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Monday, 18 June 2018

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I have shot film, and actually got back into "serious" photography around the time that digital started to transition into the mainstream (late 90s into the early 2000s).

I am ambivalent about this question.

On the one hand, having "had" to shoot B&W film back in the day put into my brain a framework for how pictures "should" look and the sorts of manipulations you "should" do to make them look that way. This is helpful even in the digital age because it can focus what you do in your post-processing and keep you from suffering from a sort of paralysis that can be caused by the tools being too flexible.

On the other hand, who cares about the arbitrary limitations of past media? Current practitioners should be using the tools they have to their fullest extent ... being too limited or inflexible in your working methods can be a great handicap.

I think the right answer is some combination of these things. Everyone should know what Tri-X in D76 1:1 looks like because it's a very nice point in the space of all possible ways that pictures can look. But as you say it's increasing impractical to actually have any direct experience with those materials anymore. So I would not begrudge anyone the right to look but not touch.

After 50+ years doing photography, both as a shooter and working in a lab, I would say no. The bulk of the time you spend with film will be dealing with its deficiencies. Digital still has some drawbacks, especially in camera design, but for the most part these have been overcome, especially in the last 4 or 5 years.

First off - I have shot film. All sorts of slide, print and black and white film. I have developed my own black and white as well as slide. I never got round to colour prints though.

I don't think you need to use film, digital is perfectly fine.

I do think that modern cameras with uncanny meters and autofocus make us lazy. They also don't encourage an understand of photography.

Rather than film, I think printing your own photos to hang on your walls is probably the modern equivalent in taking the care of exposure and composition.

I started on photography at the turn of the century, just before digital, and for a long time I assumed that everybody should learn to make pictures on film, "to really learn the craft".

I don't think it is the case now. I see film as photography and digital as a different medium that still lacks an appropriate name. Of course using film for the first time would be interesting for anybody with an interest in the visual arts, like doing a lithograph or a woodcut, but it is no necessary, I think.

I pretty much only shoot film, but I'm not a film evangelist, I just prefer to print in the darkroom than to print from digital files because I know how to make the darkroom do what I want it to, and I prefer looking through a medium format viewfinder or a 5x4 or 10x8 ground glass than through anything else. I have no objection to digital photography per se, but I do think digital has limitations which using more traditional methods helps to illuminate. I think the main problem with digital is it gives the opportunity - even the incentive - to shoot far too much. When I go out with my 10x8 I can only take 6 pictures because I only take three film holders with me, with my 5x4 only 6 or 8 pictures, and with medium format I only ever take two rolls of film, so between 20 and 24 pictures as a maximum. For me, the discipline of knowing I only have a limited number of pictures, regardless of how long I am out for the day, always improves my shooting. I know this, because whenever I have taken more film with me, I end up shooting it, but I don't get more good pictures. Usually, in fact, I get fewer good pictures. I suspect this is because on the occasions when I know I have lots of leeway I'm looking and thinking much less clearly and precisely about what it is I am trying to achieve that day (this is why I largely eschew 35mm - 36 shots is simply too many for me).

For a long time I've intended to go out with a good digital camera, a tripod, and the smallest memory card I can find. The idea being to make the experience as close as possible to the slow precision of using a view camera - no photos taken without a tripod (just to ensure no snapshots or too scattergun an approach), and not enough space on the card to take more than 20 or 30 pictures over a day. Oh, and no use of the delete button on the camera to get rid of duff shots. Things which I see in the world but which don't translate into photos because I screwed up or for some other reason are still part of the day's seeing, after all.

Mary Ellen Mark told that each film format make her a better photographer. She experienced from 35mm to 120 to LF. Locally I know teachers that had very good experience with pinhole in case one have not film and more expensive cameras. Make your own camera and expose paper and know how work that is a good lesson. Personally I used all kind of devices, each one let me learn something. LF teach to be patient and more contemplative, 35 mm rangefinder teach imagine your photo because what you see is not what you get, is simple a window, toy cameras like Holga discipline you to work only with one or two f stops and one speed. I'm a self taught photographer.

I started with an Ansco darkroom set, a contact printer and 4x5 trays more as a chemistry set than a photography lesson. I really only started doing photography in a camera club in college, black and white of course. Knowing basic darkroom was a big help. That said I am not sure that film is a necessity to learn nowadays. More important is a manually adjustable camera. Using it with either a hand held meter or just sunny 16 will develop the connection between the amount of light you are letting into your camera and a successful image. To me that is the basic skill of photography, followed by brutal use of the crop tool to remove what doesn’t belong in the photo. That will quickly instill the desire to get the crop right in the camera so that it can be displayed at a nice large size and impress their friends.

The simple phrase "try film" can cover a lot of ground, my friend. It can include anything from sticking a roll of generic color film into an old point-and-shoot and dropping it off a Target, to processing and printing rolls and sheets of film yourself in a darkroom.

As for shooting with a view camera, I would encourage only someone who is Serious About Photography to go that route, and I say this as someone who has shot professionally with a Sinar F, among others. View camera photography requires not only a view camera, but a lens or two, a sturdy tripod, film holders, sheet film, a changing/loading bag, a darkroom in which to process said film... the list goes on. This might be feasible for a student attending a photography class in a college or trade school, but for anyone else, the cost of entry would be too high.

As for gaining insight into photography's origins, I'm not so sure. Does a carpenter or woodworker need to use or master manual tools to truly understand their craft, or would their time be better spent in mastering modern day power tools? My guess is the latter. On the other hand, just as there are certain things you can do only with hand tools, there's a certain look that's more typical of film than digital. If you want that look, then it helps to have shot film.

I agree with your premise. I am an "older" photographer, who worked in the "real" darkroom for over 40 years. I find those who've never used fully manual cameras, and never made a print to have different ideas about photography, and not just the technical aspects.
I like your view camera suggestion because I long for that approach today without the practical hassles of dealing with film and a wet darkroom. I'd love it if the manufacturers (and they could) added a away to look at a viewfinder or screen upside down and backwards. One can really learn many important aspects of composition from that abstract view. I never understood reflex viewers used by some with a 4x5.
Challenging oneself is good. Forward is not always the only direction to go to learn.

Here in the Deep South we would prefer not to ‘should’ on anyone, and we instead would say that you ‘might should’ try shooting film at least once in your life. Another thing you might could try is developing your own color film.

Just because the end-product is similar to what’s been around for over 150 years doesn’t mean that you have to keep going back to the technology of that time. So I would say ‘no’ to the general point, while accepting that some individual photographers might well find the exercise valuable.

Here’s another thought - I never hear suggestions that videographers should learn by shooting a cine camera.

(I have shot film, mainly 35mm, when that was how it was done, and I did my own mono developing and printing.)

Maybe at this point interested people should try a traditional photography class or workshop once in their life (film shooting and darkroom technique). I respond well to deadlines, instruction and community effort. And it's becoming less and less likely that average joe photographers will want to find enlargers and figure out film developing and set up darkrooms just to try film.

I believe I have commented on this issue previously. We are of roughly the same generation. I learned to make photos in the 60s; my first camera a Kodak Instamatic. However, I was never much of a note taker and slow to get my film developed. When I made the switch to digital at the turn of this millennium, my photography improved dramatically. With the automatic capture of the metadata and instant feedback, I could easily experiment to get the shot I was seeing at that moment as well as cull through previously captured images and sort through the metadata to learn more about what made the image “work”. Personally, I would have been happy to have skipped my 30 years of film exposure.

Why? Why does every horseback rider have to try every riding style? Why does every painter have to try every possible medium? It's art, it doesn't have any rules. Interesting that the digital photography review site is talking about film so much.

I think 'should' is an extremely strong word, so I disagree fairly strongly: I do not think I, or anyone, should[*] seek to define what it means to be a photographer like that.

As for context, I am about to go to the darkroom to make some prints, and I own a view camera.

[*] Yes, should.

I think the modern version of the One Camera, One Lens, One Year experience is a Fuji X100* and only shoot JPEGs. Learn to expose that way.

I'm biased, as I learned to shoot on film, and was in the darkroom early on - so I do think that shooting and developing film is a good way to understand a lot of the assumptions baked into modern cameras and processing software.

View cameras do make you think different, and that's always helpful. And the negatives are mesmerizing! Taking the time to learn how to operate a view camera and produce a solid image from one can help make you think about light in very different ways.

As much as I love shooting my smaller 35mm film cameras, it's much harder to argue that it's teaching anything that can't be learned elsewhere, other than an appreciation for how much easier things have gotten:)

I still shoot film regularly and have done since that was all we had. I had developed B&W and home but never C41. The other month I bit the bullet and got a kit, partly because getting films developed is expensive now but also just to say "I did it."

