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Monday, 18 June 2018


I don’t agree about LF. The big story on the ‘net about film cameras is that they teach you to slow down, because you have to take care to get it right.

My mileage, however does vary on this one. The DSLR/Mirrorless is really the most cumbersome method of imaging I and is consigned to being a specialist tool for ‘serious work.’ Increasingly I have started working between a smartphone and a film camera with a couple of fast lenses (e.g. my 50/1.4 & 85/1.4 on a little Contax)

When taking photos for fun then a smartphone is faster and easier and results can be shared. With a film SLR you are freed to just snap away and be in the moment. A small SLR with a couple of fast lenses or a Trip 35 compact for example leave you much more in the moment at social gatherings - just pick the camera up, snap, then put it down. I beleive this ‘lomographic’ style of use is the draw of film cameras for many others, too.

I have an M6 which I load with mono film, but less and less frequently. About five rolls per year now. Yes use film. But get a really good lab (or better still a talented pro who you trust) to process and deliver as hi-res 16 bit files. Unless you are really scrupulous, there won't be enough consistency when you are only processing occasionally - chemicals go off, you lose the knack. I adore the whole film thing though.

The point of photography is to produce an image. The technology for making and storing that image is irrelevant; chemical or electronic, it doesn't matter.

You need to learn to use whatever is most comfortable for you until it is second nature - with the mulitiplicity of sensors, formats, control arrangements, viewing systems and so on, learning on a totally different system is unlikely to help with that. Then you can concentrate on the image - composition etc.

Just the opinion, of course, of an old duffer who started taking pictures back in the late '60s. Old enough to have had a Diana-F when they were still a cheap toy and eventually worked my way up to a Pentax MX. But still young enough to have taken to digital with enthusiasm. ;-)

I shot film until 2009, the year I got my first DSLR. But I don't think that shooting film is required to learn photography. The workflows are just too different; like it or not, digital is here to stay, until it is replaced by something else in the future.

I've been shooting film for nearly half a century, and sometimes still do. My trusty Nikon FE and F3 were retired after 30 years, but a Leica M2, a Zorki 3M, a Contax IIIa (awful handling btw, but great lenses), a Yashica MX and a mid-frame Bronica ETRi see light from time to time.

So, what's my difference to digital (Nikon/Fuji in my case)?

First, if I shoot film it's in B&W as it was from the beginning. It's another way of seeing the world, light and shadow, more abstract, sometimes irritating, even colors change their meaning. Great painters have always from time to time grabbed a pencil, just to reduce to this mimimum.

Second, I've had a hate-and-love relationship with this damned 36 frames. It forces you to spare your shutterfinger for the right moment. That's good because it's an exercise in learning what a right moment IS at all - in terms of light, movement, faces, eyes, people, composition. But chances are you have to change film in this one very right moment.

Third, after the shot, I'm cheating. The film, once developed, gets scanned. I don't have time for classic darkroom work, and it's so much easier to dogde & burn und deal with different contrast in software ... I know that I give up some of the unique characteristics of film, for instance latitude in lights. But modern raw files are not that much behind anymore.

But for educational or self-educational purposes, you don't need film. You can experience the same with any modern EVF camera. Turn the EVF to B&W, screw in any manual lens, preferably a prime. You could even advertedly shrink your memory - take the smallest sd card available and fill it with meaningless stuff until there are only 36 shoots left. Voila - the crippled-to-old-times digital!

Scolars should additionally take every opportunity to have a view onto matte screen as big as available - for the fun of it, for a live experience of what DOF means and to realize that every camera sees the world upside down, which is of no practical meaning, but a really strong exercise in abstraction. Best, Robert

I grew up with film, and for me using film means that you better prepared your shots. At the time, you had a limited number of shots per film and you had to pay money before you could see the pictures you had taken. A single 36 exp. roll for a 3-week holiday...

For those growing up with digital, shooting has become kind of careless; shoot first and check the results later. But I'm not convinced that quickly taking 100 digital shots increases your chances of getting a good picture.

You don't need to go back to film to constrain yourself to a very limited number of shots, a small memory card will do (and leave spare cards and batteries home).

Some photographers may have fond memories of film development, but most people never saw that aspect.

