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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Previous comments
James Madison's picture

I couldn't agree more. Also - if in the event you're the Mike Hess behind the genius that Mike Hess Brewing, let me just say the beer is incredible. If you're not that Mike Hess but you do drink beer, I 1000% suggest you try it.

Mike Hess's picture

I am not that guy, he is the reason my website is never first in Google searches. I have had one of his beers and it is great. Planning on going to San Diego this summer to try a lot more.

Martin W's picture

I agree - I love the look of B&W, but also shoot a fair bit of C41, self developing both. I love the simplicity, "permanence" of the negative, and not ever worrying about upgrading. GAS is still real though, just a lot cheaper getting a ton of glass. (These days, a bit less so.) But, one thing that I've found is that it doesn't slow me down much in 35mm - I tend to think before the shot and only shoot one frame, but not much slower.

Mike Hess's picture

My biggest equipment regret is selling off a lot of great Pentax film gear in my switch to Canon digital. The prices some of that stuff sells for now makes me cry.

Kirk Darling's picture

Didn't FStoppers just publish this article yesterday?

James Madison's picture

It appears this has been a bit of a case the right hand not paying attention to what the left hand is doing. Ha! It happens.

Ken James's picture

No no no no no no nonononononononononono

NO to film


Hugh O’Malley's picture

Q: How do you know if someone shoots film?
A: don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

Seriously though I was just thinking of dragging out my old film camera today.

I think the author’s reasoning is flawed in many places but film is definitely resurgent.

James Madison's picture

You'd be preachy about it too if you shot film and loved it. The more people that are convinced to give it another shot, the more the community grows.

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

I think this is the poster child of a "Clickbait" article. I had to use window cleaner to remove the BS from my screen. I retired my film gear 15 years ago after 20 years of use and I have No plans of going back. I will agree that film made you work slower and think before pressing the shutter but that is all I agree with.
Have fun with your hipster trend.

Slim Pickens's picture

Ugh, what a pain and expense. And then if you want to use it on the web, you need to scan it. PITA.

Tony J's picture

When folks think about switching to a new system (Fuji, Canon, Sony, Etc.) people mention the investment in glass. When it comes to film, the price can add up quick. I learned on an old K1000 in high school. Loved shooting and the dark room but I am a Fuji guy these days. The cost factor alone isn't worth shooting film. Also, it almost feels like a hipster thing now. Not knocking the next man but no thanks on film. I respect everyone's opinion though

Rod Kestel's picture

Anybody else getting tired of 'You Should' and 'Ten Things...'?

Rodrigo Ortiz's picture


Rhonald Rose's picture

I am contemplating

Kirk Darling's picture

I could conceivably get another view camera and start doing 4x5 contact prints and frame them with extremely wide mats. Processing 4x5 is pretty easy in an ad hoc darkroom. For that matter, scanning 4x5 is a lot easier than scanning any other format.

Robert Altman's picture

I grew up with film- and I do believe it made me a better photographer more quickly... You had to nail exposures/framing in camera- and do it with a 24 or 36 exposure roll (less for the MF guys!). BUT- I would not go back- digital lets me leverage my skills more efficiently and more economically- while allowing me to experiment and push the envelope more comfortably. As for the 'look' of film- it can be easily replicated by taking one of our amazingly perfect digital images and 'degrading' it to have that analogue feel... (pick you film stock(s) to emulate - including of course B&W). Finally, with almost all final delivery being digital nowadays you are going to scan your film anyway- why not eliminate that extra step...

If I were just starting out today I might have a more nostalgic feel in using film- but having 'been there/done that' I do not miss it for a second!!

skramnor's picture

Although I disagree with digital being "dead", I do agree that there is still a major place in art for film. notice I say "Art". Not everyone that enjoys photography is a professional earning their living from it. Millions of people simply like to create art. There are no right or wrong or better or worse tools. Just the tools the artist chooses. I shoot a modern Sony A7iii but I also shoot 35mm and MF film. I enjoy making photos with film and home developing them. Film and Digital both allow me to create photos. Enjoy as many of the tools you can get your hands on. Make your art, your way! Enjoy.

Chris Konieczny's picture

Please stop telling people to buy film cameras. Few years ago I could go to garage sales and my local thrift stores and find really cool stuff that I can actually use. Now, I cant find much. I'm assuming that's because of this film trend. I feel like people are buying up all the cool stuff and when they realize they wont ever shoot film they put the stuff up on eBay for crazy prices.

skramnor's picture

It is a problem. Cameras that I bought 6 or 7 years ago for $5 are selling for hundreds now. Ever since the mirror less stuff came out, lenses that were not wanted are now ridiculous in price. All the stuff I didn't know about then and want now is way too over priced. :(

Kirk Darling's picture

Heck, cameras I bought 45 and 50 years ago are selling hundreds more now than I paid for them back then..

Steve Gunn's picture

Shooting stills, film is a pain in the ass & digital can't compete with the look of it ever to the untrained eye.. no way no how..and that's why all the important big movies are shot on film.

Dan Howell's picture

bullshit. utter laughable bullshit.

Steve Gunn's picture

what are you trying to say..

Paul Chambre's picture

I think I have enough of both types. I do think film gives you a differentiating option for wedding and portrait customers, though. I also think that shooting film can improve your photography in general. Lastly, I think that if you've not been doing much photography lately, and miss it, then anything that gets you excited and out there again is a good thing, whether that's a new lens, a new camera,... or an old camera.

Martin W's picture

About 3 years ago I picked up my old Olympus Trip 35 and put a roll through it for fun. I was immediatly hooked. Shooting film most weekends now, I've shot about 120 rolls and bought about 10 cameras, including 35mm, 6x6 medium format and half frame. I've been thinking of getting into 6x9 or 4x5 large format recently as well. I've been doing my own B&W and C41 development, scanning and bulk loading film. Whilst I also own a Sony mirrorless with FD adaptor, I find myself very seldom using it. My go-to camera is my Canon FT QL for it's absolute simplicity and good FD glass. Having shot digital and B&W film back to back using iso 100 film and Xtol fine grain developer, I've found that the film holds up fairly well compared to the 24Mp APSC digital in terms of resolution. Going to Adox CMS 20 film would probably surpass a 24Mp APSC in terms of resolution (at the cost of dynamic range). Granted, this is by no means the be all and and all, but it's good to know how they compare. For those that are saying that the cost of film is prohibitive, quickly pricing a complete setup of camera(e.g. Canon A series), scanner (OpticFilm 8100), developing kit, chemicals, bulk loader and about 150 B&W rolls of bulk rolled film, the total is about the same price as a current Sony Alpha 6100 body - About £650. Shooting about a roll a week, that's about 3 years of shooting for the same price. Or you could buy a $20 camera, a $2.50 roll of film and have fun. Isn't that what it's about? Format has very little to do with the quality of the outcome. It's the subject that matters. The other thing that I love is that my negatives are filed away and can be rescanned in 50 years time, unlike many of my digital photos that have just "disapeared" over the years.

Dan Howell's picture

You shot a whole 120 rolls of film in 3 years? You mean like one hundred plus another whole 20 rolls. That's a like 40 rolls each year. How can you keep up with that work flow? It's astounding. You sure are hooked. Like when I was shooting film professionally and would shoot a paltry 100 rolls a day on catalog projects, hand check bags of them through airport security, drag them to the lab and wait for clip tests and stress over 1/4 stop pushes and pulls.

For some of us 'what it's about' is establishing and maintaining a high quality work flow with the tools that are presently available and applying that to our vision or our client's projects in the most reliable way. You are romanticizing things that professionals and experts would have have gladly done away with at the time if superior technology would have been available to them. Canonizing (like that pun?) film photographers of the past without knowing if they would have embraced new technology is speculative at best. IF all you want is the touchy-feely experience have at it, but please don't throw up false equivalencies that don't exist.

Martin W's picture

Wow - love the sarcasm. Sure, I'm not shooting 100 rolls a day, but I'm not a professional trying to make a living out it. I shoot photos of my family, kids, travels and streeet. I'm a software developer/consultant that's knee deep in tech every day and enjoy getting away from all of it. So, I totaly get using the most conveneint tools for the job - There's no ways that I'd try use punch cards and a type writer to code on or write a spec document on. That'd be frustrating and a waste of time/money. But, for mere mortal hobyists like myself, there's more to it that just the convenience. That's the difference - A pro shoots for money and the rest of us do it for fun. If you think that the world is only about convenience, why do people drive classic cars, wear antiquated mechanical watches, listen to vinyls, antiques, polaroids/instax, care about paintings when a digital photo is so much more realistic, or for that matter film? For most pros shooting fashion or lifestyle photos, unless there was a specific look that you were going for, it wouldn't make sense to shoot film. However, there are paying wedding customers who prefer film - and in that case, you do what your client wants. The photography world is made up of various different users and not only pros trying to churn out their next model portfolio. I say, if someone is keen on using film for whatever reason - go for it.

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