I'm really glad I did as I find I enjoy it and I'm very pleased with the results. And it makes me take more photos which can only be a good thing.

I like the view camera idea but I would go a little further. Whatever else they do with the view camera I think every photography student should take at least one 5x4 colour transparency, just so that they can go "Wow!"

What’s your take?. A two-part response from me.

1. Using a film camera can be a fun, enjoyable experience. It’s a fundamental step in photography’s history that can still be experienced. Rather like attending a workshop at Lacock Abbey to experience part of the birth of photography the way Fox Talbot did. And I suppose using a view camera would be fun, too. (Something I’ve never done myself but would like to have tried.)

2. No, there are absolutely no practical educational benefits from using film. Dealing with the limitations of chemical photography in today’s digital age will not make you a better photographer. Perhaps just the opposite. Technically, the educational advantages of having extensive Exif data for every frame of a digital image can be enormous. Visually, the ability to costlessly experiment with endless possibilities with a digital camera is even more enormous for education.

Understanding the rudiments of how a camera and lenses work is certainly useful for any photographic pursuit. But understanding how film emulsion photography worked may be historically education but is just as certainly useless.

p.s. Yes, my first foray into photography was on film, like most of my fellow older readers here.

p.p.s. One way to improve your photography is to stay far away from the photo forums, especially those swamps at DPreview. It’s a wonderful source of camera gear news but those chat boards are real slums. Spend time at places that deal with photography, such as Lenscratch and Lens Culture, instead.

I shoot film. My first steps in photography were quite unusual for someone at my age, as I started with digital. However, it didn't take me too long to realize the most cited advantage of digital - the ability to shoot countless exposures - is a fallacy. In order to learn, you need to actually shoot less - and think more. There is nothing to learn from taking millions of mediocre photos. Even when I was shooting digital, I felt the need to shoot less in order to shoot better.
And there's something else that gets in the way of proper learning when you shoot digital: chimping. The habit of seeing the photo on the camera's screen immediately after shooting only makes your photography intuitive and empirical. You won't shoot better because you won't understand what's happened.
With film you really have to understand exposure. It's a bit like walking on a tightrope (especially if your film camera doesn't have a built-in light meter), but you'll end up with a better understanding of photography.
And it's fun. Film can be much more enjoyable than shooting digital, in the same way a manual shift car can be much more fun to drive than an automatic one. Of course, if you only want to go from A to B without fuss, you'll be better off driving a car with an automatic gearbox, but chances are you'll never understand how the engine and gearbox work. (Which is alright for many, but not for everyone.)
I'm no flat earther. I'm not saying film is superior. That'd be foolish. Digital APS-C cameras trounce 135 film on a daily basis for size and quality. It's a different experience, that's all. If you don't like it, that's alright. No need to get defensive or join the 'film is dead' guerrilla warfare, like so many DPR commenters do.
Finally, nothing digital can get close to black and white film. Not even to 135 film. No amount of post-processing can replicate the look of Ilford FP4 or Kodak Tri-X. That's just impossible. I've seen nice things from the Leica M-Monochrom, but that's not for everyone. Even with an Olympus OM-2N, which I've been using for the last five years, you can get wonderful results. It's just magic. It defies any explanation. And it's not expensive: film cameras and lenses are cheap, and you can develop and scan thousands of film rolls and still spend less than what you'd pay for an equivalent digital camera and lens.
There's no excuse for not giving it a try, but beware - you might not want to get back to digital. If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone.

I am neutral on that film bucket-list item. I was introduced to photography in the 1970's when film was the only choice and I started out enthusiastically. I worked up from hand-me-down Kodaks (620) to a 35mm SLR, developed my own b&w film and printed in a borrowed darkroom a few times.

That experience ultimately soured me on photography though; it's too damned slow for a short-attention-span computer geek like I was. I put away my camera and forgot all about photography for twenty years.

But now, thanks to digital cameras and software editing I am more enthusiastic than ever about photography. Pretty much obsessed thanks to being retired and having all the resources and time I could desire.

So I feel that anyone who wants to should try film if that piques their interest -- why the hell not? But I would not elevate trying film above any other bucket-list item like printing for an exhibition, or trying only a single prime for a month, or shooting nudes, at least once.

There are a bazillion interesting options out there to try and film is just one, and not especially compelling at that.

Roland Barthes spoke of the phenomenon in which I became what I m via certain choices, and since I'm perfect, everyone should make those choices. In fact, I can't say what I would have become if I had started differently, nor whether what I've become is desirable: but I did shoot mostly B&W film, some in Leica but more in SLR's, for many years. However the important thing in my belief structure is what you left out: printing. If you shoot B&W and you are content with what come back from a lab, it's likely you'll be disappointed.
Yet it's actually easy to do the equivalent on a PC with digital files, given only the discipline to shoot a manageable number of frames and to not go wild, chasing spectacular colour and HDR effects. So why not do it that way, while saving yourself the incovenience and toxic exposures of the darkroom?

Color slide film, with a 4x5 view camera (where cost of film is $5 an exposure), was a discipline I imposed upon myself a decade ago. It made sense only because I already had a wet color darkroom, and knew something about Subject Brightness Ratio. Still a challenge then, 25 years into shooting color transparency. Without the darkroom, digital is a faster teacher for someone motivated to learn

Yep, I've shot film. Started taking pictures in either '72 or '73 (never have been able to recall which year it actually was). Starting using digital exclusively around 2009.

I don't see the need for anyone who hasn't used film before and who doesn't have the need to use it currently to try it "just because". Film use is a disappearing reality. I'm actually surprised it's disappearing so fast. But the fact is that manufacturers aren't generating enough income with it to justify continue making it. The vicious circle is that the fewer companies making film, the fewer people will continue using film and the less justification there will be to make film, on and on. Like it or not, profit is the motivation for companies to make anything. The future doesn't look good for film use.

However, the idea of trying a view camera (with film) isn't a bad idea at all. I expect view cameras, in some form or another, will continue to be available in the future. Except they will be digital (or whatever comes after digital). Learning to use one may not be essential but it's at least not impractical.

It's a bit pointless to discuss at what negative size film becomes equal or better to some digital file format (although that's what they do at DPReview of course). If what you want is to express yourself in some artistic way, then you would surely select the best tools/process to facilitate that expression – photographic film, digital files, oil painting, stone sculpture, who cares...

Trying out film on a fairly casual basis (whether to explore arcane technology or investigate artistic possibilities) is quite difficult. Selecting a decent camera is the easy part. Developing the film yourself is harder but not impossible. However, learning darkroom printing without darkroom facilities already in place and help from people who really know what they are doing, is going to be a major exercise in frustration and money.

I started learning darkroom processes in 1961 when I used the school darkroom. It was difficult because there was no one who really knew what they were doing. Eventually I made my own darkroom at home, really because there was no other way if I wanted to do photography. When I decided to re-boot my film use about six years back, it took me a little while to 're-calibrate' my exposure techniques and remember how to process films. I opted to scan my negs myself, even though I would like to print them the old way, but I can't convince myself that building a darkroom is worth the effort. Although owning the whole process from clicking the shutter to hanging up a print to dry is very satisfying. So who knows?

I shoot *mostly* film. If a photographer wants to try film, then great. If they don't, then great. I think what's important for anyone wanting to be good a photography that they practice and deliberately build skill. They can do that with a digital point-and-shoot if they want. No need to lay a "should" on anyone over this.

I’m a large format photographer and would even help people locally where I live in experiencing it.

I've shot film for 50+ years...still do to this day. I've shot 4x5 film since 1979 and 8x10 film since 1982...still shoot both to this day. Mostly B&W. The trouble with experimenting with LF is that it's highly addictive! wink-wink

I say no. First, the question asked was whether everyone should try shooting film at least "once". That's subject to interpretation, but even if you believe there's something that can be learned from shooting film, you don't learn it shooting it once. I never did my own darkroom work (I developed a roll of b&w once with a friend and had no idea why I was doing what we were doing). Early on, I shot negative film and had it processed by mail order labs and between the exposure latitude and the small prints, sloppy technique was masked. My first advance in IQ came when I started shooting slide film and got a light table and a loupe. That helped me improve on the technical side of things. The second came when I started shooting digital and had more freedom to experiment, to see what worked and what didn't. That helped even more, not only on the technical side, but with composition and all kids of lighting.
I'm intrigued by view cameras (I like "perspective corrected" images and often do that in Lightroom). I think I'd probably rather get PC lenses for a FF digital camera, though. If I could try a view camera in a workshop setting, I'd happily give it a go, but it's nothing I'd ever dabble in on my own.

