Why Shoot Film
Are There Really Any Advantages?
In my years of capturing images with cameras, I have certainly shot & developed plenty of Black & White as well as E-6 Color Reversal Films. As I look at my DSLR of today and notice some really un-matchable features, it makes me wonder even more why would one wish to shoot film:

  • Capture in RAW Mode and have many possible EV settings of the scene for processing.
  • Shoot at any ISO anytime.
  • Alter the Color Balance before or after capture.
  • Clean, Low Noise, night photography.
  • Preview the image after capture.
  • Shoot as many images as you want since there is no cost per frame.

Often I come across an article abut a famous or not so famous photographer shooting 100% film in todays times. Often the case they try to point out is how much better the image is compared to digital. When I read these stories, I wonder just what they have been smoking. Even just today I read an article from a photographer boasting about the 10 reasons he went to film exclusively. But, when he got to the part he said film had more exposure latitude than digital, I pretty much didn't bother to read the rest.

As I have watched the camera industry evolve over the years, it is funny how once we wanted sharper and sharper images. We paid big money for glass that was supposedly sharper than lower cost glass. And when digital came out, we were amazed at how sharp it is and pushed for even more sharpness. And as the cameras progress continued at a frantic pace to make bigger more sharper images, we seem to now feel fond of the soft glow from film images.

Personally, I don't care about which technical attribute about film images or digital captures is best. I see way too many photographers getting so caught up in technical aspects and what is best, what is correct, what is, what is and so forth. And now with the mass of popularity of the DSLR, it seems that photographers are shooting film as sort of a "gimmick" to try and be different or trendy.

The question of why shoot film for me can be broken down into 3 types as well; Color Print Film, Color Reversal Film and Black & White Film. Each of those types of film have certain aspects about them that would cause me to Shoot or Not Shoot them.

Why Shoot Color Print Film?
In one easy answer... Unless it is during the zombie apocalypse and you have no other options, otherwise I will choose to not-shoot Color Print Film (C41 Process). As color print film gets older and older it seems to fade out which makes an exposure that is off by even a full stop to look really crappy and grainy. When you combine the fact that the expired film has lost most of it's "punch" and that finding a lab with fresh chemistry can be hit & miss.

As for processing C41: I can say I have processed C41 before, and will never process it again. It just wasn't as rewarding as it can be processing color reversal or B&W films. But, in contrast to that, I also wish to print any film images I capture due to the abilities I have to print digitally.

Out of the 3 types of film, color print has the least latitude that is printable. I should clarify: printable worth displaying, since about any exposure is technically printable. When you make long exposures on color print film or underexpose, the shadow areas just become a colorful grain/noise.

Over the last few months I have shot several rolls of color print film and have yet to get gallery quality results. What I mean by "Gallery Quality" is an image that I would feel comfortable printing at 12x18 or larger and having one of the galleries that sell my work to display it.

The image of the Morning Glory seen here captured on Portra 400, is about the best film image I have captured through this entire film renaissance I am having. And although it meets a lot of my personal criteria in it's characteristics, I still would not make it an Official Gallery Release. You can also see in the examples of how the image looked as scanned by the lab onto CD compared to my scan of the negative with an EPSON V550 scanner. You can also see my same take on this scene with my DSLR at ISO 1000, which I did make an Official Gallery Release.

So basically... I will not have any desire to shoot color print film!

Why Shoot Black & White Film?
Like many camera peeps, when I got started into the craft of photography, it was Black & White (B&W) film as the film of choice. I chose this type of film mainly because I wanted to also develop and print my own film. I built a darkroom in the garage of my parent's house and just went on from there. Starting out developing rolls of 620 Verichrome Pan Film in a Kodak Brownie.

I spent many many hours in the darkroom playing with the film I had shot and I so wish I still had all the negatives from those rolls of Plus-X and Tri-X I shot. Luckily my brother sent me a box of prints and darkroom notes from 1980. He discovered it in a giant storage chest where my mother had stashed them after I had moved away.

As seen here in this sample are some of those prints and a 12x18 GiClee of "Pondering" that I just recently shot and developed on Tri-X 400 film. You can see hints of similarity some 35 years later in the fact I still prefer shallow Depth of Field, Unusual Subjects and often with Macro Glass. As you look through the prints following the comparison pic above, you can see that over three decades old, there is still quite a bit of silver still on the paper.

Looking through those vintage prints I also realized just how much dust was getting in the way. The great thing about printing them digitally means you can make sure not even one little speck of dust will be on the print. Some folks may like the dust, but my personal preference why I print digital, is to be dust and scratch free.

The reason I would shoot B&W Film...
It's not so much the aspect of the capture, but a lot of the satisfaction from the shoot is in the developing phase. With the use of a changing bag or a darkened room, you can load film in a tank and process it in daylight. In fact the last roll I processed was done in the kitchen with The Walking Dead on Netflix.

After the final rinse and you pull the negatives off the reel to hang them up, and if all went well in capture & developing, then you could see those mystical images of each frame. You sort of get like a mini-rush from the experience knowing that you mixed up chemicals and trusted your ability to process the film.

Chromogenic B&W Film
If you really want to shoot Black & White but don't have the many tools of the darkroom needed to process film, you can shoot one of the many "Chromogenic Films like Kodak BW400CN and Illford XP2 that you can have a commercial lab process for you in traditional C41 color chemistry.

Chromogenic film contains layers of silver halide emulsion, along with dye couplers that form visible dyes from the exposed silver. In processing, the silver image of each layer is first developed. The process subsequently forms dyes only in those areas where silver is present.

