I don’t know how it’s happened but this morning after reading a post on Japan Camera Hunter, I found myself perusing film-centric websites such as the Analogue Wonderland, filtr, 595 and clicking around the vintage lens sections of eBay.
Last weekend I mailed off a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 to Boutique Film Lab in New York City for processing and prints. It was a roll of film I shot a year ago with my college Pentax P3. Until that roll of film, I had not used film since 1999. That’s when I switched to digital, which in modern times is more flexible, more capable and has better image quality in the sensors and lenses.
The other day I was walking around a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition, and if there was one thing I was struck by in the 6×9 prints hanging on the walls, it was their resolution.Said no one, ever
The lab did their best with the roll I provided, but I was not happy with the results. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Pentax P3 has some light leakage, which is apparent from the scans I received. I inspected my camera and discovered that the back door of the camera has an ever so slight opening. The film had been badly exposed. This is not a problem unique to film cameras; however, because I was not able to immediately see the results of photographic efforts, I wasted film, development, scan, and shipping costs. With a digital camera, I would have discovered the light leakage right away. This lack of immediate feedback is one reason I abandoned film back in 1999.
Now, some photographers will put on airs about film photography. They will speak and write as though the deprecated medium has some magical quality lacking in modern digital photography. A few will admit it’s a matter of preference, but many others create a false narrative about the film. They will write as though their opinions are a matter of fact as though the qualities they are discussing are inherent to the technology, not personal preference.
They will argue that they just like the look of the film. I sometimes like the look of some film stock. But I can buy dozens of excellent film simulation presets online that reproduce the look1 of photographic films from the last three decades. Heck, Fujifilm, the makers of much of the classic Velvia and Provia film that these film adherents use, makes a line of digital cameras with film simulation presets that can produce film-like images in-camera of the same films. The use of film is just one way to get that “look”, whether that look is Kodak Ektar 100, Fujifilm Velvia 50, Ilford HP5+ or something completely new.
The aesthetic – and not the process – is the thing that is appreciated by the end observer of the image, and a very large percentage of the time, the end observer should know and care little or nothing about how or even why that aesthetic was achieved, but instead what that aesthetic evokes in them.Hamish Gill
Some film photographers will claim that, because they can only shoot 24 or 36 frames per roll, using film slows them down, forces them to consider every click of the shutter button. I don’t disagree that all photographers can benefit from taking some time to put thought into their photography. But this discipline is not an essential feature of using film. It’s a necessary behaviour born out of the limitation of the medium. I would argue that some film photographers lack discipline when shooting with a digital camera. Some digital photographers lack this discipline, as well. But this is a limitation of the photographer, not the technology.
The film folks will argue that their film camera doesn’t need batteries but ignore the fact that most popular film photography cameras of their time either have built-in light meters or required the use of a hand-held external light meter for proper exposure. Light-meters use batteries.
When I was looking to set up my Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II film camera2, I discovered that the batteries for the light-meter were difficult to source because the chemical used in the batteries was banned; they are environmentally unsafe. I call bullshit on any film photographer who tells me they can look at a scene and go “This should be shot at 1/250 sec and f/5.6 on this ISO 400 film I am using”.
The film photographers bigots will make statements like “There is some special about the Asahi SMC Takumar 50mm f/2 that is lacking in modern lenses“. Ok. Maybe. I’ll just use this adapter to attach that lens to my modern digital camera. I should get the same results.
When (or if) I shoot a roll of film, I will be doing it with a roll of Ilford HP5+ or Kodak Ektar 1003 or Fujifilm Velvia 50 in my Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II. When I load the film, operate the knobs, press the shutter, wind the film, etc. I will spark fond memories of the adventures I had with my brothers, my mom and my dad. I will be doing it, not because the film has some magical property that is not present in digital photography, but because I get to time travel.
We’re not talking about morality here. We’re just talking about the properties of photographs. No property automatically makes a photograph better. No property automatically disqualifies a photograph from being good. Being bigoted just closes us off to a greater range of possibility in our own work, and to a greater and more subtle range of possibility in the accomplishments of others.Image Virtues by Mike Johnston in The Online Photographer
- Of course, the so-called look of the film is dependent on the development process used and whether that film was pushed/pulled or under/overexposed at capture. ↩
- My father died earlier this year. I inherited his un-repairable Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II, and I was feeling nostalgic for my dad, so I bought a used one on eBay. ↩
- Because Kodakchrome is no longer available. ↩