I shot film exclusively for 35 years. I did it for a living. I was published all over and I taught photography at the college level. I was also considered a darkroom "expert." The last time I used film was in 1998. At that point I had switched to 100% digital. It was at that point that I realized that any further use of film was a waste of my time as far as "learning" photography. I hate to stand still, and to me, as a medium, using film was standing still.

I see absolutely no practical value in using film today, especially for learning. I personally believe that there is nothing that film can do that digital cannot do better. I doubt that there are many people today who could tolerate the extreme limitations of the film medium. If one were to buy a digital camera today, and all it could do was perfectly match the attributes of film, no one would be satisfied. I dare say that it would probably be considered the worst digital camera made.

I understand the sentimentality of it. I understand the "look" of film that some people like. But that is only because film came first. If digital had come first, no one would have ever developed film or seen a need for it.

I am still struck to this day by the very poor technical quality of many of the best images of the film days. Go look at some photos of John Kennedy, for example, taken with the best cameras and by the best photographers of the time and marvel at the fact that no one would put up with that quality today. And if one got what appeared to be a super high quality 35mm film shot, it was barely repeatable. A lot was up to random chance in the film days. You really wouldn't know what you had until you developed and printed it. At that point, maybe you would be pleasantly surprised at how good it looked, but you really never knew for sure in advance. There was almost no such thing as a sure thing.

Sure, all that really matters is the substance of the image, not the technical quality. But why not have options. You can do so much more with digital and pretty much duplicate a film look without much problem.

And, as far as learning camera controls, they are all right there on virtually every digital camera. You can even get an app to control the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc. on an iPhone.

I was born in the 60's and got my first camera at the age of 10 and shot with film for the next 30 ears.

I hung on when digital appeared but stopped when the quality of prints I was getting back nosedived. I assume they'd cut costs to compete with the rise of digital but whatever the reason the prints were poor and I'd had enough.

I briefly went back years later but quickly stopped and now I just don't see the point and if I want off colours, dirt, hairs and scratches on my pictures I'll do it in Nik filters and if I want to be limited to 36 shots at ISO 400 I'll slap myself and tell myself not to be so silly.

The lovely manual cameras have gone but if I use my Sony A7 with old film era lenses I get some of the charm and none of the worst bits of shooting with film.

I'll never go back now and I don't see the point in anyone just starting out bothering with it (film) unless it's as part of a history lesson. Large format and the like may be a different issue as will be some of the more exotic printing options to give a more unique final product but for day to day bread and butter stuff I nolonger see any point in even giving film a seconds thought. Digital is IMO more convenient, ISO 100-25,600, shutter speeds to 1/8000 and I can fit as many shots on the card as I can take in a month never mind a day and the pictures can be viewed within minutes of getting home and printed and in my hand the same day. What's not to like.

Not to be too much of a smart ass ... but why instead of b/w film in a Leica, why not a year with a DSLR and a 600mm lens?

I would think you would lean a lot about framing, timing, using proper support, etc.

I started with film went digital now back to film using a view camera. I am not giving up digital, but for me, I feel more connected to my art and the whole process of shot placement, framing, composition, focus. The myriad of ways to use the view camera for a scene/portrait/architecture along with preparing for the shot with film selection, loading, developing and printing, both ink jet and traditional as well as contact printing helps to commit me to the process of making an image.

I love digital too, but it seems we/I am more involved with digital imaging than committed to it, whereas, with film, I am committed to it. For me then being committed is the most important aspect.

Should everyone shoot film? I believe the best way to learn a craft/skill is to learn all of it. From the list basic to the most advanced. How can we crawl if we can't sit up?

It is like engineering, unless I know the basics of why/what/etc and the limitations of those, I cannot ever use the advanced stuff meant to make my life easier. Same with digital. Once can learn the basics, but without the inherent risks of permanent failure (can't redo a bad image done on film) there is no real risk or need to be exact and correct at thelomebt of shutter release. I hear too many people say, just click, adjust, click adjust until you get no blinkies. That to me is not photography, anyone can do that.

How many actually understand the concept of light, shadows, zone, contrast, exposure, getting it right in the camera. How about patience to wait for the exact moment of a sunset before releasing the shutter after having composed and focused ones scene?

To me using film requires us to slow down, be deliberate and think about what we want and what we are doing and why? Digital is an instant self gratification that serves the generation of I gotta have now, not later, I don't want to wait crowd.

Even those who started in film and went digital fall into that trap and swear to never use film again. Nothing wrong with that, but shoot a 4x5 frame a few times and using 35mm is not as satisfying.

I will stay digital, but also stay analog until I can no longer be analog.

My.02 cents.

I knew a guy (sadly dead now...) whose personal business cards had his name in full, and then underneath as his title/profession: Dilettante. Brilliant, I thought.

Dilettante hobbyist here.
Started as a kid with a wire-frame viewfinder/toggle switch under lens, got a Zenit E (with pre-aperture ring) as a teenager which is what I learnt photography with, with aid of books and mags and a guy in the village who helped me with B&W processing. In the early '80s I got a Nikon FE which I used until 2009, then I went digital.

Downside of film to me;
No exif data, So If I made a mistake I can't easily see why.
½ a roll of Kodachrome exposed and then I want to photograph motor-racing with faster ASA, so Waste ½ roll (or rewind, reload and hope the processing lab doesn't cut in the wrong place).
Unable to “chimp” so macro with flashlights relies on working out exposure tables and not knowing that 36 shots are over-exposed until you've paid and got the prints back. Ditto fireworks, motor-sport blur, etc.
Getting enlargements from a lab and seeing a different colour cast to the original print.
Paying for 36 roll and processing to only get 2-3 decent pictures gets expensive.
Difficult to get a lab to crop what I want (often fences/hedges/rivers stop me zooming with my feet).
Large cardboard box full of slides/negs/prints, too many unlabelled and never looked at.

I think it is only useful for a digital person to use a film camera if it is fully manual – I don't think they would gain much from a late model fully-auto film camera. This would maybe teach them to be careful with composition and avoid the 'scatter-gun' approach.
I also think as a tutored class it could be very useful.

I have thought about re-trying film but in a larger format than 35mm when I'm older, but I “see” in telephoto rather than wide-angle, so it might just be frustrating. There is something satisfying about seeing a large format neg and print though.

Basically I photograph too many different situations to be limited to 1 ASA/ISO film at a time.

This appeals to me though...
https://petapixel.com/2017/05/13/photographer-shoots-f1-1913-graflex-4x5-view-camera/

cheers another phil

Mike: I'll add a twist to it. I think the one thing everyone should try just once—if you're going to shoot film just once for the experience—is to shoot film with a view camera. If I were teaching photography today, I'd have every student spend a few hours with a view camera and make one successful shot with it so they could experience that.

I’ll add another twist to that. I think any student who is interested in photojournalism should spend a few days with a Speed Graphic. We had a couple of them when I was an undergraduate reporter/photographer/editor for The Dartmouth (I attended Dartmouth a couple of years ahead of you, I think), and with only two 4x5-inch sheets in a film holder and something presumably newsworthy in front of you, you really needed to think before you snapped the shutter. Shooting with that camera was a great discipline. Of course, I soon reverted to my 35mm Honeywell Pentax SLR.

Apropos of nothing except that I like the picture, here’s a photo of our two pressmen, Sid Varney (left) and Ira Holmes (right), that I made with the Pentax in our dingy basement pressroom in June, 1968: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chriskernpix/42161334414/in/datetaken-public/. If I brought him a couple of beers to drink while he worked, Sid would break all the rules and let me set a little type on his vintage Linotype machine.

I find having shot, developed and printed from film (color positive and negative as well as b&w negative) that it has helped my digital work. But is it needed, or even worth the time, for a competent digital shooter to shoot film? That I do not know. I suspect just running a few rolls through and having a lab develop and scan them isn't worth much. But really understanding and becoming proficient with film, or digital for film only folks, is going to be helpful no matter what you use.

I enjoy learning new things so I know I'd want to at least try it for a while to see what it's all about.

I found learning the movements with a view camera really helped in my understanding of how I could control the image. Just for that people should try it. Using a view camera is still my preferred way of shooting landscapes, even if I don't do it as often as I used to.

The view camera thing. Yes. This post resonates in a strange way with a previous post about the quality of the Sony files. I remember thinking about how you preferred other cameras to it but had to admit the IQ was superior with the Sony. Which made me think back to my first experience with a view camera.

I'm not sure, but I don't think you could find a camera that was any less "user friendly" or intuitive than a view camera. However, I remember with crystal vision the moment I looked at the first contact print I made from a 4x5 negative I had shot and developed. I was completely mesmerized. Drawn into the detail and subtle shades of gray and pure black.