A film camera is also the right companion when you are going on a vacation where you will be without electricity for 2-3 weeks; probably a stressful idea for digital shooters ;-)

When I was a schoolboy, the school organized annual group photo taking. The professional guy would front up with his (I think 4x5) view camera to snap group after group.

He repeatedly went behind the hood, then emerged to say,"Smile," and pressed the rubber release. Then next group.

If I could go back in time, and being the occasional film using guy even today, I would love to see what he was seeing under the hood.

Obliquely related: It still startles me when I look at the ground glass on a view camera, not because it's upside down, but because it's in color!

There's a lesson in there somewhere.

All photographers SHOULD read and contribute to this blog daily.

I only used a 4 x 5 view camera for 8 or 9 years or so, and for the next 8 or 9 years, as a parent of young children, I succumbed to the compromise of medium format. Mostly black and white.

I was talking to a gallery owner and artist, Matt Brown, who is giving me a show, the other night. We were looking at Kunisada woodblock prints, which he is dealing. We were talking about eye movement "dance" through the print, and at one point he turned the print upside down to create greater abstraction. I told him I cut my teeth with a view camera, everything upside down and backwards -- an invaluable experience as I was learning to compose. And I was thinking later, besides making the composition, on printing days I looked through the negatives, which were reverse tone of course. So during that decision I saw tone and texture, composition, above a "real scene." I based both the exposure and the decision to print on a very abstract view.

I'm not sure if it was a virtue or not, but the hassle of film had a weight that cut both ways. Since I only could carry limited film holders with me, and since each sheet represented not only some expense but also a commitment of time to develop, I was relatively careful. Careful was good, but it was somewhat in contrast to spontaneity, that vision in a flash, that can so often hold hands with the muse in photography. I think I got a bit "heavy" in my vision.

In contrast to that, there was another period in my photography when I had physically moved away from my darkroom, had no time or capacity to use film, and digital cameras were new but not yet good. Late 90s through the turn of the century. I had digital cameras but thought of them like a sketchbook, like carrying a cheap notebook and a box of crayons with me, leaving the easel and oil paints behind. I felt spontaneous and free as I never had in the 20 years of film photography up to that point, and I think I developed my compositional skills further and faster -- but maybe that was possible only because of the foundation of film.

Whenever working with equipment with strong characteristics, for me there comes a tendency to see through that medium. So working with big film I saw through the zone system; I saw detail and texture that the big film could capture. Using lens tilt and stopping down on the tripod I tried to get as much depth of field as I could. Now I'm often using vintage lenses with beautiful bokeh on a full frame digital sensor, so I'm prone to seeing a composition with bokeh as a possibility. We only have so much bandwidth in our vision, so we see through the equipment we are using the most, but each new way we push our vision becomes part of the spectrum we can encompass. I still keep a lot of the characteristics I talked about above, but I'm glad I've left behind the heavy, pondrousness of my work with film.

Yesterday, for an upcoming show, I printed something from a 4x5 film scan I never had printed before. I can see in the print that I saw it through a view camera. It's quite unlike most work I might do with another camera.

Anything that acts as a moderating influence on the modern photographer's obsessive neophilia is a good thing. It's quite interesting how more choice = better is naively assumed to be true when in fact limitations are what drive creativity and provide it nourishment.

One problem is the word should; it can evoke strong emotions in many.

I totally agree with the recommendation to try a view camera. I took up 4x5 primarily for the quality of the larger film size, but what really happened was to open me up to some fundamentals and new horizons, greater possibilities. 4x5 is as large as I can physically handle in the field, otherwise I would have an 8x10. Had I space for a studio, I would buy an 8x10, one lens, stick to one film ... etc.

Digital for work is mandatory, if you fancy some way to make a living as pro. No doubt it is a most splendid way to obtain sharp results with proper color balance by any light, even at he lowest level.

But to escape the so predictable look of digital imaging, I appreciate shooting film im my leisure time. I have shot 50 rolls last year. And from this little production I have made about 40 finished prints I really like from scanned negatives. No doubt there is joy holding in hand a fine 12" x 18" print.

Point of interest are these very few film directors who still favour shooting film over digital. Scorsese, Sofia Coppola, Sam Mendes, Tarantino, Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson among others. Their movies are usually pretty good, they must know a thing or two about images.

