Shooting film might be a dying industry, but don’t let that hold you back from the joy of this lost art. I would also argue that occasionally shooting a film will make you a better photographer! The same things we love about our digital cameras are the things that make us lazy.
Shooting film isn’t just for trendy hipsters, it’s for getting back to basics and revitalizing your love of photography. As technology progresses, photography is getting easier, and that’s not always a good thing. Sometimes, it helps our brain to remember the why and the how. The more we know our art, the better artists we become.
How Shooting Film Can Help Break Your Bad Habits
So many people talk about the joy of shooting film and the benefits it can bring you as a photographer. I was admittedly skeptical of these claims despite my own history with film photography. Back when I first took interest in photography, digital was just making its way into the market and film was the only affordable option.
The Minolta X-700 was my first camera (passed down from my parents), and when I began learning photography, it was a bit mysterious and frustrating. All the little things I now take for granted, like my understanding of basic exposure settings and how to frame a pleasing image, were big hurdles. At the time, I was so focused on learning the basics that I wasn’t able to see the benefits of shooting film.
Having shot with a digital camera professionally for over 10 years, I now understand the benefits of shooting film. The learning curve on digital is much quicker, but it can create some bad habits. Shooting film teaches you to break those bad habits and become a better artist.
Bad Habit #1: Chimping Is for Chumps
The first habit that shooting film will start to break is reviewing your images (sometimes called chimping). When you first pick up a digital camera, it can be easy to constantly review your images. This was especially true when I was using a DSLR because I was constantly using the image playback function to check my exposure.
Constantly staring at the back of your screen at images you have just taken will cause you to miss moments. When I watch a photographer miss the peak action or “decisive moment,” it is so frustrating, because I know they could have captured it if they had been looking through the viewfinder instead of looking at their camera. I’ll admit that it’s nice to make sure I got the shot, but I can’t help wonder what shots that caused me to miss.
If we couldn’t double-check our exposure, we would have to really know our camera and how to use it. That’s what shooting film can help remind you of and teach you. While you might still catch me checking the back of my screen on a big day to make sure I got the shot, shooting film once in a while has made me more confident in how I shoot.
Bad Habit #2: Not Choosing the Moment
The second thing that film will teach you is to slow down and choose the right moment. With each press of the shutter, it will cost you a minimum of $1 per frame (film and development). This will cause most photographers to think at least a little before they press the shutter.
With digital, it is so tempting to just hammer away on the shutter and go home with hundreds or thousands of images. Although the cost is essentially zero, the time to import, cull, and process the images will certainly be substantial. Time is money after all.
Additionally, most film cameras are slow to operate, so you simply can’t take multiple images in a short amount of time. With the cost per frame and physical time that film cameras take, it can teach you to slow down, which can translate to when you are shooting digital. This can be so helpful to create a new groove in your brain that quality is greater than quantity with images (digital or film).
This will save you money and time. It will also make you better. Knowing how the camera works intimately and then choosing the precise composition and moment you’re photographing will make your photos so much stronger, even if they aren’t in perfect focus, because it’s impossible to manually focus fast enough to capture your toddler riding his bike.
Bad Habit #3: Forgetting to Have Fun
Lastly, shooting film is just enjoyable. The simplicity of a film camera is relaxing and can be a nice break from the tech-filled life that most modern photographers live. It can allow you to get back to the joy of photography by not adding to the feeling of digital drain caused by constant obligations to look at screens!
Last year, I bought a few rolls of film and have thoroughly enjoyed documenting life with my Minolta X-700. It is especially nice to have a film camera during busy seasons of work when I’m using my Sony mirrorless cameras to shoot professionally. It frees my mind knowing that I can just capture a few frames and not have to worry about the workflow that goes along with digital images.
I simply send the film off to a lab and download the images once they are developed and scanned. If you want to go one step further, it can be really nice to get prints in the mail. This completely eliminates any element of digital experience and is the truest photography experience you can have with a film camera!
If you’re looking for a cheap, compact, and easy-to-use film camera to get started, I highly recommend the Minolta X-700. You can pick one up used on eBay for around $100, and they are pretty straightforward to learn. Check out the video below to see my experience using the camera along with a few tips on how to use one, including loading your film.
If you need more convincing to pick up that old film camera you’d had on display or to start your eBay search for the Minolta X-700, check out these articles by fellow Fstoppers writers:
For me, shooting film professionally probably isn’t what I’m looking for. But shooting film for fun, breaking some of my bad habits, and returning to the joy of photography? Sign me up.
