The Joy of Film

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I know it’s a digital world out there, and the general consensus is: adapt or die. But I can’t deny my love of film and all things related. I just have to believe that there’s a place where both can, at the very the least, co-exist. Because let’s face it: digital is probably here to stay. Yes, I said, “probably”. Sorry, it’s taking me awhile to adjust.

I’m a Luddite at heart. Any quality time I get to spend shooting myMamiya RB67 fills me with a joy I can’t describe in words – immerses me in a process that slows me down and helps me see in a completely different way than any other creative endeavor.  Developing and printing only continues that feeling of joy – of anticipation and reward.

Being in the dark room – developing, checking the negs on the light table, printing and waiting for an image to surface; smelling the sweet, sweet smell of fixer, finding my rhythm with the printing process.... that might just be my favorite thing on earth.

I'll admit it, like most people I use a computer and scanner to process and print my color work; but that's a trade-off I'm willing to make  since a color processor is far out of my price range, and color chemicals scare me slightly. Yet, given the chance I'd much rather plunge into the total darkness to make C-prints.  

Are you saddened by film’s second class status and decline too? Then maybe we have something in common... or at least something to commiserate about. What are your feelings about film?

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I guess I'm up to my ankles in film... not quite diving into the pool, but certainly enjoying the temperature of the water between my toes.

Weird metaphors aside, I'm one of the younger ones who learned on digital and then started shooting film. Sadly, I don't have any darkroom time logged, and don't have space to create one in my current cramped quarters in the lovely Garden State.

I generally just get the lab to develop and then scan the negatives or slides at home. It's more time consuming than digital, but also an enjoyable process.

 

I started shooting film in college, even though digital was out; the professor wanted us to learn on slide film.

I have continued to shoot film and have started doing some of my own developing (little success there, still figuring things out)

And even though I shoot digital, I continue to love film. 

You can't wax poetic about the 'sweet, sweet smell of fixer' without a tip of the hat to yellow finger tips, which is the sign of a true, die-hard darkroom junkie. (Note - Yellow finger tips and a yellow-tinged mustache is the sign of a chain-smoking darkroom junkie.)

As for the comment about color slide film and color accuracy, no film ever came close to the color fidelity of Kodachrome II (ISO 25), which was the only film ever made that could capture the subtle tonalities of a twilight sky.

From a film/TV perspective, I like to think that film and video apply to two different aesthetics, as opposed to one being dominant. Film can lend a mythic quality to its subject and video can lend reality to its subject. District 9 was shot on video and it made the sci-fi premise feel real. Michael Clayton was shot on film and this made a normal story about lawyers feel larger than life. DPs will argue that they can get a filmic look out of video and they can-- to a point. But in a way, this is robbing the media of its inherent strengths.

 I had a few classes in school where I shot film, but most of what I've learned past the basics I've learned out of school.  I also had a D200 that I started with before trying my hand at any film.  I have since gotten rid of the D200 and now shoot nothing but film.  I'm 26 and only been shooting seriously for a little more than 2 years, but I already have 10 film cameras of about 8 or so varying formats and I wouldn't say I'm done yet.  

 For me it's not merely the results I get, but also the process and function of the cameras.  If I want to shoot digital it's either a P&S, DSLR, or MFDB.  P&S's just aren't up to par for me for DoF or shooting style, DSLR's are practically all built the same across the board, and MFDB's are still really expensive, and still don't offer 6x6 or 6x7 for the ones that are at all affordable.  I like that I can shoot waist-level or prism, I like having options for my camera body and features without sacrificing image quality, and I like not having to worry about obsolescence.  For me, I prefer working without the LCD, with one I second guess myself, and sometimes when I'd think I have an image, I come home to find it's not what I'd thought it was.  Without one, I have to take extra care that I'm doing things right, I slow down, am more purposeful with my shooting and metering, and I just have to have faith in the film that things turn out, and nearly every time the results are better than I hoped. 

I also don't understand what people mean when they talk about 'that's where things are headed' or 'the momentum' or 'things are going digital'.  They've added digital items yes...the mass public has 'gone digital' yes, but it makes sense for people that primarily want pictures for event documentation and posterity without any hassle, which to them, film is.  They like not going to a lab, and they'll pay a few hundred up front to be able to download straight to their computers instead of incremental costs with film.  But where is this invisible mandate that we should all have to switch to digital?  If it's a worry film won't be around, well film won't be around if people stop buying it, and if people stop buying it because of that, then it's just self-perpetuated.  If you want to shoot film, buy it, if you and others keep buying it, it'll be around.