Having come from a variety of 35mm cameras to that point, it changed my entire approach to photography for several years. It became some kind of mission to see how I could manage to shoot almost anything with the enormous awkwardness of that setup.

So, yes to the view camera. But only if you have access to a darkroom. It just ain't the same if you send it all out somewhere. Which (given the availability of darkroom facilities) makes it kind of a non-starter.

As for the Sony quality thing, I've never used one so don't know. But my gut tells me that if the IQ really is that much better, maybe I could get over myself and learn to make it work. I figure if I can carry a bagful of bellows, film holders, lens boards, dark cloths, and a surveyor's tripod around for several years, I could manage the odd misplaced button.

Hey, Mike--great topic. In my opinion, people should shoot film because the resulting images are of a character that cannot be duplicated digitally. That character also changes by format, with the introduction of longer lenses and shallower depth of field. The process becomes more deliberate, perhaps requiring the use of UBIS (underbody image stabilization--i.e. a tripod), which can make a photographer more thoughtful. To me the sweet spot for the new shooter is medium format.


Oh yeah! Bringing an inverted image into focus on the ground glass of a view camera has been, for me, the most magical of the many magical experiences of photography.

With a 4x5 Horseman, Polaroid P/N film, and a digital scanner I had a system that was going to carry me happily into retirement in the 21st century. So much for planning……

So, the first question I would ask is what are you trying to achieve? Are you just trying to give digital photographers an idea of what life was like with film? Is there something special about film photography that would be invaluable as a lesson? The only thing I can think of immediately is the idea that every exposure is "expensive" and that photographers should think before pressing the shutter release. But, is that really an important lesson when this is no longer the case? Is it an important lesson for street photographers? Journalists? I don't believe so.

For the record, while I shot film from the 80s on, I did not have a serious camera, nor did I think of myself as a photographer (amateur) until about 1996. I bought my first (used AE-1) SLR then and quickly decided to concentrate on B&W photography, because consumer color negative film results, processed by 1-hour labs, sucked. I shot only B&W film for 10 years, first with 35mm SLRs and then with Rollei TLRs. I love those TLRs and just recently bought one to replace one I sold. Still have film in the freezer. I also developed and printed by film during that time and still have the darkroom equipment. I did not switch to digital cameras until January of 2008.

My joyful journey with photography began in 1992 with a series of classes using a Nikon FM3a and 35mm film. We had to learn not only how to shoot (and we were limited to using a 50mm lens too!) but then how to process and manipulate the photos in a classic darkroom.
Those were some of the most wonderful times of my life, and if the costs of using film wasn’t so high (and truthfully, the ability of digital so good!) I’d go back to it in a New York Minute!
I would say that every aspiring photographer absolutely needs to try to shoot with film AND THEN LEARN HOW TO PROCESS IT at least once!

Should photographers try to shoot black and white film at least once in their life? Yes, I think they do, but only if they are willing to carry on the whole process of shooting, developing and printing their film.
The part I miss the most about shooting black and white film is the actual darkroom printing.I know it sounds like a cliche, but the whole process, from cleaning your negative and blowing the dust from your carrier and setting everything just right and come up with a nice print is the best. Mounting and framing them was also very nice. I was using Leica M’s for almost everything and my Pentax LX for macro work. Developing the film was not my favorite part. I would normally wait until I got at least five rolls in the fridge and then used a Jobo CPE 2 to do them all at once. Ilford HP5+ mostly.
Will it make you a better photographer. I’m not sure. I think I did better in those days than now with my digital Fujifilm, but maybe I just need to start printing again.

I wonder if, when this fancy new roll film became popular, people used to say "everyone should try doing daguerreotypes at least once" ?
Anthony

I’m 36, so I got into photography with film but witnessed the so called digital revolution as a (late?) teenager, and I think everyone approaching photography should shoot film almost exclusively.
Even the cheapest film makes you spend some money, so students tend to think twice every shot. ‘Is it gonna be blurry at this shutter speed?’ ‘Let’s see, if I focus on that stone at f2.8, will that flower be sharp or not?’
Learning with digital usually is just shooting like you’re holding an Uzi and hope for the best.
I know that DSLRs are expensive (way more than what a student will ever spend on film), but I don’t think people see that. They might have a million dollar DSLR hanging from their shoulder, but all they know is they hate seeing those $10 they spend on film go away.

I'd agree that everyone should shoot film at least once. I'm agnostic about what type of film.
I learned photography shooting 35 mm slide film at the tail end of the heyday of natural history/nature photography, circa 1980s. This taught me how to nail the exposure; with slide film blown highlights are lost forever, and inky black shadows were a fact of life in high contrast (sunny day) lighting. That's why fall color shots on transparency film were invariably captured on cloudy calm days. Every click of the shutter cost 50-80 cents American, so you thought about every exposure. You also wouldn't know for sure your photos were correctly exposed until you got the processed slides back, so you thought even harder. Pre-HDR (and pre-Photoshop) blending separate highlight and shadow exposures was not an option. I became sure enough about my exposures (and my camera's metering quirks) that I didn't have to bracket. Spot metering and knowing how I wanted the slide to look did the trick.
I formed habits with film I still have. Even with free digital exposures and bottomless memory cards, I still rarely come home with more than 50 exposures for a day's effort. I'd rather put my time into thoughtful capture than endless winnowing and editing.

You mean everyone isn't still using one of these

http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com/2007/04/more-about-ebony-sv-wholeplate_09.html

regularly? :-)

Oh, heck, yes

I had been shooting for awhile when I got my hands on a working Speed Graphic in 4x5. It changed how I shoot - both using it as a BIG rangefinder :) but more importantly as a view camera. The first time I pulled a 4x5 negative out of the soup was a revelation that not even a later 8x10 could compare to because until then, miniature negs were just teeny little blobs of greys. You could see the full real image there & on a light table it was amazing. I won't bore you with the first time I splurged on a box of Velvia but you can imagine, I am sure. The photos were mostly non-descript but the techniques were critical to my growth as a photographer.

I still have that Speed Graphic and other view cameras. When I break out film, it is one of them and my pre-WWII lenses that I turn to.

I shoot on film out of pure spite, as kinda "So film is impractical and you can't do any real work on it? Just hold my beer."

Like many photography clubs, our local club has monthly contests. I once proposed a contest in which each photographer would be issued one 24 exposure roll of Ektachrome to be used in a totally manual camera (no batteries) during a club field trip. One winner would be chosen based on number of “keepers” and another for having the “best picture”. Surprisingly (to me anyway), no one was even slightly interested in doing this.

I think it depends on how much you like cameras, as opposed to photography. Modern equipment simply gives you a lot more options for dealing with what you see; if cutting out a slice of what you see is the most important thing for you, then I think film experience wouldn't be particularly helpful. On the other hand, if you really like the mechanical aspects of cameras and lenses, then the limitations of film would probably teach you more about the possible manipulations of cameras than an automatic digital camera would. In the latter case, you'd probably do well to go with an older mechanical camera, rather than a F5 or F6. Film cameras are like stick shifts; despite their limitations, they have a distinct charm of their own.

I'm ambivalent about advice that says "you should..." when there are so many variables to consider with film photography, film format size, B&W vs. color, develop and print it yourself vs. getting the processing done for you... It just goes on and on.

I started my journey in photography in the 1970s and although the joy of watching a print come to life in the developing tray in the darkroom still is something that I consider magical, there are other ways to learn the fundamentals of photography.

I personally like Andy Munro's advice - take those digital images and print them - whether you do it yourself or you get them printed by a lab. I'm a true believer in taking what I think are my better photos and putting them on paper to be seen.

If one wants to learn more, take a basic DSLR, set the mode to Manual, and learn what the effects of shutter speed, aperture and ISO will do. Stick to using one focal length if you have a zoom, or use a prime lens. Turn off the rear LCD and stick to using the OVF, only reviewing the images once they've been transferred to the computer.

I only wish I had the availability of the metadata that comes with every image back when I was using my Olympus OM-2 - keeping a notebook of the settings used on each frame of the roll wasn't my style, and it certainly slowed my progress.

The only people that aren't currently using film that I think should are those (like me) that are enamored with the beauty of old film cameras and are accumulating dozens of them, while not putting them to good use.

The cameras need to be used and not admired (advice to self).

Everybody “should” not try shooting film once because no one should do anything in response to peer pressure. (I guess the short answer is “That’s a double negative from me.”)

I would suggest that people who want to experiment with film find a rig that allows them manual control to shoot their preferred subject matter. If they don’t want to work with film, that’s fine because the medium is not the message (my apologies to Professor McLuhan). The universal technical and aesthetic considerations of photography – media size, focal length, aperture, depth of field, illumination, composition, etc. – are more relevant than whether the image is made on film or digital.

