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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Dan Howell's picture

"But, for mere mortal hobyists like myself, there's more to it that just the convenience."

This is where I have the problem. I don't know if your statement embodies the entirety of your knowledge base or it was just a flippant comment, but it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding and devaluing the decades long pursuit of both the craft and profession of photography. In so many numerable ways, quality and consistency has generally been valued by professional photographers more than convenience.

"That's the difference - A pro shoots for money and the rest of us do it for fun."

If you mean that a pro dedicates their education, and quite literally decades of their life, to establish themselves within a marketplace, not only reach a quality level but build on it constantly, follow both their strengths and passion while taking their clients needs and goals to heart and consistently deliver successful creative output that meets or exceeds the goals of the project but adds to their body of work to keep them creatively satisfied and completive in an aggressively challenging marketplace, then yes, I guess you can say a pro shoots for the money.

OK - so, maybe the choice of the word "convenience" might not have been the best. Maybe "efficient" would be closer? What I meant is that I'm not concerned about the speed at which I shoot, the cost of each shot, the ability to show my client the results immediately whilst tethered to a monitor or have to turnaround a project by a certain deadline. I do know some of the constraints of professional photographers and that's why I said I get that film isn't for pro's trying to make money in most cases.

I wasn't disparaging professional photographers in any way because every professional does their chosen vocation because of a passion for it. But, there is a vast difference between a hobby and a job. The need to satisfy a client's requirements dictate the shoot and largely the equipment used and less so personal preferences. I don't need to shoot on digital in order to satisfy a clients demands - I use film as a personal choice.

Part of my enjoyment of shooting film is precisely the challenge - I've shot many travels on a digital where it was "too easy". Auto focus, exposure, white balance etc. But, shooting film (or more precisely, a fully manual camera) forced me to focus on each parameter which made it so much more rewarding to get the results that I wanted. For a pro, as you mentioned, you want consistency and quality which makes digital an obvious choice. Whilst I absolutely want quality and have worked hard to try achieve printable pictures that I hang on my walls, if my equipment made it so easy, then it wouldn't be a challenge and I'd probably loose interest.

I've read a number of your pretty negative comments about film photography. But, I see you've shot on a 20x24" and own a 4x5 Polaroid? Why the hate towards anybody who wants to shoot film?

Dan Howell's picture

Yes, I have shot film. My original comment pointed that out. I would venture that I have shot more film professionally than you could possibly do in current conditions for the rest of your days. My negative (pun?) comments have generally been about the contemporary advocation of film photography as either being a heightened learning methodology or a superior method for image quality. This article in particular advocates that one's next camera be a film camera. I patently do not agree with advice, especially for photographers still learning.

I will openly debate anyone who proffers the argument that film offers experiential or qualitative advantages over digital. If you are trying to burn my argument for shooting a project on 20x24 Polaroid you might want to estimate how much it would cost to duplicate that today. I still have about 30 sheets of Polaroid 4x5 pos/neg film in my freezer which I would pull out very selectively if an image demanded its very specific effect.

I do in fact have a hobby that is a throwback to older times, I hand forge carbon steel knives with a hammer and anvil. Today superior knives can be produced from water jet cutting technology and precision milling. I enjoy the physical process. The difference is that I don't go around advocating my method to people who have vastly more experience or try to say that hand forging is superior to stock removal methodology -- which in fact it actually isn't. I certainly don't tell people their next purchase should be a hammer.

You see - Making knives is something that doesn't make any "sense" given modern alternatives. But, there's nothing like a beatiful forged feather damascas blade. It's more than just a knife and that's why you do it. Maybe that's why some people love film - the "tangeable" process.

