It’s About Time You Started Shooting Film

It’s About Time You Started Shooting Film

Film photography has been enjoying a strong revival in the last few years. If you’ve yet to try it, it’s about time you jump on the film photography bandwagon. 

Why Shoot Film?

That’s a great question. Film photography is more prone to mistakes because of the delayed response in seeing your work. On a per shot basis, film photography can be more expensive. Depending on the type of camera that you have, the metering may or may not be dependable or accurate; it may not even have an internal meter at all! What’s more, the equipment needed to shoot film is not necessarily less expensive compared with digital; yet, given their age, they are substantially more likely to break. So yes, there are many reasons to not shoot film. However, the question was “why shoot film,” and to that, I say there are many reasons. 

For one, and this is what many people love most about film photography, it slows you down (for better or worse) and forces you to think more thoroughly about each and every photograph. In a world where digital cameras and phones can take photo after photo after photo with seemingly no end, an external pressure slowing you down can be quite an attractive change of pace. Thus, for many photographers that get into film, there’s an intentionality to it that is difficult to be replicated in digital photography. 

In addition to an exercise in patience and precision, shooting film offers the opportunity to practice understanding and embracing accidents and missed opportunities. Lastly, film photography offers the chance to simplify your photography processes. One of the few — possibly the only decision — is to choose what film you want to shoot. The first question is, depending on the photographer, whether you want to shoot color or black and white. Even within color film, there’s the question of slide film or color negative film. Once you’ve decided between the film type, there’s only the question of what film stock you want to shoot. Once the film is loaded, your decisions have essentially been made for you for the next 10-36 frames unless, of course, you are shooting large format or a medium format camera with interchangeable backs.

Lastly, and I suspect that this will be the argument that I will get the most kickback on, a nice 35mm film camera can be had for considerably less money than a nice digital camera, and film cameras will hold their value better over time. If you were to buy a brand-new (or even a used) digital camera today, one year from today, it will be worth a good deal less money. As time goes on and there are more and more digital camera models are released, the technology in your camera will be worthless and less. Film cameras, on the other hand, are not affected by such market changes, and as such, after a year, whatever camera you buy should be worth about what you paid for it on a bad day and more than what you paid for it on a good day. Further, while shooting film can be considerably more expensive for someone looking to shoot thousands and thousands of photographs, many people, myself included, rarely shoot that much. So, for those people looking to get into photography but unsure of whether they will stick with it, film can provide an opening into the world of photography at a lower cost. While it is true that affordable crop-sensor cameras also offer a budget-level entry, their value as used gear plummets compared with that of film gear, which is presumably already as cheap as you’ll be able to get it. 

Why Now?

The answer is simple. There are more and more people starting to shoot film again every single day. In a world where cell phones can act as competent digital cameras, the same cannot be said for film photography. Going with film comes with the je ne sais quoi of film that cannot be had with a cell phone or digital camera. As a result, the limited stock of good, still functioning film cameras is dwindling little by little every day. As a result, and as you may recall from one of my previous articles, prices of film cameras are on the rise and do not appear to be decreasing anytime in the near future. 

With all of that said, I’ll again pose the question: “why now rather than a year from now? There are a number of reasons, the most important of which is that if you don’t buy the camera you’ve been eyeing now, it’s only going to be more expensive later. If you’re anything like me, it’s always frustrating to know that you could have had the same thing for less money if you had only bit the bullet a little earlier. The second reason you should go ahead and pick up a camera is that there’s a reason film photography has become more and more popular over the years. Until such time as you shoot through a few rolls and feel what it’s like, you cannot understand what all of your buzzes are about. Sure, you can read about why people love it and you can think you understand but until you get your hands-on experience, you will not understand. Perhaps you shot to film a couple of decades ago before you have since made the transition to digital cameras, to you I would argue that it is not the same experience anymore. It’s true that the cameras haven’t changed and some film stocks haven’t changed, but the world around those cameras and stocks have changed. The world that we currently live in thrives on the immediate gratification of seeing photos as you soon as you take them, and as mentioned at the head of the article, the change of pace is quite attractive.

Lastly, and this is in my eyes the most important point, if you were to get into film today for the first time, you could be part of the possible sea change the photography world is experiencing. As you may recall from some of my previous articles, I am a vocal supporter of film photography and would like to see its longevity; however, I sadly do not see this happening unless large-scale camera manufacturers decide to return to building affordable cameras ranging from 35mm to 6x7. Sure, we have Intrepid and a number of others that have been thriving at making large format cameras exclusively. View cameras, however, are not particularly beginner-friendly, and every sustainable market needs affordable, entry-level models that can attract new people to the hobby. It is in this belief that I hope, should enough people decide to return to shooting film entirely or even partly, the market will respond before it is too late. 