That said, I’ve shot more film in the last four years. My use of black and white film is for aesthetics to some extent, but mostly for economy and longevity. I’ve not been able to make a business case for a Leica monochrome digital rangefinder and my developed film has always been here for me. By the way, I’m not concerned with leaving my work for posterity; I just do not like the digital requirement for back-up storage to maintain access to my images next year. (Did I just write another double negative?)

After the student experiences a view camera, then they could move on to coating their own photographic plates with a self-made emulsion. Even if they never did it again, the experience of a large-format photographic image that is entirely of your own manufacture is well worth the effort.

Having shot film with a completely manual camera/lenses for well over 20 years, I don't see any compelling reason to spend a year specifically shooting B&W film to better learn photography. I think the key point of the premise is not shooting film, but to shoot with a completely manual camera (including manual focus lenses), e.g. a rangefinder Leica, an Olympus OM-1, Nikon FM, etc.

There's nothing special about shooting film that will specifically make one a better photographer. From a systems engineering perspective, film and digital are exactly the same thing: a sensing medium that produces a functional transformation in response to light, y=f(x), and can be characterized by measurement and statistics. Its science, not magic.

Shooting for a year, though, with a manual camera and manual focus lens will make one a better photographer. You'll learn the key principles of focal length, exposure, and most importantly, you'll have to slow down and think about what you're doing in taking each photograph. Its the "slowing down and thinking" part that makes one a better photographer, not the use of film. And being able to review your mistakes immediately will increase the slope of your learning curve significantly as you get immediate feedback on what does not work.

As for the view camera, interesting suggestion, but completely impractical. View cameras are few and far between these days, and even fewer and farther between are instructors who can train someone in using a view camera properly (having shot with one in a commercial photography class).

An easier and more effective solution is to spend a year shooting in B&W with a Fuji X100 or X-Pro series camera in manual exposure and one lens in manual focus mode.

My first good cameras (the very first was an Ansco Readyflash) were a Voigtlander Vitessa L and a Century 23 Graflex. I still have both although I am thinking of selling them. For me, there was no choice. If I wanted to photograph in 1960, film was the only option and it was (IMO) the best foundation because I had to learn the raw basics of how photography worked. Although I love digital, I believe it takes over too much of the nitty-gritty for photographers who have never shot film in a manual camera. It is sort of like teaching a child how to use a calculator without teaching the basics of math first. You might get an acceptable answer but there is a lot to be said for knowing how you got it.

I started with a Brownie. One of the Bakelite, little, brown boxes like the "Holiday." Then a Brownie Starflash and experienced hot flashbulbs. Ouch! My first experience with a serious camera was mom's Yashica Electro. I have one like it today. Then on to my own Olympus OM cameras. I have several film cameras. 35mm SLR, rangfinder and zone focus. A Pentax 645 for which I'm hunting for a battery holder.

In some ways the limitations of those cameras forced me to focus on the basics. No firing off several frames at high fps and picking the best. The exposure meters, if the camera had one were broad or center-weighted and I had to learn when the meter could be fooled. Manual exposure setting. Sometimes the sunny-16 rule with a tweak for backlight. Did the darkroom thing too.

So the idea of using a simple film camera as a learning experience has value in my opinion, but it could be mimicked in digital. Maybe use a Sony RX1 (a model with the viewfinder) or Fuji X100 and shoot jpegs with the black&white art filters.

I agree that watching a print come up in the developer tray is an experience that everyone should have, as is learning exposure starting with the "sunny 16" rule and the instructions that used to appear on every Kodak film box or datasheet. But I would provide the opportunity in a learning setting, rather than insist that the neophyte build a darkroom...

I did a little photography in high school ('50s), and forgot it all until years later I was challenged to make some mural-sized prints for a stage production using 3 1/4" lantern slides of negatives, projected in a darkened basement studio, and developed on the floor of the shower room. We overexposed, underdeveloped, even after working out giant test strips, but they looked great on stage. This got me to buy a decent camera, get access to a pretty good darkroom in the Bio dept, and read Ansel Adams' The Print and The Negative, and David Vestal's The Craft of Photography cover to cover. I shot 35 mm and 2 1/4" semi-professionally with my own darkroom for about twenty years after that. Those cameras are mostly gone, and I donated the darkroom to a good bunch of people long ago...

I shot film for decades, including sheet film in various view cameras. I don't think it's necessary or even particularly useful for a photographer to work with film today. It's not going to help with the vision that's at the core of what a photographer wants to achieve. On the flip side, I think that using a view camera to _view_ through can be an excellent learning experience. The large ground-glass image is far more "photographic" than any other form of viewfinder provides. You can easily see the effects of aperture changes, camera movements (i.e. what you'd otherwise do with a T/S lens) etc. That is, it's an education in practical photographic optics that carries forward into situations where the technical complexity of the equipment is far greater. And for anyone who thinks that a DSLR finder or EVF is just as good at showing this sort of thing, well, just try it and then make that same claim. I'm betting you'll find that the large size of the ground glass is an important part of the experience.

Disclaimer: I still shoot film (and digital).

I have discovered a non-photographic benefit of shooting film!

I am working on location in a foreign country where I know few people. But I have been making some new friends, right on the street. What is my secret technique? Shoot film.

For example, today I was walking in a tourist popular area and was looking to photograph the giant ferris wheel against the backdrop of the old European buildings behind it at sunset. But next to the ferris wheel was a funny white domed shaped tent showing movies projected on the roof like a planetarium. At outrageously high prices of course.

But the nice man saw my trusty Kodak Retina IIIc and was excited to tell me about his film Nikon! This led to a nice discussion in my broken Russian and his broken English :)

Artur and I are now Facebook and Instagram connected and.... I got to see all the dome movies for free!

Had I been using my Canon DSLR today, I would still be lonely here :)

Shoot film. You don't know what you're missing until you do.

Learning about film - how to shoot it, develop it, scan it - was a craft that took time. Not that many people could do it well consistently. Fast forward to iphonography, and the playing field has leveled. Just about anyone can take a well-exposed photograph now. Perhaps just a tiny pinch frustrating to all of us who put in the sweat to learn that craft in order to do quality photography. Yes, it's worth trying, but it takes time to master, and digital has it beat in just about every way unless you are looking for the accidents that film can introduce.

Me again,
Of course, the nice thing about film is that it is relatively easier to reproduce if we ever get knocked back to the near Stone Age :-)
There is an honesty/allure about negatives and prints when you hold them to the light that's lacking in the more clinical digital.

I guess coming generations will discover which has the greatest longevity.

"Everyone should know what Tri-X in D76 1:1 looks like because it's a very nice point in the space of all possible ways that pictures can look."

I love this statement by psu and agree with him/her wholeheartedly.

I'm an enthusiast who initially started with an old Praktica back in high school before moving on to a K1000 a few years later. I spent very little time in the darkroom.

My gut reaction says there is no reason for newbies to try film or even a first gen DSLR. When it comes to fields with rapidly advancing technology, the need for students to literally walk in their mentors shoes is diminished. Time and money always matter and I would think that today's kids would find the older technology exasperating. Its more important for the beginner to have fun. The speed and convenience of digital helps with that. You never know what a new photographer will come up with while having fun.

The advanced photographer is going to benefit from old and new alike. Today's tech and efficiency make it possible to take more risks when there is everything to gain and less (time and money) to lose. Yesterdays technology also has value but is rapidly disappearing. I'm reminded of a recent piece PBS did on Christopher Burkett and his Cibachrome process. The photographer bought a large supply from the last production run in 2012 and a custom run in 2015. He stores it in a freezer warehouse so that he can continue his work. His results looked impressive on screen and I'd like to see it in person.

Efficiency isn't everything. I think I'll go fire up my Marantz and rattle the windows with a favorite album while writing a note to my Dad in cursive script. :-)

I think your being a bit dogmatic, Mike (Butters may agree).

In other disciplines: music, writing, painting, etc., it's not necessary to use a lute, a stylus and clay, or grind up pigments to make paint.

Viewing an upside down and flipped image on the ground glass of a 4 X 5 view camera is a great visual aid for demonstrating basics principles of optics/physics.

When I taught digital photography to college kids, I'd pass around a Pentax Spotmatic (sans lens) to demonstrate the shutter. Then I'd pass around a couple Takumar lenses and let the students see how the iris works. I used a camera obscura with a movable screen to demonstrate how a lens focuses on a plane.

I'd then pass around a developed and undeveloped strip of 35mm black and white film, followed by taking the lens off a dSLR to reveal the sensor. I concluded the show and tell by connecting a dSLR to a projector to demo ISO.

I wanted to demystify photography and to highlight the distinction between analog and digital.