Who knows, maybe shooting film will make me better at using my iPhone camera. I’m certainly more intentional when I press that shutter and hear that beautiful cha-chunk.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve found any other benefits to using a film camera, I’m always looking for more ways to explain to people why I think shooting film is worth it!
My first cameras was a Minolta SRT101. I also had a 102 my Dad gave me. Then I bought an X700. Had lot of fun with it. I gave it to my sister and she used it until it gave up the ghost.
Great article. Just a couple things about the X700. If you buy one that hasn't been tested recently it's likely to have an electrical fault. This is an easy repair for a professional but it does add to the cost. Also, people interested in manual shooting should look for an X570 instead - it has a better meter display. Both cameras are great, and have the acute matte focusing screen. Minolta made the same screens in 6x6 size for Hasselblad, which sold them as an upgrade.
The X-570 is my favorite Minolta behind the XK.
The capacitor is what goes bad in the X-700 and it is indeed easy to repair, though not if you've never done anything like that. I still have a few spare capacitors around here somewhere, though I don't repair cameras anymore.
This old chestnut again! I wondered how long it would be before we had another article praising the virtues of shooting film. All the points raised here as a digital downside are, for me, its upside.
My first 'proper' camera was a Praktica Nova. I'd have given anything to review the shot immediately after pressing the button. It would have saved a lot of heartache moments - and a lot of money. Professionally, when a client is paying to get the shot right, why on earth wouldn't you want to check the image as soon as possible? In the studio in the 80s, we would put a Polaroid back on our Hasselblads and test the shot beforehand. Sort of chimping in reverse - gnipmich, if you like. So 'chimping' as a concept is not a digital fixation.
As for choosing the exact moment. Why? There are often other, more important things to consider at the same time. What is wrong with taking a series of shots to ensure that you've nailed it? The number of times I waited for the exact moment only to find that the bird flying across has screwed the shot - or the talent has blinked. I'm a photographer, not a student of the human psyche. I want the shot, not to undergo a series of cerebral reaction tests. That's why my Nikon F2 was fitted with a motor drive.
I simply cannot see the logic in the statement that film is fun, where digital is not. I think that just the reverse is true. It frees one up to concentrate on the shot in hand - not worrying about film stock levels or processing costs. In digital, one is not constantly obliged to look at rear screen (once I've nailed the exposure, I don't!). However, you'll be less disappointed if you do.
Of all the SLRs out there, why single out the Minolta X-700. I have one. It's a pig of an awkward camera, one of Minolta's early, clumsy, forays into auto exposure and 'P' mode. If you're going the film route, why not embrace a completely manual camera? Even one without TTL metering! You won't have to worry about battery failure, and you'll have to roll your sleeves up and learn all about exposure principals.
Now that I'm driving a modern car with servo this, auto that, electro the other, I haven't once considered that driving my 1980s VW Sirocco would make me a better driver, and, in learning to feel the road again, I would be reconnecting with my inner self. No sir. The modern car is more reliable, cheaper to run, makes me safer and more comfortable. It makes me enjoy driving.
However, I always drive a manual car - and that's the important part for me.
The X-700 my parents gave me more than 35 years ago got me through my college newspaper years and my first two reporting jobs. Now it's little more than a shelf curio, but I couldn't imagine parting with it. This article took me to a happy place.
"Dying industry" and "Lost art"? Obviously film was replaced by digital as a main photo medium years ago, but I'm pretty sure there are still millions of people shooting film, and if anything, the art side of the business has increased while the business side (shooting paid gigs on film) has decreased.
I love that the Minolta X-700 had a one-handed camera operation - superlative.
Including auto exposure hold, and even more fully automatic with the motor drive ( beast ! ).
With the Vivitar/Cosina AF Zoom ( yes, auto focus ), even the zoom lever ( lever ! ) was on the right and reachable with a right-hand finger.
Focus, zoom, lock exposure, release the shutter, wind on, all with one hand.
Minolta were photographic engineers who used their gear, and it shows.
I won't list the endless alternatives from other vendors that are awkward, two-handed, three-handed ( ! ), ambiguous, inconsistent, backward even.
A little of Minolta's philosophy is still in production in Sony and Panasonic gear ( where do we think Minolta engineers went ? ).
Trivia - the pentaprism was brassed plastic then painted black, so when it wore in, it brassed, but never dented, how thoughtful.
There are other superlative benefits to it's features - endless.