When I’m out shooting with any of my film cameras, someone invariably asks me, “Do they still make film?”
Not only do they still make film, but it’s easy to get if you know where to look. I’ll recommend some places to do just that at the end of this article. It’s true that several types of film have been discontinued, but a wide variety of 35mm film is still available, as well as a decent variety of 120 format film, if that’s your preference.
Of course, digital photography rules the roost these days. But I believe it’s worth the extra effort to shoot with film even now. It gives you a different perspective on your work and may well make you a better photographer. Here are 5 of the benefits I have gained from shooting with film:
- Doing things the hard way
- Learning more about how a camera works
- Better image quality (on the cheap, no less!)
- Having a record of your work
- Making connections with people
1. Doing things the hard way
When kids are learning to draw, do we give them a Wacom tablet and the latest Adobe software? Of course not! We give them pencil and paper. As they develop their skills and interests, we gradually move them toward more sophisticated tools.
In the 2007 documentary Helvetica, graphic designer Wim Crouwel says that automated tools don’t make someone a better designer — they just make good designers more efficient. The same principle holds true for photography.
Taking away a lot of the automation forces you to think about how to make good images. Slowing down can make you a more mindful photographer, which is good to do at least from time to time. Remember, the real skill is in your head, not in your tools.
2. It gives you a better idea of how a camera works
When shooting digital, sometimes there’s a tendency to shoot as many images as possible and expect to “fix it in post,” i.e., tweak the image with software like Photoshop. While there are some post-processing tools available for film, your life will be much easier by getting things as right as possible in-camera. By spending a little more time ensuring that your composition and exposure look the way you want, you’ll save so much time editing later.
If you also own a DSLR, shooting with film will help you better understand the various functions on your DSLR. When you open up the back of a film camera to load or unload the film, you get a view of the mechanics of your camera that is unavailable in digital cameras.
3. Better image quality for a fraction of the price
Part of the reason that digital photography did not immediately overtake film was that digital image quality was noticeably inferior, due in part to early DSLRs having a cropped sensor compared to a 35mm frame. Most DSLRs today still have a cropped sensor, although image quality has improved significantly since those early models.
Now you can get DSLRs with a sensor the size of a 35mm frame; these are called full-frame cameras. They also typically cost well north of $1000 (US), and that’s just for the body. Adding a lens could easily set you back a few hundred dollars or more. You can save a little bit by getting a used or refurbished model, but not much. By comparison, you can easily find a film SLR body in excellent condition for less than $200. You might even be able to use some of the same lenses as your DSLR!
4. Physical record of your work
I have a little experience developing my own film and making my own prints. I can’t overstate the amazing feeling I got when I saw the negatives and made my first prints.
Now, I understand that most people won’t go to those lengths, but even if you send your film elsewhere to be developed and printed, it’s nice to have tangible artifacts of your images. Also, as stated earlier, when I know there’s going to be a physical negative, it makes me think a lot more about the shot before taking it, so I’m often satisfied with a higher percentage of my film shots than my digital shots.
5. Conversation starters
This one actually works on a couple of levels. One, when you start shooting film, you become part of the amazing community of film shooters. You can probably find others in your area, but even if you can’t, there are plenty of great film-centered communities online.
When I’m out shooting film, people almost always ask me about my camera and the process of shooting film. Sometimes people will share their own fond memories of shooting film. Having a camera in general is an icebreaker with people; having a film camera is even more so.
Go ahead, try it
If you have an old film camera lying around, why not dust it off? Load it with some film, and go shoot whatever you find interesting.
If you don’t have a film camera, it’s easy to get one on the used market. Of course, Ebay and Craigslist are popular sources for all kinds of used gear, but if that feels too risky for you, I have good news! There are reputable shops online that sell used film cameras and in most cases, back them with a limited warranty. Here are some of the more well-known ones:
- Adorama: Physical store in New York, but they ship worldwide
- B&H: Also has a physical store in New York and a massive online presence
- KEH: Online clearinghouse for all kinds of used photo gear
- Your community: if you live in or near a major city, chances are there is at least one store that sells used camera equipment. I am fortunate to have such a store near where I live and a few more within driving distance.
The stores mentioned above also carry a wide selection of film. The only caveat I would offer with ordering film online is that you probably don’t want to do it anytime you expect extreme weather. For instance, in Texas, film selections at local stores get very thin at the end of summer because people are reluctant to have film shipped in such heat.
Hope you learned something from this post! Maybe you’re even inspired to go shoot some film yourself. If so, welcome! You’re in for a great adventure.