There's no reason we as artists and crafts people can't choose our own tools for whatever reasons we want to, and not listen to the marketing departments of these companies who want us to buy digital because they know we'll be back for a new one in about 2 years.  That'd be like telling a sculptor not to chisel anymore, they have machines and computers for that now, same with painting, same with playing real instruments.  If you want to do it with a computer or digitally, fine, but you don't have to make me come with you unless I want to, and I'll know the camera companies are ready to be serious when they introduce an a bare bones DSLR with the same sensor they put in their top end model.  Until then I'm not even interested anymore. 

I'm so glad to hear that there are others out there that still appreciate film.

Megan, I love the way you described the "process". It's something you just can't recreate.

Jim, don't develop BW in a lab! Do it yourself, it's not as intimidating as it seems and nobody will care for your film as you would.

Ever notice how many less frames people shoot with film than with digital? Or how you actually take the time to check your corners and every little detail when you're holding a film camera? Nothing like that smell of a new roll....ZEN.

Btw, when did digital become "photography", as opposed to "digital imaging"? I've seen some nice work, it serves a useful purpose and it resembles film, but I see it as a totally different art form- so why did we give it the same name, or did it evolve so quickly that we allowed the manufacturers to convince us that it was the same thing?

Here's hoping for a backlash against all the "immediacy" we have all gotten used to!

I started into photography in kind-of-a backward way; Started printing other peoples B&W in my dad's darkroom in our office, then (stupidly) tried doing color (EP-2?) in trays in a 100° flowing bath. I finally found a lab that would let me run my stuff through their RT processor via a lightproof paper box. (The additional volume helped them with the replenishment.) I eventually got so sick of the crappy negs I was working with, so I started shooting more stuff on my own, and eventually started a studio and my own darkroom in their building. There's nothing like hand printing color film in a darkroom to teach you proper negative exposure. When digital first came out, the prices were so prohibitive that I eventually got out of the business. I still have my Speedotron's, softboxes, and view camera, but haven't used them in many years. When the price of digital came down to a point that I could afford, I reveled in the freedom of being able to shoot with abandon, and it actually allowed me to experiment more than I would have with film. I do still have and use my Minolta spotmeter for overriding the camera's auto-exposure, but I admit, I DO miss the darkroom.

To me, one of the joys of film is the anticipation of "knowing". It's knowing or not knowing whether or not "I got the shot". Nothing like taking a box of 4x5 chromes to the lab and going back 3 hours later to pick them up and seeing if I got the shot. This is more exciting when shooting with my 4x5 Santa Barbara pinhole camera that basically has no lens, shutter or viewfinder! (Of course I wouldn't recommend this if you are getting paid for the job)

I love film, but there seem to be scary headlines in the "analog" photography world all too regularly.  Kodak dropped TXP 320/220, Fuji dropped Neopan 400/120, 160S, 160C, 800Z.  These tend to scare people because if you're into film chances are you have a favorite emulsion made by one of these companies.  If one is dropping the ONLY b&w 220 film and the other is canning all but one of it's pro color negative films, well, stock up on your weapon of choice quick!

There is some hope though, and it lies in smaller comapanies like Ilford and Efke (at least for B&W enthusiasts).  What's not a profitable line for the big players can be for the smaller guys.  

I hear you about dark room work.  I never tried it until a few years ago and now I'm hooked. What's -really- amazing is the quality of work you can produce for such little money.  Enlargers are practically free, as are darkroom kits (tray, tongs, etc.), entire MF camera systems are cheaper than Prosumer DSLRs, there's tons of previously owned paper, unopened chems, timers, everything you need online.  It's cheap and fun to dive in and start churning out pro quality work that you'd have to shell out thousands to produce just a few years ago.  Film RAWKS and I hope to continue using it for as long as I can.

If you love film and are near the Great Lakes region, I highly recommend checking out the Photostock event: www.photostock2010.com/

Even a scanned negative has a different "look" than a image from a digital camera.   I still own my film gear and have my darkroom.  Digital is for customers.  Film is for me. Part of the creative process changes (maybe even has disappeared) with a digital camera.   With film the creative process began before we even left the house. 