I know that you shot film and that's what didn't make sense - Shooting the 20x24 is awesome. I would have loved to do that in NY and it's got a special history as well. But, as far as I read, the film isn't being made anymore. And a 4x5 polaroid is also very cool and rare. I didn't say that 35mm film was superior to digital, just that it can still be acceptable in terms of IQ in comparison to an APSC of similar price range and still therefore a viable option for those that might be interested (depending on style/genre). Obviously, it'll never stand up to a Phase One XT, Hasselblad H6D etc. That being said, a 4x5 with Velvia or Ektar should at least surpass current full frame cameras which is why some landscape photographers still use them, especially considering the price difference. One advantage of film is that I don't have to worry about maintaining a NAS or pay for cloud storage for the rest of my life. My B&W negatives will stil be in my files for years to come.

I didn't offer any advice in terms of what was better to learn on, exept what I was using. Personaly, I learnt much more using a film camera than using digital because I was forced to, due to lack of automation. That's obviously not only due to the fact that it was film, but also mostly mechanical cameras. Of course you can learn most of the same skills on a digital (and more), but the "incentive" isn't there for the majority of people. The majority of consumers buy a DSLR/Mirrorless and put it in `A` and leave it there permanantly, not progressing much further than that. (For those that aren't just using a phone.) In trying to understand how to control all the factors in shooting, developing and printing, I've read a ton of information, pushed/pulled film in different developers, used different films, tried different cameras, lenses, wet printing etc. You could maybe argue understanding Ansel Adam's zone system, knowing the difference between high actuance and solvent developers, film stocks and their colour curve responses etc. might not be that aplicable today, but I've found that many of those lessons have transfered to using a digital camera as well, aiding my understanding of digital shooting and editing.

I'm happy to have picked up film and will keep using it for years to come.

Steve Gunn's picture

catalog photography?..I'd rather stick needles in my eyes or pump gas for a living..

Dan Howell's picture

funny, I'd take my projects and results over yours every day of the week.

Steve Gunn's picture

whatever

Geez man, why so salty, Dan Howell?

Take a look at that exchange above. Martin W, got excited and wants to share that he's having a great time shooting film. It's outrageous for some reason, so you unload on him for the unforgivable sin of having fun exploring film photography?

jim hughes's picture

I've actually been experiencing glimmer of interest in film. But only if I could do the printing too. I agree with others that scanning negatives kills the magic. It's all about physical objects in a complete process.

Steve Gunn's picture

It's about shooting chrome film not negatives unless it's black & white for some weird reason.

Steve Gunn's picture

Publishers and photographers of yester-year prefer shooting with fujichrome or ektachrome / color slide film and then editing the POSITIVE color slides on the light-box with a loop before scanning anything.
Negative film is only used for b&w shooting.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Not all the time.
A lot of editorial work was done on neg film because the final print was the artwork that was scanned. When I worked at PIX in LA we sold tons of 120 Portra (and 669 pola) to the fashion and catalog shooters. E6 was more for the magazine / commercial product shooters. I shot E6 for 20+ years.

Christopher Suchocki's picture

I'm surprised to see how strongly the comments come off as negative in this article. As a hobbiest, I enjoyed the perspective of the article but I guess it makes sense considering the crowd here.

The first photos I ever took were on my dads old Minolta 35mm slr. I never really got into photography until I got my first mirrorless in 2013.

My resolution for 2020 was to shoot film for the entire year. I found my photography drifting more more into color edits and styles imitating successful instagramers. I don't think film was the only way of snapping out of this, but it is one option and seemed fun to learn.

So far I have really enjoyed the change and it has made me look at photography differently and think about where it has come from. The mechanical aspects of the camera are a joy to use and I've liked not having to think about batteries, memory cards, and edits. I agree that the whole scan to digital thing is somewhat hypocritical, but if I can learn something, think differently, and maybe even end up with a shot worthy of my living room wall I will be more than happy. Or maybe I'm just playing hipster… lol

jim hughes's picture

People reading sites like fstoppers tend to be gearheads and technology buffs. For some, saying that film is hip is like telling them they've been missing the boat.

jim hughes's picture

An artist can be a "professional" too.

