Is is film or digital and does it matter? For some the debate was settled a decade ago. However, if you’ve noticed film is in a big resurgence. A casual look on eBay will reveal the prices for film cameras is higher than it has been in 6-7 years. While the manufacture of film is limited to a couple of companies and emulsions (Fuji and Kodak), amateurs and professionals alike are returning to the unique look and satisfaction of film. The Film Photography Project, Lomography, and others are introducing a new generation of photographers to the hobby of using old cameras and developing at home. If you’re still in doubt take a saunter over to YouTube and in the search box pop in “developing black and white film”.
I’m not trying to convince you to ditch the digital camera. That would be like me trying to convince you to take all the screwdrivers out or your toolbox in favor of only having hammers, or all the mascara out of the cosmetic drawer in favor of lipstick. How absurd. Each tool has a purpose. When photography was paying the bills I used digital. The benefits of instant viewing and the ease of transferring photos from the camera to the lab were all critical. Film was a luxury I could enjoy alongside my DSLR. These days I have more time to process and submit photos. Relaxed time constraints allow me to shoot more film. Shooting film isn’t like returning to the past, however.
While there are those who will go retro all the way to the darkroom, I don’t want to give up the powerful tools of Photoshop and Lightroom. I’m not alone either. Look at the advertising for Kodak Ektar and Porta films. The boxes clearly point out they were developed to be the best scanning film on the market and I appreciate their efforts. I shoot with a variety of film cameras and scan into the digital darkroom. Scanning was always part of the equation. When I was learning to shoot manual film cameras I used Fuji Velvia exclusively. Velvia is great transparency film for nature and landscape photos and a real challenge to scan. Its over saturated and vibrant colors make scenes pop. Unfortunately, it seems like I have been chasing the image on that piece of film from day one because Velvia doesn’t scan well. You might be thinking, “If you’re going to scan, why not just shoot digitally in the first place?” Different tools for different purposes I say.
First, the number of frames on a roll of film is limited. This means the photographer has to be more selective and careful before pushing the shutter. No more spray and pray-more craft and vision and less hoping. Second, even when scanned, film has a unique look. The look isn’t about sharpness or grain/noise and after the print has been made you may or may not be able to pick out the difference. But I think you can see it.
Scanning ushers me back into Photoshop where after I have made any adjustments I can print as many copies as I wish. In the old darkroom every print is unique and may take a long time to adjust. One and done is the beauty of the digital process.
I’m partial to medium format cameras. I like the larger negative and the feel of the cameras. I’m not limited by any specific brand either. My camera inventory is in constant flux. Currently the choices include a Mamiya 645 Super, Yashica 124G, and a 1936 Kodak Junior. Recently I’ve let go of a Fuji GA645, a 6×9 Mamiya Press, and a Rolleicord (1933). I expect to constantly turn over inventory for no other reason than to have the of experience shooting a variety of cameras.
I’ll keep shooting film. The magic of the image appearing on the plastic strip has a satisfaction that digital can’t capture. A computer virus isn’t going to wipe out my files forever either. But I’m not selling my DSLR. And the new Olympus OMD-E10 MII is perfect for the upcoming series of reflections on the Moto-Seattle trip.