At the moment, 195 of my 655 photos at Flickr are from film. That’s a good 30%.

When people ask me why I stick to film photography –sometimes incorrectly called analog photography, just in contrast with digital photography— I usually don’t know what to answer. I don’t know which one of the many reasons I have should I tell. Well, anyone looking just for a comparison can look it up on the Wikipedia, what I provide here is just my personal point of view.

A quick answer could be just because I can, since film photography is worth if you enjoy it. It’s not worth for most people, who want just to take as many pictures as they can and with immediate feedback. Digital photography is easier, quicker and far cheaper… once you get the camera, which can cost anything up to €4000.

A not-so-quick answer will be because I can afford it, meaning that I can’t afford any digital camera that would let me do the same I can do with my film cameras. Extrange as it sounds, film photography is the cheapest option for my to do photography, since I mean photography as a hobby art, not just taking pictures.

However, money is only a limitation –just like gravity, and more about it later– but not a motivation. What really motivates me to keep shooting film –and will keep me even after getting the DSLR I want– are those precious features only film has.

Film features

The grain you get with high-speed film is not the same as the noise you get when the sensor increases sensibility. I can hardly show this on the Internet because all my film negatives have been added digital noise by the film scanner –although I have applied reduction to it– but to give an idea let’s compare a Kodak T-Max 3200 shot (at ISO 1600) with a Nikon Coolpix 8400 shot at ISO 400:

Noise reduction is limited and sacrifices sharpness –although the selective Gaussian blur filter in The GIMP is perfect for me, so that I use it a lot— but that’s not the point. It’s that grain does not affect color that much –see the guy below with the guitar, in full size.

I think the film feature I really like and use most is the different color response each film has. Have a look at the last page in the data & specs sheets for my favorite Fujifilm films: Reala 100, Superia X-tra 400 and the amazing Velvia 50 –also in Wikipedia. Velvia clearly stands out, but Reala and Superia look similar, don’t they? Well, spot the difference:

  • Flower girl
  • Bluegrass busker

I took both pictures in Grafton Street on sunny days, with the same camera. Now compare the following two, taken one just after another, on the same place, with the same camera and lenses. I literally just changed roll and both rolls were processed and scanned the same way. No post processing, apart from noise reduction. What You See Is What I Got.

  • Corrib Lough
  • Corrib Lough

As for the image resolution, I don’t need more than the 6.77 MP (3264×2176) I get with my Nikon Coolpix 8400 or the 7.17MP (3360×2240) I get from Gunn’s lab. As a 35mm photographer, fine grain images are not my main target. Moreover, where on Earth would I store all my pictures? I already have problems storing four years of 2MP pictures and over one year of 8MP pictures!

What about the lack of immediate feedback? That’s right, once I take a picture I have to wait until the roll is finished –and mine last for weeks– and processed –and I can only go to the lab on Saturdays. This just makes me do my best on each shot, trying always to get it right on the first go instead of firing enough bullets and hope to hit the target 😉

Jokes apart, there is something special about it: the hope. You get nice surprises!

And when I get home I don’t have 8000 pics to process, saving a bit deal of time!

But the film is not the only factor, the camera itself has some important features that you don’t get easily in a DSLR –and a couple you will never get!

Film cameras features

Full manual control, when it is available in DSLRs, is not as direct as in fim cameras. Most film cameras have a dial for the shutter speed, the shutter button itself and a couple of buttons you can control with the right hand. On the other hand you have full and quick control over aperture, focus and focal length, leading to the typical stance:

  • Me on a mirror

All DSLR lenses have no aperture control, you are supposed to control it only through the camera body. This makes changing aperture not as quick and direct as I need for some situations, so by the time I change it I’m late! With any film camera I know both shutter speed and aperture can be changed simultaneously, using both hands. I do use this feature and I miss it!

Whereas this can be possible fixed by an additional dial for aperture somewhere near the lenses mount –something I haven’t seen yet– there are other features that cannot be reached by digital due to technology limitations. The main one for me is the ability to work without batteries. I love being able to use my Nikon FM-2n –and my old Olympus OM-1— without batteries, usually in tough conditions of cold, heat, humidity and dust that most DSLR would not survive have quite some (more) trouble with.

  • Me at the Pico del Teide (3702 m.)

