Five Things I Wish Film Photographers Would Stop Saying

The film community is a pretty friendly place. I've made a lot of good mates all over the world since launching my film photography podcast, "Matt Loves Cameras," three years ago. 

When a photographer joins (or rejoins) the film family, they often remark about how supportive everyone is. This is true: so many people in the community offer help and advice and share their knowledge. 

Unfortunately, it's not all sunshine and lollipops. Underneath the surface, there is a degree of subtle and not-so-subtle snobbery. There are also misconceptions and more than a few clichés. 

Film photographers all over the world continue to delight and inspire me, but I must admit there are five things I wish film photographers would stop saying. Look out for another five things coming soon.  

The 'One Stop Per Decade' Rule for Expired Film

Often in Facebook Groups, someone will ask for advice on how to shoot a roll of expired film. Regardless of whether it's color negative, color positive, or black and white film, the old "one stop per decade" rule gets wheeled out. 

The idea behind this concept is simple. Over time, film degrades and loses light sensitivity if it isn't stored well. The rule says that for every 10 years the film has been expired, add one stop of light to compensate for this loss of sensitivity, except that this "rule" is not actually a rule at all and has been debunked several times, including by Emulsive

I'll fess up and admit that I've been guilty of saying this one, but bear with me. I live in subtropical Brisbane, where it's hot and humid for at least half the year. If I was given a roll of color negative film and I didn't know where it had been for the last 30 years, adding one stop per decade is probably a safer bet than shooting it at box speed. Color negative film has wide latitude, so even if the film has been stored well, adding two or three stops of light is within tolerance. 

Unfortunately, people also apply the "rule" to black and white film, slide film, and film that has been stored in cool conditions. Need a refresher on shooting expired films? Check out this article on the Silvergrain Classics website.  

The old one stop per decade rule. That's the second time I've fallen for it this week. Image copyright © Matt Murray 

'Film Soup? Just Don't.'

Earlier this year, a photographer asked for advice and inspiration about film soup recipes in a Facebook group. It wasn't long before the first know-it-all piped up: "I think it sucks. Just don't." Another killjoy suggested it was a "crutch for poor vision". 

You know that old saying if you don't have anything to say, don't say anything at all? Yeah, that. The poster was looking for inspiration and advice, not negativity. It's not just film soup that suffers this fate, but many other experimental and smaller format types of photography. I've seen so many unhelpful comments about LomoChrome Purple, half-frame cameras, toy cameras, and of course, point and shoots. 

It constantly amazes me that people take themselves so seriously, believing that only high-end gear and the purest methods are true film photography. Film soup not your jam? That's cool, keep scrolling and keep your mouth shut.  

'Don't Buy an Electronic Camera, You Can't Get Them Repaired.'

Cameras that rely on electronics to function don't have the best reputation, I'll give you that. We all know someone who has had a Contax T2 brick on them. Many of these cameras cannot be repaired cost effectively, or at all. 

In recent months, there's been a growing trend for film photographers saying that they will only ever buy a fully mechanical camera so they can continue to have it repaired in the future. Many of the people who hold this opinion are friends of mine, and this is not an attack on them, rather an alternative viewpoint.

To suggest that all electronic cameras are not worth buying because they might fail is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Sure, your camera might brick one day, but that could be 20 years away. In the meantime, you might get struck by lightning, hit by a bus, or abducted by aliens. Why worry about something that may never happen? Get out there and enjoy shooting with your electronic cameras. 

What, me worry? Get out there and shoot your electronic cameras. Image copyright © Matt Murray

There are also many more plausible things that might happen in the next 20 years: what if we're in the last heyday of the film right now? In the last 18 months, we've seen the impact of the pandemic on film supply chains, and this could continue into the future. It's entirely possible the cost of producing film in 10 years will get so expensive that it's no longer viable for many of us. If that does happen, it won't really matter if you're shooting with a manual or electronic camera. 