I starting shooting film as a kid in the 1950s. When I was in high school, I shot football games with a Speed Graphic and a roll back, using Royal X Pan and a Graphic Speedlight. (My hero was WeeGee.)

When I decided to learn to use the view camera in the early 1980s, I read everything I could find, including Fred Picker's work. (Mike will remember him and his advice for the perfect proof sheet.) Fred's advice? Get a view camera, a Polaroid back, and 10 or so boxes of black and white Polaroid film. About 100 sheets of Polaroid later and I was pretty good with a view camera. Unlike chimping in digital, you were looking at a real print, many of which I still have. Every sheet cost significant money and took time to shoot, so it concentrated the mind.

I have not shot any sheets of 4x5 in 2 years, once I figured out how to do high rez corrected images with stitched digital. (I also had unexposed Kodachrome when the lab closed.) I still have 500 sheets of Tmax 400 in the freezer and all my 4x5 gear. I am sure I am not alone in wondering if it makes sense to go back to film for the enjoyment of the process. In almost all cases, I can do the same work with digital and get better results.

Film? Sure. For the curious and motivated I'd say it's definitely worth a try, but not essential (I have shot and processed plenty of the stuff: 35mm, 120, and 4x5).

But view camera ... YES! Camera movements are a form of magic that every upcoming photographer should experience. I know you can achieve similar perspective-altering results with most good processing software, but if you want to get the composition right in-camera, tilt, swing, and shift are the way to go. It is slow work, but you're saving time on the other end of the photographic chain. Maybe something for digital camera manufacturers to think about?

I'm done with film (I think). The last time I shot and developed film was 2009. I sold all my 35mm and medium format film cameras, but have never been able to relinquish my two view cameras, even though I don't use them and don't really have any plans to. The attraction is still there, so maybe one day ...

I started with 120 roll film and then 35mm. B&W was all I shot until the 35mm and then mostly slides. I've been digital now for about 10 years and it definitely a different experience. In this regard cameras are like cars. New cars are highly automated, do things for you or to guide you and the performance far outclasses cars of 40 or even 20 years ago. Yet a lot of people, myself included, like to drive an older car in addition to our new cars. Driving an old car, one where "high performance" meant 0-60 in less than 10 seconds (not 4) or cornering at 0.7g (not 1.0) teaches you a lot about vehicle dynamics, pushing the envelope, and getting it right. Old cameras are the same; shooting film redefines the performance envelope. It makes you work harder because, unless you're developing and printing your own film, you have to work SOOC, like a jpeg now. When you do that you will approach things with more deliberation, especially since there's no chimping. You have to frame and compose better and think about exposure. And you know you have only a limited number of exposures you can make on a roll of film so you have to be choosier about your subjects. If you're shooting color the latitude of color slide film can save you but you still have to be careful. If you're shooting B&W you have to think about which film to use to control contrast and tone. If your camera is old enough you'll need a meter or you'll have to use your DSLR as a meter.

I won't say you have to try film to if you want to be a better photographer but it will will be a worthwhile experience and perhaps give you more appreciation of what the great photographers accomplished in the 20th century.

I think it is probably too much to expect a digital photographer to develop his/her own film so SOOC is what I would recommend and 120 rollfilm in a old Yashcia TLR or, for the upscale, an old Hasselblad, would give a good film experience to anyone willing to try it.

I'm assuming for the above that negatives or slides won't be scanned and reworked in PS or LR.

Well I agree with you if the scenario could be as you described, that is the camera, film, lens, darkroom and helpful instruction would be provided.
In that case most interested people would get a lot from the exercise, and would probably be quite proud of the accomplishment.
They would also get a sense of how much easier the technical side of photography has become.
I don’t think it is ‘necessary’ as much as it is informative . It also provides good perspective that helps to understand the history of the medium.
There are many roads interested people can take to gain proficiency . Yours is a rich ‘scenic route.
I have an 11x 14 deardorff in my second floor bedroom, It faces out the window . The lens is a 24” Goerz Apo Artar I keep the Packard shutter open so there is a view of the countryside on the GG.
People are mesmerized. More than once folks have asked as they see the trees move in the wind, “ Is this Live?”
A lively discussion ensues.
So I think it is very much worth seeing.

I think one is always best served by deciding what we want to be good at, learning as much about it as possible, and getting plenty of experience.

Which means that if you are a digital photographer, you are more likely to improve by learning about digital image processing than the chemical variety.

OTOH, if you like doing it, fine. No justification is required.

No and No !! There is no reason for a neophyte photographer to try film or an old photographer to re-try film!!

I love the smell of hypo (acetic acid). I was proud of the brown fingertips I got from fishing prints out of the Dektol from 1965 until 1995. I was enthralled to make my own D-23 and experiment with D-76, Microdol, and Acufine. I made comparison prints from Panotomic-X and Tri-X developed in HC110 vs Rodinal. After 20 years I had settled on mostly using Ilford FP4 developed in D-76, used as a one-shot developer, diluted 1:1.

I knew what film to select for what lighting conditions. I knew when to choose Ilford Galerie, Seagull, of just stick with Kodak F for the print. I never liked Kodak RC papers! I gave up PolyContrast paper and filters, because the Aristogrid cold light source in my Omega B-22 was too green for variable contrast paper.

Reason for “No” #1. The analog learning curve is at least as long as the PhotoShop one. One won’t progress far along it even after working through a 20 roll brick of Tri-X. I may be no Voja Mitrovic but I have made many fine prints from many good negatives. And yet, I have improved all of my silver halide prints by scanning them, adjusting them in PhotoShop, and reprinting them on an Epson Stylus 3880.

Reason for “No” #2. Digital photography is a different medium than film / darkroom photography. I recently looked through Eliot Porter’s original “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World” Sierra Club monograph (Not the reprint which is ghaustly). The compositions are sublime but the prints are a reminder of how much better color, how much more dynamic range, and how much tonal separation is available today - even on a smart phone viewed on an sRGB LCD screen !!

I recently visited Scotland and stayed at a fine old Inn in Glencoe. The walls are decorated with nicely framed and matted 12” x 12” color prints. They are winter and summer scenes from the Glencoe and Ben Nevis region. All prints were well composed, well exposed, and well printed. I would have loved to have taken them in 1980. They were excellent examples of what one could do with a Hasselblad, and perhaps even a view camera. But the pictures I took this trip with my DSLR and the photos my wife took on her iPhone 8 plus are entirely different. We would be disappointed if what we got looked like those prints that are decorating the Inn.

I agree that there's no "should" about shooting film. I shoot film for almost everything except the grandkids, and participate in an online forum of like-minded film photographers in the UK (Talk Photography's Film & Conventional forum), and we get occasional drop-ins from digital-only photographers to tell us how wrong we are. I think if you have that attitude, as a significant minority of digital photographers (or digital image-makers, if one wants to be REALLY snooty ;-) have, there's nothing to be gained from shooting film. But for those who are curious, and/or want to understand more about the roots of their craft, experimenting with shooting film can be very valuable. And I think I agree with you, the ultimate way to get this experience is with a view camera... not tried it myself yet, but I have one of Steve Lloyd's Chroma 4x5 cameras on order!

Been there and done that with the view camera bit. As for everyone going back and shooting film, how about just forcing yourself to shoot a day or two, using your digital camera, but with the same constraints many a "film shooter" often had: ISO between 64 and 125, no image stabilization turned on, manual focus and then stop the lens down a few notches for depth of field - and shoot some low light level scenes. Then make prints to the brightness levels you saw while taking the pictures. That should be enough to have you worshiping again many of the features some younger photographers don't think twice about!

I started with a 1930s Leica IIIc and a hand held meter when I was 12 developing and printing my own bw film. I progressed through 5x4, Medium format, 35mm, Zone system, printing colour neg and Cibachrome.... all pointless now.

Beginners should spend six months learning to shoot with just a good mobile phone.

;)

I wish I had not sold that Kodak 8x10 20 or so years ago. I couldn't make myself pay what film cost, so I tried a couple of paper negs. Maybe someday I'll find them, since it seems that I've kept (hoarded) everything else, including a number of b&w and color slide 4x5 from a Speed Graphic.

Just a couple days ago, I paged through an album my wife compiled from our 2000 Paris trip. She used her old faithful Nikon, and I my OCOL20Yrs Canon AE-1 with a Tokina zoom. I shot b&w, she color. The camera shop prints still look pretty darn good. Which tells me that I should stop chasing digital nirvana, and recognize that the digital stuff really delivers the goods.

The bottom back corner of our fridge has boxes of color print, Ektachrome, PlusX, and some 120 and 4x5 waiting for my inclinations. I've also hand-coated paper, created negatives from digital, and printed cyanotype and VanDyke brown, technology that was a 100 years old when I was born. That's for fun, and for "art."