We checked the weather and light conditions to decide what film we would use or take with us, as well as what filters. When we found a worthy subject, we would decide what film would best interpret it.  That decision made the subject "ours".  If we didn't use a camera with interchangeable film backs loaded with different types of film, but 35mm, we would carefully rewind film back into the cassette, leaving the leader out.  Then, load the film that best suited the subject and our vision. 

The creative process then continued on into the darkroom...what developer to use, what paper to make the print, what toner, if any,  to use for the final portrait.  When we were finished, it was pretty much a work of art that was unique. 

I made the move to digital early, when state of the art was 4mp, and was one of the first in my area to do so commercially.  I enjoy digital imaging, but I find too many current photographers using a "compose and expose" approach and not really thinking about the possibilities of the subject before them until they get home and upload the images.  Technically, it is just reversing the process. Still,  I  feel you miss out on really understanding the subject unless you stop and think about it before you click the shutter.

Ahhhh, all this talk about darkrooms is really making me nostalgic; I really miss running the Agfapan 25 in Rodinal, and mixing just enough glacial (metrically by percent) with water for one tray's worth of stop-bath when I got to printing. I do believe that you can be just as conscientious using digital instead of film; paying full attention to the framing and really concentrating on the lighting and preparation like you would with film. As any good photographer knows, it's ALL about the light.

I’ve shot and processed film for more years than I want to admit. I ran an E-6 line, worked as a custom printer, learned the zone system and used most chemical processes associated with traditional photography including making my own developers from scratch. At one time I was gratified to say that I shot the film, processed it, printed it, mounted the print, cut the matte and glass and made the frame for a given image.
The point of this is not to tell you what a swell guy I am, (many others have done this) but that film and the processes supporting and surrounding it really required a physical mastery of the medium. It actually took a fair amount of coordination to carry a project through to completion. Occasionally in an overpopulated darkroom or lab it would become a contact sport.  
I think that those who are starting to shoot or never stopped shooting film yearn for the very tactile nature that was a part of traditional photography, which will hopefully insure that it carried on into the future as a unique and artisanal process.
I don’t shoot film any more, however I do feel that all of those years have informed my digital photography in the way I approach imagery in a “bridgital” fashion, if you will. Although I do miss some of these qualities, the one resource I no longer have is time, so digital is now for me the shortest distance between inspiration and realization.
I will say that if you consider yourself a photographer and you’ve never shot film, that’s it’s akin to never having met your grandparents: you don’t know where you came from.

I totally agree with both Megan Iverson:

"Traditional B&W photography always been like a series of presents for me - it's a present to see what develops on the film, it's another one when you see what appears on the easel, another still to see the print come up in the bath, and another all together when the print dries. Pinhole takes it to a completely different level. Perhaps we should do a Joy of Pinhole post."

And with Tom K:

"I don’t shoot film any more, however I do feel that all of those years have informed my digital photography in the way I approach imagery in a “bridgital” fashion, if you will. Although I do miss some of these qualities, the one resource I no longer have is time, so digital is now for me the shortest distance between inspiration and realization.
I will say that if you consider yourself a photographer and you’ve never shot film, that’s it’s akin to never having met your grandparents: you don’t know where you came from."

I think when you boil it down; there are two kinds of people; the ones that "enjoy the ride," and the ones that can't wait for the "destination." After all, originally, wasn't the main point in photography to re-create the image in your mind on a final print (or chrome?) There are many more ways to get to that point today. Sure, digital might not have the "smoothness" of film, but 99% of the people couldn't tell it's digital without a loupe if it's done correctly. I also agree that the care that should be taken in setting-up a shot (as in film,) has never been learned by most digital-only shooters.

Megan sound like an "enjoy the ride" type, and Tom K has become more of a "destination" person. Both are equally valid routes to the same end.

My favorite films are gone now. Shot my last box of Polaroid Type 55 a few months back. Kodak recently discontinued the Ready Load T-max that I'd used for years. Fuji has followed by killing Quickload. I think the nostalgia of making my first large format images is what makes saying goodbye so hard. That and participating in a process that came long before my existence. The course of human history -- both the universal and the personal -- were pressed into celluloid. The esthetics of film informed our comprehension and way of thinking for hundreds of years. 
      
I’m glad I got to work with celluloid. Every time I pulled a dark slide or mixed Dektol, I felt like I was a part of something -- something bigger than myself. It is doubtful that film photography will go much farther (at least in a popular form) with the current generation.
 
