but why shoot film?

After many years of shooting digital cameras, probably sometime in 2010, 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 photography. 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 I’m not interested in getting into a film vs digital debate — there’s plenty of that already on the web, with plenty of people vehemently on one side or the other, but I think it’s a silly argument. 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. There are a lot of limitations when you’re shooting film, especially in a very old camera, but those limitations can help you focus on the basics of composing a good image. 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, I really enjoy using these old cameras instead of just collecting them – learning 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 and iPhone apps being sold for emulating the look of particular types of film, so that tells you something.

So there you go – take those old cameras off the shelf, dust them off and give them a try again.  You might have as much fun as I have.


follow me on tumblr

14 Comments on “but why shoot film?”

  1. Jonathan Siow says:

    Hey! I just wanna say that this is a really cool website that I’m following, and that I myself went down the same path when it comes to photography as you! Film is awesome! It will never replace digital, but it will always be unique, and can never die! =D

    Keep up the good work!

    • Rick Schuster says:

      Thanks, Jonathan. I really appreciate it. I haven’t had time to shoot or update the blog recently, but I look forward to getting back to it. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Will says:

    Cool blog.
    I shoot film also. By choice.
    I landed here when searching for quick info about Super Ricohflex.

  3. Bill Winkelman says:

    One huge advantage of a camera of Retina quality is that you can stop it way down to f/22 for depth of field. The most digital cameras stop down is usually to f/8, not enough for some shots. Many have a fixed aperture of f/2.8 and rely on a fast shutter speed to make the exposure right. See what quality of picture you get with a slow shutter and lens stopped way down, especially when you take a picture that requires depth of field. I don’t think the usual digital camera can touch it. I’m not aware of digital cameras that can get f/22. If there are, they are surely very expensive.

    • RRAlexander says:

      I have, and frequently use (when I’m not shooting film), a Panasonic Lumix G1, the first M 4/3 offering from that company in 2008 and several generations older than the present M 4/3 models. The stock kit lens (14-45mm) offers apertures down to f/22, so there are plenty of digital cameras that will give you a deep depth of field.

  4. Marie says:

    I agree with you, to the fullest! It is not a case of either or, but to have the possibility to choose, that is great!
    I found out that when I used digital, I got very bored. Photography wasn’t fun anymore. So for my artistic expression, I choose film.
    And I must say that photography has never been more stimulating and fun than right now!
    I’m happy again! 🙂

    • Rick Schuster says:

      Thanks, Marie. Nice comment. Thanks for reading and following! I love your blog, too. I keep thinking about trying pinhole again — it’s been about 25 years since I last did pinhole photography.

  5. Cesar says:

    Hi Rick, thanks for your blog; I found it while I was searching the web for instructions on how to use a Mamiya 645 which I got on Ebay. I’ve shot films (35mm) when I was a kid, then went completely digital. Your blog inspires me to experiment once more with film photography. Thanks!

    • Rick Schuster says:

      Hi Cesar,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad to hear you’re going to be shooting some film again. I don’t think I’ve posted anything yet from my Mamiya 645, but I’ve had one for about a year and love it. It’s a big, heavy thing to carry around, but rewarding to shoot. I haven’t used it as much as I should, though. In case you haven’t found this yet, google “butkus camera manuals” to find a copy of the original user’s manual for your camera.

  6. Stephan Pot says:

    Your blog is a great find Rick. I shoot (only) black and white film for mostly the same reasons you described in this post. Slowing down, thinking about a shot, composing and the fun of developing and scanning.
    I find myself using my digital camera’s less often and maybe I’ll even switch to color.
    I am really enjoying browsing through your articles.
    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s