This Is the Main Reason I Don't Use My Film Camera

This Is the Main Reason I Don't Use My Film Camera

I love film photography; there's a special quality that analogue photos have that digital could possibly never match. However, I never shoot with my film camera anymore. Why not?
The first camera I ever shot on was film, and I continued to shoot analog until 2006, when I switched to digital. It wasn't long after the move until I exclusively shot digital photos and continue to do so today. However, I still have some film cameras (most recently a Nikon F100) and occasionally pop a little Fuji Velvia in there when going to a special location.

However, despite wanting to shoot with it more, I find it gathering dust on the shelf in my living room. But why is that? Have I fallen out of love with my film camera? Or is it because the quality of the shots is inferior to my digital camera? Well, it's a little more convoluted than that — some obvious reasons and others more obscure. It's likely the same sort of issues that many readers of this article will also have, comprised of convenience and size of living spaces. 

Can't Review Images

It's obvious, I know. But it's important to remember that when shooting film, you literally can't review any images you've taken. In a time where we're all so used to immediately checking the exposure, composition, depth of field, and so much more, we've become much more heavily reliant on this brevity. I think, in part, it's due to the self-edit.

Rear of film camera Nikon F100

There's no rear screen on a film camera. The fastest possible way to find out what a photo looks like is to have the film developed, which you can only do once you've used the entire roll of film (if shooting a roll of 35mm film, that's 36 exposures later).

Even those with no technical knowledge can now apply a filter, adjust brightness, or increase the sharpening of images before sharing them online. There's very little latency between taking the photo and making adjustments, so a larger gap between "click" and the finished photo as with shooting film can be jarring.

Double Up on Gear

Almost all my photography work nowadays is delivered digitally. So, if I go somewhere to take some great photos with my film camera, I'll want to capture that digitally as well. That's because I don't have a darkroom in my house, nor do I have the time to devote to preparing and developing the negatives or transparencies at home. 

Film and digital camera together

Why wait several days or weeks to get your photos back when you can take your digital camera along as well? The downside is that you're going to be carrying twice as much kit as before, all for the sake of shooting film.

This means waiting for a lab to process the stock before I have my finished result. For this reason, I tend to pack my digital camera too so that I can share my imagery faster. But inevitably, that means doubling up on gear, making my camera bag much heavier.

You're Stuck in One Mode

Fuji velvia 50 film in hand

When shooting film, you have to match the film type to the color temperature and light levels you're expecting to find when you get to your chosen location, as opposed to digital, where you can switch white balance and ISO at will as the conditions and light levels change.

Want to shoot outside on a nice, sunny day? Great, throw the daylight-balanced, ISO 200 film in the camera and head out. But if you plan to stay out all day and shoot into the night, you might want to think again, especially if you plan on going inside at any point. Unfortunately, you can't adjust ISO or white balance at will as you can with digital cameras. So, you're always limited in the scope of what you can and can't capture, and this limit is what puts me off shooting with my film camera. I love the flexibility digital gives me, and if my plans change throughout the day or night, then my camera changes with me. 

Waiting for Prints

Prints in hand on table

After waiting for your prints, there's a realization that you don't have control of how the negatives or transparencies are processed, which is the opposite of the control available when shooting digital.

As I've mentioned already, I don't have the time or space to develop my own film at home. I'm in a similar position to many people around the world, where rent is getting higher and living spaces are getting smaller. Whenever I do shoot film, it gets sent off to the lab for processing before receiving the results. If I'm working on a job, this long wait can really hinder me, especially if the client wants the images the same day. I understand there are some places that do rush jobs and expedited processing, but it's more overhead that cuts into my profit margin.

Using Photo Labs

My local labs are great at developing film, but having them do this for me does take a large chunk of artistic input from my photography workflow. If I'm in digital, I import to Lightroom, make my choices, apply edits, and maybe even finish off in Photoshop for some detailed work before having it ready to deliver. I'm in control of every part of the process from setting up the composition to choosing which resolution to output to. Labs are great, but I lack control over my workflow, and as an artist, that just bums me out.

