Why I still shoot film

Film – remember that stuff?

35mm film negatives with hearts

You couldn’t pull it too far out out of the canister or open the camera because it would ruin the photos, every one of your 24 or 36 shots counted and when you were done, you had to take it down to Boots to get the photos developed waiting nearly a week for them to come back.

Believe it or not, there’s still a whole bunch of people using this inconvenient but beautiful medium, including me.

Film is my hobby, it slows me down, makes me take my time and forces me to be more considerate and creative to achieve my vision. When I get it right, I’m rewarded with a photo that I value so much more, and that brings with it a great deal of personal satisfaction. I love the chance that a photo shot on film may not work out and every negative becomes a learning curve; the knowledge gleaned improves my work photography and challenges me in a way digital doesn’t.

French windmill sign on Kodak Ektar film

The windmill at Rouvrou on Kodak Ektar 100, 1971 Canon F-1 & Canon 85mm f/1.8 FD

The image/look of the film is what I’m after and it’s straight out the box, no messing! The colour is sublime and detail is great, even compared to that from my full frame digital work cameras. I also develop my own black and white film which gives even more control over how the final image will look. Sure, there’s grain if you want a fast film but that’s part of the compromise – no-one’s getting their cake and eating all of it – you have to pick your fights to win with film!

Orange Olympus Trip 35 with Kodak Ektar

Olympus Trip 35mm

Lugging the heavy cameras I use for work around isn’t something I’d consider too pleasurable; I prefer the lighter, smaller old film cameras I use. I’ve noticed people find them a bit less intimidating when compared with waving a whacking great DSLR in their face and they also lead to some pretty cool conversations. These questions usually come up:

“I thought they stopped making film years ago” Lots of shop simply don’t sell film anymore but there’s still a lot of options for film and who develops them, not to mention the ease with which you can buy the chemicals and equipment to process at home.

“Isn’t film photography really expensive?” It’s not. I have work cameras and that’s set the bar pretty high for what I want in terms of image quality; if I were to buy a personal use camera, it’d have to be another 6D/5D3 as that’s what I’m comfortable shooting with. Rather than mess around trying to adapt to another camera’s menu/button layout, I can concentrate on getting the picture instead with a familiar camera. So that would be a £1200+ outlay right there with about £150/200 a year depreciation. A film camera and it’s lenses will have a lower outlay, even if it was a top of the range model in it’s day. As it tends to be older, high quality stuff I buy, it holds it’s value and doesn’t bear the same crippling depreciation as the DSLR body would. I can spend the rest on film!

“But the old cameras are old and so can’t be as good as modern digital ones, right?” Any camera can be great in the right hands – that old chestnut of the most important part of the camera being the user holds strong here! Old cameras can be slower to operate but it’s not impossible to react quickly and take a photo of something moving fast. While there have been some pretty shonky film cameras out there, the better equipment is, optically, not that far behind the equipment I use for work. A lot of the gear is made from metal and is physically better built than most modern cameras, your image quality is only dependent on the lens on the camera and film you use.

The thriving film scene has exposed me (see what I did there…) to a world of different photographers and their talent as well as altering the way I look at photographic gear, less is more and you work with what you have – I can’t just buy a ‘better’ camera, stick it on ‘auto’ and let it pick up the slack to mask my mistakes (or make mistakes for me!)

Pink blossom on Kodak Ektar film

May blossom in Chorlton on Kodak Ektar 100, 1971 Canon F-1 & Canon 28mm f/2.8 FD

The Yearning at Indietracks Festival 2014

The Yearning at Indietracks on Fujifilm Pro 400H, 1971 Canon F-1 & Canon 135mm f/2.5 FD

Sleeping baby in black and white Tri-X

Sophia on Kodak Tri-X 400, 1997 Canon EOS 1-N & Canon 85mm f/1.2 L

The colour and dynamic range of 35mm film is still superior to what most digital cameras can produce and will happily print to 18×12 (which is as much as I would need it to) without demonstrating any adverse grain-scan. If I use Velvia slide film in my EOS 1-N with a work lens such as my 85mm 1.2L, the transparency it produces will resolve more detail than my full frame DSLR and can be make bigger prints than the digital can. Don’t get me started on what medium or larger formats can produce – they capture mad detail!

Salford Quays at night on Fuji Superia film

Salford Quays on Fujifilm Superia 200, 1971 Canon F-1 & Canon 28mm f/2.8 FD

Indietracks Festival diesel multiple unit at Swanwick Junction

Swanwick Junction on Fujifilm Pro 400H, 1971 Canon F-1 & Canon 50mm f/1.4 FD

The best thing is that film photography usually ends in having a print of a special moment, something we don’t often make from the thousands of digital photos we take each year.

If you are interested in photography and want to keep learning – give film photography a go, especially if you know of an old camera knocking about!

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