The Drawback of Film Photography


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Sep 01, 2023

The Drawback of Film Photography

Film photography has enjoyed a notable resurgence in the last few years, and while it can offer an enjoyable and different experience over digital, it is not without its drawbacks. The cost is the

Film photography has enjoyed a notable resurgence in the last few years, and while it can offer an enjoyable and different experience over digital, it is not without its drawbacks. The cost is the most commonly cited con to the format, but there is something arguably more crucial to consider. This excellent video essay discusses the issue and what you should consider before you pick up your film camera.

Coming to you from James Popsys, this insightful video essay discusses the importance of thinking twice before you rely on film for images you only get one shot at. I think Popsys makes an important point here. We often talk about the importance of redundancy in the form of dual card slots, and we take it for granted that we can check images on the back of our camera immediately. Of course, with film, you do not get either of those safety nets. Thus, if you are in a situation when you might not get a second chance (a wedding or a trip), it is worth considering if digital would be a better choice. If I am on a trip, I'll typically bring a film camera with me, but I'll also back it up by taking a digital shot whenever I use it. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Popsys.

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

I am glad to finally see an article / video that is critical of film photography. I started with film when I was a teenager and used it for years, and it was so frustrating on so many levels. When I first used a digital camera in 2006, photography finally became fulfilling and enjoyable and exciting instead of being this big source of frustration and heartbreak.

Generally speaking, when something is not widely popular and mainstream, it is usually because it has disadvantages that far outweigh the advantages, relative to the alternatives that are available. Film is no exception to this rule. We need more articles that encourage people to do what most photographers are doing, and to use gear that most people are using.

"We need more articles that encourage people to do what most photographers are doing, and to use gear that most people are using"I don't agree, film is photography and believe me even today when Kodak makes an emulsion batch they don't hand make it for a few people. That's not how film manufacturing works, therefore there are more people using film than it seem (I am not one of them).This guy only critics film to justify getting paid by his sponsor by the way. That's why you never see critics on film.I find it sad to discourage people because of bad personal experience or being scared of taking a chance like the guy who did this commercial suggest.

Benoit, almost all of the articles here on Fstoppers are suggesting something different from the mainstream. Like 9 out of 10 are suggesting that people use gear that is different than what almost everybody else is using.

If someone had no prior knowledge of camera gear and only knew what they saw here on Fstoppers, they would think that they should use OM bodies coupled with vintage Russian mirror lenses from the 1960s that have no autofocus. I'm exaggerating to make a point, but I think you know what I mean.

I am all for using different gear that is different and niche and more obscure. I really am. But I think Fstoppers needs to strike a better balance. I mean, if 50% of the articles supported using mainstream, widely popular models, and the other 50% suggested outside-the-box ideas about using different niche or obscure gear, that would be appropriate. There are really good reasons why cameras from the Big Three with "full frame" digital sensors are so popular. That is because they truly best fit the needs of a great many photographers. And yet I have hardly seen any articles suggesting that people consider using a Sony, Canon, or Nikon full frame body instead of gear from one of the smaller manufacturers.

There are way, way over 100 stories on the Canon R5 on Fstoppers alone. That is mainstream.

Since June 1st:

Last film gear was: July 3rd this year + this one that is more a click bate than anything.

Wildlife:.A 10-Minute Beginner's Guide to Macro Photography. June 23.How Do You Know if Your Photos Are Good? August 13.A Day Out With the Little Owls August 1st.Wildlife photography June 30th.bird photography June 28, 33.Days Among the Bears on June 25th,.How to Pick the Winning Photo From a Series of Bird Images July 30....An Incredible Journey Shows the Power of Wildlife Photography and Conservation June 13.

Plus long lenses articles, outdoor photography gear articles, and of course a genre that crosses yours, Landscape on pretty much daily basis. There could be more that I missed.

You get my point.

Oh yeah I see your point. There are many articles discussing or reviewing the popular mainstream fear. But there are hardly ever articles trying to convince us to switch to them.

I never see articles with titles such as, "Why you should leave medium format behind and start using a Canon R5 instead" or "You should stop using film now and switch to digital once and for all".

Yet, the opposite of these points are frequently used as article titles. Why only present it from one side?

That's easy to answer. Apart for older generations that had no choice but to shoot film, anyone who shoot film today has been shooting with a phone first.

I was a film photographer from 1968 to 2008. I started dabbling with digital in 1998. I went fully digital in 2008. I was a wedding photographer from 1974-1994. I bought the DSLR to do one last wedding for my nephew. It was just amazing better, No more weddings now but going back into that with digital taught me that there is literally no going back to film for me. I also found I can make digital look like film without much effort, I can even add fake grain. Also when doing one last conversion of slides and negatives I realized film was good, but not better in actual resolution. Game over.

While I shoot exclusively analogue (I don't even own a Digital camera besides my phone) I am a big proponent of going about your expression in a way that is most enjoyable to you. There is no wrong answer. With that said, I liken shooting film to photography's free soloing version of rock climbing. No safety net for me forces a higher level of concentration, preparation, and mastery especially when shooting on costly international or extensive backpacking trips. There are few more rewarding feelings for me than getting my film back from the lab and seeing that I successfully realized my vision out in the field. Whether you shoot digitally or analogue, I think if your process and final image bring you that sort of joy, you are going about it in the right way.

Wow, so someone with almost zero experience shooting film says "don't bother"... Well, he must not be terribly confident in his work to feel compelled to create such click-bait is all I can really say about that.

I've been shooting film my entire life, long before digital cameras existed, and I've finally gotten to the point of large format field cameras (which honestly, *still* can't be touched in terms of resolution and tonal separation, especially in a final gallery print). So all of my more serious work is shot on 6x6, 6x7, 4x5, and 5x7 formats and wet printed. Yeah, I don't shoot "images", I shoot gallery prints, and everything else is gravy. If I was in Greenland without my field camera, I would literally sink deeper into depression with every frame I shot, and would likely buy another ticket and do the whole ride again, properly.

If you have doubts about film and find yourself in Vegas with a little free time you really must see the Rodney Lough Jr Gallery. He shoots primarily 8x10 chrome and drumscans it for extremely large digital prints, but they are quite extraordinary. I saw his galleries in Sausalito and San Francisco when they were still open and it was breathtaking! And if you have never heard of him, well sorry, he doesn't bother making click-bait articles and Vlogs. He does teach hands-on workshops though (if you can manage get a spot, I haven't been able to myself).

I do own a couple of digitals, an SLR and a mirrorless, but these only get used for family snaps and occasional photojournalism, which I believe they are best at. And I even have the OnePlus phone with the "Hasselblad" branding on it, which is also awesome for shooting the kids doing crazy stuff!

When I open your gallery here and read your statements it is like day and night. Analog cameras are slow, heavy, unaccurate... limited. If you trying to block the advancement of modern technology you are simply swiming against the stream to proof something to yourself.

Digital was cutting edge when Britney and Justin wore matching jeans outfits. Now, it's just old school.

Britney S. and Justin T. .. Did they work for Kodak or Sony? 🤣 🤣 🤣 🤣


Thanks for sharing your own personal experiences shooting with film. I understand how you can love using it so much.

My experiences with film and digital are extremely different from yours, as film was always frustrating and the results of digital are so satisfying. I think that one reason you and I feel so differently about our experiences is due to the fact that we shoot very different things. If I shot the subject matter that you shoot, and had the same type of end use in mind, then I think I would enjoy using film.

Yes, it looks like you do primarily wildlife documentation, which is much more photojournalistic, and makes digital a much better choice. I very much doubt there are many working wildlife photographers still using film. That makes a lot of sense. 30-40 years ago you didn't have a choice, but now you certainly do!

But you made your disdain for film without this context, which obviously lacks insight.

I've never seen one digital photographer switch to film and get better, but I've seen thousands of film photographers switch to digital and get worse.

I have never seen photographer switch to painting and get better, but Ive see 1000 painters switching to photography get worse

Have you seen a film photographer switch to digital and get better? That is what happened to me.

Hi Tom, I bet if you shot the same images on film instead of digital you could be a part of the art market instead of stock. That's the best compliment I could give to another photographer.

If you saw my digital photos before I switched to film in 2017 and compare them to my film photos then you can at least say you've seen one person who's gotten better with film photography.

Wow how one person can completely misunderstand the difference between film and digital photography.. I am a professional photographer and yes from a professional "I'm getting paid for this" digital is far far better than film, but that shouldn't be what photography is about. Do you really think Irvin Penn and Ansell Adams though to much about the technical photography, they were artists true photographers, it's not about what the technology can produce or improve with post production technology, it's what your eye sees. If you think technology is going to make you a great photographer stick with your iPhone and leave the artistry to the professionals, film or otherwise. As for F Stoppers shame on you for such a rubbish biased article

I’ve recently taken up film photography and am enjoying it immensely, so much so that I invested in a Leica film camera. I will never ditch my digital camera. There are times when I absolutely have to be sure of what I am getting. For instance, my wife and I recently travelled to Europe. I only took a digital camera because there was too much at stake to chance missed shots on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. However, film photography is personally more satisfying to me. I see it as an important adjunct to my photographic endeavors. It won’t replace digital photography but it complements it nicely. I simply enjoy the process of shooting film. I think I have become a better photographer since I took up film. I am not interested in issues of whether digital or film are better than the other. They both can exist together harmoniously in a life filled with photography. There is a place for both in my life.

We process and scan hundreds of rolls of film each day. It's rare that a film photographer chooses the right kind of film for their project, and even rarer that the exposure compliments their purpose, And scanning film will not be the same as shooting in RAW. The scanner will try to approximate a best guess for color and density. If you shoot and scan your own film, you may have that control over your image. Even the processing of film can affect the characteristics of the image. Go ahead, if you wish.Pro lab technician for 45+ years.... Photographer for even longer....

Again, this seems to assume 35mm as "Shooting Film". In the mid-80s I started shooting Medium Format with a TLR for more serious work. I still shot 35mm for weddings and events (only when friends begged me to, I hated doing any kind of commercial work, even today I only do portrait shoots of people I personally know), but generally for anything else it was too small and gritty for serious printing.

That's a good point because it's not possible to really know how to shoot film right without doing base ISO tests etc. Ansel Adams zone system actually starts with film testing for ISO and each film can have a different ISO depending on how the photographer uses it and his particular equipment and metering style. People that switch films all the time and don't test them first are basically just guessing and are not fully in control.

And what makes people better at knowing their exposure with digital? Technically a good digital photographer should know how to expose film right away.Shooting slides was not an issue with proper understanding even with a hand held meter.

Nothing makes people better at exposure in digital. In fact the lcd screen usually misleads them into thinking they're shooting correctly when really it's too bright.

The point I was getting to was that film is extremely difficult to get under control and it often takes extensive testing and practice to just be good with one type of film. The people that change films like they're changing shoes are not good reviewers of one film stock let alone qualified to make sweeping statements about the entire medium of film.

Let's start with base iso test using a digital slr:

Imagine a photographer were to tape a gray card to a brick wall in flat open sky lighting, he spot meters the card and shoots at the exact meter reading for 100iso, then he brackets exposures in 1/3rds of stops and shoots up to one stop over and one stop under the initial reading. Now, he's got 7 pictures of the gray card with corresponding ISOs of the base ISO and one stop over and one stop under.

Next, he looks at the final shots and compares each digital image to the actual real life gray card. Only one of those shots will match the card but there is a good chance that it's not the initial exposure at 100iso. Instead, he'll probably find that the exposure that matches is over by 1/3 of a stop or maybe under by a stop. If that's the case, then his base ISO is actually either 80iso in the first case or 200iso in the second.

The point I'm getting at is that the photographer has to know how to spot meter and get an accurate exposure of a gray card that corresponds to the digital image in order to have a place to start. That'll be his base ISO, and from there on he can tell what the tones are supposed to be in all of his exposures.

Almost nobody does that in digital let alone in film, so how can they know what an accurate exposure should look like for icebergs if they don't even know how to meter and shoot a gray card correctly?

Digital is analogous to shooting chrome in that the exposure latitude is narrow and overexposure by more than 1/3 stop irrecoverably blows out the highlights. Negative film is an entirely different matter. Overexposure results in lower contrast (and underexposure leads to greater contrast, which is the very basis of the Zone System, which requires a spot meter to properly execute). So I agree with dialing in your chrome films, but the negative films are much more forgiving (and allowing for much more contrast control for the final print).

Some films are more forgiving than others, but if you can't make printable negatives, from say, Portra 400, or TriX at box speed, you have no idea what your equipment is doing.

But the deeper you get into making the "perfect negative" for wet printing, the more you get into Zone System type of arrangements. I finally got a spot meter after shooting for 30+ years and had wished I had gotten it 20 years before just because of exposure headaches! Once you know your meter and the different curves associated with your film, you *know* what's on your negative after you've shot it. Of course, it might take you 1000s of frames to get to this point, but after that, you just look at the exposure and development specs of a film and know what a film does within one test roll (or less!).

One of the most limiting things about Digital is the lack of contrast control via exposure and development. Sure, you can use HDR, but that also introduces problems beyond that of contrast control (especially in color rendition).

That's great that you got a spot meter. I can't live without one

I totally respect lab experts because they've seen everything at one time or another. I have this theory and maybe you can help me with it. The theory is that most "forgiving" films and the myth that digital is easier comes from lower contrast curves. Deep shadows reveal bad lighting, but lower contrast curves wash the shadows out and hides bad lighting. My experience is digital is actually really hard to shoot on most cameras if the settings are changed to medium contrast by the user. Then , the limited DR starts to show itself in bad lighting scenarios with deep ugly shadow casts. I'm interested to know what a lab expert thinks about it...

If you look at the bloggers pictures, they're ALL washed out. He has basically no shadows and there's no direction to his lighting . The colors are all muted too. His pictures are basically so easy to shoot that anybody could do it. My theory is the lower contrast curves are a "jedi mind trick" that covers up terrible lighting technique and convinces bad photographers to think they're actually good.

Steve, what kind of film? Chromes? C41? B & W?I think people who shoot film should have a scanner and learn to make their own scans. Auto scan is not scanning in my opinion, it's way too basic.

I'm not impressed. This guy actually told me everything about himself in his anecdotal section where he shoots from inside the boat. I'm actually surprised he finds the courage to get on a boat equipped with all the modern safety features. Congrats! What a great adventurer.

We can believe him when he says that he doesn't care about color or sharpness

...and the only mood I see is "lazy phographer shoots landscapes from his car window"

I didn't get a DSLR until the end of 2013. July 8, 2011, I checked off a thirty year old bucket list item (it was my only item) for the final Space Shuttle launch. Since it was a daytime launch, I used Kodak Ektar 100; finding the film in Columbia, South Carolina turned out to be a scavenger hunt.

It is possible to shoot two rolls of film. Two film cameras is the solution. July 2013, I bought one of my bucket list cameras, a used Canon F-1N since I could use the lenses from my A-1.

Shooting Atlantis landing in the pre-dawn hour of July 22, 2011, I used B&W C-41 film; pushing 2 stops to 1600 was not fast enoughto freeze Atlantis; but I got a good photograph of the parachute deploy. Rediscovering the classic look of B&W, I photographed the year 2012 exclusively with B&W film.

Those B&W c-41 emulsions are quite impressive regarding pushing, always were.

Early on when I practiced film photography for weddings and personal travel, I learned to carry a film backup camera body loaded with film with 4 times the ISO of the one in my main camera. And when I stated with digital photography, I kept a film camera as backup. So, there's a way to backup with film photography.