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!