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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67 Comments

Previous comments
Dinah Beaton's picture

Thanks for your article. I am a fan of both digital and film and i have a small collection of 11 film cameras,

I've just spent £600 on a new lens for my Canon EOS 70D and £50 to buy a Pentax MX with 2 zoom lenses, shooting with both currently but not at the same time. For me, both are very enjoyable to use although the MX is on its first round of film in my hands so I've yet to find out its working condition.

I process and print my negs digitally most times and find it just as fun as doing it all in a darkroom with the film club i belong to.
So for me, it is 6 of one and half a dozen of the in enjoyment. Printing, mounting and framing all done by me at home - frames being pre-made.

My first exhibition with an Art group was fairly successful but due to covid (Grrrrr😒) following ones have been postponed till further notice.

If you are interested this link will take you to my collection taken mostly in Brighton and London.
http://dinahbeaton.co.uk/photography/black-white-framed-photographs/
Cheers

anthony marsh's picture

That lens for your EOS will be a nice paperweight when the camera breaks down and CANON has not made the lens compatible with newer models.

Deleted Account's picture

No it's not about time I started shooting film. Been there, done that when that's all there was decades ago. No desire to waste money doing it again. Pretentious title designed for clicks. Not cool.

Hipster trend in my opinion. I think "some" young photographers that have started out with digital and only know digital think that shooting film gives them some sort of coolness clout. Nothing wrong with learning film photography and keeping it alive. I think that's a good thing but it doesn't need to be a chip on one's should or medal on their chest. We older folks that started out with film when there was nothing else, will never see film the same exact way that a young person that started out with digital. Especially in the last ten to fifteen years. By the mid 2000s image quality of DSLRs was looking better and getting cheaper every year. Plus adding more features and then video. So if you got into photography, say 2010, then you got into it when it was pretty mature compared to the late 90s and very early 2000s. By 2010 digital pretty had much replaced film for the most part. Not everywhere or in every situation of course, but for the mainstream, yes.

I do agree with you that film makes you take the time to think about your composition and settings with a limited number of shots as opposed to almost limitless shots and all the other gratifying attributes of digital photography. If one has the money and desire to shoot film they should. I have no problem with that. If it's a person that has only shot digital I think they would learn a lot from shooting film. But to shoot film just to be hip or a snob is for the wrong reasons. And no matter how passionate you are about film James, Your title put me off and from what I can tell some others too. Not the way to encourage people. On the other hand, you didn't call it Analog Photography and I applaud you for that. And if you don't have a set of color filters for your black and white work get some. ;-)

BTW, I started with film in the mid 80s with a Chinon CP7m and a Sigma 28-84 lens. I still have
it along with a Nikon FE2 with auto winder and lenses. So if I ever get the urge I'm ready. ;-)

Matthias Rabiller's picture

Or you simply admit that photographing with old cameras is just like vintage cars, steam trains or sailboats. In principle the modern equivalent would do the job better, but it just got so much more charm :)

Fontaine Lewis's picture

I just started shooting film about a month ago, and even in the year I waited to bite the bullet, prices for cameras I wanted are too high for me to justify.

And I will say, shooting film sucks. So many obstacles in the world today. Film is expensive and has to be either cheap crap from wal-mart, or the good stuff with inflated prices because it's imported from the US. Cameras are unreliable and old and expensive if you want anything decent. The entire economy of film photography is based on hype. You just sit around hoping to God that the camera you want to buy doesn't get brought up in a YouTube video, or else the price will spike. Developing is expensive and high-resolution TIFF scans are stupidly over-priced.

But ultimately, film so so incredibly fun that I really don't care about the negatives. It's a really fulfilling experience, and I love it.

Deleted Account's picture

"But ultimately, film so so incredibly fun that I really don't care about the negatives. It's a really fulfilling experience, and I love it."

The right reason to shoot film if you are so minded. Very well put.

anthony marsh's picture

So many naysayers regarding film. I will posit that when the hard drive crashes or loses images that cannot be retrieved the negatives from my LEICA M-3 on TRI-X will still be viable.

Wolfgang Post's picture

How do you backup your negatives? Just in case your house catches fire..

Mike Ditz's picture

I forgot who it was but a very famous PJ from the 1940-80s thought about that and wanted his lifetime archive to be stored in a very safe place. Living in NYC he chose a safe deposit box in a bank, a bank at the World Trade Center....

anthony marsh's picture

My photographs are photographs,not "images" spewed out by the hundreds or thousands in order to arrive at "the one".

anthony marsh's picture

What are the odds that my home will catch fire as opposed to your electronic back up failing and your "images" are not retrievable? I'd wager the odds are on my side.You have not considered that my thousands of negatives may be stored in a fire proof safe.

Oli Sansom's picture

Yep, love it...

J Riley Stewart's picture

Advice from a long-timer shooting film: start simple- one camera, one lens, one film, one developer, one scanner (or scanning source) and learn how all these things work together. It may be a couple of years of heavy working before you decide to advance. Point is: Any camera will work for you. Any film. Any developer. Any scanner. As much as there is a tendency to react to all those digital upgrades, it's even moreso with film because of the plethora of 'better choices.' I guarantee you that your initial choices will serve you for years, if you stay with them long enough to learn how they all work together.

J Riley Stewart's picture

Probably the best reason to shoot film is because you love the look that film gives. If you don't, then shoot digital. You'll avoid all the torment film can lead to. But after nearly 45 years of shooting film, with only a short experiment with digital, I can tell you that the only reason I shoot film is because I love the images it produces. Holler back if you'd like to hear more about the 'look' of film. Or see examples at www.jrileystewart.com

Mark Weber's picture

Great review and God bless anyone who wants to shoot film but after being a film photographer for years? I personally have absolutely zero interest in going back to it however, if this motivates you? GO FOR IT! In the end it's about creating beautiful images regardless of the tool you use.

Timothy Gasper's picture

I have always been a film photographer and from about 2006 through 2008, and even til now I guess, I started buying the film cameras I really wanted. The Vietnam War preempted my professional career and after much time in hospitals I eventually came back to it. When digital came out and was all the rage, I somehow had a feeling that one day film would come back to the fore, so I purchased as many of the cameras I had always wanted and still am thinking about more (DON'T tell my wife.) Finally got the Hasselblad I wanted, the beautiful Fuji GX680, Contax and even a Leica R8, among several others. Don't get me wrong. I know that digital will be around for quite some time, but now I have the luxury of doing both. Beautiful thing is that I can get digital backs for any of my film cameras. Hell, the Leica R8 has a dedicated digital back (10 MP) as well as using film. So I am very happy with all the options available. But my heart is stuck on film. Just take my time to get it right with one shot, develop and put it on a CD and I can edit however the hell I want or need to. What more could anyone ask for? No...seriously.....what more can you ask for???
Keep shooting. And if you're a first-time film user, have fun, take your time and you will learn so much....about yourself.

Brian Johnson's picture

Ahhhh...more retro weeniness. I shot film for 25 years and I'm never going back. My days of traveling with bricks of film are over