Shooting Film. Again.
Do you listen to records? Still pumping those Reeboks? Do you rollerblade?
If you answered YES to any of these, or if you just plain love all things retro, then maybe you should try film… again. It’s totally rad!
Besides nostalgia there are lots of other super awesome reasons to (re)try film:
- Cameras and lenses are cheap!
- Picture quality is high, often as good as or better than your fancy DSLR.
- Individual film types are very different and very beautiful. Your DSLR’s sensor is always the same.
- Film offers the best of both worlds: You can edit the files as you would a digital shot by having them scanned to a CD. Even better, forget editing entirely.
- Film is not going away any time soon; in fact it’s been making a comeback lately.
The simple elegance of film
I can only look at so many hyper realistic images before I need to go do something else for a while. Digital pictures these days are nearly perfect – every single pixel is exquisitely exposed and edited to perfection. Today’s pictures are stunning to look at, but they lack the depth and feel of old school, classic photography.
I’ve noticed something lately with my own DSLR photos: I barely edit anything any more. I’ve always preferred single shots to HDR because I like photos that look real. I like when pictures stand on their own as good pictures rather than good edits. And then I realized, why am I shooting with an expensive and complicated digital camera when the best way to return to simplicity is to ditch the “D” in DSLR? So I did.
Hello again, film. You’re fun, refreshing, and basic, and you’re the perfect anecdote to today’s digital world.
Bye bye, sensor
When you shoot film, the film IS the sensor. This means that every 24 or 36 or whatever exposures, you can switch out the “sensor” for something entirely new. Each film type has it’s own distinct characteristics. Some are contrasty, some are colorful, some only see in black and white. Each is unique and I want to explore as many as reasonably possible. The idea of not having a sensor is a refreshing one because it gives me the freedom to choose what kind of film to put in my camera.
The SLR without a D
There are tons of cheap film SLRs on the market right now, and some of the very best deals are older Canon cameras. Canon switched from “FD” mount lenses to “EF” lenses in 1987 and never looked back. This created a surplus of unwanted and barely used lenses and cameras as photographers switched from old to new. The reason for the switch? FD lenses lacked the ability to autofocus. Autofocus isn’t as important as you might think, and if you can manage without it you can get some screaming deals.
Film offers far more exposure latitude than digital, especially in highlight areas. Film tends to have a “soft cushion” when it’s pushed to the limit of it’s dynamic range. Digital cameras “clip”, which is a fancy way of saying they give up. In other words, if you overexpose something with a digital camera, you’re done. You’ll never be able to see that detail, ever, because the camera doesn’t record it. Film captures things that digital can’t. Blow an exposure with film, and there’s a good chance you’ll still have something to work with. The downside to film is it’s hard to tell if you’ve shot something right until you pick up the developed film, long after the shoot is over.
The Canon AE-1 Program
Pictured at the top of this post, this is my “new” old camera, purchased in good condition off of ebay for just $44. It came with two lenses, a Quantaray 75-200mm and a Canon 50mm f1.8. I’ll have the 50mm attached most of the time. The camera is a nice challenge – I plan to shoot in manual and the maximum shutter speed is just 1/1000, snail slow by today’s standards. The camera’s controls aren’t terribly ergonomic either – working the aperture and shutter speed requires a lot of heads down time, time that would be better spent looking for things to photograph.
Still, the AE-1 Program is a fantastic camera. It’s about as basic as it gets for a film SLR, but it offers more than enough to keep the photographer in control at all times. Plus, it looks damn cool.