It’s Never Too Late to Grab a Film Camera – and Here’s Why…


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I am pretty sure most of you won’t say that film photography is outdated – and it is definitely not.

Photo by night-fate

Photo by night-fate

It does bring some trouble compared to all the magical capabilities of iPhones, Canon 5D’s and Nikon D800’s, but sometimes all we need is a challenge – and if we try hard enough – we’ll be rewarded with this euphoric feeling of “that was ME who shot it”. Shooting film could be this very challenge you quench for.

Of course this concerns mainly those of you who plunged into photography less than 10 years ago. If you are a cool Pro with decades of experience behind, you probably know all the sides of digital and film way better than I do. But if your admiration – just like mine – started with the release of first affordable digital cameras, and you somehow skipped the era of film SLR’s – you might probably want to know what you’ve really missed.

So let’s not talk about all the technical stuff like dynamic range, noise, resolution, gamma etc. – there are too many disputes on the technical side of film versus digital. And it’s pretty close to Nikon vs. Canon talks that will probably never end. It would always be a smart move to quit arguing and simply take advantage of the both sides.

So why shooting film is so cool?

1. It is a reasonably cheap way to try a full-frame SLR

canon film slr camera

Even though digital single-lens reflex cameras, or the DSLRs, have become much more affordable over the last years, a professional model can still cost a lump of money.
But today you can buy a used, but still professional film camera for $50-$300. And what you get is actually a full-frame SLR, the digital equivalent of which costs about 10 times more! Another option is to go to your attic/basement/garage and look through all the vintage stuff you have there. Sometimes one can spot a bicycle, a rocking chair, or a Leica M3 camera.

2. It will make your frames more valuable – for you personally of course.

photo print wall

Say you already have 100 to 300 Gb of your images on the hard drive. Some of them are cool, some are not, but ok, someday you’ll spend and hour or two filtering and organizing them. But tell me how much of your pictures will stay a series of “01101000011…” data forever – not having been printed or even viewed on a screen for more than 5 seconds?
And now imagine having just shot a single roll of 24 frames. You just can’t shoot it and throw it into the drawer – well you can, but you will feel a lot more guilty soon. In most cases, printing is inevitable – and printing is just what actually brings a photo to life.

3. You may have Christmas gifts as often as you wish.

gift box three

And your photographs will be your gifts – and the photo lab operator will be your personal Santa! We are all in some way spoiled by the digital era – we get everything in an instant – and the quicker we get something, the less it means for us. It’s so easy now, you can send a photo to Twitter or Facebook at almost the very same moment it was shot! It’s surely cool, but where’s the good old feeling of anticipation, of imagining the result of your efforts. It really makes you think more of your work – before, during, and after the shoot – and do you think, will it be useful for your growth as a photographer?
To be honest, I shoot film rarely, but that’s what makes it so special to me – I am pretty sure I can remember all of my film photographs!

4. Film DOES look different.

film slr camera lady portrait

Even though there are quite a few people stating that you can get the film-looking colors from digital by means of color correction, I bet you can almost always distinguish between “real film” and “film effect”. So even if you’re making a pro shoot with you digital SLR, why not try making a couple of frames on film too along the way? Some customers would just love it!

5.You will have a privilege to say:

“Digital media does not meet my professional requirements in regard to dynamic range and resolution”

film slr camera photographer

Well that’s what I promised not to do – talking about technical aspects of film vs. digital. But it is You who never promised that to anyone!

Also, even if you’re not too passionate about having a pro film SLR, you can always consider trying some hipster stuff like Holga or Lomo – it’s really fun and refreshing!

So how many of you shoot film from time to time?

