Posts extolling the joys and benefits of photography using film (or
“analog” as it’s now inevitably known) have always been present since
the digital photography revolution, but I’m noting an upswing now in
the nooks and crannies of the internets that I frequent.
Now, it’s easy to see why. Film aficionados are dependent on a
relatively large industrial base - manufacturing and distributing film
stock, a perishable medium, is non-trivial - so growing the user base
(or at least slowing its decline) is paramount for the survival of the
I have shot film. I learned photography using film. And I’ll say that
for nearly every conceivable use case digital is objectively better.
Now, this doesn’t invalidate people who love film, who use it
regularly, or who really enjoy the paraphernalia of shooting
film. These are valid choices — if we remove the requirements of timely
delivery of high-quality, high-resolution digital assets to clients,
whether these clients are entities paying for the asset or more
nebulous things like “social networks”.
Let’s tackle the talking points, shall we?
Shooting film teaches you about photography
Now I can actually see the point of this. Instead of dealing with
auto-ISO, exposure modes, and scene buttons, you’re faced with a
shutter dial, an aperture dial and a match needle. Shoot enough and
you’ll get an instinctive feel for how the two hang together.
That is, if you’re using a classic manual focus camera, like the
Pentax K1000, the Nikon FM, or Olympus OM-1. If you’re using a newer
film camera you’ll notice that they can be just as complicated as
digital cameras, because it turned out all that automation actually
helped people make pictures they wanted to keep.
Instead of getting a film camera, you can invest maybe 15 minutes
watching a Youtube video and then half a day using your digital camera
in manual mode, and learn the basics of exposure that way. It’s not
A bonus is you can directly check the effects on the back of the
screen, instead of waiting for the film to be developed and
correlating the shots with handheld notes about exposure.
Shooting film makes you slow down and appreciate every shot
Well obviously. But do you think the masters of photography scrimped
and hoarded film? No they didn’t, they had the same hit rate the rest
of us have but they had the dedication to keep shooting no matter what
the cost. Independent wealth (Cartier-Bresson), grants (Frank) or
plain scrimping and saving (Maier) enabled them to keep shooting and
getting wheat from the chaff.
As a digital shooter, every shot is basically free at the margin. But
instead of using this opportunity to shoot more and getting better,
people are complaining about full hard drives and slow editing.
The answer is not to shoot less, it’s to shoot more but better. This
is true with film or digital.
Shooting film is a more tactile experience
I can’t really argue with this - at least not with the classic manual
cameras noted above! Try shooting a plastic wundermachine from the 90s
and you’ll be disabused of the notion, unless the buzz of an
autowinder and the whine of screw-driven autofocus is part of your
preferred tactile experience.
I can also understand that if you’re in front of a computer all day
you might want to relax with making images “the old fashioned way”. But at least then you’re aware of the tradeoffs.
Pictures taken with film have a unique look
I’ll grant this for images taken with medium format or large
format. The interplay between field of view and focal length give
these formats a unique look that’s hard to replicate in software.
For small-format images though? I bet there’s a filter or preset for
every film worth shooting. Even if there isn’t, you carefully crafted,
exquisitely presented “lo-fi” film images will be met with “Cool! what
filter did you use?”. That is if you’re lucky.
So, you really hate film, don’t you?
Actually I don’t. It’s a free world (at least where I am, thanks for
that) and you are welcome to shoot film and tell me it’s the best
thing since sliced bread. But you’re not going to convince me, because
I’ve heard it all before. And I’ll definitely not grade your work on a
curve because you shoot film.