I am constantly amazed (and amused) at how so many think the way they learned to do something is the "way" everyone should learn to do the same thing.

The "secret" is not in the camera you have to use, but in being forced to make your own prints. Unless you are HCB, that is where one learns the fundamentals of composition.

! Curmudgeon Alert !

Yes, I have shot film, both personally and professionally, over a period of some forty years. This included B&W, color negative, and transparency films ranging in size from 126 to 8x10". And while the E6 was always sent to the lab, I've done a bit of C41, and couldn't begin to count the hundreds of hours spent in a small, black room doing dip & dunk with racks full of 4x5 B&W film hangers. (While the large film drying cabinet just behind me worked to make sure that it stayed hot enough in there.) Printed B&W with trays and processors that whole time, and I also did my own color printing for about ten years. If I never see another roll of film, it will be too soon.

But still I waffled a bit in coming up with a response to your "should" question. At first I thought that some experience with film could only be a good thing, as the manual tools would be apt to encourage a more thorough understanding of things like the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and 'ASA'. But of course, there are digital cameras that allow such learning and control, as well.

Then it occurred to me that some time involved with the whole film experience might help reduce all the complaining about this sensor's pathetic dynamic range, or that camera's lack of external controls, or the unpleasant color of the new XT-whatever, or how yet another camera will fit, yes, into a jacket pocket but certainly not a shirt pocket. Noting that I share the guilt for some of this whining, I still think it would be a most pleasant result!

Bob the Curmudgeon

Many of those "photographers" on DPreview go absolutely ballistic when someone mentions film or the editors post an article about film. They go on and on about how their digital medium can do anything better than film ever could, how they can review the results instantly, an all the rest of the tired cliches. And then you realize that they never used film. They call themselves photographers but have absolutely no knowledge about the traditions, heritage, and technology of the subject. The photo world started the minute they opened the box of their shiny new digital thing. They remind me of two analogies: 1. The caveman in that movie who discovered fire. 2. The "performance drivers" (always guys) who claim they despise manual transmission, and you lean that they have absolutely no knowledge how to use a clutch. Sigh.....

I started with film at age 12, shooting 35mm B&W and developing/printing in an apartment bathroom. Took a couple of courses in college (including working with a view camera) and did a fair amount of darkroom work there, including hand developing positive color film. Had a darkroom in my house in later years and as I aged, did less and less work in it. At this point in my life (age 75) I have fully embraced digital photography and only shoot a very occasional roll of film more for the tactile/memory experience of handling my cameras.
What I carried forward into my digital life was an understanding - from shooting film - of the basics - film/sensor sensitivity, aperture, shutter speed, etc. I think that anyone serious about photography should shoot some film to gain a better understanding of the basics. While I might appreciate the memory of the slower process, I'm not sure that has any meaning to the techies of today.
I still love the feel of my Pentax SLR's and Mamiya MF cameras and lenses, but my grandkids are a whole different world.

Actually i think it's a good idea that every photographer should make a list of maybe ten things or so that they feel that they want to try at least once and if " shooting film " is on said list they should take a good hard look at what they think their life is really about . . . .

take two : shooting film and what goes along with it can teach one quite a lot. Doing it "once" will teach you just about nothing . . . . .

Despite having some limited experience with film when I was a teenager, my real foray into photography happened during the digital age, with digital cameras. After a few years I began exploring film, shot 35mm and 6x6, developed some of my own film, did a little printing, a little scanning. Now I'm pretty much back to digital, but I'm not selling the film camera because I figure some day I'll probably reach for it again.

My answer to your question is that it's still absolutely worth shooting film for a bit, for one simple reason: Cost. Film costs a lot. A lot of money and a lot of time - two things that are precious to most people. The result is you really think about your shots in a way that it's difficult to do with digital. It puts your feet to the fire, and shows you there's another way to approaching shooting.

In the end it's not that film is better or worse than digital, it's just different. And it's different enough that exploring it will expand your view of how you make photographs.

I've shot with a Speed Graphic, medium format (briefly), RF and SLR 35mm and processed all of those negatives for many years.

Coincidentally, I disposed of all my film processing equipment just this past week -- I saved only my Nikor tank as a remembrance.

I also scanned some negatives recently and satisfied myself that the IQ just doesn't match that from my digital images.