That being said, I love digital image making. For the better part of a decade, nearly all of my commissions and personal work have been captured with digital cameras. Unlike film, the medium has yet to standardize itself. This is strangely refreshing. There is no prescribed workflow, no hard and fast rules, and no ‘masters’. With digital, we’re defining the esthetics and writing the new rules of visual process and literacy as we go. It’s empowering to be building something -- something new and beautiful. Clearly, the process and esthetics are different. But this is a paradigm shift that we’re all called to participate in.

Hello All!

I have enjoyed getting back into 35mm film photography. Even with considering getting a D-SLR, I am going to continue shooting with film as well, I just need to repair or replace my Canon A-1. I have a Minolta x-570 35mm camera I use as my back-up.

I am curious as to if it is true that I can use the lenses on both the Nikon 35mm film cameras and the Nikon D-SLR cameras.

Thank You!

Daniel Grant Baker

Hello Daniel,

Yes, you can Nikon film lenses on their DSLR bodies with some restrictions.

In general,  Nikon DX and FX model digital cameras use a standard "F" type Nikon lens mount. Best performance and functionality will be achieved when "D" or "G" type CPU lenses are used, but many other Nikon lenses and accessories can be used. Nikon's new Digital "DX" lens only work on DX Digital  SLR's. For the D3000 and D5000 cameras, only AF-S lens will Auto Focus.

Compatible Lenes:
DX Nikkor: All functions supported;
Type G- or D-AF Nikkor: All functions supported;
Micro Nikkor 85mm F2.8D: All functions supported except some exposrue modes;

Other AF Nikkor (excluding lenses for F3AF): All functions supported except 3D Color Matrix Metering, i-TTL balanced Fill-Flash for digital SLR;

AI-P Nikkor: All functions supported except 3D Color Matrix Metering, i-TTL balanced Fill-Flash for digital SLR and autofocus;

Non-CPU: Can be used in exposure mode M, but exposure meter does not function; electronic range finder can be used if maximum aperture is f/5.6 or faster.

IX Nikkor Lenses cannot be used.

The following older model lenses can NOT be used:
IX Nikkor CPU Lenses
TC-16AS AF Teleconverter
Non-Ai Lenses
Lenses which require AU-1 Focusing unit
Fisheye - 6mm f/5.6, 8mm f/8, OP 10mm f/5.6
21 mm f/4 (old type)
K1 and K2 rings, PK-1 and PK-11 auto extension rings, BR-2 and BR-4 auto rings

ED 180-600 mm f/8 (serial numbers 174041-174180)
ED 360-1200 mm f/11 (serial numbers 174031-174127)
280-600 mm f/9.5 (serial numbers 280001-300490)
Lenses for the F3AF (80mm f/2.8, 200mm f/3.5, TC-16S Teleconverter

PC 28 mm f/4 (serial numbers before 180900)
PC 35 mm f/2.8 (serial numbers 851001-906200)
PC 35 mm f/3.5 (old type)
1000 mm f/6.3 Reflex (old type)
1000 mm f/11 Reflex (142361-143000)
2000 mm f/11 Reflex (200111-200310)

Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

C h u c k   C a p r i o l a
Live Chat and E-Mail Sales Manager
B&H Photo-Video
www.bhphotovideo.com

Thank you, we appreciate your business.
*** Peace on Earth ***

 

  I remember back a few years - one of the B&H salesmen let me noodle around with a camera - a voigtlander - while he helped 5-6 people buy digital slrs. I was intrigued with the digital thing - but for some reason the little rangefinder was compelling me to buy it. After 20 minutes I stepped up to the plate and asked what to expect, what it could do, etc - I asked a billion questions about this camera. I figured he'd tell me to forget it and sell me a Rebel or something.
 Guess what? I wound up listening to him rattle off an encyclopedia's worth of opinions and facts about photography - then he asked more questions than a college entrance exam about what I wanted to do, what I knew, what I wanted to know, you know, stuff like that. In the end I wound up buying the voigtlander. I asked that guy what camera he had and he actually pulled it out from under the counter - a gorgeous black Leica with a crazy winder thingy on the bottom. He said he gave up on digital - something like it wasn't capable of making the images he saw in his head. The things he said and suggested made sense to me and I bought the voigtlander. Eventually I sold it and got into a new/used Leica M system. I tried many digital cameras too, and now, after a few years, I know what that salesman was talking about. Its all about the process - digital has a process but it's sterile and I don't  feel comfortable with it. Mostly - digital just seems flat to me. Film, on the other hand, is alive and dimensional. the process suits me perfectly. Most amazingly is that sooo many photographers I know feel the same way too. Film is first class all the way for us. Cheers!