With regards to repairing cameras, this is dependent on the knowledge of a relatively small number of people worldwide. What happens when they retire or head up to the great camera shop in the sky? I've heard the waiting time to get a Leica serviced with some specialists is several months; this could blow out to years in the future with fewer people around to repair them.   

'Don't Bother Shooting 645, It's Not Much Bigger Than 35mm.'

I've seen this comment so many times in Facebook Groups. An excited photographer will share their plans to start shooting medium format with a 645 camera. The "bigger is better" crowd will then pipe up telling them not to bother with 645 because "it’s not much bigger than 35mm". 

Have you ever heard anyone from Wyoming say that Texas "wasn't much bigger" than their state? Yeah, didn't think so. There's a reason for that. Texas is about 2.7 times the size of Wyoming. That's about the same difference in size between 645 and 35mm. 

I love my Pentax 645! Image Copyright © Matt Murray 

The logical conclusion of this argument is that no format is good enough because there is always something bigger. Why shoot 645 when you can shoot 6x7? Why shoot 6x7 when you can shoot 6x9? Why shoot 6x9 when you can shoot 4x5? Why shoot 4x5 when you can shoot 8x10? 

The truth is that all formats have their pros and cons; find the one that's right for you.  

'Film Slows Me Down.'

If I set up a film photography dial-a-cliché hotline, this phrase would be on repeat. 

Every time I hear someone say it, I picture the following scene. A photographer is running around with their DSLR, finger stuck down on the shutter button as they gleefully fill up a 128 GB memory card in 60 seconds. They load another and another and take several terabytes of images. Then, they spend the best part of a week sifting through the thousands of images they’ve taken for a handful of good shots.    

Then, a miracle occurs: they pick up a film camera and instantly transcend to a Zen-like state. They become one with the camera, carefully composing every frame like it's a masterpiece. "Film slows me down," they proclaim. 

This whole concept is rather odd and actually says a lot more about digital photography than film. With seemingly endless storage in the digital age, photographers have never been able to take so many images for such little cost. It's given rise to a boom of "spray and pray" photographers who don't care how many images they take, as eventually, they will get some good ones. Perhaps the catch cry should be "digital makes me lazy" rather than "film slows me down". 

Of course, film does not have to be slow at all. In the early 1970s, cameras with motor drives could shoot up to 9 frames per second. As technology improved through the 1980s, 1990s, and into the 21st century, film cameras got better and faster.  

On the other side of things, shooting digital does not have to be lazy.  I know many photographers who compose just as carefully with their digital kit as they do with the film.  

What do you wish film photographers would stop saying? Tell us in the comments below. Look out for part two of this article coming soon.

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44 Comments

Ken Flanagan's picture

I've been shooting film in a bubble for a long time. I don't really interact with any other film photographers other than haphazardly. That said I know where you are coming from. I see interesting attitudes about film that bring out the best and worst in people. I shoot film because its more cathartic for me in that I spend a lot of time in the dark, music on, etc. Its not some magical thing that happens, and I'm not curing cancer, im just mixing chems, developing rolls, making prints and I enjoy it. Its not for everyone. I don't care what people shoot as long as it brings them some joy.
As far as slowing me down, it does, but thats because I shoot large format, and its way more cumbersome to haul around. I do get a better ratio of good shots because it takes time and it costs a lot to shoot bad pictures.
Thank you for posting this article. I am still very grateful that Fstoppers provides interesting content on a daily basis, and its free. Cant go wrong there. Cheers.

Matt Murray's picture

Hi Ken, thanks so much for your comment, some well considered thoughts there. Even though I don't develop and scan my own film I also love the process of shooting film, especially experimenting with different cameras and film stocks. I must admit I've never tried large format but I would imagine it would slow you down ha ha. Look out for part 2 of this article next week!