So, What Does This All Add up To?

Basically, the reasons above mean that I'm less inclined to use my film camera, not that I don't want to. I just never get around to dusting it off and popping it in the camera bag. The last few times I've taken it out, I haven't bothered shooting with it, and it's become a bit of a lead balloon (both figuratively and literally when it's weighing me down in my bag). While I understand film's place in the world and still love it to pieces (and I'm aware there are many that shoot film regularly), I just can't justify it as anything more than a fun hobby for me. But perhaps you've found the opposite? Leave me a comment below; I'd love to hear your thoughts on why you do or don't shoot film.

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61 Comments

Previous comments
Paul C's picture

In film photography - you have to get it right first time "in camera" --- and that has a very long learning curve.

If you can master it, film photography as an exercise makes your digital work quicker and better - after all you complain about the time taken to see a final print; but how long does it take to computer post-process 500 digital snaps from a day out?

That has to be one reason why your "film camera" exercise often benefits from almost the simplest camera; control over aperture, sutter speed and focus leaves only composition left as your source of picture variation. That is why so many "film fans" love Rolliflexes, view cameras, Nikon FMs, 1960s rangefinders............

Lastly - only film can handle light roll-off in the highlight areas without sudden "clipping"; so there are some photos for which film still reigns supreme.

Ben Coyte's picture

What a weird article. Not sure what to make of it. The points above are, well kind of obvious. You don't get instant feedback, you have to wait to develop/print an image and you can't chuck a bunch of effects on the image right away. So, like millions of people you moved to digital for its convenience. And if that is good for your photography then more power to you.
Most film photographers relish the challenge of getting it right in the camera in the first place and then perhaps the developing tank and under the enlarger, which are every bit an art as driving Photoshop. So all the reasons you don't do it, are sort of why they still do it.
As another stab at the film vs digital argument, this didn't move the debate at all, though I am not sure you can move that debate any more than you can convince an American to vote for the other guy.

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

I think this guy started on digital, always shot digital,i guess sony ^^
Thought that he has to shoot film because everyone else says its sooo cool
Bought the most advanced non singledigit Nikon, found out that you actually gotta know what you do when there is so much time between taking the picture and seeing the picture and also every picture is money, that he put it down again.

But not before he wrote an article why he stopped shooting film ( .. one week after he started it) :)

Crazy Ji's picture

Funny. Those are the main reasons I use a film camera.

Steve Sondheim's picture

I thought the same when reading the article.

Ted Skinner's picture

I started out in photography in 1986 when I took a class in high school that started with pinhole cameras we made ourselves out of oatmeal boxes to cement the absolute fundamentals of capturing images. This led to becoming the yearbook and newspaper photo editor and lead darkroom tech there at the school, and then into a 10-year professional career before I decided to get a business degree and take a different career path. I'll never get rid of my film cameras so long as they keep functioning.

There's something about the 'true' nature of the image on film versus digital, that on close inspection still behaves like its Sony-VHS-camcorder forefathers when it comes to making a big print. Detail around bright highlights just doesn't look right, detail breaks down differently than it does on silver halide, and tonal range of different film types is still more aesthetically pleasing and natural than a digital rendering.

A large negative, such as a 4x5" still has greater detail-resolving power and depth of dynamic range in exposure than its digital equivalent at nearly any price. A transparency, even more so.

Yes, film is complicated and requires discipline, but I went through the learning curve over 30 years ago so it's all automatic for me.

One useful thing for any photographer to take into consideration is that film does better with overexposure while digital handles underexposure better. Here is a good article about that.

https://petapixel.com/2019/05/02/film-vs-digital-this-is-how-dynamic-ran...

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

Same here, i started in 1991, shot film until 2009, bought a D700 because i thought ok its finally here, used it for quite some time, and went back to film again.

If you love playing drums or guitars or any other instruments, you dont buy a sampler or drumcomputer just because it kinda sounds the same and needs less effort, you just dont do this if you love it.

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

Ok so the reason why you don't shoot film is because you don't like shooting film ...