To your premise, I think that making a good print on paper would be more instructive than dabbling with film. I love the digital darkroom, and would never want to go back to film as the only way.


Starting out with film helped me become a much better photographer. With B&W at first in a camera without a build in meter meant having to learn the use of a light meter. Developing your own film was like a miracle back then. Soon I moved to bulk loading my own 100 ft.film rolls...used a three reel developing tank and would then go down to the local darkroom rental shop to print contact sheets and the occasional 8x10 print from the negatives. The greatest lesson learned was the art of "economy". You had to be selective and deliberate and being able to waste film was not an option. It acted as an "eye training" technique. Now I am all in on digital which works in an entirely different way when it comes to teaching me photography. I now learn by going out more and more on photo treks, always on the look out and eager to take as many images as I can, which in turn make me a much better photographer.

I spent years using a Sinar P2 mostly in 5x7 as a field camera. (It's primarily designed to be a studio camera.) With its asymmetric tilts and swings, I found it easier to set up a shot and take a picture than when using a field camera. That Sinar was fast! I still shoot it occasionally, though most often now with an 8x10 back and contact print.
I think someone who's shot only DSLRs would need quite a bit of help if they tried a view camera. I don't think that help, or even view cameras are readily available. Even then, there would be the shock of finding out your 15 second at f45 exposure really needs to be 120 seconds due to the reciprocity departure for your film.

I think a lot of horizons could be broadened just by renting a tilt/shift lens for a week and learning how to use it.

Besides, 8x10 B&W Kodak sheet film is about 8 dollars a sheet. We used to pay less for color film.

Yeah... try it once? The Tao of Pin hole fotograhy in a fifth grade science class. @ shoe box_tinfoil contraption left me “gawd smacked”. It’s been a down-hill slide since...


YB Hudson III

The only thing I miss about shooting film is the joy of opening a box of processed slides and spreading them across a light table. Every box felt like opening a present.

I get what everyone is saying but what if some of us don’t have the time and money to shoot film? I picked up a film camera and some film to give it a try but from my day job to side photography jobs 8years went by and I just ended up giving both camera and film away. My 2 cents

I started doing my own darkroom work in 1968, and did nearly all my own B&W processing and printing from then through 1985 I guess. Moved into digital printing early (way before digital capture, around 1994), then got into digital capture a bit slowly (P&S in 2000, DSLR in 2002).

I'm not a big fan of constraints as improving art. Yes, the best artists often surmount constraints to achieve what they do—but that doesn't make the constraints good, it just means they didn't ruin that particular artist.

When I was learning about photography, what I learned was that the best professionals shot much morethan anybody else; especially the National Geographic photographers. And they often did crazy stuff like developing E4 film while camping out in the wild, to be able to check whether they got usable shots before moving on to the next location. (Photojournalists and documentarians, where I make my home, tend more towards shooting heavily, whereas those making pure art have widely varying styles and approaches, apparently less driven to one technical approach by their artistic goals.)

Even then, planning and discipline are very useful, even if the planning comes apart early in the project :-). But while some people may learn about conserving their film through shortage, others may learn essentially the same lesson (shoot thoughtfully) more effectively by spending hours sorting through thousands of nearly identical photos afterwards. "I have to pass up good photos in hopes of maybe finding a better one later" is not that easy to relate to early in life or early in photography. It's easier to explain "You just spent four hours slogging through 1500 photos, most of them essentially ten-fold duplicates; maybe you should think more when you're shooting" to a lot of people.

I do not think shooting film has anything important to teach photographers in broad general that can't be learned as well or better with digital (except specific details of technique of course). Some people might have specific things that they want to learn that are best learned by them through use of film, and that's great. And of course people who want to try it to see what it's like, to be able to say they have, or for random other reasons are all fine too.

(As part of an interest in the history of photography, trying how things were done makes perfect sense. Though the people with the interest in that are often photographers, that specific thing strikes me not so much as photography but more as historic re-creation, like the Society for Creative Anachronism people who learn how to make swords and armor and actually use them (okay, mostly using easier-to-use-safely pseudo-swords for the actual combat), or do period illuminated caligraphy, or cook period dishes, or weave period textiles, or whatever they get excited about.)

I started with film as a child. My first serious camera was a Rolleicord hand-me-down from my father-in-law, which I used long enough to decide I wanted an SLR. So I got a Minolta S-RT 102, then a Nikon with AF.

But I haven’t shot film since my first digital compact camera years ago, and have no interest in going back. The objective is to make images, and digital lets me do that better.

I do think that everyone should learn to shoot manually and in raw, however. It’s actually easy with a mirrorless camera, where you can see the focus and exposure right in the EVF before you shoot. It lets you learn how to control the automation much better, both for image capture and raw development. Today’s raw converters, AF and AE are fantastic, but they can’t read your mind and understand your intent.

The only "should" I can think of is to experience at least once in your photographic life is watching a B&W image come up in the soup. All of these new "hipster" film people who never print using a darkroom just do not "get it".

Shooting film and scanning is not in my opinion shooting film. It is just using another digital sensor, in these cases the scanner, to view the work. If you are going to shoot film, which I do recommend, you really need the darkroom experience of creating an image and watch it rise out of the blank white paper to really understand what film photography is all about.

Trying a view camera is a great idea. If you really want someone to experience the magic and possibilities of photography's history, how about sheet film exposed in a pinhole (lensless) camera?

'Should' is not a word I would use, but whether I would like to try it out? Sure! I would love to take a Linhof 4x5 or a Deardorf 8x10 to the Himalayan mountains some day...the grandeur of such places is difficult to convey on a small frame. I might need a yak to carry the camera though! (Yes, I shot with tri-X D76 1:1 for years with a M6 and a 50mm Summicron. I now shoot with a 35mm Summicron nearly 90% of the time but on M9, unless it goes to CLA. Then the M6 comes out again)

I wonder if some aspect of this "should" is less about shooting film and more about communicating the understanding of a particular aesthetic, which could probably be done through studying the history of photography and printing/reproduction.

I think the idea of shooting film with a view camera is fantastic, because it is a very particular way of seeing and making photographs that can teach a lot. In fact, I think part of "shooting film" is being exposed to different ways of seeing, and of working within limitations that just aren't relevant these days.

In fact, I think that your OCOLOY idea is less about using film per se and more about working with a particular way of seeing. It would be akin to learning poetry by writing only sonnets for a year... maybe it won't be your ultimate destination, but you will learn a lot by working within those restrictions, perhaps quite a bit more than if you were unrestricted.

I shot film when I started taking pictures in the late 90s and continued for the better part of a decade, but I much prefer digital and am essentially completely switched over now. I have a rolleiflex that I would like to shoot more, but I never find myself taking it out. It's a great way of seeing, though!

I started shooting B&W 35mm in 1948, and largely of financial necessity did so for over a decade. Even when I could (and did) shoot color, I still shot some B&W, and some larger format. Then in 2005 I went digital, and I ain't looking back. I'm not about to give up the flexibililty and control I can get with digital and post-processing. But there is one thing that most new photographers don't get from their automated digital cameras. A good understanding of exposure, contrast, and "graininess" (noise). So my suggestion is turn off your auto everything and operate in full manual mode for a while, including useing a light meter for exposure. THen in post, turn all your color images to B&W, use the RGB sliders to adjust the images, and see what works best in B&W and in color. I guarantee, most -even experienced- photographers will learn a lot. Without film,

Absolutely.
And you should learn how to adjust carburettors on your car (preferably dual sidedraft Webers) and change points, preferably at night in the rain.
Clean vinyl records and change needles on a phono cartridge.
Live through a hot, humid summer without air conditioning.

Signed
Jim,
an old guy who did all that, developed sheet film and plates too, and thinks you should only have to live throught that -;/):)(*%#) once.

I don't think shooting film will make anyone a better photographer or to help them see better, and unless one wants to experiment, I am not sure the hassle is even worth it. And view cameras? If we're going down that rabbit hole, why stop there? Why not also suggest tintypes and glass plates too?

From my early 20s (in the late 1980s) through my late 30s, I wasted plenty of film to find those few gems here and there. Digital is so much better with its instant feedback and shooting data, allowing me to focus on shooting and on improving my photography (ahem, an unending process). And I am happy to leave film in my receding past.

Not necessary, though I first became interested in photography when film was the only choice. From the start I wanted to shoot black-and-white film like my friends and all the great photographers. I still shoot black-and-white film in all formats, as well digital. Every time I am ready to quit film photography for what seems like the relative ease of digital photography, I return to film photography because of something missing in my experience of digital photography. For me, digital photography with its quick turnaround, has much to offer someone interested in learning the craft, in a shorter time. I believe a person new to photography can begin, and end, with digital photography, without ever shooting film, and know photography.