What do you think? Are you a film photographer? If so, what would your advice be to someone looking to get into it? If you’ve yet to dip your toes in the water, what has been holding you back?

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Deleted Account's picture

Back in the day I would try to get outputs as clean and true to life as possible; these qualities are a feature of digital, and by that standard digital spanks film, and so I stopped shooting film (after much resistance) - I think this is a significant part of the reason old men scream loudest against the idea of shooting film.

Now that I have started shooting film again, I embrace the imperfections* of the medium as a feature as opposed to something to be worked out.

*With respect to imperfections, I will never view dust spots as anything but a flaw and and light leaks as anything other than a critical failure.

With respect to the camera cost question, digital is more expensive on the front end and film is more expensive on the back end (although, a lot of film cameras aren't so cheap anymore). Manufacturers convince us that new camera is a must, old cameras have their own qualities in terms of their lenses and are collectable by virtue of their existence. It's a complex question, and I'm uncertain as to how meaningful it is. However, digital (for stills) is mature technology, and therefore there is no reason you would need to buy a new camera for a couple of decades (unless it fails).

James Madison's picture

I agree with you about embracing the imperfections. I don't like dust but light leaks don't bother near as much as they used to. And while it can be disappointing to see that maybe the focus or exposure was just slightly off, I see it as a learning lesson.

Venson Stein's picture

Light Leaks are useful and fun for artistic effect and experimentation. I would be fairly pissed if one showed up in a photo I wanted "clean." Easy to solve though - One should test their gear thoroughly. If people want to do light leaks and expired film type effects, there are plenty of $25 - $50 beater cameras that can do that.

Jon Kellett's picture

I loved film when that's all I had. I never worried about noise or dust, never chased the cleanest shot - Even spent some time playing with 800 pushed to 1600 and embracing the grain.

The cost though... Wow... It wasn't an issue at the time, but in hindsight it held me back. Having to conserve how many photos I took because of the processing cost was, in hindsight, a major restriction to my creative output.

I'll never touch film again.

Deleted Account's picture

I hear you. I just paid $25 for a single roll of Portra 800 in 120. Fair to say I'm not shooting a lot of film.

James Madison's picture

$25 for one roll!? That's so expensive...

Deleted Account's picture

(Australian) Yeah, no kidding. I grabbed two out of the fridge, one went back. I also just paid $77 AU for a pro pack of Portra 160 in 120

James Madison's picture

That's still a lot of money... My goodness

Jeremy Strange's picture

It’s $20 at Ikigai atm, have a look.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

But is it climate friendly to revert back to film?

Deleted Account's picture

The rate of growth in aggregate material exterminations vastly outweighs any contribution an individual can make. Just enjoy your life.

James Madison's picture

To entirely revert back to it? No clue. I don't know what effects film manufacturing and processing has on the environment much less how it contrasts to the production of digital cameras and all of their parts. I am confident though that buying new things for the sake of having new things does more damage than good - even if the new thing is environmentally friendly.

All in all, on the hobbyist level, I cannot imagine the manufacturing and processing of film moves the needle much if at all compared with all of the other damage being inflicted onto the climate.

anthony marsh's picture

The manufacturing of digital cameras uses higher amounts of materials than film cameras and the sheer numbers consigned to landfills when no longer usable will be considerable. How many older digital cameras have you seen on mantles or shelves as nostalgic and or decorative and usable items of beauty? I daresay that my LEICA M-3,3 F ,BRONICA S2A,MAMIYA C-33,VOIGTLANDER BESSA,AGFA BILLY COMPUR,IKOFLEX 1B and others in my collection are more beautiful than any digital camera will ever be and will more than likely be usable for many more years than any digital camera will ever be.

jim hughes's picture

Here's the big problem with film: I'd have absolutely no outlet for my work - I'd be building another boat in the basement.

I can put my digital work on a POD and actually sell one now and then. I can blog about it and get a few hits. My friends can admire it on facebook. I have at least a dim possibility of it being seen and even liked.

What do I do with film shots? Just scan them? Do I post-process those scans? Is that still 'film'? Doesn't seem impressive, somehow...