George is an enthusiast photographer who focuses on both studio and outdoor photography, always seeking interesting and creative shooting and retouching techniques.
  • http://bloggerjet.com Tim Soulo

    Wow mr. George! Seems like Photodoto got itself a pro photographer as a contributor :) Congrats on your first post here :)

    And yeah… there IS something special in film photography… in fact lots of pro writers started their career from film cameras :)

    • http://photodoto.com/ George Bailey

      Heh thanks Tim! I’ll try my best to share my tiny piece of experience here, hope folks will be interested :)

  • http://www.maureenbond.com Maureen Bond

    It’s so great to see an article on film cameras. I do believe they make us better photographers. For those looking to get a a full-frame SLR, what do you suggest? So many swap meets selling them and friends tell me their lost as to what to pick up. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    • http://photodoto.com/ George Bailey

      Hey Maureen! Yes, there’s quite a few cameras to choose from. I can recommend trying Olympus OM series – these are just amazing cameras with cool Zuiko lenses – and there are quite many of them on a secondary market. Or you can still stick to Canon/Nikon, if you, say, already have some of their lenses. If you want autofocus – you can try something like Canon Rebel series – it’s pretty much the same as their digital successors :)

  • http://www.candaimages.com Martin Struik

    I would agree and disagree with you there George. Yes, film is totally different to digital, not better or worse just different. But don’t just use it now and again, the more you use it the more you learn about what a camera does, how to use the settings for the best results and what type of film best suits you. For me the biggest plus of a film camera is to have a viewfinder that is bright and clear and shows the scene as it is.
    To Maureen I would say go for it, go to a camera shop and hold the cameras till you find one that really fits your hand and that you find easy to use then buy the best quality prime lenses that you can afford. Buy a manual camera, film can’t compete with digital when it comes to high speed subjects, but the joy of being able to focus exactly where you want in a landscape and to use hyperfocal focusing (look it up, it’s a great technique) more than compensate. Then buy lots of film, use monochrome, try different types and speeds the differences are remarkable. When you go out armed with your digital camera make sure the film one goes too!

    • http://photodoto.com/ George Bailey

      Martin, thanks a lot for this comment! You’re absolutely right, the more you use film – the better for you as a photograhper. I did not want to “restrict” anybody to anything like “one roll in a month” heh :) But one roll is a good way to start!

  • http://Www.chrisfordphotography.com Chris Ford

    I started shooting film in 1967 and still shoot film now ( shot 5 rolls in 3 hrs this morning), and….I make my students shoot film as an intro to their photography programme. Film for me will always have purpose and life (alongside my digital).

    • http://photodoto.com/ George Bailey

      Thanks for sharing, Chris! It’s good to hear that film is alive this much!

  • Michael Wardlow

    I shoot film. From ancient Soviet Union FED rangefinders to my Nikon F100. It is Christmas in that you never know what you’re going to get until it comes back from the lab. I love that it forces you to put thought into your composition and settings, on the fly at times.

  • http://www.anotherlite.com Tim

    I still grab my Large format camera and the 6×12 back, light meter and head out for some landscapes . . occasionally my RB67 wants to be fondled with some Velvia run through it . . . or a BIG 4×5 chrome looking all 3D on the lightbox from my Horseman View camera or when I really need to step back for some landscape drama . . . some T-max. No I don’t shoot film all the time, but occasionally I want the look of real silver halide over the Adobe-ished plasticized clean digital look. no film is not dead. not in my eyes anyway.

  • http://photodoto.com/ George Bailey

    Thank you for the comments, gentlemen! :)

  • Eric Bauer

    I shoot primarily film these days after getting super burnt out on digital. To be fair, though, it was the draw of new tech with digital that got me back into photography after a near 15 year hiatus. The allure of HDR and urbex and pretentious self portraiture was too much to resist, but man… I HATE photoshopping pictures. I think it’s more often a crutch used to mask bad photography. Getting back into film has revitalized the hobby for me. With manual focus film cameras I’m forced to heed the composition, get my framing right, depth of field, focus. I don’t waste film with any of my arsenal, whether it’s one of my SLR’s or Mamiya TLR. I find that heeding things like focus, aperture, and shutter speed have made me a better photographer since I more or less turned my back on digital, and I have no plans to go back.

    • http://photodoto.com/ George Bailey

      Hey, Eric! Thanks for the comment! Yes, Photoshop is often used just to “reanimate” totally failed photographs, but this actually never works – you can stress the greatness of a photo by post-processing, but only if it was good even before editing :)

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