Ken Flanagan's picture

Will do Matt!
I only develop because it’s cheaper then sending it off, and in a weird sense it’s like the slowest form of instant gratification. My latest task is wet plate again.

N A's picture

The sentiment that shooting (35mm) film creates better photographers is false. I see this one alot. I got a lot of decent shots on film but no more or less than digital. There's no shortage of film photographers posting large #s of throwaway shots on Flickr for example. I get that they're invested in the process but a marginally focused shot of a motion blurred cat who's tail got clipped by the edge of the frame isn't worth saving let alone posting.

I do think MF film shooters tend to do better work overall. There seems to be a concerted effort to create and share best photos which is nice.

gerald mcbrighton's picture

I think the perceptual time phenonema of saying "Film Slows Me Down" is about the time gap between taking a photo and seeing the developed photo, not the number of photos per minute you take... It requires more deliberate action and confidence (a slower, more careful and considered approach) as you can't check the LCD display afterwards to verify the shot (and as per many digital photographers, iterate composition and exposure based on the result)

Steven Weston's picture

The 1st time I shot anything larger than 35mm was with a Baby Rollei. I forget the numeric name of this film format, but it's like 45x45mm, square. I was amazed by the detail that format imaged. So yes, shoot 645 if you have it.

Matt Murray's picture

Very cool! I'd love a Baby Rollei, it uses 127 film great format! I shoot 127 on an Imperial Satellite and a Bencini Comet.

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

I may misunderstood what you wrote, but you said you shot larger than 35mm with a 35x35mm ? I guess it was 45x45mm ?
By the way, I agree : shoot 645 when you can ! I have great pleasure with my Bronica Etrs. The result is really different than 35mm

Steven Weston's picture

You are correct and I am wrong. It's 45x45mm – a full frame slide mount.

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

Typing mistakes happen ! As English is not my mother language, I think I may be mistaken sometimes. It makes more sense here, thanks ! I didn't know this format though. I'll check that !

Matthias Rabiller's picture

Good points, though the list could be much longer :)
I do enjoy film cameras myself quite a lot. Let's be honest though, it's like driving a Porsche 356, a Volvo P1800, an old Mustang... : You're not taking it for a spin because it's better at taking you quickly and safely from A to B, but because you like driving them.
To me, the only technical advantage old film cameras have is the sympathy they get you when you ask people to take their picture on the street.

Simon Forsyth's picture

I think the comment about shooting film slowing people down is possibly due the fact that every frame shot cost money and there were only a maximum of 36 frames on a roll of film (35mm). Especially on jobs there was a cost per frame that had to be budgeted for.
With digital effectively there aren't those restrictions. It doesn't cost to shoot a shot and you aren't usually limited to a small number of frames.
There is one reason I would like to see every photographer studying photography at a school be made to do. That is to be made to shoot only film for say the first year. I believe that the limitations of film in cost, length of rolls, and the need for more disciplined metering will be a help further on.
I know I will get shot for this, but in the early days of digital when the technology was nothing like it is today, a disciplined approach was helpful.
I shot film for years before having to move to digital for commercial reasons, mostly negative film which had some latitude in that highlights could be burned in but shadows had to be lit with fill flash to get any detail.
Moving to digital and shooting the same way I found out quickly that burnt out highlights were completely gone but that shadows could be lifted. In the early 2000s the latitude of sensors was more akin to slide film and auto white balance was marginal at best. I soon learnt to adjust.
I was disciplined having shot film so never went the spray and pray route and think it has been an advantage.

Johnny Kiev's picture

Don't forget half-frame, I have a bunch of cameras that shoot this format and allow 72 frames per roll, That said I rarely load anything bigger than a 24 roll as even that takes an age to finish.

David Purton's picture

Yes, mostly agree except the 645/35mm argument. Many do feel there is not much point having 645 if you shoot 35 and I mostly concur.

