I don’t shoot only film, but it is funny how shocked people can be when you tell them you shoot film, or when they see me loading or unloading my camera. And, I get it. It’s like driving a 1960 Ford pickup truck, instead of a new, computerized, turbo diesel truck with navigation, airbags, 8 speaker 150 watt stereo, and all those fancy self-driving, self-parking features. I mean, that doesn’t even make sense – or does it?
Well, film is just a different medium. It’s a valid medium (IMO) – as much as any other, including digital. It’s likely that someday, way in the future (I hope) film will no longer be available. Old supplies will be depleted, and new film production will stop. But, until that day arrives, it’s still a valid medium for artistic expression.
I’ve done blog posts in the past that compared digital and film photography results – where I attempted to compare and contrast digital and film photographs of the same subject. Even though this is difficult to do, I think it should be noted that they are truly different in their essence, in how the images are created. Film is a very organic process involving chemicals, and chemical elements bonded to paper or plastic or glass or something else. These substances sensitive to light, and when exposed to light, they can be developed with chemicals to show the image, and make a permanent (hopefully) image. Digital photography is virtual, not physical, unless you print a digital image on paper, for example. Digital photographs are collections of magnetic or electronic bits of data (files on your computer or phone), interpreted by software to produce an image which you can view and edit.
I’m a computer geek, and find it interesting that my first love (photography) has been adopted by the digital world – and since I’ve spent the last 40 years of my life developing computer software, the digital world of photography isn’t foreign to me. In spite of my career path, I’m somehow drawn back to the analog photography of my youth. I first fell in love with photography back in high school, working with the yearbook staff. Taking photos, and going into the darkroom to develop and print my images. I had my own darkroom in a basement or bedroom that could be darkened enough. I’m somehow drawn to this old process, a much different workflow. And I ask myself frequently, why?
Here’s another angle for this debate. Digital photographs can be very high quality, depending upon the sensor and equipment being used. For film photographs, well, quality depends upon some similar factors, but instead of a sensor, the film size and film and type are important. Also, the chemicals used to develop the film can impact quality. High quality images are nice… but, quality isn’t the only factor that might cause an image to be appealing. Below is an image of my Olympus OM-2 taken with my Mamiya C330 – and, if you look close, you can see grain. I don’t think this makes it any worse a photograph than if it had no grain. I think this is taken with an 80mm or 135mm lens, wide open, so depth of field is very tight. I like this look, but taken with a modern digital camera, it could look different – but my point is that I don’t think it would necessarily be better… or more appealing – but, honestly, how could any OM-2 image be bad?
With post processing today, many of the effects, that might be normal for film photographs, like grain, can be reproduced digitally. Well, if you want the effect of grain in your photograph, create it naturally by using a grainier film, like Kodak Tri-X. If you want less grain, use a finer grained film.
One advantage of digital is that you can pick and choose the photo to apply these types of effects to – and it doesn’t have to be applied to an entire roll of film. The same can be said of ISO, in a very practical way, it is nice to change ISO at any point while shooting – without shooting a whole role at the same ISO.
All this being said, I like to shoot film directly, the old way, instead of using filters and effects in post processing to achieve the interesting qualities that film can provide. One is not better than the other, but they have their individual strengths. I still think film has value. I’m thankful there is interest among a large group of photographers – I’m not alone (which is a good feeling – nobody wants to be alone).
I hope you all have a great day! And, have fun explaining why you shoot film!