So you want to try film?

Nowadays, a lot of people have taken photos only with digital cameras, but I’ve seen more than a few express an interest in film, wondering what the fuss is all about and why people still use it. Which then raises the question, “should I try film?”

I have to say, the answer is, “YES!”

But Uncle Stevie, the man in the camera shop told me film is dead.
Of course he did! They make more money selling a $2,000 digital camera than selling a roll of film. A lot of consumer level films have been killed off, but for the most part the pro ranges are intact, and these are the films you want to be playing with. In fact, they’re far from gone. Fuji has continued to develop its portrait films, has introduced a brand new slide film, and has reintroduced the discontinued Velvia 50 due to high demand.

But Uncle Stevie, film is too expensive!
It really depends on what you’re doing. Shooting a two day event on film is expensive, hell yeah. That’s the sort of thing where digital comes into its own. But going out on the town, taking some artistic shots, it’s not so bad.
36 frames is plenty. No, you can’t check the viewfinder and retake the shot 100 times until you get it. But what you can do is think about what you’re doing. Really look at the surrounds, see what’s in the viewfinder, think about your aperture and shutter speed, and just nail the shot the first time.
You can buy a brand new Nikon FM10 with lens for $200US. Plenty of fully automatic cameras are for sale second hand for next to nothing. Even with buying the film and getting it processed, even getting a high res scan done, it’s a lot of rolls before you match the cost of a digital, which you’ll probably replace after 18 months in any case.

I’m worried I’ll get the exposure wrong, and I won’t know without an LCD!
You know how your digital camera has that awesome built in meter that gets the exposure just right every time?
Guess what. They were around before digital cameras. Film cameras have built in meters as well, there’s very little that will go wrong. dSLR cameras are designed after film SLR cameras, you just have a lot less buttons to worry about with your film camera!

What film should I use?
You have three options. Slide/transparency film, colour negative and black and white negative.

The colour negative is the typical film most people use/used which you take into the shop and get your photos in an hour. They all use the same chemical processing (C-41), these can be processed and printed in virtually any minilab. While you can get consumer films in this, I’d suggest going for something a little more. My personal favourite are the Fuji portrait films. There’s a huge range available and each with its own characteristics.

Slide, or transparencies are just that. Often mounted and projected straight from the processed film, this is the product of choice for landscape photographers. Very fine grained, these tend to cost a bit more both to buy and process, but the results are well worth it. Films such as Velvia are highly saturated, making colours just pop out of the image, which is why it’s most often used for landscapes. You can have prints done from slides as well. This is the Ilfochrome/cibachrome process, with often stunning results. Like the film, it’s more expensive, but well worth it.

Black and white is probably the easiest option for doing it all yourself. Films, developers, papers and whole darkroom set ups are readily available so you can be a part of the process from start to finish. This is where the magic of photography comes from, seeing an image appear in the dim light of the darkroom. It’s something special.
This is where the most fun is to be had as well. Unlike the other two film types, there’s not one single process to use. There’s a multitude of film developers, each giving a different result with different films. Variable development times also give different results. This continues with a range of different papers, each with different qualities to fine tune your final image.

It sounds difficult, but you just need to start with one film, one developer and master that before trying other products and getting a look which suits. You can experiment and develop your own look, or learn what each result gives and apply the best one to the particular image.

If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there’s always photo labs which will do it for you!

While the answer to should you try film is ‘yes’, there’s no definitive answer to any other question with film. It’s a matter of using the product which best suits what you want to get out of your image making.

If at all possible, DO find a good pro lab. In my experience the staff are often very friendly and helpful, and provide a much better service than a minilab.

The APUG forum is a great place to find information about film and processing, and it has regional forums too, so you can find people in your local area.

Fuji’s film range and information can be found here Kodak here and Ilford’s website is a great resource not only for black and white photo products, but it also has a forum and other helpful information.

So why not give film a go. Who knows, you might fall in love with the magic of film.

Journal Comments

  • Craig Goldsmith
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