started taking a serious interest in photography) I would seriously be considering investing in film equipment.

Absolutely perfect film cameras can be had (usually through thrift shops) often for well under $60 with at least one lens.  With such a camera, one can take pictures that can be enlarged to quite large sizes with excellent results.  35MM film has roughly the same resolution as a 14-36 megapixel sensor, and has wider exposure latitude (range of detail between darkest darks and lightest whites) than all but the most recent generation of digital cameras.

If you have film camera equipment lying around, please either

  • Throw in a roll of film and get back to the beauty that film can offer – and the Zen moment that sometimes occurs when you really think through each shot.  The benefit that Digital has is that you immediately know whether you’ve made the shot.  One down side of digital is that you don’t necessarily care whether you’ve composed perfectly, or “got the shot” – you can almost always fix that with software.  The other down side of digital is that you’ve lost the two real thrills – one of trying to get it right the first time, and the second comes when you get back your results and realize that you did get it right, or
  • Pass it along to someone who can really appreciate it and give it the life it deserves

Don’t let your 35MM equipment die of loneliness – There are lots of keeners out there who would love to take care of this equipment in its retirement years (which can be decades and decades) and make it feel useful again.

If you’re one such keener, one can choose either to stay in the Nikon/Canon/Sony-Minolta/Pentax camp and ensure that your lens purchases are forward compatible with Digital when you get into that (as it is likely you must, someday), or you can learn to appreciate that with care your investment in some older and non-forward-compatible lens mounts (Canon FD, Minolta MD/MC, Konica, Yashica/Contax, others) have lenses capable of producing such beautiful results you’ll be amazed.  In this regard, newer is not always better.

A lot of this non-compatible equipment can be had for very little money (e.g. Canon’s FD mount was replaced by the completely different EF mount for auto-focus) and so is considered “obsolete”.   In “obsolescence”, in this case, can be had remarkably productive equipment, with which you can create works of great beauty.  Since we live in a cast-off society, if you are interested in keeping film as the living, breathing, wonderful medium it has always been, you may be able to find the necessary equipment even free.  Ask your friends if they’re still using their film equipment… they may be happier to give it to you than to throw it out or drop it at the local thrift shop.

Reviewing Colour Negatives by eye

Reviewing a colour negative

In a world of instant gratification, instant feedback (and the attention deficit that it seems to be encouraging) it can actually be good for the soul to pause, look through the camera’s eye to re-frame the picture, move in or out and take a better shot, or even realize that maybe what you’re about to shoot is not that interesting (and not worth a shot).

I’m not saying give up on Digital… just give Film a chance to help you express yourself too.  You’ll be surprised and delighted at what you can do with it and the results it will produce.

Do read that “Kodak remains profitable” post I mentioned above – there  are some really interesting ideas among those who have commented within that post, like re-launching Kodachrome, coming up with a top-quality film scanner so that film can be re-integrated into digital workflow.  Personally, I’d like to see Kodak update and re-publish some of their excellent special-focus books – they’re inspirational.

Also, take a look at what photography guru Ken Rockwell has to say about the longevity of Film and while there, you’ll find that trolling around in his website is definitely time well-spent.

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One thought on “Photography using film

  1. Pingback: Agony of Downsizing my Film Camera Collection « absorbinglife

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