I thought of a question following the discussion of the Mamiya 7II yesterday. Here it is.
I personally know of probably thousands of photographers who, over the last 20 years, at some point rented digital equipment just to try it.
That was perfectly natural, of course. It was the coming thing, people were curious, the technology was constantly evolving and changing, etc.
But I wonder if it ever happens the other way around. If you're what they used to call a "film virgin"—i.e., someone who came of age or acquired your interest in photography entirely in the digital era, and only ever used digital coming up—have you everrented or bought a film camera just to try it? Or considered it?
I don't mean with any thought of "switching" to film or with any idea in mind about continuing to use it going forward. But just to have the experience and see what it's all about.
Personally, I think it would be really interesting, if I were a digital-only-ever photographer, to get my hands on a Mamiya rangefinder and run six or ten rolls of film through it, get the film developed and have a print or two made.
But maybe that's just my inner film-guy speaking. Maybe if I were digital-only-ever, I wouldn't have any interest or curiosity.
Just wondering what you think.
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Featured Comments from:
AlexK: "Absolutely. My first camera was a Nikon D40 that I bought for myself after university. That sent me down the Nikon 'upgrade' path, but concurrent to that I ended up purchasing, then selling, many film cameras that were good deals.
"Some favorites include the Minolta CLE, Leica M5, Pentax 645N and the aforementioned Mamiya 7II. The Pentax and Mamiya are probably two of the most comfortable cameras to hold and pleasurable to shoot that I've ever used. Most of my photography these days is centered around wedding photography so I've pared down my kit to my working essentials and have recently divested myself of the majority of my film cameras. I still have a few 35mm SLRs and the CLE, albeit it now sports a cracked viewfinder window, as it was my everyday carry camera for a few years. I still haven't found a replacement for it. I thought a Micro 4/3 body with the Panasonic 20mm ƒ/1.7 would have been perfect, but I haven't got along with any yet.
"A series of portraits I did a few years ago with the Pentax 645N remain some of my favorite photos. I thought the prints turned out great. They were also a big hit among the subjects and the printer."
Tim Fitzwater: "I doubt it. Old film cameras can be picked up for almost nothing—even decent SLRs and rangefinders (trust me—I'm swimming in a thrift-store-built collection). What would be the point of renting one when they could be had so cheap—especially for a beginner?"
Mike replies: Well, I'm not sure a Mamiya 7II would ever be a thrift store find. But the question's still the same: would they try it just to try it?—Regardless of how they got their hands on the camera they want to try.
And note that it might be a mistake to consider people we're talking about "beginners." A digital-only-ever photographer could be very sophisticated, knowledgable, and skilled and yet never have tried a film camera. It is 2014, after all.
Tom Wiebe: "I have finally gotten around to getting some education and find myself as a 43-year-old in first year art school. The 18- and 19-year-old kids in my classes have, in most cases, not had their picture taken on film since they were five years old. It's entirely foreign to them. Film is almost an entire generation ago to most of the population. Like switchboard operators!
"It has been fascinating watching them. About half the class, all very talented young artists, have been utterly incapable of wrapping their heads around successfully loading and unloading a film camera without destroying their film. Another quarter have safely gotten their films shot, but focus, exposure, etc. are all over the place. The last quarter have produced some remarkably inspired work.
"At midterm, people were given the option of switching to digital if they so chose. About a third of the class has opted to stick with film for now."
Tim: "My first experience with film was actually very similar to what you've written about. I found a great deal on Nikon 20mm ƒ/3.5 lens that came with a N2000 as a rear cap. Since the N2000 is worth peanuts I figured why not give throw a roll in and see what film is all about. Now I own eight film cameras to go along with my D7000.
"I can't put my finger on it, but to be as a hobbyist the experience of shooting and developing black and white film is a lot of fun and very rewarding. I'd love to find a darkroom to try making a print or two. The step up to medium format was equally fun, I like my D7000, but I've really developed a sweet spot for shooting film."
Kenneth Tanaka (partial comment): "I've been tempted to try, not buy, a large-format beast. But not-gonna-happen. The facts are as follows: a.) I've learned that the camera/medium has virtually no material affect on the real quality of the images you make. Blind digitally = Blind chemically. b.) The Tanaka Museum of Photography History is full! So go away with this stuff. Please oh please! The result of my latest caprice: a restored/pack-converted Polaroid Pathfinder 110. It's gorgeous and fun to use but...."
Ernest Zarate: "Forever ago, Mike, you wrote a review for the Mamiya 6 rangefinder camera in the excellent photo mag, Camera Arts. That review, and the subsequent (i.e., next day) trip to my local camera store, also Camera Arts (now defunct), proved an epiphany. The camera, mounted with the beautiful 50mm ƒ/4 lens on the front and the sublime Ilford XP-2 loaded in the back (@ EI 100) was my only camera for many years. I published a monograph, At the Beach, full of photos taken with that set up. Without a doubt the most beautifully designed, elegant and sophisticated piece of machined works I've held (and I own Leicas, too). I have shot with many MF cameras, including Hassys, but all pale in comparison, IMHO. Thank you for that review—you enlightened my photographic life with your words."
Mike replies: Are you sure it was Camera Arts? I thought it was Camera & Darkroom. But I could be wrong.
I took some lovely pictures with that camera too. They let me keep it for thirty big long beautiful days. My memories of it might even be fonder than yours! Wish I could have bought one of my own.