Why Film?

Why Film?

I learned photography on film, and I’m probably one of the last people to learn on film rather than digital. I’m sure I played around with my parents’ digital point and shoot cameras when I was a little younger, but when I actually really dug into photography for the first time, it was on my grandfather’s Minolta XG-M. I use film in my personal work because it plays to my core skills and lets me sidestep a lot of the stuff I don’t really like spending my time on.

I shoot film out of familiarity. Most of the cameras I shoot on are manual only cameras, or manual first, with a built in meter. This is how I learned to shoot, and it’s what I tend to think in terms of. I know how to work the internal meter, and focus using a normal SLR and rangefinder, and get completely reproducible results.

Next to familiarity is comfort and ease of use. Having learned photography fully manual, I find it much easier to manually set my exposure (and it’s compensation) and focus, rather than having to sit there and chimp my rear display to figure out why the highlights are blown or the evaluative metering is acting weird (given, it’s really really good on modern cameras). At any rate, without a lot of the extra automation, it strips back what the camera does for me, and allows me to focus more on composing and shooting.

Time is the ultimate factor for me. When I shoot film in a hybrid process (scanning the negatives and retouching), the amount of time that I have to spend sitting in front of a computer editing my scans is a tenth of what it is with digital files. I place a high premium on spending my time shooting rather than editing. I don’t like waiting or playing games with a computer to get the images I’m finishing to be like I saw them in my head and doing scans myself, or having a lab do them when they do the development. This usually gets the images I capture 99% of the way there without me having to sit there and play with them too much.

The home-dev color crew will be quick to argue that lab scans don’t leave much up to to the photographer, but I’d honestly argue that’s a difference in priorities more than some kind of moral imperative. The lab would really have to really take poetic license, or overcorrect the scans to some absurd degree for me to say they’re the ones calling the shots, especially after you factor in composition, film choice, exposure compensation or deliberate re-rating of film.

I shoot film because it allows me to shoot more clear-headedly, with little regard for post processing or getting the gadgetry to work fully in my favor. I realize the incremental costs are higher, and based on the amount that I shoot, probably much more expensive in the long run.  The time I get back from shooting, metering, and choosing the correct film for my application, is all time saved that I don’t have to spend re-envisioning photos I’ve already taken, is well worth the money.

Film is not sacred. Film is not magic. Film is simply the most convenient means to my ends.