IntroductionDear Readers, you may have noticed that you see more film photographs here recently compared to a few years ago. I am an old geezer, so of course grew up during the film era. My dad used a handsome little Leica IIIC, which, at the ripe young age of 69, still works perfectly. My first camera in the 1960s was a Kodak Instamatic 500, a German unit that had manually-controlled aperture, shutter speed, and focus. My first serious camera was a Nikon Nikkormat FTn, which I bought in 1968 at Lechmere Sales in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lechmere was a well-known discounter in the Boston area, but it closed many years ago. In subsequent years, I moved on to various other cameras, both 35mm format, medium format, and 4×5 inch.
The first digital camera in the family was my daughter's Kodak LS743 in 2004, a convenient little machine that took reasonable (but over-compressed) jpeg files. My first interchangeable lens digital camera was an Olympus E-330, which took excellent files. I now have a Fujifilm X-E1, which does an amazing job in most circumstances and produces RAW files that you can manipulate to your heart's content with PhotoNinja or other software.
The vast bulk of people around the world use digital. Digital imaging is convenient, quick, and usually "accurate" technically. They can take thousands of pictures on a weekend, sort and process with their workflow, upload them to Flickr or wherever, and then???
Back to FilmAll right, you are probably wondering: with all the advantages of digital, why have I reverted to the primitive, messy, clumsy, inconvenient, slow, low-dynamic-range, toxic, and expensive chemical recording medium?
- I like the way film depicts my typical subjects. Urban decay calls for black and white film.
- The resulting pictures do not look digital!
- For awhile, I experimented with DxO FilmPack software which offered film emulation modes to be applied to digital files. But this bothered me. Why emulate something when I can use the real thing? Why emulate anything in life when the real thing is available? (Like the paddle shifters on the steering wheel when what you really have is a car with an automatic.)
- I am awed by the technology used in the mid-20th century to manufacture film and build wonderfully precise mechanical cameras.
- I like old cameras. They are fun and feel solid and stable in the hand.
- Using old cameras is a deliberate and slow process. It is valuable to test yourself with something that makes you think just a little bit harder (paraphrased from Hamish Gill on 35MMC). You can't spray and pray as with a digital camera and then mess around with software to see if you made a meaningful image.
- Being comfortable with the old technology, why not continue to use and share this knowledge? Why throw it into the dust bin of history just because it is no longer trendy among the masses?
- Possibly using black and white film today helps my pictures stand out. After all, millions (billions?) of digital snaps are taken daily. And they look all alike. Just look at the ubiquitous wide-angle, over-saturated, HDR-looking, exaggerated-sky, elevator music landscapes you see on the upload sites.
- Film may be the media that survives the decades, providing you or your family store the negatives in a climate-controlled home and avoid floods and fires. Digital media? Maybe, but only if someone periodically save the files to whatever is the new and current storage media. The "cloud?" Bwahaahaahaa!
Phoblographer: What do you believe to be the biggest edge or selling point of film photography today?
Richard Photo Lab: There’s probably two big selling points for film. First, film has a way of turning you into a better photographer. It is not a magic gateway to better images, but it slows you down and makes you more cognizant about things like framing and lighting and composition—every frame counts! Second, lots of folks think that film is too expensive and that will be its downfall—but, they forget that the tradeoff for the upfront cost of film is the money saved (both actual dollars as well as time) in digital post-processing—an often overlooked expense of digital photography. Professional photographers can use that time to grow their business, book more paying gigs, or just focus on other priorities in their life like family, travel, etc.
Some ComparisonsLet us do an experiment. Here are digital and film views of the same subject, from which you can form your own opinions of which media depicts the scene more effectively. Comments are always welcome.
|Oasis Motel, 11th Street (Route 66), Tulsa, Oklahoma. Fuji X-E1 digital camera.|
|Oasis Motel, Kodak BW400CN film, Olympus trip 35 with polarizer filter.|
|Closed car dealer, 11th Street, Tulsa. Fuji X-E1 digital camera.|
|Kodak BW400CN film, Olympus Trip 35 with polarizer filter.|
|Ranch House Cafe, Route 66, Tucumcari, New Mexico, Fuji X-E1 digital.|
|Kodak BW400CN film, Yashica Electro 35CC camera.|
|Last gas in Texas, Route 66, Glenrio (100° F, Fuji X-E1 digital)|
|Last gas in Texas, Glenrio, Tri-X 400 film, Hasselblad 501CM, polarizer filter.|
|Maria's Kitchen, W. Cordova Ave., Santa Fe, New Mexico. Kodak BW400CN film, Yashica Electro 35CC, polarizer filter.|
|Valles Caldera, New Mexico, Kodak BW400CN film, Olympus Trip 35 with polarizer.|
|Auschwitz I concentration camp, Poland. Fuji X-E1 digital camera braced on door frame.|
|Auschwitz I, Poland. Kodak Tri-X 400 film, Rolleiflex 3.5E with 75mm Xenotar lens.|
Film and Artificial Intelligence
Mike Johnston, author of The Online Photographer, wrote about how he used to call work with digital cameras "digital imaging":
"Years ago I tried to assert that digital imaging should not be called "photography," that the word photography described what we now clumsily know as analog or optical/chemical photography (I usually dislike back-formations), and that the new medium was sufficiently different that we should know it by a different name. I thought "digital imaging" or D.I. served just fine, since that had currency at the time.
I've never changed that opinion, but I learned to back off on it, because people didn't like it—in the early days of digital, any comparison of film vs. digital quickly devolved into a status dispute, and people on Team Digital were immediately and automatically prickly about imagined slights to their standing. They wanted the main word applied to their chosen tech. So "digital photography" it was. As Mad magazine used to say, Yecch."A reader named Andre commented on one of the The Online Photography articles, "the thing that impresses me most about the medium is that the film itself is a physical witness to whatever event was photographed. That is, actual photons from the scene physically altered the film. For me, that gives film a unique kind of authenticity: the film was present and bears an imprint of the event itself." Andre stated his thoughts eloquently.
More discussion on the topic of film reality versus non-reality is in a follow-up note in The Online Photographer. Comments to the note are erudite, mature, and well-considered.
Standby for more film photographs in the future.
Old Friends (My Film Cameras)
- Kodak Instamatic 500
- Canon unknown model rangefinder
- Certosport unknown model
- Nikon Nikkormat FTn
- Nikon F (non-metered prism)
- Nikon F3
- Pentax Spotmatic (my wife's camera, in regular use)
- Pentax Spotmatic II
- Pentax MX
- Leica IIIC (my dad's 1949 camera, in regular use)
- Leica M3
- Leica M2
- Leica M2 (family 1962 camera, in use)
- Rollei 35S
- Yashica Electro 35CC (in use)
- Olympus Trip 35
- Canon QL19
- Voigtlander Vito BL (my brand new $34 camera)
- Rolleiflex 3.5E
- Rolleiflex 3.5F (sorry I sold it)
- Rolleiflex 3.5E (in use)
- Hasselblad 501CM (in use)
- Fujifilm GW690II (in infrequent use)
- Tachihara 4×5" (not much use; I am embarrassed)