Why you should Shoot Film (at least once)

Why you should Shoot Film (at least once)

Why you should Shoot Film (at least once)

In a great demonstration of coming full circle, popular edits these days are sporting decidedly lo-fi looks. Maybe this is a backlash against the hyper realism of formerly-popular HDR, or maybe it’s just the natural progression of things. In any case, one look at Instagram proves that film inspired edits are here to stay. 

There’s a reason so many people are emulating film. The feel, the grain, the distinctive contrast, and the beautiful colors all serve to naturally heighten the immediacy of anything you shoot on film. Viewers feel one step closer to being there, in a way that only the best digital edits can impart.

Rather than screw around with your cell phone camera or mess with the settings on your fancy DSLR, you might be open to capturing film edits in the most basic of ways – by actually shooting film. Maybe you’ll shoot just one roll and quickly return to digital, or perhaps you’ll develop a real and lasting affection for it. Either way, the experience of shooting film will make you a better photographer.



Flower shot on Ektar 100. Canon Rebel K2 with Canon 28mm f1.8 lens.


Getting started in film

A testament to film’s wonderful simplicity, there are only two things you need to try film:

  1. A basic camera.
  2. Some film.
Fun Saver

Fun Saver. $10. Done.


The cheapest way to start is to buy a single use camera. Fuji and Kodak continue to make these, which can be bought online or at your local convenience store for around $10 USD. These cameras are about as basic as it gets: shoot your 27 exposures and drop the entire camera off when it’s time to develop. Many pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens still run photo departments, and they’ll develop and scan the film onto a CD for you.

There are other cameras you might try as well:


Canon AE-1 Program

An old school SLR like the Canon AE-1 Program. Less than $100 on ebay with lens.


Canon Rebel K2

A newer film SLR such as the Canon Rebel K2. You can use modern day lenses with this camera, which costs $20 or so dollars on ebay. Pictured with the ridiculous Canon 50mm f1.0L lens.



A toy camera like the Holga. $20-$30 on ebay. This camera uses more expensive medium format film.



A professional medium format film camera like the Mamiya 645 1000s. At a few hundred dollars used (with lens), it’s still far cheaper than a DSLR. Digital medium format cameras cost tens of thousands of dollars.


You can get some amazing deals in the film world. Cameras which formerly cost an arm and a leg routinely go for bargin prices on websites like ebay and on keh.com. If you’re just starting out, get the single use camera and see how you like it.


There are no megapixels and there is no sensor

Digital is on about a 3-5 year cycle, where new cameras are released, sensors are upgraded, and more $ is continually spent to be able to do the same thing you did before: take pictures. Digital cameras sold 10 years ago are already massively obsolete. With film, the camera matters far less because it’s just a way to expose the same 35mm (or larger) film that’s been in use for much of the last century. With film, you can buy a 40 year old Canon F-1 from the 70s and it will expose your film in the same way as any other 35mm film camera.



Stairs on Velvia 50, Canon 50mm f1.0L, Canon Rebel K2


In perfect conditions film is capable of achieving resolution that’s equal to, or in some cases far greater than digital, but this doesn’t happen in the real world. Realistically you can count on about 4-6 megapixels from standard 35mm film. That’s enough megapixels for all online uses, as well as for prints up to 5-7 or 8×10 if you want to push it a bit. You can print larger still, and as long as the viewing distance is increased it will look fine (people tend to view large prints from large distances, anyway.)

With digital it’s far too easy to get lost in the minutia of it all – is this picture too noisy, is this tiny little area in the corner is too soft? Film frees us from the things that don’t matter, and it helps us focus our energies on taking good pictures.

The feel of film

The best pictures evoke emotion – whether it’s joy or sadness, or the feeling of being there. Film’s grain, color, and distinctive look highlight emotion. It’s nearly impossible to emulate the feel of a film photograph with anything other than actual film.


Kodak Ektar 100 film


Film Removes Distractions

Cameras don’t need to be able to do all that much. Forget GPS, HDR, AEB, and all of the other acronyms because nobody needs those things to take good pictures. Fancy features help sell cameras, and they make us think our current camera is obsolete, even though it isn’t. And if you DO have the latest and greatest, a camera with all the bells and whistles, it’s far too easy to get lost in menu options controlling things you’ll never use anyways. Isn’t it better to get out there and simply take pictures? Film’s general lack of features prevents this problem before it begins.


Tree in Chicago

Chicago, IL on Fuji Velvia film


Film frees us to experience the moment

The first few times you take a picture with film, I guarantee you’ll look down at the camera back to see how it came out. There’s nothing to see though – there’s no LCD screen and no way to see your shot until you get it developed. This frees us of what I call smartphone syndrome, a first world problem where our eyes are always pointed downwards, away from the world and towards the nearest electronic screen.

With film, you’re free to enjoy the moment or take another shot, without wasting time looking at your LCD screen. I use this method as a shooting style for digital cameras too, but it’s admittedly hard not to sneak a peak.


Bruges on Film

Bruges on Film. Fuji Pro 400H + Holga.


Film is just plain fun, and a new project

It just is. Try it out if you haven’t already. You’ll love it.

I’ve set some photography goals for the year, and one of the things I’ve been wanting to do for a while is photograph more of Chicago. I’ll be working on this Chicago project for the next 6 months to a year, shooting medium format film on my Mamiya 645 1000s (pictured above). Look for pictures and posts to come…


Film is fun

Film: it’s fun!

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Comment ( 1 )

  • Ed

    How true! “This frees us of…smartphone syndrome…”. “…our eyes are pointed downwards, away from the world…”

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