The Next Camera You Buy Should Be Film

The Next Camera You Buy Should Be Film

To take The Buggles out of context — digital killed the film star. But just as podcasts are one of the biggest growth areas in media, so is film on the up. Forget buying digital. Your next camera should be film, and here's why.

That Nikon D810 you bought three years ago takes almost identical photos to the Z6, and when it comes to shooting a wedding or covering an event, it offers little marginal benefit other than emptying your wallet of a little (or a lot) more cash. Ultimately, professional (and by proxy, amateur) photographers dance to the tune of the commercial sector and the fads and fashions that are driving the market forward.

There is a definite trend from art directors for requesting "bigger" and "more," and this often translates into using top-end medium format cameras from the likes of Hasselblad and Phase. Outside of this (and a few other niche areas), you'd be hard pressed to tell whether a Canon 6D Mark II, Panasonic Lumix G90, Fuji X-T3, or Huawei P30 Pro (witness Ben Von Wong's P8 promo) took the shot. However, you can make yourself stand out from the crowd by offering to shoot film, something I do for weddings. Film is back, and here are four great reasons why your next camera should be film.

1. Retro Analog Is Back in Style

Retro is firmly here, be that flares, Converse Classics, or the Playstation 1. Nik haS long offered filter presets for the PC, while (for example) VSCO is one of a plethora of phone apps that do similar. Social media is actually a misnomer for visual media; photos trump everything when it comes to a status update. Witness Instagram, Facebook, and SnapChat to see how far the medium can be pushed. Filters and presets are de rigeur as long as it is instant and memorable, with color grading a critical element. In short, that fickle beast that is the general public wants — even loves — seeing retro styled images.

2. Film Sales Are Rising

Of course, you don't need a film camera to apply a digital preset, but users actually want more than just to post an instantly forgotten status update. Physical media is big business and there is nothing better than having a print in your hand. This goes some way to explain the explosion in photo gifts in recent years: canvases, photobooks, mugs, t-shirts, and cushions. You name it, someone can print a photo on it. Maybe it's a strange coincidence of fate, but Instagram and the Polaroid both share the square format. Square prints crop up again and again for online printing, while Polaroid (formerly the Impossible Project) and Fuji both have square instant prints.

In fact, it's not analog per se that people want, but instant gratification — the instant print. Technical perfection is not a consideration. Film sales are up, with Fuji selling more instant Instax cameras that digital cameras. More widely, film sales are increasing, with the likes of Kodak bringing Ektachrome back to market.

3. Digital Cameras Are Dead

I've talked about the death of digital camera sales before, and the writing is clearly on the wall. With sales down 83% from their peak in 2010, the camera is going back to the expensive niche status is held in the 1950s and 1960s. There is no volume left in the market. Smartphones are where there is camera growth and, crucially, development. That's not to say camera manufacturers aren't in this market. They are, and this is no better demonstrated than by Sony, but the new players, such as Google, Samsung, Huawei, and Apple have shifted the goal posts. That said, the imagery produced by smartphones doesn't stand up under close scrutiny; however, for their target audience, it is good enough, and the gap is closing rapidly with each iteration.

4. Slow Photography

Digital photography has created a strange phenomenon in the search for the perfect moment: the video frame. In short, video has killed the stills star.

This was perhaps entirely predictable, and you only have to look back at the contact sheets of the pros at Magnum to see the start of that search. Digital photography allowed instant, unlimited, photography, and the advent of 4K made photo from video genuinely useful, something that Panasonic was quick to exploit with its 4K photo mode. The latter is conceptually similar to Samsung's "motion photo."

While spray and pray clearly has its applications, there is reason to slow down. It will make you calmer and as a result, more considered. It can help you to see what you are looking at and for people, give you time and space to connect with your subjects. Not being able to see the end result forces you to rely on your technique; once you realize that you don't need to worry about what the camera has captured, you can focus upon what's in front of you, savoring the moment.

What to Buy?

Not surprisingly, there is a plethora of secondhand film cameras for sale at stupidly low prices. Choose your favorite auction site and take the usual precautions when buying (check out Paul Parker's Ultimate Guide), or use a reputable retailer who offers an appropriate warranty. When it comes to choice, I offer three suggestions. Firstly, stick with a familiar brand. Not only will it make shooting with the camera itself friendly and familiar, but your existing lenses may well be usable. In my case, I opted for the relatively recent Nikon F100, which works with all my F-mount lenses. It was home away from home, except I was shooting on film. Secondly, if you want to try something different or experience a blast from the past, then look for a job lot. Many enthusiasts are selling full body and lens collections, which means everything is ready for you. Finally, you may may want to use this opportunity to experiment with medium or large format cameras. There are a wealth of medium format options available, particularly with stalwarts from the golden age such as Bronica. And if you want to really slow down, then how about a new large format camera from Intrepid (and an Fstoppers review)?

Take a step in to the future and buy a film camera:

Film is dead… long live film!

Lead image courtesy of coyot via Pixabay, body images courtesy of Pexels and SeppHvia Pixabay. All used under Creative Commons.

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100 Comments

Peter Gargiulo's picture

I don't think I would ever go back to film.

I shot film, 35mm through 8x10 for almost 30 years. Been there, done that. I don't have a single client that would pay for the film and processing, or wait for film to go to the lab, be processed and then scanned. Nor is there a local lab available to me any more. I understand using film as an art project, but for commercial work, there is no going back. I wouldn't.

Reginald Walton's picture

I want to go back to film like I want to go back to non-HD TV.

Dan Seefeldt's picture

Coming up next on Fstoppers: "Why the pinhole camera is the only camera you need."

Pinhole ... the perfect camera for those that want to "shoot slower" and "think more" and feed their nostalgia and all that. Not for me.

