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.