The long side of the frame is 55mm usually compared to 36mm. Most photographers tend to crop more loosely with mf. 35mm has faster lenses with closer focusing distances and cropping in tight is a 35mm "thing"!

Equivalent 35mm lenses are usually faster, often 2 or 3 stops. Slower emulsions can be used with finer grain. 35mm lenses also usually have higher resolution for the smaller frame.

So yes, tighter crop with lighter faster lenses (zooms are very good these days!), slower film with finer grain and higher resolution optics does indeed narrow the gap.

6x6 is quite different because of the way one approaches a square format. I shoot dslr/35mm...6x6/6x7 and 6x9 but won't be bothering with 645, thanks :)

Marc F's picture

If the 645 frame has to be cropped enough to have the same 2:3 aspect of a 24x36mm frame then it will be only 37.3x56mm with a diagonal of 67.2mm (only 1.55 times the diagonal of the 24x36 frame (43.2mm). If I had to invest in a new MF system, I would rather choose 6x7 or above and get a real difference (from 24x36) of a true MF format. Note that depending on the 6x7 camera, the real size of the frame vary from 56x69 to 56x72mm. It’s the only MF format that doesn’t cheat (or at least cheats less) on the length of the frame.

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

I guess I'm lost in the translation, but what is a "Film soup" ?

Matt Murray's picture

Hi Stefan, it's an experimental technique where you soak your roll of film (either before you shoot it or after) in different liquids to get interesting effects :)

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

Oh, I see. I didn't know the concept. I used to stick to traditional processing techniques, apart from cross-processing. Thanks for the information !

Johnny Kiev's picture

It's also used to describe stand development in solutions such as 1:100 or 1:200

Marc F's picture

A soup with 70mm perforated lasagna?

Frank Wu's picture

Yeah I agree with most of these
When I shoot film I don’t really find myself slowing down, rather sometimes even faster than my digital camera. Only when I shoot on my Yashica 6x6 is when I actually slow down Bc I learned that 12 pic a roll will go through really fast if I shoot it like 35mm film XD
Also I remember there is that one Japanese bnw film photographer back then he shot through a roll of 35mm just walking 10m on a street so yeah

Chad L's picture

Regarding camera repair; I used to repair electronic devices for a living. Newer cameras can be repaired, and easily too. The issue is sourcing parts. Manufacturers don't want you repairing your devices, they want you to buy a new one. They will go out of their way to make it impossible to fix your device.

Apple is notorious for this. They make deals with the component manufacturers to keep them from selling parts to people. More recently they made it so you can't take parts from one donor device and put it in another.

This is why I'm pro-right to repair. If we had this, repairing brand new mirrorless cameras would be a cinch, and cheap too (relatively speaking). I beg everyone to write their congressperson.

Matthew Wickham's picture

I'm very much with you on right to repair, I have two old canon EF (35mm) bodies that are strictly for parts, a desk drawer full of random screws and bits, and always have a bit of lighter fluid handy.

I've gutted almost every camera I own to make sure they stay in working condition.

John DeBoever's picture

I love to use my old folder cameras. They are zone focus and the whole process is very deliberate which appeals to me. I use a tripod most of the time and use a cold shoe bubble level to speed up the process. I like that I can spend a pleasant morning, afternoon, or evening with just 8 or 12 images. I am not a film snob, I just love the look and don't have to spend a great deal of time at a computer. I like to just put my work week behind me and be grateful God has given me another day.

Matt Murray's picture

Lovely! I was gifted a 1930s 6x9 Ensign Selfix folder, such fun! I've only shot one roll with it though.

Julian Ray's picture

Up your game
Next level
Epic
Hack
Game
Dope
Value
Filmic
Cinematic

and most of all...

Professional

,... these are but a few that need to die a slow painful death.

