Film Is Not Dead: A Digital Photographer

Film is Not Dead: Why I Shoot Film

Excerpted from Film Is Not Dead: A Digital Photographer's Guide to Shooting Film (New Riders)

By Jonathan Canlas and Kristen Kalp

ONE: THE LOOK OF IT. Film has a distinctive look and feel – an incredible color palette and tangible softness. Film is where it’s at, visually. You may have tried to make your digital images look like film and failed – or just realized that the easiest way to get the look of film is to shoot film.

TWO: THE EASE OF IT. I have a full-time photography business that requires loads of travel. I also have a wife and six kids who would like to see more than my face staring at a computer screen every once in a while. Film allows me to shoot, develop, scan, tweak, and upload images to clients in a fraction of the time it takes to process the same number of images digitally. The majority of my finished images are straight from the camera, with only minor adjustments to make them sing.

All: Contax 645, Kodak Portra 400, 80mm lens, f/2. Chattanooga, TN.

THREE: IT FORCES YOU TO BE A BETTER PHOTOGRAPHER. There’s no chimping in film! You have to know how to nail the exposure, how the light is interacting with your subject, and how your camera will react to both before you press the shutter.

Because each frame costs money, you’ll be more diligent about clearing the frame of unwanted distractions. Film will also help you cut down on spraying and praying – where you were once shooting 10-15 images, you’ll find yourself taking just one or two frames.

Pressing the shutter less often also saves time when culling images later. Fewer frames, fewer decisions...more time with family!

Finally, when you shoot enough with one film at one ISO, you learn the exposures necessary to handle different lighting situations. Film makes your exposures like clockwork, if you shoot it enough – so you can concentrate on your subject. Not your camera settings.

FOUR: DETAIL RETENTION IN HIGHLIGHTS AND SHADOWS. I dare you to shoot the same ultra-high-contrast scene at identical exposures using film and digital cameras. The results will show an incredible retention of detail in both highlights and shadows of your film image. A huge dynamic range of tones with even gradation from darks to lights.

In digital? Not so much. I’m not hatin’, either – just try it and see.

Contax 645, Fuji 400H, 35mm lens, f/8. San Francisco, CA.

FIVE: THE DEPTH OF FIELD IS UNREAL. Unreal, like bokeh so buttery you’d swear it belongs on your toast.

SIX: YOU LEARN TO SEE THE WORLD FULL-FRAME. Many digital cameras have a crop factor of at least 1.5, which means digital photographers see the world in a semi-telephoto state all the time. What you say!? A 50mm lens on a film camera does not have the same angle of coverage on a dSLR with a 1.5 crop factor, as it is now effectively a 75mm lens. (Full-frame digital cameras are available, but if you don’t have one, you’re seeing the world through your lens differently.)

SEVEN: IT CAN MIX AND MATCH LIGHT WITH NO PROBLEM. Let’s say we’re in a room together. You’re being lit by window light from the side and tungsten light from overhead. A digital capture will render all sorts of issues with mixed, uneven light. With film, there’s no problem. You’ll end up with even gradations from tungsten to ambient light. (And no white balance nightmares!)

EIGHT: THE DROPPING PRICE OF FILM GEAR. As the brightest and shiniest dSLRs hit the market, film cameras can be picked up for pennies on the dollar of their original value. What used to cost as much as the latest high-end Nikon or Canon release is now only a fraction of the price.

I can replace everything in my main camera bag – two Contax cameras and their lenses, film inserts, Polaroid 600SE, light meter, modifed Holga, Nikon flash, video light, batteries, and tripod — for less than $6000. Everything. For less than the cost of a Nikon D3 body and lens.

Contax 645, Fuji 400H, 35mm lens, f/3.5. San Francisco, CA.

NINE: LEAF SHUTTER, BABY. There isn’t a dSLR on the market with leaf shutter capabilities. But what’s a leaf shutter? Instead of the camera’s shutter being a focal plane shutter – inside the camera, behind the lens – the shutter is inside the lens. Leaf shutters can sync with a flash at all available shutter speeds. If the camera goes up to 1/500, it can sync at 1/500. That means you’re no longer stuck at 1/250 or less for your fastest sync speed!

Also with leaf shutter, particularly Twin Lens Refex (TLR) cameras, there is no mirror in the body that has to go up and down. No mirror equals less camera shake, which equals hand-holding when shooting at much lower shutter speeds.

TEN: FILM SETS YOU APART. FAR APART. Quite frankly, those who shoot film know their crap. And when you know your crap, you can forget the technical aspects to shoot the world the way you see it. Your vision comes out to play when you leave all the latest actions, presets, and doodads behind to focus intently on the subject matter before you.

Contax 645, Fuji 400H, 35mm lens, f/3.5. San Francisco, CA.

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Excerpted from Excerpted from Film Is Not Dead: A Digital Photographer's Guide to Shooting Film by Jonathan Canlas and Kristen Kalp. Copyright © 2012. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders.