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.
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?