Since I'm still refining my post-processing of digital images after 10 years, I'd say that's the place for a learner to start now.

I don't have any great opinion about whether one should or should not shoot film-- I do -- but I had almost forgotten what nonsense DPReview forums can be. It's not only that every guy with a new digital camera apparently needs to argue with every other guy about digital camera, but the self-assertive smugness mixed with over-the-tops-of-my glasses superiority of most of the commenters has somehow survived intact since the 1990's. I can almost see the AOL and Hotmail account addresses of those people.

Yes, yes make em do it. Experience the pain of massive lab bills, the limits of finding a good tech who will work with you......
It is a great teaching experience, vital experience, but only up to the point when someone plasters “FILM shooter” over his mediocre work, as if it were some holy yellow grail with a K on it.
Come to think of it, why didn’t we have to practice on glass plates in those darn 80’s!?

It’s funny that all commenters here start their stories like “in 1950s…” or “in 1970s…”. I don’t want to be an exception. In 1980(?) I received my first camera, Smena 8M, as a birthday gift. Well, technically it was my first camera but it actually wasn’t – I didn’t shoot a single frame with it. After reading the manual, the whole process of taking pictures with that device seemed way too complicated. The idea of developing my photos in the dark bathroom scared me, and the few available photo labs were too expensive for a poor Soviet schoolboy. Anyway, I didn’t give a damn about photography back then, I wanted a tape recorder! Later, I envied my rich friend who had Japanese Konica Pop. It was a very advanced camera and easy to use: “peep thru this hole and press this button”. The photos, if not spoiled by the lab, were sometimes decent. Now I regret that my childhood and first decades of my adult life weren’t documented, but I don’t think I could take any usable pics with that crappy Smena. It disappeared soon, probably my mother sold it.

Fast forward 23 years. At the age of 36, I bought my first REAL camera, the 5-megapixel Canon Powershot G5 and instantly became a shutterbug. The advanced Canon 20D followed in a couple of years. I was happy but not for long. The discussions “digital vs film” were very hot back then. A friend showed me photos taken with his Hasselblad, and I was fascinated with those beautiful squares. They had a very special look I couldn’t duplicate with my Canon no matter how I tried.

Finally, I decided to start shooting film. In 2008, I bought a Mamiya C330 with three lenses and later on a Mamiya 645 with the beautiful 80mm/1.9. I shot mostly film for the whole year. Fortunately, the C330 had prism (trying to use a waist level finder gave me nausea) but it was quite heavy, dim and non-metered. In the beginning, I had to shoot digital first to get the exposure and then repeat the shot with the film camera. Later I learned to guess the exposure using the Sunny 11 rule (Canadian modification of the Californian Sunny 16) and became quite good at calculating exposures in my head. The 645 was a high tech wonder of the 1980s – it had a light meter – but I preferred the square frames. I believe that shooting film improved my technique quite a bit, and some of the photos taken then are still my favourites. Was I happy? Not quite. Shooting film and waiting for the slides from the lab was fun, but scanning and cleaning up the scans was long and tedious. Finally, I got tired and sold my film equipment.

Fast forward another 10 years. Film is relieving a slight renaissance these days. Under influence of my favourite portrait photographers, I decided to make another foray into film photography and bought a Mamiya 645E. It’s a great camera with auto exposure and huge viewfinder in which everything looks gorgeous. I intended to use it specifically for portraits. Shot only three rolls, two of them portraits, and my enthusiasm quickly vanished. The test roll was OK but not as good as the results from my 20MP DSLR. The portraits turned out meh – only a couple of good frames per roll. One of the models said she didn’t recognize herself and preferred my digital photos. The workflow wasn’t fun either. Though relatively light for a medium format camera, the Mamiya felt like a dumbbell hanging on my neck, and manual focusing is not easy for my aging eyes. I enjoy shooting with my little Pentax K-S1 and limited lenses much more. I guess, shooting film for a year in 2008 was enough for me. Anybody wants to buy a Mamiya 645E body in near mint condition?

This is the longest comment I ever wrote :) TL;DR Yes, I think that every photographer should try film for a while. It’s better to start with digital to learn the basics, than shoot film at least for a few months to improve one’s composing skills, and then do whatever you want!