I'm old, I should be on this bandwagon. But where would it take me?

James Madison's picture

I would imagine it would take you to the same place your digital work takes you. It may even take you further as it could set you apart!

Mike Dochterman's picture

lets see... yes, yes and yes.. film will give you a different look even scanned..esp if you start shooting larger formats... so can still put it on a POD, have people see it and maybe sell it..and guess 50 years - your negatives will still be around... where will your digital originals be in 50 years??????

anthony marsh's picture

Quality work will always find an outlet.

jim hughes's picture

Vivian Maier might disagree.

Mike Ditz's picture

Does it...?

anthony marsh's picture

Yes if presented and promoted properly.

Michael Krueger's picture

I thought about giving film a try, I have plenty of F mount manual glass I could use, but when I looked into it decided it's not worth the cost.

I can't buy film locally or get it developed. I would need to order the film online and wait for it to arrive, then after shooting package it and send it off to be developed and wait for it to return. This will cost me nearly $1 an image and extra for prints. Throw in the fact I take a lot of photos I'm not happy with and it just feels like a complete waste of money.

While developing my own film could be fun, I have no place to set up a dark room either.

For environmental reasons I hope film remains a niche market for hobbyists and antique collectors.

jim hughes's picture

Maybe it would be cool if someone developed a new type of film with a non-toxic, water-based chemistry.

anthony marsh's picture

As opposed to the "non toxic" manufacturing of digital cameras and printer/scanners,,the "non toxic" inks necessary to print digital images and the "non toxic" obsolete digital cameras,ink cartridges and obsolete printer/scanners that will end up in landfills

James Madison's picture

Are you certain there's no one that can process it somewhat locally? I wouldn't be surprised if there's a shop that's still doing it somewhere not far from you. As for processing your own film, it's not that difficult and you don't need a darkroom. I process my B&W in broad daylight most of the time. You just have to load it in darkness which is why we have changing bags*

Matt Williams's picture

There are many places where film is no longer processed locally. Around here (middle TN, Nashville area), Dury's was the last lab within a few hundred miles and they succumbed to the effects of COVID and permanently closed. Also the last camera store in the state that I know of - there might be one in Knoxville, maybe Memphis, but both are a few hours away.

This is why I only shoot b&w, because I can (easily) develop and scan myself. I also generally don't find color film to have the same advantages over digital that b&w does.

anthony marsh's picture

There are labs that still use traditional technology such as The Darkroom in CALIFORNIA that have reasonable fees and a fast turn around and there are others,google film labs to find them.

Jim Bolen's picture

Umm, yeah, no. I've shot tens of thousands of frames of film. Don't care to go back. And the slowing down part? Try shooting a bunch of large format (still have all my old 4x5 stuff). If you've never shot with one, you have no idea how to take it slow.

James Madison's picture

Oh, I do have a 4x5 and I love it! My fiancé on the other hand hates sitting still for as long as it takes to set up!

Norris Thecat's picture

I shoot film and digital. I can make all my digital images look like film in LR/PS. None of my friends are impressed when I shoot film vs. digital. They only care how they look in the photo. In the field I usually see young people shooting film. When I talk to young people about why they are shooting with a film camera, they tell me they think it's cool and like the way the images look. They also usually send their film out for developing and scanning and then post to Instagram. So basically you are shooting film to get a digital image that you can get on on a digital camera. It all makes little sense when you take the "coolness" factor out of shooting film. I shoot with a TLR that's been in the family since new. I do my own developing and scan a high resolution version of the image. I often question why I'm doing this when I can get identical results with a digital camera. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy the whole process, but it's counter-intuitive and makes no sense if you're not making darkroom prints and learning that craft. It is not time to start shooting film. I will guaranty that you will lose interest in the process soon after and you will be selling your gear on Ebay. Shooting film is a complete process from loading your camera to drying the finished print. Anything less is not shooting film.

James Madison's picture

Shooting with a TLR? That's fun! What model?

Norris Thecat's picture

Rolleiflex 3.5T. My wife's dad bought it in Germany in 1958 when he was in the army. Was stationed at the same base as Elvis Presley at the time. No pics of Elvis, though.

James Madison's picture

Oh wow! He was stationed in Friedberg!?That's so cool! I was just there back in Feb

James Madison's picture

Also - Nice camera! I'm glad to hear that you're still using it, even if you question why you do so. haha

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

I agree with pretty much everything you said. I'm old enough to have started out with film when it was the only option. While I wouldn't suggest depriving any person from using film, it does seem a bit trite to do so when the images will only be scanned. The beauty of film (B&W, at least) to me was the process that led to very rich prints, especially on fiber paper. As you pointed out, there's little point in using film just to get a scanned digital photo.