Walt Polley's picture

no, they need to die a quick death and then we move on

Ryan Cooper's picture

The biggest one for me is this incessant obsession with implying that film is the unquestionably better medium for new photographers to learn on. Often to the point of suggesting that photographers who learned on digital are not real photographers or are inherently 'lesser.' It does such a disservice to new photographers by pushing them into a format with a slow and punishing feedback loop. I've seen no evidence whatsoever to support the theory that learning on film makes someone a better photographer.

Michael Straker's picture

Fully agree. When I first started driving, my Dad said it was best to learn on an automatic than a standard due to so much to learn about actual driving , ex. awearness , defensive, rules of the road, etc. That also learning how to shift ,using clutch ,hill holding, etc was over load .Learn the basics then go for it.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Exactly, and with film its even more extreme. At least with driving you still get immediate feedback, regardless. But with film all of a sudden that feedback is delayed for days or even weeks so the cycle of practice, evaluate, adapt, practice again is wildly slower.

Dominic Francocci's picture

Film has definitely slowed me down: I took one photograph last year, and I still haven't wound it on to take the next one!

Matt Murray's picture

Ha ha! :)

Salty Cremepuff's picture

So here's my problem with souping film. If you took photos that are worth something to you, you are probably not going to want to risk the results to an experimental process like that. If you are willing to risk your results to an experimental process, you're probably not taking photos that you care all that much about in the first place. If the result comes out nice, then it's likely not a case of interest being created by the photograph you took (something you probably didn't care much about if you risked it on an experimental process), but rather the quirks of the development process. That's all well and good if that's what you're into, but I want my photography to be the compelling part of my photographs, not the manner of development. If your content is weak, then you're just relying on a gimmick. That's my struggle with film souping and other experimental processes.

Now with a bit of dedication and discipline you can absolutely experiment, document, and develop these processes into consistent ones after which there's really no difference (to you) between something that's unorthodox and any standard process. One example that comes to mind is a series called "Chemical Paintings" ( http://barronrachman.com/chemical-paintings ) by a photographer named Barron Rachman in New York where he screwed around with some weird stuff enough so that he could predict the results using different chemicals (although he seems to mostly do it with the prints rather than negatives). People like that are the exception, though. In practice, experimental processes like film souping are almost never done with that mentality. It tends to be people just hoping for some serendipity because they've no clue what the end result will look like. They're often not documenting dilutions, processes, results, or iterating on it. Far be it from me to tell anyone else how to create their art or have fun, but I have to question how much of the focus of their photography is actually on the craft of photography if this is what they're doing. I did my fair share of this stuff when I started out, but thinking about this is why I eventually settled on more standard processes.

As for stuff that I wish would die, it's someone inevitably bringing up 8x10 or 11x14 film when the film vs. digital debate inevitably happens. Large format shooters are a tiny portion of film photographers and even among large format shooters, almost nobody shoots 8x10 or 11x14. The vast majority are shooting 4x5. So you're bringing up a niche within a niche within a niche to support what amounts to a very general argument and it's pretty stupid.

Johnny Kiev's picture

Souping needn't be a risk, I have five boxes of Panatomix X sheet film that expired in 1958 and I have zero idea how they were stored, I soup in 1:200 Fomadon for an hour and am able to get usable images, you can see an example here -->https://johnnykiev.com/2021/06/13/1959/

Salty Cremepuff's picture

I'm talking about people who soup their film in stuff like ramen noodle soup or lemon juice, not people who are stand/semi-stand developing. I stand develop in Rodinal all the time.

Example: https://shootitwithfilm.com/7-awesome-film-soup-recipes/

Robert Lynch's picture

“Film is real.” No, it’s not. It’s tangible, but that’s something different.

