The resurgence of film photography

1 May, 2017

The resurgence of film photography

Film emulsion captures a certain richness and realism. After years of digital cameras and apps designed to emulate that process, it’s only natural to want to use the real thing again. Light reflections are literally captured in the film, not ones and zeros. That authenticity has an intangible "it-factor" our brains respond to—like the depth and character of vinyl vs. a cold and brittle MP3.


Film photography is slow, expensive, unreliable, and worth it: $10-$20 per roll +$15-$23 per roll for a qualified company to develop, scan properly, and return the negatives. Call it $30 per roll to get the images you captured onto your computer screen and prints—maybe a little less if you invest in all the darkroom tools and chemicals to develop a LOT of your own film. Shots might be under/over exposed and others might be out of focus. You just don’t know. When in doubt, I get multiple takes at different settings. What I have left is an average of 20 viable shots per roll. Call it $1.50 per image.


A box full of cameras for under $100: Want a new camera? Just switch the film! Every film type has it’s own unique personality. Other than helping you meter and focus correctly, the camera body has no influence over the appearance of the developed film—it simply acts as a conduit between the lens and film. A 50-year-old film camera can produce the same exact image as a new one. Digital cameras have one look based on the sensor. One camera, one look. This is part of why we are always replacing and upgrading.


Widely considered one of the best, the now affordable Nikon F4 is a massive tank—twice the weight of the D810 and taller than a D5. Including the AF drive, it requires SEVEN AA batteries. Wearing this beast around the neck isn’t an option and nothing less than the most aggressive tripod head can even maneuver it. For a walk-around 35mm, I use the much smaller and lighter Nikon FG. At default 1/90th second, it doesn’t even require batteries. The tradeoff is lack of auto focus and auto-advancing/rewinding of the film. My D-series Nikkor lenses work with film or digital. Various G and F-series work at minimum or maximum aperture. Canon lens compatibility is much more complicated.




Conclusion:

Shooting with film trades digital convenience for dense realism, smooth highlights, interesting shadows, and bold colors. If you are patient, understand exposure, and don’t mind careful metering, composing through the viewfinder, making notes of your settings, and waiting 1-2 weeks to see the results, film can take artistic photography to places that digital cannot.
For commercial projects where every image MUST be tack-sharp, flawless, and delivered quickly, it’s hard to compete with high-end digital sensors that allow for HDR and immediately display the image on the back of the camera.

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