Back to Film

A year or so ago I was surprised to see a full-page advertisement in an Outdoor Photographer magazine for Kodak Tmax 400 film. ‘Isn’t film photography dead?’, I thought. Why would anyone still be shooting film? Must be some old guys just unwilling to move into the modern world. Well, some time later my friend Ron emailed me a link to this article by Ken Rockwell, and it changed my outlook on film. Keep in mind that Ken is a digital photographer and not a luddite opposed to modern technology. He simply recognizes some advantages to shooting on film, and enjoys using both mediums. His article opened my eyes to the fact that you can shoot on film, get great scans of the film, then work digitally.  I don’t know why this never dawned on me until reading that article.  I’m pretty sure I’m never going back to the darkroom (which is still in my basement, unused for many years), but I can capture an image on film and still work in the digital darkroom – kind of a hybrid system.

I started looking at some old cameras collecting dust on my shelf and wondering what it would be like to shoot them.  Besides my old standby Pentax K1000, which I’ve used more than any other camera I’ve owned, I have a collection of yard sale finds like old Kodak Brownies that I collected just because I liked how they looked, never really intending to shoot with them. And because some family members knew of my collection, I’ve received some great hand-me-downs that are actually some of my most usable cameras – like my prized 1930’s German-made Kodak Duo Six-20, and a 1960’s Yashica rangefinder that I’ve recently started shooting.

Then I started researching and reading more about my old cameras, learning about their history, the construction and quality of different types of lenses and shutters, and learning what cameras are highly regarded today as usable shooters, not just collectors items. This led me to yearning for some more cameras to shoot with, which of course led me to looking at lots of old cameras on ebay. I’ve tried to restrain myself and have only made a few purchases.

I love digital photography, and I’m not about to give it up. Digital has many huge advantages, but some of those advantages have made some of us into sloppy photographers, shooting hundreds of images knowing we can just sort through them to find the ‘keepers’ later.

I could write about why film is not dead, and about some of the advantages of film, but you’re better off just reading Ken’s article linked to above. In my own experience I’ve enjoyed the slower pace of shooting film, being more deliberate about the shots I take. Knowing I’m only getting 12 shots on a roll of medium-format film makes me stop and think about each shot, slow down, compose the image more carefully. And there’s an excitement that I get when I first see the images after waiting for the film to be developed and scanned – an excitement that I don’t get when downloading images from a compact flash card, or immediately looking at an image on the LCD of the camera. And lastly, it’s also about the cameras for me – learing about the history of the cameras, tinkering with them, fixing them, cleaning them up, understanding how they work.  There’s something really fun about using a 60-year-old camera and getting great images out of it.

There does seem to be a different quality to an image shot on film.  Not that it’s necessarily better than digital – just different.  Some say film has more depth, while digital photos look flat.  Some people say that music sounds better on vinyl too, but I’m not so sure.  There are a lot of Photoshop filters being sold for emulating the look of particular types of film, so that tells you something.

In this blog I plan on posting some photos that I shoot on film, and some information about the cameras I’m using. It will be kind of a journal for my own record, but who knows – maybe some other people will find it interesting. I know that some of my best photography was done when I was in college taking photography classes, having assignments, being pushed to produce something artistic, and I hope that posting images on this blog will give me a little bit of that same kind of push.