A Hef's picture

You have made all the points for shooting digital. You are missing the reason film is still being sold. Some of us learned the art long before digital cameras existed. Shoot film when you have time to accept the challenge and learn something.

First, ditch the film SLR. Pick up a used Leica with a 28mm and a 90mm. Use it with B&W film only and develop it yourself. All you need is a dark bag, tank and reel. Then scan the negs for printing.

Now get to it and find the love again.

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

Nah, dont waste money on 135, if you start with film now go medium format.

The times where medium format cameras where 5 times the money of a 135 slr are over, why shoot 135 if you can shoot 645?

Also dont get a leica, forget the leica hype, better get a camera that takes 120 film instead of wasting money on a camera to get sharper photos on a tiny negative

El Capitan's picture

Well said, but you should have said 120 film. Why shoot a 6x4.5 if you can have a 6x6 or 6x7 instead?

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

Thats true, i just meant size-wise.

A 645 rangefinder is more in the range of a leica rangefinder than a makina or mamiya7 for example.
And still the difference in negative size between 135 and 645 is worth not even considering 135.

Everything above 645 is a matter of preferred aspect ration in my opinion, i like square so much i will never go bigger, if i want a rectangle i rather will use 645 and get 15 frames on a roll than 6x9 with 8 frames.

Thomas Bomstad's picture

My 2-cents.

In my opinion, to make a good photograph with film requires skill and practice. ANYONE can pick up a digital camera and make a good photograph, in minutes, with just a bit of learning the functions of the camera - or their phone and if you need proof there are hundreds of "user" sites on the web showing just that.

Film photography is, and always has been, an art form and the process, especially if you do your own processing/printing has been worth the wait. AND, when film ruled, photographs were special and unique.

Digital just cheapens the art down to "made in china" quality and works well for those too lazy to do the job right the first time. And with millions(billions?) of "captures" on the web, the true Fine Art photographer has so much competition that, unless you already were a well known photographer, your chance of earning a living from fine art photography is essentially zero.

However, for professional portrait style work, digital wins hands down because the work flow is faster, you can show your client samples in minutes rather than days or weeks and that makes you the money. But is also makes the photography hum-drum and no longer a "special" thing.

I don't shoot professionally and not likely I ever will AND I too use a digital camera most of the time because it's "easier" than film. I can shoot thousands of captures at 10 fps, get that "perfect" shot of an eagle in flight or a soccer players coolest goal shot and folks who see it will ohh and ahh and think I am a good photographer.

But all the pictures hanging on my walls, the photographs I am proud of, were shot with a film camera and I printed myself in my darkroom(still fully operational) on fiber-based papers. But I DO print digitally as well but with very few exceptions, none are "worthy" to hang next to my art.

Then there is the archival value of film over digital. I bought my first digital dSLR in 2010, a Sony A100, and have had a dozen or so digital cameras since but 99% of those captures older than about 6-years have been lost to corrupt files and hard drive failures. I have, maybe, a dozen captures from back then that have survived backup after backup after backup.

I still have B&W negatives that my dad shot( he WAS a professional photographer!) on medium and large format camera's back in the 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's that are as pristine as the day they came out of the darkroom. I can print them in my darkroom (or scan them into the computer if I am lazy) and they will look as good, or maybe better, than when they were first printed. I also have slides from back then and most of them too are as pristine as they day they came out of the lab. Film gives me solid, material product that is archival and doesn't require anything other than a cool dark place to store and will STILL be in the same condition decades from now. And if the special event was shot on film and the print degrades you can still get reprints decades later from negatives that will look as good as the originals - the odds of a digital file surviving that long are "virtually" zero.

Oh, and image quality, unless it is shot on a high-res(read that expensive) digital camera, just isn't going to be good enough to print a 20x30 image that a medium or large format film camera will provide at a fraction of the cost.
The only digital camera I have found that even comes close to being "equal" to a film camera, and affordable, is an SD Quattro and it requires nearly the same skill to get that good shot as a film camera AND it is the only digital camera that I have ever owned that looks, both pixel peeped and printed, almost like a film photograph.

