6 Reasons Why You Should Pick A Film Camera!
For those of you who are new to this blog, I have been into analog photography for only six months. After a few years spent with digital cameras, I came to film a bit by accident. I slowly lost interest into photography so it was a way for me to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself.
During a road trip in Iceland back in April 2016, I brought a disposable camera in my bag, so my friends and I could use it to capture those “in between” moments. Back from the trip, it didn’t take me long before I had post-processed, sorted all my digitals images into their respective folders and shared them on social media platforms. That was it, another thousand images that would most likely never see the light again. Few weeks passed and my friend who was in charged of getting the disposable camera developed, showed up with the pictures printed. The moment she handed me over the envelope containing the images, I instantly traveled back in time. It made me remember how precious were the pictures before the digital era.
From this day, I became more and more interested in this old technique and it didn’t take long before I bought my first film camera. That escalated quickly and decided to sell all my digital equipment. Six months later, it feels like I have never been so inspired and enriched by photography.
I am now half way through my project of shooting film for an entire year. During those past six months, I have gathered a few points that should convince to give it a try too!
Table of Contents
Access Formats Out of Reach in Digital
One of the first thing that made me look at film cameras, is that I could finally access the private club of Medium Format. Since my early days in photography, I have quickly developed a very severe G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). After less than three years spent with a full frame DSLR, the next logic step for me was to get one of these medium format digital cameras like an Hasselblad or why not even a PhaseOne. So I started to make all sorts of scientific equations and action plan to get enough money so I could get my hands on one of these gems. Hopefully, I have never been good at saving money so I didn’t have the chance to spend this ridiculous amount of money for a camera.
But with film cameras, the game has changed. For a fraction of the price of a Canon 5d III, I could get one of those old medium formats. I figured why not, After all, 300€ is not a risky investment and I can always sell it back if I don’t like it, I thought. A few days later when I finally received it, I had just opened the box when I instantly felt like I was holding some serious equipment there. The Mamiya M645 is built like a German tank and it feels like it’s pretty indestructible. From this instant, I was already hooked. The first roll quickly went through the camera then to the lab. Once I saw the pictures for the first time, I received a serious slap in the face! This is why I left the megapixel club.
Another example of inaccessible format is the Hasselblad Xpan. This one doesn’t even exist in the world of digital cameras. It takes panoramic pictures with 35mm film. Instead of having negative of 24×36, you have 24x65mm. You might think why not using a wide angle instead but it’s different here. There is very little distortion so you won’t have this effect (that I hate now) of distorted objects that are close to the lens. Everything feels more real and cinematic. Below is an example of what you are able to get with this camera.
Shoot Less, shoot better
With a digital camera, it’s very easy to “spray and pray”. Chances are that you’ll be able to get at least one decent picture out of a hundred. With film, this is, of course, different. Not only because of the cost that it implies, but also because the approach is different. Forget the “I’ll fix it in Photoshop” here, you must get it right in camera. This makes you concentrate more on your composition. Just to name a few things, here you have to make sure that there is nothing distracting on the edges of the frame or that your horizon is straight (I’m still struggling at this point though!).
You also learn, when no to take the shot. I don’t know how many pictures I have in my library that are worthless. When looking back at my old photos from time to time, I often wonder what went through my mind when I decided to take this shot. I would often fill up my memory cards with not so interesting images and spend a lot of time in post processing to make them look like something.
I’m not saying that’s not happening anymore, but the more I shoot film, the wiser I become before each click on the shutter. When I look at my recent work, most of my pictures make sense and tell a story, at least to me. I’m not scrolling through dozen of images that completely lack of interest.
Having in the back of your head the inherent limitations that comes along with shooting film, is probably one of the best way to give attentions to what really deserves it. If one of these days I decided to go back to digital, I’m sure that’s a habit that I will keep before pressing the shutter.