There are of course loads of nice and useful features in DSLR which were only available in most expensive film cameras –or in no one at all– but, for the photography I do, it’s full control and toughness what I mostly demand to my cameras, which is why I use the FM-2n body far more than the F90X.

What about lenses?

Lenses are, indeed, what deliver image quality at the very first stage. Good ones are indeed expensive, but sometimes you can get them far cheaper in used but fine condition –as I did with my Nikkor 28mm f/2.8D— or in not so nice condition but ridiculously cheap –as I did with a Hanimex 135mm f/2.8. Since I wanted the 135mm mainly for portraits, I didn’t mind it was a bit dirty and (evenly) scratched on the frontal an rear elements. Amazing value for just €18:

  • Rusty or Shuggie?

Prime lenses are actually my favorite ones for several reasons: since they are easier to build, they are cheaper, wider –in terms of maximum aperture– and have better optical quality, which makes them best at quality/cost ratio. Of course a Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5D zoom is far cheaper than the set of 35mm f/2D, 50mm f/1.4D, 85mm f/1.4D and 105mm f/2D Nikkor prime lenses, but it’s definitely not the same! Specially for portaits, you will love f/1.4 lenses:

  • Warm light...
  • Tango portrait

Have a look at Nikkor DX lenses, no one goes further than f/2.8, and it’s only the professional and most expensive ones! Fortunately, all film AF lenses can be used with DSLR bodies –at least with Nikon– which makes moving into digital only as painful as the crop factor makes it.

But, isn’t film expensive?

I said money is only a limitation… but a strong one! Let’s do a bit of numbers.

The cost of film and processing:

The (estimated) cost of the gear I already have:

If you fancy have a look at my gear (mainly bodies), check my profile at Flickr.

All this makes a total of €1688 not including the Nikon N90X body, which could have easily costed that total on its own. Even if I haven’t gotten most of my gear from my father –who was a professional photographer– I would have spent about €3500 in 10 years. How much do you think I need to switch to DSLR? These are the options I considered:

I would have considered the D80 if I had had the money half a year ago, but now that Nikon is about to release the D300 I think I can wait for it. I am not having that lot of money in less than one year time, anyway. The D3 was the camera I was waiting for because it would have let me keep using all the Nikkor D lenses I have, but unfortunately it is not fully compatible with those lenses.

That leads to a dreadful conclusion: the cost of the camera I want (Nikon D300, €1700) is more than double the money I have spent in film gear, rolls and lab in the last 10 years… and that’s only the camera body, not to mention lenses! In the end, I’ll probably get the D80 because I want it only for hobby, not for work.

If you have a good film camera (or good lenses at least) go and use them, good labs may not last around you! I consider myself very lucky of having a couple of good labs in Dublin, but photographers in Tenerife (my birth place) have to ship every roll to Madrid and wait quite long, plus the risk of shipping film back and forth. My father seems to have stopped shooting film since he got his Nikon D80, but believe or not I won’t do that when I get mine!

If you want some discussion, look at this post at Digital Photography School, it has some nice comments like:

I want to go back to film now that I’ve been working digital for along time. Digital is a bit like fast food whereas film is a proper meal.

Max K

The more I get close to taking “photographs” the more I think of switching to film.

Digital is cheap. Digital is simple. Digital is modern. Digital is cool.

Film is good. It lets you create.

Zoli

I’ve gone from film to digital & back to film again plus digital. In fact, I’ve become rather obsessed with old film cameras & getting different formats off ebay at cheap prices. I love both digital & film for many different reasons. Sometimes i shoot with film first & scan the negs after to work on them in the digital darkroom. Other times, i shoot in digital, then create new negs by printing them on transparencies & work on them in the old darkroom with alternative processes like cyanotype. The possibilities are immense out there & i love it!!

Lorna

I exclusively shoot film, but I am planning on buying a Nikon D300 when it gets out. I’ll still shoot a lot of film though, I just find it very enjoyable.

Elling

Digital gives me room for experiment, but film shooting is intriguing and interesting. For me shooting in digital is playing F1 on video game and on film is actually riding a real car.

MKaY

And some not so nice but still funny:

Have never actually used digital and never would, why should I when film looks so good for my mountain expedition slide shows? digital can’t do that. Survive at -40 for weeks on end and produce photos which such depth and colour……. But then again digital is for folks of the texty age…

Scotty

Now I should go and make a nice comment there as well 🙂

If you wonder about my background, have a look at this brief introduction.