If digital photography is so powerful, why do photographers still use film? There’s no single answer, but there are many great reasons.
Film photography makes you think
If you take a photo on a digital camera, you know you will be able to delete the image and try again. When shooting with film, you have a fixed number of frames for each roll, meaning each shot counts. Depending on your developer and chosen film stock, each frame can cost anywhere between $1 to $4 to develop once you divide the total developing cost out amongst all of the frames. Slowing down to think about your composition and settings is crucial before hitting the shutter, and there’s rare times when you can ever say “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it in post production editing.”
Film photography has character
Each film type and stock has different characteristics that suit different types of photography. For example, Fuji Velvia 50 and Fuji Velvia 100 are perfect for landscapes as they have a rich colour set, however used with other genres will over-saturate the colours and could turn your beautiful bride into a glowing beetroot that is embarrassed to be marrying her partner.
Black and white film stocks give a tonal range that brings out beautiful, rich dark tones without making the lighter areas of the frame lack impact. The blacks are black, and the highlights are light, and each film stock offers a different balance. Finding the one that suits your style as a photographer is like striking gold. There’s simply nothing better.
Film photography requires the photography community
After you’ve hit the shutter button, there’s so much more to do and it’s unlikely that you are able to do it all yourself. You’ll need developing chemicals, a dark place to develop the work, and an understanding of the developing times required. Most people don’t have a dedicated space like this, so involve developers in their city (or sometimes country) to bring their frame to life. An error in this process will destroy the photo, meaning dropping your film off to a developer is a sign of trust. Once it’s developed, most photographers don’t own a high-end scanner and will need to make some tough choices for which frames they will scan for use online. Discussing your 12 frames of work with another photographer with a scanner or a dedicated imaging professional involves placing your work on a lightbox and looking through a loupe to pick which frames are the strongest. It forces a second opinion of your work and helps think about what worked and what didn’t.
Film photography ignites the collective spirit
Finding the right camera and film stock for the work you want to do takes time, but is extremely rewarding. I pledge my allegiance with Mamiya cameras because I love how sharp they are across all their camera designs and lenses. I think the bodies feel strong without being too heavy. It just feels right in my hands. Inside my cameras is always Fuji Provia 400X or Ilford Delta 400. You don’t need to know what they look like or do because finding the camera and film stock that works for you is part of the journey. Since almost all film cameras are no longer being made and film types are discontinued on a monthly basis, finding a new supplier for your gear and film can be challenging. You’re going to need patience, but just like collector cards back when you were a kid, getting all the pieces feels so good.
Film photography is almost dead
Unfortunately film processing is becoming increasingly expensive for developers, photographers and manufacturers. Most photographers prefer the simplicity of digital photography and digital components are becoming less costly to produce, meaning more people can afford to get their hands on a powerful camera. Manufacturers need to make tough decisions and evolve or die to meet the needs of the bigger customer segment. For most manufacturers that means allocating less resources to the production of film photography. If there’s anything you can take from reading this article it is that the time to experience film photography is now.