To film or not to film is not the question. Rather, the question is what is the right tool for the job. Digital is wonderful for color work (I used to have a C41/EP2 lab) but for BW work, nothing beats large format film, even if then digitally scanned and printed.

While an E-M5 and Pen-F are the right tool for day to day work, over the past few months, I found myself moving back to long tonal scale BW printed digitally as a medium of choice and hence am refurbishing the 5x7 and 11x14 cameras and lenses that have been in storage for lo the past 30+ years. The shutters actually still work OK and those old Dagors and Zeiss Series VIIa Protars are still able to hold their own against modern view camera lenses.

Learning to photograph with film today strikes me as very similar to learning how to write in cursive. It also strikes me as being just about equally useless.

I started with my first camera in 1953. An Agfa folder. Guess everything. I took some photos I still enjoy at a rate of about 10 a month. From 1954 I was allowed to do my own enlarging, but it took me a couple of years to really get the hang of things, and by then I was shooting with a Yeshiva 44LM. Focussing, a light meter and even the possibility of shooting transparencies. High tech.

In 1962 I inherited some Leica's and lenses, and I didn't put the camera down much, ever. Since then, including many years as a professional, I've shot everything up to 8x10 and still have a lot of film stuff, and still occasionally shoot some rolls of film. I'm not sure it's necessary, but I will shoot film, both 35mm and 4x5 with my grandkids now, and develop it with them, and take them into the darkroom. They might pass on it after only a short stint, but it helps with continuity and appreciation of the great photos that were made last century and before.

Some days when I got out now I shoot 300 pictures in a sort of aimless way and they will all be trash, but depending on circumstances I might 'zone in' like I used to be able to do in my most prolific and successful days. I usually need to be doing nothing else; not having anyone with me, not talking to bystanders and not going shopping. Those days I might take only 6 pictures or I might take 2000. It really doesn't matter now in any way, and the number of keepers might well be the same, as is the feeling at the end of the day as well as during. Digital makes that possible.

Shooting film means of course that you take way fewer pictures, but the seeing is just as focussed. The seeing is different, but the pictures are always out there, and there are always more pictures out there than the combination of you, your camera, your lens and your sensor can possibly explore, so it doesn't really matter in the end.

I now shoot m43, digital Leica and Sony A7 series, and each requires its own focus, mental state and preparation; especially the Leica Monochrom. Similarly, when I shoot film, whether Leica 35mm, Sinar 4x5 or Roundshot with 120 film each requires dedication and preparation and focus.

The downside of digital is that it's very easy to just carry a camera, shoot some pictures and come home having had no focus and a bunch of useless images that don't produce any penalties other than wasted time, which in the end is the worst.

Damn spell checker!!! I certainly was not shooting with a Yeshiva. It was of course a Yashica.

Every so often, I pull out my film Leica M6 0.85 and shoot off a few blank frames with it—I am then reminded of the fluidity with which I came to use it over two decades of use. For me, no digital camera I've used since comes close in terms of "seeing the picture."

But absent easily accessible and affordable B&W processing, I don't think I'll ever use the Leica again. Home development and enlargement of B&W film is simply impractical here in Singapore for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that water temperatures, out of the tap, are about 80F, far too high for quality home processing of film, but also paper.

And using cooled water baths and so on is no fun—a perpetural struggle with temperature and quality control.

So going back to shoot Tri-X or Plus X for a year is just a dream, but I'd really like to...

I guess... but my photo experience was limited to film because it was all we had. Exposure was along film lines and was not particularly difficult. Processing achieved, either by hand or by lab, then I was left to appreciate the frame as I had done with the camera. None of that is unique to film. Did work in the Zone system to hone that edge. Nice but still; effective exposure and processing is not unique to film.

If you are working to your limits learning is faster and more accurate with digital. If you are working at your limits all of the refinements and in-camera goals are just as important to a good image.

I learned about cars by trying to keep them running in the '60s. Rebuilt engines, did clutches and brakes, exhaust systems, electrical, hydraulics...but only because I had to; no one was going to do it for me and I could not afford a mechanic. I drove some pretty primitive stuff; crashboxes, oil-burners, cars that limped along. Yeah I learned a lot but now I just want to tell my car to unlock the door, press a button to start it, and let it cruise through its 6-speed automatic range. I could not recommend that early experience to anyone except as a hobby or a vice.

I feel the same about film. Now a view camera, that is something else. If you want to learn about focus, that is your tool. After use what are you going to do with the 4x5 film. Process, contact, print... totally unnecessary experiences for getting good at the craft. Sorry, as I have been the Lab Rat, confined to a yellow space with water constantly running, foul odors and hoping your Walkman batteries hold up for 12 hour...no magic; just work done well. And that you can learn on anything.

Nope; film as essential is erroneous thinking. As an experience, I guess it doesn't hurt to try it, kinda like eggplant or squashes to me, a taste and move on.

Let's try not to conflate wonderful times, cutting teeth and building visual experience with film. Hold my beer. Dude, you rule.

John Camp said:
"On the other hand, if you really like the mechanical aspects of cameras and lenses, then the limitations of film would probably teach you more about the possible manipulations of cameras than an automatic digital camera would. In the latter case, you'd probably do well to go with an older mechanical camera, rather than a F5 or F6. Film cameras are like stick shifts; despite their limitations, they have a distinct charm of their own."

As a person who is presently making another tour of shooting BW film after 20 years of digital, I completely agree with John's assessment. I got back into shooting BW film because I have this cabinet with a bunch of wonderful older film cameras that are made like swiss watches and are just a pleasure to shoot with. I still shoot color with digital cameras, but I shoot and develop my own BW film and then scan it into the digital darkroom for tweaking and printing. For now, I am enjoying the craft aspect of it and the way it slows down my process so that I'm more in the moment when I'm shooting. There is something cool about shooting with a Rollei TLR, Olympus OM4t, or one of those 1970's era fixed lens rangefinders. I suppose at some point I will get tired of spending the time developing film when I could be doing other things and this too shall pass. But for now I'm having fun. It is like driving a really good stick shift car. Not for everyone. Pretty soon we won't be driving at all!

My background - Started with film as a kid in 4H, did yearbook in Jr. High and High School. Dropped out of college to work in a custom color lab while shooting weddings on the weekends. Eventually I left the lab and did portraits and weddings full time. I went digital when digital came around - never could bring myself to sell my film cameras. A few years ago I started shooting film again. Now I do a mix of digital, 35mm and 8x10. I have an instagram account for my film work - ShootingWithFilm, and another account for my digital. If people want to shoot film they can do so, but I do not think the experience of starting in digital and then doing some film will be the same as it was for those who knew only film. We shot it so casually, several rolls a day. Don’t have a meter? Just guess, it’ll be fine. Going to develop it, but can’t find your thermometer? Just stick a finger in it till it feels right and give it 6 min, it’ll be fine. Eat some cookies while printing - you bet. Print tongs? Why? I like the taste of fixer in my cookies. I don’t shoot with those attitudes anymore, but a lot of my film reflexes have followed me into digital. I shoot sparingly. I compose using the entire frame. I try to get it right in the camera. I’m not a purist about it, but I try to keep my post processing to what you might do in a darkroom - if you were extremely good at it. For me shooting film again as been very informative to my work as a whole. I’m on the edge of doing some wet plate as well. I read some disparaging comments about wet plate, but there’s some really cool work being done right now with it. Penumbra foundation and Marti Andinach are doing some nice wet plate. The late Ed Ross was doing some interesting (if you like hot nekkid people) wet plate work. Invariably, someone will say, “well, you know, the only thing that matters is the final image.” If you are the image, yeah, that’s true, but if you are the photographer, how you shaped that image, what processes you used and how those processes invariably shaped you and your vision also matter in a personal way.

My understanding of photography is informed by a pretty thorough knowledge of chemical photography, but I don't know how many people really want to be me.

I used to say that if you really wanted to understand photography you should build at least one camera, try some non-silver processes, make photograms etc.

Far more important would be some art history including the invention of perspective in western art and it's absence in some non-European art along with the depiction of a single moment from a single point being culturally specific until the invention of those little perspective machines we love so much.

I don't know if film is so necessary now, it seems like it is as relevant as manual typewriters and cursive handwriting. That said, I see a lot of kids with film cameras now, and wet plate photography is on my bucket list.

If a big enough supply of the film and paper I was using 30 years ago, appeared I might be tempted, then again it's sort of like wondering about that girlfriend you broke up with for no reason you can remember.

Bob D's gone electric and he's not going back.

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