I’ve probably written this before, but I don’t see it mentioned here, or at least not emphasized, regarding the benefits of large format, view camera, experience. Yes, there is undeniable benefit in slowing down, being more careful and deliberate, learning to expose, etc, but for me one of the long lasting lessons has been the ability to better see and compose. Seeing an image upside down (and reversed) allows one to abstract a scene and to better understand balance, proportion and tonal relationships. In fact, it’s a technique used in some drawing and painting courses. I couldn’t draw a portrait from a photo worth a darn until I turned the photo upside down.

Even now, in the digital world, I invert my pics in Lightroom while I’m editing for print. And, yes, everyone should experience printing, if not in a darkroom, then digitally. Seeing a picture through, from capture to print (or book), is not only rewarding, but provides a means to see the work in a new and different form. It’s all about seeing.

Yes to all the above. (Smile.)

I have started a few new photographers... cheap used Canon DSLR and a 50mm/1.8.. Cheap and used is important. It stops you getting too precious about the gear. Set aperture priority, f2.0., auto ISO. Set back button AF.

Shoot for two weeks, carry it all the time, shoot everything and everyone. Don’t carry anything except the camera and that one lens. Shoot with the light, sideways on to the light, against the light. The only controls they are allowed to use are moving the focus point and the exposure compensation wheel..

After two weeks or 1,000 exposures they get to shoot at f5.6 and f11 as well as f2.0.

After a month they can buy a second lens. I try to get them to buy the 24mm pancake lens, put the 50mm in a pocket, and still not carry extra stuff.

A few people have done it, and the speed of their progress has been impressive. I’m trying to get people who can achieve “flow” and shoot rapidly, accurately and instinctively.

No, they shouldn´t. Should a car driver try at least once a year driving a horse carriage? If your answer is yes, then try to shoot film once a year. If your answer is no, then go on digital or phone-ography.
Simple as that.

The reason I say this is what I see on the classrooms on other fields: architecture and civil engineering [I´m Spaniard, and architecture derives from civil engineering and mining, contrary to USA and anglosaxon countries, where it derives from the french school of Ecole des Beaux Arts], industrial design and urbanism.
Students are force-feed hand drawing and sketching. It is not a natural technique for them. It is a subject that they need to pass [Universities I teach upon are selective: getting in does not warrant you to graduate. In fact, in one of them, only 5% of the incoming students will graduate. That makes 13 people on average from 250+ incoming students per year].

Thing is, digital sketching is much more important and natural for their process. And they don´t sketch, they just fabricate. Everything is done through "real time". The middle element which is sketching is not relevant for them any longer.

In fact, when they try to push on the degree show the sketching, IMHO they fail misserably [the drawing quality is not there], and the sketch retracts and diminishes the quality of the global result.

So, do you think that it will make you a better car driver to drive a horse carriage once per year?

Addendum nr. 2:
[Apologies for the scattering].
I have shot film, and developed film, and processed film, and made the printing paper. And get the chemical high.

Frankly, don´t miss it.

Most of the people I see with film cameras are Millenials or Generation X, but they are a tiny proportion of the people making images with their 'phones.

Inevitably, many of the comments here are highly biased and based upon notions of some long lost golden era, the sort of ill conceived notions that brought about Brexit, etc..

It is rather like asking budding sound recordists to spend time with reel-to-reel tape recorders. You can still buy new tape and new film, but you can't buy time. So I am sticking to digital for both now.

Using B&W and colour film on Leica’s. Have built my own darkroom, and use it develop and print. Why? For fun! Prints get lots of praise from anyone who sees them, especially the B&W. Sure looks better than anything I’ve made with modern digital and inkjet...

This is sort-of like telling a guitar player that they have not experienced plucked stringed instruments unless they also established competence on, say, a banjo. A lot is similar, but a lot is different, and it may be that the guitar player simply doesn't like the sound of a banjo. I'm not sure that playing one is necessary to make that determination fairly.

But I like the banjo when it is played by experts. And I shoot film as well as digital, simply because I know how, and love the cameras that I use with film (including large format). The results are different and beautiful, but no more valid than what I get from my digital cameras.

But more important than the medium is the method. I learned the Zone System with film, and cannot help but think in those terms even when using digital. It gives me the tools of previsualization and purpose, which are valuable again with camera RAW files in the 70MB range.

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