If you recognise this image, half photo half nothing then you will remember shooting film. If not then you may have begun your photography in the digital age. There was even someone who published a book of the first frame once the film had been loaded in the camera. Not only will this article remind you or intrigue you, it may get you interested to try out shooting film again or for the first time.
Shooting film is exceptionally rewarding. Without the obvious ability to ‘review’ what we’ve shot, we tend to put more thought and consideration into each and every image that we capture (not least because there’s a financial factor to be considered). If you find photography a mindful exercise, just try shooting film, it’ll greatly intensify this most wonderful of aspects. Additionally, though operating on exactly the same principals as digital, the cameras are so much more straightforward. The camera’s a light proof box which holds the film and contains a shutter mechanism. The lens holds the apertures and manually focuses the light onto the film plane. Simple. That’s all a camera has ever done, and shooting with film reminds us so.
Despite that with digital we can rattle off as many frames as we deem fit to capture the perfect shot (very useful within the commercial arena) we are making fewer albums/prints than ever before… Instead we’re posting online to the tune of around 6 billion images per month to Facebook alone! For this reason it’s hard for ones imagination to compete against these numbers, however our ‘film’ captures certainly stand out against the digital onslaught. It doesn’t seem to matter how clever a post-production digital filter may be, none of them actually compete with the characteristics of film, especially as film images have been undoubtedly exposed through an optic from a bygone era, which in itself applies it’s own ‘filter style’ to the final capture.
For some years now, digital images can be considered perfect 2D renditions of the given scene, colours and contrasts recorded without error, exactly as perceived by the human eye. Very clever indeed but wholly clinical and without soul, perfect for the commercial world, but where’s the charm. It’s the errors which make the medium of film so beautiful, potentially rife with imperfections, particularly in the recording of colour & contrast. Something very interesting about ‘film’ is that each brand (and sub brand) deliberately captures colour and contrast differently so ones’ choice of finish would reflect such. There are many options out there, but essentially the differences boil down to this degree of contrast and colour saturation. So essentially we choose our film stock based upon the desired outcome as we’re not planning to manipulate our (scanned) analogue images in PhotoShop, as they’d be .jpg’s with limited adjustment possibilities, whilst what would be the point, if we wish to change the images flavor we should have shot digital in the first place.
Each roll of film has a prescribed ISO rating, typically 100, 200 or 400, it’s possible to find faster films but they’re rarer these days (and expensive). The lower the number, as with digital, the cleaner the image. Film however displays ‘grain’ (tiny, rather pleasing, sand-like specs) at faster ISO speeds. Digital displaying ‘noise‘ (which as we know, is simply ‘muddy’ and unpleasant). Worth noting though that film will show its grain far sooner than digital its noise.
Black and white film however can usually be exposed at ISO’s of up to ca 6400 (regardless of its actual rating), known as ‘pushing’ the film, this is achieved during a longer processing exposure to the developing chemicals in the lab.
Film comes in two main categories; negatives or transparencies (or slide film – which records the image as a positive) The main difference being their respective exposure latitudes Negative film can be shot at up to 1 stop under or two stops over and still record a perfectly acceptable image, transparency on the other hand has a narrower limit of -1 or +1/2 stops, so requires greater accuracy when metering, which in a sense is closer to the digital images tolerance, although when the latter is captured as a RAW it has considerable more correctional scope within the digital darkroom.
I would say that now is the time to buy a film camera, even though there seems to be a resurgence in shooting film, the train hasn’t quite left the station and second hand 35mm SLR prices are still very reasonable (in 2016 expect to pay ca £35-£50 for a ca 1970’s/80’s camera + 50mm lens, or look in your parents/grandparents attic) though they have doubled in price in the past two years, and as each generation falls in love with the medium, second hand stocks will become scarcer and subsequently more expensive.
Interestingly, December 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the digital camera, which was rather ironically pioneered by Eastman Kodak in 1975 when some clever bods engineered a camera, (weighing in at ca 4kg’s), capable of capturing a 0.01 mp black and white image, subsequently recorded onto a compact audio cassette. However, it wasn’t until the early nineties that digital performance began challenging traditional film at a competitive price-point.
I personally, at the time, was sad about the demise of film, one of it’s absolute beauties for me being its tangibility, being able to hold the image in my hands, pass it round, hold it to the light, this was everything to me. However, I bit the bullet, bought my first digital camera and gradually learnt to love the new medium.
Over the last few years though I’ve been increasingly getting back into film, not because it’s better, but simply very different, both in terms of the finished results but too very much because of its methodology.
Shot on Fuji Sensia ISO 200 print film, with a Zorki 4 rangefinder camera sporting an Industar 50mm f3.5 lens. The image was captured in winter in mid afternoon light (so warm) coming in from the right, there’s a white wall acting as a reflector just out of frame to the left, which has helped even the exposure. Note both the grain and the subtle warm colour cast.