Slow Down and Take Your Time
Being liberated of the instant gratification on the screen allows you to enjoy the moment. Before I used to reach a location, take a few shot and then move on to the next one. In between, I would sort my pictures and delete the bad ones. What a waste of time! Now that I’m actually looking at a scene and not only sees it, I believe it makes a tremendous difference in how I approach photography. Of course, one can apply this philosophy to digital camera too, but our human nature tends to choose the easy way if we have the choice.
When you are traveling, I think it’s very important to enjoy the moment. How many places I visited without really paying attention, I was constantly looking or playing with some setting on my camera or swapping lenses. Since I move to film, I feel liberated of not having anything else to look at but the scene. Next time you are visiting a touristic place, look at how many people are stuck on their smartphone, tablet or camera screen…. In my opinion, none of these peoples are truly appreciating what they are looking at.
This also allows you to see things that other people won’t pay attention at.
Work With Your Hands
If you are into film, chances are that at some point you will start developing and why not printing yourself. Being in charge of your image from A to Z has some sort of magic. It creates an emotional connection with your work that is hardly replicable with a file stuck behind your computer screen.
From loading the film into your camera, until the moment you open the developing tank, you have been in physical contact with your images. That’s what make them so precious and can’t be compared to manipulating a memory card. Here you can pretend to be some sort of chemist and experience with all sorts of chemicals and techniques. In my previous article, I explain how to use the “Stand Development” technique.
The next step is to make your own prints. I haven’t tried this myself yet (because of space and budget restrictions) but I have no doubt that it will make me even more attached to my images. There is nothing like holding a picture printed with your own hands. I think that’s what we have lost since the introduction of digital. Our images are rotting inside hard drives… The new generation of kids born in the 2000s has never experienced what it’s like to wait for pictures to come back from the lab. For them everything is instantaneous and the picture disappear from their memory as quickly as it appeared. If you are the parent of one of these kids, make them a favor. Offer her/him a disposable camera and the cost of developing and printing. I’m sure most of them will be really impatient and curious to see what they were able to create.
Imperfections Make Beauty
We all had one time in our life a crush on someone for its little imperfection. It could a small physical detail or from his/her character but we loved it without understanding why. This is the same here, sometimes you will have a picture that came out with light leak or maybe slightly out of focus, but you end up loving it for no rational reason. If it would have been a digital file, it might not even reach your laptop and would have been deleted without mercy directly from your camera. Here it exists, it’s something that you did yourself, not the camera so you have learned how to appreciate it. I believe that this unpredictability makes the whole thing more appealing.
The renaissance of film photography can easily be compared with vinyl records. If people are still using these old technologies it is probably because they are looking for an experience that can’t be replicated with an MP3 or RAW files. Even if the digital medias are way far superior in term of quality, they tend to be too perfect for some people. When you have in your hands a record or a negative, you hold onto something unique that can’t be copy/paste. This vulnerability makes the beauty of working with these mediums.
Every New Roll is Like a Present
Like I said earlier, the feeling you have when seeing pictures or negatives for the first time is like when you open present for Christmas or your birthday. Every time, when I open the developing tank to see what was revealed in the film, it feels like I am finally opening this present that I have been waiting for so long. Then those negatives must scan and it takes at least a minute or two per picture to appear, yet another exciting moment (even if I hate scanning !).
You will also experience this feeling when the lab hands you over those pictures from your last weekend in London. Even if they are not exceptional pictures, they mean something to you and I believe that’s what matters in the end. I am not a professional photographer, so when I decide to take a picture, it’s for myself and no one else. If it pleases to other people, that’s a bonus but it shouldn’t be your concern when you decide to take the shot or not. Before anything else, photography should be a personal thing.
I am now half way through this one year journey. It would be a lie to say that everything is perfect and that I don’t miss digital from time to time. I have had some issues and lost a few pictures because of mistakes I made. That being said, I don’t regret this decision and would do it again if I had too. It is too early to say if I will go back to a modern camera once this year will be over but for now, I feel very confident about being able to live only with film.
I hope these few words have helped to convince you to give a try to film and keep in mind that you are not obliged to spend hundreds to have fun….A cheap disposable or SLR camera will do the job!