Why film?

So, why film? Well, first of all because “analogue photography” is a complete misnomer. Both a sensor and film react rather similar to light, in a pretty binary way (it’s registered, or not). So if binary logic equals digital, then both are in fact digital.

But no, this isn’t about the dictionary.

Why would you still want to work with film? A good, modern camera with a modern sensor delivers great performance, has a lot of features and possibilities, and adds the great additional flexibility of post-processing on a computer. Immediate feedback while shooting, so you know right away whether or not you should take that second attempt while you still can. And nothing is stopping you from making your file look like it was made with film, and when printed on high quality paper, most people will not notice any difference.

There are little technical reasons to use film. The only technical point would be how film deals with highlights – it is more graceful than the harsh solid white you get with a sensor. But the best current sensors hardly suffer those issues too anymore.

So, why make the effort to buy a roll of film, to next be stuck to a limited amount of exposures, and be limited to one single ISO for all of those. While working with an older camera, that is most likely feeling pretty rudimentary too. If it has autofocus, it will surely not rival today’s cameras. If it has a lightmeter, fingers crossed it is as accurate and smart.

And then you have to wait a while before you see the results. And if those are disappointing, then…. yeah, then what? Too bad, better next time?

 

At this point, some people will start rambling about real photography, and the real art of making a photo without safeguards. Arguments that make no sense at all. Nothing more real or fake about one method over the other.

There are even more purist zealots, who find only film with darkroom prints the real deal. Do whatever you like, but a limited view like this won’t yield you nothing.

 

One of the far more reasonable arguments is how the higher cost per shot help you slow down, and think a bit better. That can definitely be the case, and sure it can help. Of course you can make thousands of photos a day with any camera, but film isn’t cheap. And you don’t necessarily get better by making lots and lots of images. You do get better by thinking a bit more, look a bit better. If the cost of film forces you to do that, good. Lesson learnt.

Another argument would be the “film look”. I think there is such a thing, even though you can perfectly simulate it in software too. Films do tend to have their own signature, and if that is the look you’re after, then there is a point to be made to do that right in the camera, rather than having additional work afterwards.
Personally, I only work with black and white film; I’m not very interested in colour film myself. But I get whoever wants to use Portra, Provia or Ektar.

 

My own reason for using film is really just mine, though. Yes, film did teach me to slow down a bit more, but I can also slow down with my digital camera. It’s a different thing, and that is the experience of making a photo. An experience that you – as a viewer – don’t need to care about at all.

But the actual act of making photos is for me a very considerable part of the hobby. It’s not all about making sure I have something to share with viewers, it’s also about me enjoying myself.

So, first off, there is the charm of much simpler cameras. No autofocus, no features, no overkill of buttons and switches getting in my way. Aperture, shutterspeed, and a way to focus. That’s all. Batteries – if at all – that last ages, and should they run empty, you loose metering – if at all. No distractions. I like how purposeful these devices are.

And after that, there is that beautiful moment you remove the negatives from the development tank, and see the tiny images for the first time. A physical result, tangible. It remains a beautiful moment. And printing is even better than that.

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