As you can see in this first image captured of the vintage Zeiss camera on Kodak BW400CN film that I had a commercial lab process only for me. I then scanned the negatives to 28Mb and took out the slight sepia tint that Chromogenic film has.

When compared to the following images shown here, it would be hard to detect which images were captured on Tri-X or Chromogenic Films.

The third image if this set shows exactly the reason I probably love most about film captures is in the way it captures shallow Depth of Field. The same characteristic also produces highlight details far greater than a single exposure can with a digital camera. That added highlight detail is why film images seem to have a mystical glow about them and why digital images seem to have a sharpened look to them.

I will admit that I seem to work hours to get the DOF just the way I want it with my digital captures, but yet, I don't even want to adjust the highlights and very seldom any shadow details from my film captures. To me, I feel once you start "sharpening" film images you have pretty much eliminated it from being "film like". Film was just a pinch softer than digital images, and thats the way it is. The funny part is that when I begin to adjust sharpness and other aspects of film images, I immediately see that it no longer looks like film.

For me, it gets back to the roots of what first lured me into photography... that was a room with lots of brown glass bottles up on a shelf, a big glow in the dark timer, enlargers and so forth. Aside from the experience of making the captures without seeing a preview image on the back of the camera, the processing steps add so much to the experience.

Analog Develop - Digital Print
While I do enjoy developing the film, and I enjoy analog printing...
I prefer the quality of GiClee Prints I get with my Epson 7880 large format printer compared to traditional analog chemically processed prints. Aside from the fact you will need a almost purely dedicated darkroom to produce great prints efficiently.

This is my personal printing preference since I can eliminate any possible hair or speck of dust, while printing with pigmented inks that are supposed to last hundreds of years.

Also considering the fact I can produce a 24x36 right in my own lab, and on canvas or fine art paper. I can make prints quickly and repeated of the same quality for stocking the inventory of galleries that represent my works.

Another great characteristic about film is, that it does not know how old the camera is as compared to innovations made every few years in digital cameras. In the sample images shown here you can see what a 1971 Nikkormat can produce as good of an image as a 2010 Nikon F100.

Most photo quality printers on the market today for even as low as 100 dollars will produce amazing prints. But if you have the space and the equipment, I can say that printing enlargements in a conventional darkroom is a quite rewarding experience as well.

Why Shoot Color Reversal Film?
Unlike shooting color print film... Shooting and processing color reversal film (slide film), is umpteen times even greater rewarding than processing B&W. E-6 processing is almost as simple as B&W film except the tolerance in the chemistry temperatures is a lot tighter.

Picture that perfect soft fuzzy DOF of B&W film and then add rich color to it... Most definitely processing color reversal film is by far the most rewarding for me. When you finally pull those rolls out of the tank and see all the little color frames of transparencies, you can't help but let off some sighs of joy.

If you have developed B&W film, the experience from developing color reversal film will knock your socks off... It's almost unexplainable.

Those qualities are so evident in this image the Spitfire, the softness of the out-of-focus areas just has a way of blending together in a way that you don't get with digital camera captures.

As you can see from the images following the Spitfire that there are several types of scenes that film may render slightly differently than a digital camera. Especially in nighttime scenes and atmospheric fog. That doesn't mean film is of better quality nor of less quality. More emphasis as to why you would shoot film over digital should center around if you wish to add more craft to the process of your image making.

I think one major component that has been evolved-out of photography is the possibility of error happening that would interfere with the quality of the final image. From the start, even loading the film wrong, there was always many steps along the way that could go wrong. With the progress cameras have advanced to today, it has made the practice of getting great picture quality as simple as buying a camera.

When Not To Shoot Film
There are 2 definite areas of photography that when shooting film you will be at a disadvantage compared to digital cameras.

Nighttime Long Exposures & Macro will prove to be some of the most difficult scenes to capture just as you would wish when shooting film.

The image shown here was not the meter reading my Nikon F100 said to use, in fact I made several manually exposed test shots with my DSLR at ISO 400 so I could shoot the Tri-X 400 film and have a decent exposure. Otherwise I would have just needed to burn the whole roll at various exposures hoping that one of them is like this one.

This is most definitely an area where the DSLR will help you get better results than film could ever imagine. Being able to preview the capture on and LCD screen will help you dial in a good EV much more quickly and accurately. Also with the DSLR, I can shoot at speeds like ISO 3200 and get really clean low noise images.

And as you can see in the macro example in this set, that 2 more stops or more of DOF would have been loved. But a disadvantage to shooting macro with film is the limitations you have with the ISO speeds and doing hand-held captures. When you are on the go shooting with the macro lens and especially if a breeze is blowing, you pretty much will not be able to shoot.

But with the DSLR, I can shoot macro on a walk-about at ISO 1600 or even higher and achieve EV's like 250th - f/32 . Whereas with film in most cases to shoot at f32 will require a tripod due to a non-hand-holdable shutter speed.

So Why Would I shoot Film...
Mainly for the experience of waiting to finish the roll and process it. It's not actually better in any way I can think of that really makes a difference. And of course there is the end result of what you do with your images, and for me the DSLR still provides me with what I need to produce my style of works. Although film does have a high dynamic range, it doesn't have that range in one exposure that you can combine into one exposure when doing HDR with a digital camera, or even exposure blending.

Although there are no quality reasons I would shoot film, but the thrill of the processing is worth the lack of the films capabilities... sometimes

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