What a great thread - I particularly liked the comment about not knowing your grandparents by TK. I love film - B&W film to be specific. Although - there are times when chromes just blow me away. I learned on film, changed to digital to meet the market's demands, and left digital when I got out of the market. By market I mean shooting for a living. Personally - I hate digital imaging on all levels. Well - it's good for ebay pix and the occasional email thing - but for the most part, digital imaging falls so short in so many areas of my concerns that I sort of wish it was never invented. Film is grand - digital just seem so flat and cheap. Film feels organic - digital seems cold and industrial. Film - my heroes shot film. Bresson, Kertez, Brassai, Bourke-White, etc - all their work that I found myself pondering endlessly over the years are all film based images. When I saw an image of Dorethea Lang with a 5x7 Graflex RB it was awe-inspiring. Nachtway is a brilliant artist but watching him stare at the back of his DSLR just doesn't make me want to pick up a camera and shoot. I feel like loading a roll of Tri-X into my camera now. Film to me has always been a comforting friend and a reliable confidant. I feel good when I look at negatives on a light-box or hold a chrome up to a window. Film involves me in the process in a way that nothing else ever will. 

Nononymous wrote:

What a great thread - I particularly liked the comment about not knowing your grandparents by TK. I love film - B&W film to be specific. Although - there are times when chromes just blow me away. I learned on film, changed to digital to meet the market's demands, and left digital when I got out of the market. By market I mean shooting for a living. Personally - I hate digital imaging on all levels. Well - it's good for ebay pix and the occasional email thing - but for the most part, digital imaging falls so short in so many areas of my concerns that I sort of wish it was never invented. Film is grand - digital just seem so flat and cheap. Film feels organic - digital seems cold and industrial. Film - my heroes shot film. Bresson, Kertez, Brassai, Bourke-White, etc - all their work that I found myself pondering endlessly over the years are all film based images. When I saw an image of Dorethea Lang with a 5x7 Graflex RB it was awe-inspiring. Nachtway is a brilliant artist but watching him stare at the back of his DSLR just doesn't make me want to pick up a camera and shoot. I feel like loading a roll of Tri-X into my camera now. Film to me has always been a comforting friend and a reliable confidant. I feel good when I look at negatives on a light-box or hold a chrome up to a window. Film involves me in the process in a way that nothing else ever will. 

Thank you for your beautiful comment and for sharing the accumulated feelings and wisdom of your experiences here. I can only imagine the changes you've seen in photography over the years and what being a working photographer when film was the medium must have been like. It sounds like a time that you still long for - with good reason.

I especially appreciated this:

"Film to me has always been a comforting friend and a reliable confidant. I feel good when I look at negatives on a light-box or hold a chrome up to a window. Film involves me in the process in a way that nothing else ever will."

I also enjoyed your thoughts on the photographers of the past  and how they inspired you to lose yourself in their work. How seing Dorthea Lang with her Graflex was a memory that has stuck with you till this day. How when thinking of a photographer staring at the back of his DSLR you don't get the same feeling:

"Bresson, Kertez, Brassai, Bourke-White, etc - all their work that I found myself pondering endlessly over the years are all film based images. When I saw an image of Dorethea Lang with a 5x7 Graflex RB it was awe-inspiring. Nachtway is a brilliant artist but watching him stare at the back of his DSLR just doesn't make me want to pick up a camera and shoot."

I also think that there is something about film that connects you to the process and to the work that you're making - that grounds you - that can really enable and help you to understand what it is that you're doing and why . It slows you down - which I believe is a good thing. I'm also in agreement with TK's comment about knowing your grandparents - I believe that even if one does have to shoot digital for commercial work - I think it's vital to have a solid background in film, and a solid understanding of what it does, and what you can do with it - the look, effect, and emotion it can evoke. Digital or film - it's really about the image and the idea behind that image and what translates from it to the viewer. I feel knowing film well, even if you're shooting digital, opens an entire world that digital on it's own never could.