Justin Sharp's picture

On average, shooting film probably does slow down the overall process. Of course there are some exceptions; film shooting can happen quickly and digital can be slow. I can only speak for myself, but shooting my 8x10 slows down considerably because of the process of physically shooting such a large and heavy camera and the cost of film makes me consider every shot since I know it will cost several $$$ per shot. The truth is that slowing down has helped me improve. If I had slowed down the same amount shooting digital, I probably would have seen the same benefits. It’s the act of slowing down and not necessarily directly about the film. There’s the flexibility with digital to shoot fast or slow, but there’s no option with 8x10 film shooting. It forced the slow down. Therefore, I improved by switching to film and slowing down.
The only thing I would add to the list is the endless discussion/argument that film is sharper than digital. It may or may not be true, but I cringe every time this topic arises. I know mine is an unpopular opinion. Even though sharpness can be important, this obsession over sharpness makes me wonder if we are missing the forest for the trees. There are so many more important elements to a good photo.

Terry Waggoner's picture

I had to laugh at the responses to "film shows me down"..........my take is that the shooter doesn't know how to use a film camera..........They have to make choices their digital made for them. That's ok, at least now the kids think I'm knowledgeable "Old Man"

Michael Fraley's picture

Hmmm ... if film slows me down, it's got a lot to do with me personally. I'm a rather slow person to begin with. Yes, the fact that I'm working with a finite strip of film makes me aware of each frame, but so do the inherent limitations built into that strip -- frame size, ISO, and so on, including the chemistry the manufacturers use to produce the stuff for their "consumer" or "professional" varieties. I have to ask myself what I need to do in order to get the best image I can out of this particular roll. Have I brought a knife to a gunfight, and if I have, how can I get that "knife" to work for me? I'm also one of those guys who *does* use all-mechanical cameras, which plays into that slowness. Since every blessed thing is manual, I become much more conscious of each choice. Especially when I make the wrong choice. I develop my own film at home, for the same reasons Ken Flanagan mentioned in his response, but also because I love the "mad scientist" aspect of it. Even scanning film is special to me because of my interest in mixing the RGB layers (something I could never really do as a painter -- RGB in paint never produces yellow). See, all of these things are my own very personal response to a plastic strip chugging through a metal box and which ends up getting dipped into a smelly chemical bath. So yes, I take it slowly, the way a person does when they spend time on things that have meaning to them. The "slow" aspect in film photography is a deliberate choice, in a craft that lends itself to slowness. The "slow" digital photographers you mentioned in your article are making their choice in a craft that lends itself to speed, and to me that might just be the more difficult (or impressive) of the two.

Brian McCullough's picture

I also hate the "don't bother with 6x4.5" thing. And I also have a 645 Pentax (645N). The reason I have it is because I love the look of Tri-X, but not at 35mm. 6x4.5 gets me where I want to get, and if I can ever find a place to set up my enlarger, it will fit.

Matt Murray's picture

Pentax 645 is such a great camera!

Aravind Vinayakan's picture

On the note of electronic cameras not being repairable. My Nikon F3 took a dunk in a local creek and was seemingly gone. Sent it in to a camera repair shop I've used before, was able to source a new main PCB and a few weeks later my camera was literally good as new (functionally speaking). Could I have just picked up a new F3? Yes. Am I deeply sentimental? Yes :)

A Engel's picture

Shooting a time limited event such as the recent partial eclipse is just as difficult with digital as it would be with film. If you don't know your stuff, and prepare before hand, it will be gone before you even realize it... One chance to capture the video of the rising sun eclipsed with a bizarre 'as found' extra... https://www.facebook.com/andy.engel/videos/10158980638660266 A picture of the same event below...

Graeme Lever-Naylor's picture

Interesting comments about 645 as I am just about to get into MF and have been mentally debating formats. I would have thought that if we crop the same image taken on 35mm and a 645 we would end up with a much higher resolution crop on the 645. A lot of my images are cropped to some extent. Thinking of going with a square format (and I wish some photographers would stop scoffing at square format as I have seen great portraits and landscapes in square formats from current Youtube v-loggers and going back to TLR and Ansell Adams) but selecting a camera that allows for a 645 back as well to get the best of both worlds - like a Bronica SQ-ai