Jj Voigtlander's picture

I see a lot of hate here for film, I'm a bit surprised really, I can understand that people coming from the film era are probably tired of it and say good riddance but that shouldn't deter the younger generations from giving it a go.

I buy a different film camera nearly every month, shoot it for a while and swap it or sell it on. I like being able to shoot interesting and cool cameras that have some character, seeing how cameras have evolved and just having fun, be it with a Leica, Voigtlander, Zeiss Ikon, Lubitel, pinhole or whatever, there are so many options in lots of different formats.

Several films were released in 2019. Ilford Ortho, Catlabs, Ektachrome, lomochrome, just to name a few . I also have a tin with hundreds of Instax photos, they are my way of documenting my family (more like a backup in case something happens the digital files) and I can look back on them in years to come especially of family who are no longer here.

I keep my negatives to enlarge or scan but they don't need batteries or special equipment to see what's on them, they will most likely last longer than hard drives or onedrive files. The film community are very helpful and I go to a film photography festival every year outside of Barcelona, Revela't, I meet many interesting and talented analog photographers, Alex Timmerman's wetplate work comes to mind. Nowadays you can shoot whatever you want and as photographers we should respect people's choice of medium instead of demeaning them.

John Seigner's picture

Where were you when I had five one hour photo labs printing money?

John Seigner's picture

I do miss the darkroom though, the glow of an LCD monitor is not nearly as flattering as the red printing light.

Awesome, you'll get your dads old camera, spend half a day figuring it out. Order film, wait. Shoot a couple of rolls.
send it somewhere, wait. Get a low res file. 1/3 will be over or underexposed, probably 2 will be cool. Now you'll buy
a scanner on ebay, or send it out, wait. scan those 2 shots. $20-500 later, you'll get busy with life and the camera will sit. But they do look cool.

Go back too film ? Never. I used to shoot motor sport as an expensive hobby. I would purchase lots of KR64 which was a great film. Every time I clicked the shutter, it would cost maybe $0.70 ..so long ago that I have forgotten the exact costs. I was lucky, as, I was living in Tokyo, and, Kodak had a facility there. I could go into the Ginza, drop off the film and, 24 hours later, it was ready. I used to get my film mailed up from Australia ( I'm an Aussie).
Kodak in Japan would honor the pre-paid processing film..
Well, when Kodak stopped with KR64, I reluctantly went digital. Nikon D2Xs,then a D3 and D3S. Still have all bodies, and, they all are low shutter count. Same Cards ( CF ), and, same batteries. So, think I would go Backwards with film ? No thank you.
I have stopped buying gear now. Great feeling :-)

kevin hoehne's picture

I would not mind the demand for film cameras to come back. Then I could sell all my film cameras that I foolishly didn't sell back in 2003.

J.a. Spieringhs's picture

Question for all the digiheads here.
Why is film photography such a threat?

Because that’s the only reason I can explain all the negativity towards film photography. The strange thing is, that most of the film photographers I know, also use digital. And they perfectly know the pros and cons of both systems. But, most of them choose film over digital. Not because of nostalgic reasons, but because they like the workflow / quality they get with film.
And yes, I shoot film 98% of the time.
Image: Me in Iceland with a Bronica EC

J.a. Spieringhs's picture

The key word is “commercial’ here. I’m a amateur, and the photos I make, are for myself. If speed is essential, then digital is the easiest way to go.
I think it’s still possible to do commercial work on film, but it is not the easiest way. And i think there are only a few ‘clients’ that care what medium is used.

As for FS going the “hobbyist” way. Maybe it’s because the border between hobbyist and pro is fading.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I think it is more like the pro photographers are either going out of business or moving away from Fstopper and PP because the articles are and always have been about 85% aimed towards the base of non pros.

Owain Shaw's picture

I think a Bronica EC might well be my next camera. I have a soft spot for Bronicas after my student days with an ETR, and would like to get into 6x6 Medium Format next. How do you like the EC?

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