You wouldn’t know it from all the Canon and Nikon and Olympus commercials out right now, but there are a ton of photographers out there who still prefer to shoot film over digital. In fact, film has made a huge comeback in recent years, and not just with the bourgeois coffee shop Polaroid hipster crowd. Studios, agencies, and even brands are opting back into film, and the move has left many scratching their heads. Well, we have a few film shooters here at Cool Material, so we decided it might be best to clear the air. Here are 7 solid reasons why people still shoot film:
Shooting Film is More Challenging
To say shooting on film is more rewarding is an unfair editorialization. But to say that shooting film takes more concentration, more attention to detail, and more planning is a perfectly valid argument. On a digital medium, opportunities for the perfect photo are as plentiful as space on a memory card. And with things like Live View and preview feeding into our need for immediate gratification, taking the right photo can become a thoughtless, if mundane experience. Film, on the other hand, is limited to just 25 or 36 frames per role, and thus, offers a hell of a lot less opportunity to “get it right.” There is no preview, no Live View; just a human, some frame lines, a light meter, and a wink and prayer. Film is a more hands-on medium. Period.
Film Offers Higher Dynamic Range
Tones, colors, textures—all of these compositional elements have a profound impact on a photo, and yet, all the censors, filters, and pixels in the world can’t match the tonal and color ranges offered by a single roll of film. In fact, it takes up to three digital RAW files to achieve the same tonal ranges as some films.
Permanence, Tangibility, and Versatility
Digital files are corruptible. They are as permanent as your hard drive, and chances are, there are literally thousands of photos sitting in limbo somewhere you can’t remember. Film offers an unrivaled level of permanence. Film always come with negatives, which if developed and stored properly, will stand the test of time, and can be printed, re-printed, and digitally scanned over, and over, and over again.
Grain Good. Noise Bad.
As it turns out, the thing people despise most about digital photography is what has drawn people to film for decades: Grain. When it comes to digital photography, “grain” isn’t even called grain, but “noise.” It’s what happens when the quality of an image is so poorly rendered that individual pixels are blown out and/or distorted to the point of, well, ugliness. In film, however, grain is a beauty to behold. It is warm, it is fuzzy; it is the swallowing darkness of trees in the forest, or the deep blue sky slowly fading into the stratosphere. It is warm sunshine and the hot florescent bulb, burning straight through a whiskey bar and into your retinas.
Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
Adobe Lightroom is perhaps one of the best things to happen to digital photo editing in the last 10 years, and is one of the most popular photo processing tools in the world. For many a photog, it is an indispensible piece of artillery. There are literally hundreds of downloadable presets and filter packages, and dozens of companies offer pricey add-ons to emulate what most people consider archaic technology—film! Ektar, Portra, Tri-x, Superia—they’re all there, and then some. If it wasn’t good, they wouldn’t try so hard to fake it.
This is a serious point of contention for photographers in both camps, but when it comes to image resolution, color rendering, and overall quality, nothing beats film—particularly medium and large format stuff. There are entire creative agencies that still rely solely on film work, and as far as we can tell, business is booming. The highest quality large format 4×5’s deliver quality that simply can’t be matched by the largest common production cameras in the industry. To 99 percent of shooters, the difference in image resolution and quality don’t really make a difference for their intent and purposes, but an advantage is an advantage.
And finally, let’s talk brass tax. For a good digital rig, expect to spend about a g-note. Lenses? Forget it. On the other hand, some of the most highly regarded and most popularized film cameras in the entire world can be had for pennies on the dollar. Pentax K1000s, Canon AE-1s, Olympus OM1s, Minolta X-700s—all can be had for under a hundred bucks (lens included), under the right circumstances. Medium and large format cameras—Mimaya RZ67s, Bronica SQ-As, Contax 645s, Pentax 6×7’s, Toyo Field 45As, etc.—all can be had for a few hundred bucks. Of course, the world will always have its spendier Leicas and Hasselblads, but on the whole, film is the budget photographer’s best friend, and bridges the gap between class status and fine art.
Photography: Maxwell Barna