Geoff Miller's picture

I very much enjoyed using the Nikon FE, F4s and F5 that I still have. They are so well-built and were solid pieces of equipment. I also have my grand-father's F2 and Nikonos. But I've never had one bit of desire to pull any of them out and pop a roll of film into them today. However, I HAVE pulled out some of the old manual focus lenses, including my grandfather's 55mm f1.2 lens and enjoyed playing around with it.

Ryszard Błogowski's picture

Buy a film camera to be trendy...
How about NO!?

Lucky enough to get to still use my film cameras (35mm and 6x7) on editorial client work. You’d be surprised how popular 6x7 (particularly fashion editorials) was the last 3 years. I’m seeing a lot of people I admire shooting film for Purple, Self Service, and other top fashion mags. It’s obviously not the majority, but I’m glad some art directors see a place for it. On a professional level, lab turnaround is 1 day. For my personal projects, I can shoot and have it developed and scanned by the end of day most of the time using my own darkroom equipment that costs less than an L lens. Moral is, film has its place. In photography and in cinema.

Jarrett Hunt's picture

I just ordered a new large format. I can't wait to start shooting 4x5 amd maybe 8x10 later. I don't think ill buy another 35mm film camera unless it's the F6.

J.a. Spieringhs's picture

Good luck with the 4x5. But I would not go 8x10, since good 8x10 lenses are rare and expensive. And the cost of film will be huge (unless you want to shoot x-ray film). And the gain in quality from 4x5 is very limited.

I took a Pentax Program A and a c.1920's Kodak Autographica on a recent holiday to Malaysia. But left the film at home! Try buying camera film in Malaysia 😄

I want to go back to film like I want to go back to a type writer

I'm thinking of using leaves and bark instead of toilet paper.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Me too! The typewriter will slow me down and stop me from typing and praying like I do on my laptop. I will make every keystroke count. My book will be better than if written on a computer.

No. Just no. NO.

jim hughes's picture

Being a "photographer" used to mean you had skill and knowledge that let you do something special. And today, everyone and his dog is a photographer; in fact that word is losing meaning.

But if we went back to film, and it caught on, and film photos became desireable and conveyed status.... and people wanted big darkroom prints on their walls...

We just need a few "influencers" to get on board.

Ken Flanagan's picture

Most, if not all of the Most expensive Photos ever sold were shot on film.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

The most expensive pictures ever sold have been paintings.

Yeah, and the influencers can show their prints on instagram 😆🤣

Dave Terry's picture

"Digital Cameras Are Dead" It's dumb statements like this that make me like this site less and less. All industries go through cycles and trends. Film is a good trend, and part of a creative cycle that will continue to repeat itself for years to come, I'm sure. But proclamations of digital camera "death" are as hollow and as short-sighted as when prognosticators condescendingly evangelized about the alleged "death" of film. Why do writers insist on ignorantly pitting one against the other all the time? It just reveals a lack of experience with long term cycles that all tools and creative trends go through constantly. #amaturehour

Tom Reichner's picture

I agree. Digital cameras are not dead at all. Whether something is "dead" or not is determined by whether it is in widespread usage, not by how many units are selling. Millions upon millions of serious photographers have digital cameras and are using them on a daily basis. Given that, how can anyone in their right mind say that they are dead? Most of us aren't buying new ones because the ones we bought a few years ago are still meeting our needs quite well.

What a crock of an article. FStoppers is publishing more and more crap articles and less substance.

Wolfgang Post's picture

Is it already April 1st?

Personally I think film is great. It won't replace digital of course although I do get clients asking for things to be shot on film and some of friends who shoot fashion shoot on film a lot. Some of my video friends now shoot analogue for real paying clients.

An advantage I see to using film is it does slow things down, it does make you think more about firing off a hundred frames and I would recommend to people to try film if they want to improve their digital photography.

Also I'm totally biased as up until a little while ago a couple of friends and I used (I've since moved state) to run an analogue camera shop, where we sold cameras, film, workshops, dev'd and scanned and they even have a vending machine outfront that dispenses film and single use cameras. We even worked with Fuji to brand our own rolls.

The shop works really well, it's in Melbourne, Australia which is a bit of a creative, arty, hipster town.

Is it just a trend thats been growing for that last few years and continue, we'll have to wait and see.

(Cassette tapes have been back for a little while and I can't get my head around that one!)

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Please don't use analogue or analog when you mean film.Is analogue video actually film?
I know it is the "opposite" of digital but it just sounds wrong to replace a perfectly good word, "film" with a word that has various meanings.

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

I hear ya!! I hate to hear it called that too. Chemical photography would certainly be the most accurate if one is splitting hairs. ;-)

Blake Aghili's picture

For my editorials I usually do a mix of digital, film, polaroid

Is there anyone even printing optically (film to paper) other than a few specialty labs? The rest is just dumb, scan to print is digital once removed. EVERY listed reason is just wrong, especially "digital is dead", WTF? Market saturated? Yes. It is now a mature market and fully saturated. How many film cameras did you buy in your years as a photographer? Not many I'm sure because in 2000, the end of the film era, it too was a mature market. FS needs to cull the material it posts and raise the bar.

I just picked up my film cameras again for the first time in about 15 years. I mainly did it for black and white, but also the nostalgia. One reason I find film so satisfying is the simplicity of it. There is no worrying about file settings. There isn't the yearly debates about how the next year's camera is so much greater than this year's, which was the greatest camera a year ago. I put film in and shoot, slower. I think about the shots more. I enjoy the limitations of film. I enjoy the challenge. Film has character and imperfections. It is inherently flawed. Creativity thrives on limits. Digital has become so clean, it is sterile.

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