This post also appears on my Tumblr.
I’ve been pretty interested in photography for the last seven or so years now. I started shooting on a Canon Digital Rebel (300D) as a senior in high school, then before long I got a Canon AE-1 Program off eBay to experiment with, since then I’ve picked up a variety of film cameras; Argoflex 75 (my grandma’s TLR c. 1950), FED 5B, Polaroid, Hasselblad, and a few others.
I made the “retrograde” transition to film because I had come across a number of photographers online using film and there was something about the quality of photo that I wanted to emulate, and I was kinda a gear junkie at the time so I figured I should get somewhat similar equipment to try to get somewhat similar results. Another factor in the transition is that I’m a very do-it-yourself guy, I enjoy working with my hands and thus I enjoy the hands-on nature of film. Plus I enjoy doing some things as they were done in the past, somewhat “getting back to the roots,” which developing my own film contributes to nicely.
I digress. The reason I’m writing this is to express my frustration for a select group of people and those people would be the individuals that praise the virtues of film and regard digital as being of little worth anytime the subject of “Which one should I use?” comes up. To always say “oh, film is the way to go” each and every time – especially to beginners of photography – is a bit much, and I think harms the photography community at large.
There are benefits to each type of photography; film and digital definitely have their places.
If someone who was just starting to learn about photography came up to me and asked what kind of camera they should use, I would whole-heartedly recommend a digital camera. A lot can be learned from a simple $250 digital point and shoot these days; all sorts of settings can be adjust to teach the basics of what changes in aperture and ISO do and how to compose properly. Trial and error is the name of the game in learning the basics, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Whereas learning on a film camera can get costly. Say you shoot 25 rolls of film on your new-from-ebay $50 35mm film SLR. That’ll cost you $3 per roll of film (conservative), plus $5 to develop per roll (also conservative), for a grand total of $375 for 2700 shots – in just film and processing costs – just to learn the basics and you don’t even get to see how small changes in aperture/ISO/composition affect the final shot right away. Then you need to scan them to get them in the computer, which means extra cost by way of a film scanner or having the lab do it for you. Don’t think otherwise, film photography is not cheap and is not getting any cheaper.
Disregarding the cost of learning, I don’t see a big draw or need to learn photographic skills using film to begin with when digital makes things so easy and cheap. You could equate it to learning to drive an automatic transmission car before taking on the extra challenge of learning to drive a manual. Get the basics down and then go from there. Once you have the basics down and are ready to enter the varied world of film: have a blast fiddling around cause man, there is a lot of fiddling around to be done.
Some things I commonly hear:
“You can make bigger prints from a 35mm negative, than a digital photo.” For the time being, yes, this is technically true, but the gap is getting narrower every day. And really, how many people are actually printing their photos bigger than A4? A very, very small portion, and for those people film might be the only economical option, but in reality what percentage of photographers is this an issue?
“Grain is better than noise.” Sure, grain is preferable to noise. But that’s why you learn to shoot properly to eliminate noise in the first place.
“Film photography is more credible as art.” Now that’s a slippery slope there. Might as well debate “what is art.”
“Digital photography isn’t real photography.” Yes. Yes it is. Is a movie only a movie if it’s recorded on a traditional film camera? No. With digital photography you’re still taking a light-sensitive surface, exposing it, and making an image. That fills the definition. It’s called progress. You wouldn’t say film photography isn’t real photography because it’s isn’t a daguerrotype.
I see people put film up on a pedestal all the time, and usually it’s the people that start using film to be different. The people that think creating art in a more labor intensive way gives more significance to their art. The people you see on Tumblr (in bunches) and Flickr (in hordes) with their double-exposed, cross-processed, holga shots on deadstock taking themselves way too seriously. Film is just a medium in photography, much like pens and pencils are different media in the drawing world. To claim one isn’t legitimate, hell, to even claim one is more artistically more valid is more than naïve.
To the film purists that claim film to be superior to digital in most regards: get a life.
You can take some great photos with digital, and you can take some pretty shitty photos with film and vice versa. It’s all about knowledge and skill. Don’t limit yourself to one media because you’re doing just that, limiting your options. A few classic sage words: Use the right tool for the job.
I’m going to continue to shoot film because I enjoy the process and all the stuff that goes with it. But I will always have my digital camera(s) for when the moment warrants.
- – - -
Related future rants: Hipsters and film cameras. “Lomo.”