Jon Kellett's picture

Funny enough, even though in an earlier comment I said that I'd never touch film again I might be interested in B&W (medium format I imagine) if I had the room for the processing.

When I shoot for B&W in digital (always in colour), I'm seldom satisfied unless there's some grain present. Even when the photo is a high key image. Perhaps that's a carry over from my film days?

anthony marsh's picture

Check out a device called the ARS-IMAGO LAB BOX. It is a unit that can be used to process film in daylight. The only "darkroom" then necessary would be a space for a compact enlarger and trays for printing,perhaps a fairly large bathroom.

Jon Kellett's picture

Sounds really interesting but if I took over any more space I may well find myself single! ;-)

James Madison's picture

Eh. There are plenty of people, myself included, that still make wet prints. There's nothing quite like them. I don't enjoy the smell of a darkroom so much holding a well done print makes everything about shooting film worth it to me.

anthony marsh's picture

I do not believe that digital images can be made to look like film no matter how manipulative the process. I challenge anyone to attempt to replicate the results of photographs made with my LEICA M-3,50 mm 2.8 ELMAR and TRI-X.

Leo Tam's picture

I've given a bunch of people film cameras who showed interest in shooting film - all of them love the slightly underexposed, direct flash look of point and shoots. All just shoot whatever film is the cheapest and doesn't care what the stock is. A few of them wanted film to shoot in manual, but judging from the shots I've seen, I don't think they know what the meter does - as long as they're having fun

James Madison's picture

Having taken road trips in a 67 Pontiac, I can honestly say that so long as I'm not in the south and it's the middle of summer, I would take that car every time!

anthony marsh's picture

Why inject politics into a discussion on photography?

anthony marsh's picture

It doesn't bother me at all,however inane comments irrelevant to the subject being discussed does.

Jeff Heinaman's picture

Just bought a used Pentax PZ-1P film to go with my Pentax K3 & KS-2 digitals and sharing a few FF lenses between then all (especially Samyang 135mm F2.0).

Slowing down for film has made my digital capture process better and more intentional even though it is different (exposing for the shadows with film and highlights with digital).

Especially fun sharing lenses.

James Madison's picture

I hear that. Glad you're enjoying it!

Edison Wrzosek's picture

I started my career back in the 35mm film days on cameras like the Canon A-1, AE-1 and Minolta Maxxum 7000, and whilst they were enjoyable back then, I would NEVER go back to it.

From my point of view, it's a relic of the 20th century that belongs in the past, and I will never be going back to it.

James Madison's picture

Ha! A relic indeed. So long as they still work, they deserve to still be used.

Wolfgang Post's picture

To me, shooting film is purely nostalgic, similar to keeping old cars or other stuff. It's nice to see, nice to remember those days, but impractical or expensive (or both) by today's standards. Starting with question where to process the film (Asia is digital), up to scanning (shop delivers jpg or tiff without chance to influence the settings; scanning at home throws other questions up about equipment, software, film holders etc) just to get the images into the computer. Not even touching the topic of learning from settings etc (where does the film store exif..?)
Digital: put the card into the reader, done. If I need something close to film look there are tons of presets, done. To each his/her own, film is gone for me.A nice memory, though.

JL Williams's picture

Film, schmilm. As the author himself states, everybody is doing that. Clearly now is the time to start shooting wet plates. Every claimed advantage of film — it slows you down, it makes you think harder, it forces you to embrace accidents — is even more true with wet plates. Plus, there's the bracing challenge of carrying a dark tent and chemicals, and the mental discipline of planning ahead to sensitize the plate and then expose it while it's still wet.

Clearly, everything that film enthusiasts love about film is even better with wet plates. Ah, the glorious inconvenience! In fact, wet-plate photography is so inconvenient that nobody will be terribly surprised if you never successfully produce any photographs at all, giving you all the one-upmanship benefits with none of the work.

Then again, maybe now is the time to give up the whole practice of propping up your photographic self-esteem by embracing artificial technical difficulties so you can pretend that makes you special. But oops... then you wouldn't have anything to stand on except the quality of your thought and your determination to realize your vision. Sounds hard, doesn't it? Much easier to buy a film camera and start writing blog posts...

Deleted Account's picture
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