However, at the end of the day, what you shoot and why is is a personal choice that no amount of discussion about pro's and con's will change. I prefer a negative that I can touch and feel with my fingers to a digital capture that only exists, unless printed, as 0's and 1's in a digital file, that don't actually exist in the real world.

anthony marsh's picture

I disagree on one point, ANYONE can pick up a digital camera and make a good photograph. ANYONE can pick up a digital camera and make a somewhat acceptable photograph.

Jeffrey Abelson's picture

I love film photography; there's a special quality that analogue photos have that digital could possibly never match.

this is kind of a silly statement - most of us scan our negatives and then print with an ink jet - or do post production in photoshop - in fact, I'd wager that most humans couldn't tell the difference except - perhaps - under test conditions

Adam Demuth's picture

You can send that garbage film camera to me, I'll dispose of it properly.

Don Arntz's picture

I had to open an account just to state what a stupid effing article this is. Or maybe that was the objective?

Timothy Roper's picture

You opened an account, so mission accomplished for the article!

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

Same here, i made an account because of his last article :)
This guy writes hilarious articles, very subtle non subtle clickbait-articles.

I hope our comments got him a payraise :)

Forrest M.'s picture

You don't need a darkroom to shoot film! I shoot black and white medium format and 35mm and develop it in a closet, then scan the negatives. Works well. I would love to print my own again, but I don't have the room, nor do I want the mess and lots of exhausted chemicals around. Anything really special I want to print myself, I will need to find a darkroom space to rent by the hour.

anthony marsh's picture

To sum it up one cannot manipulate an image beyond reality with a film camera, plus one does not need to think.

Timothy Roper's picture

Similarly, while I know it's very good for you, I don't like broccoli. People say i should eat it, and I do try, but I just don't like the way it tastes, the smell, and even the texture. Who else has things in life they don't like, but for some reason or another think they should?

Gil Aegerter's picture

Since shooting film is such a horrid chore for you, the least I can do is take all your film gear so you're no longer subject to such torment. If you could just post it to me cuz I'm sitting down right now and would have to get up to go over to your place to pick it up and that would be such trouble.

James Island's picture

These are the main reasons i dont use my digital camera, but instead grab my 4x5 or 6x6 film camera: 1.no battery to charge. 2. No screen to look at (i get too much screen time with my phone and computer). 3. I want to spend time and really think about a shot and think about exposure, light, zone metering...ART! 4. I like to process the film myself and watch the analog magic happen. 5. I like to scan the film and then make my own prints at whatever size i want at such a low cost it makes me giggle. 6. Because theres too much digital all around us now, and like playing a vinyl record, analog is way different. Ive been doing photogrpahy for 37 years and own both film and digital cameras. They are for different purposes often for me, each has a place. But i will end with this: i will shoot film as long as itsbstill being made, and when i do portraits of people with film, every part of the process is more interesting to them. They cherish the images more than when shot with digital. I love both, for different reasons, but learned photography with film, starting at age 12. Now at almost 50, i see the new kids discovering film. It takes me back and i love sharing the joy with them.

Michael Steinbach's picture

Duh.

Emry Brisky's picture

I made an account just to comment on this article. I haven’t read a lot of fstoppers, but I gotta say: this article seems completely pointless. Or at least framed completely wrong. Next time, maybe just don’t bother writing the article if you have nothing to say?

Sam Sims's picture

Personally I stopped reviewing (chimping) every photo and simply turn auto preview and the back screen off (unless I need the screen for a particular composition). Reviewing each picture is both an indication you’re not confident in your own ability to get sharp images plus wastes a lot of time. As a street photographer, I don’t have the time to review every image as I prefer to be looking out for the next potential shot rather than staring at the camera screen.

Jim Weeber's picture

My Hasselblad’s, Wista, Pentax 67 and so on are such works of art it is a shame not to use them.

El Capitan's picture

I am a hobbyist photographer and I love shooting the film not because it is better, but because it challenges me every time. What puzzles me is why the OP went to such great length to build a case against film. Something is telling me he might be feeling guilty for being a victim of instant feedback and convenience.

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