Film, and why I like it.

I’ve been shooting a lot of film as of late. Nothing fancy, just standard 35mm film. I have not, nor do I plan to stop shooting digital it’s just that I’ve started shooting film as well. To be honest I don’t even remember why I started shooting film, it just happened one day. I guess it was around the same time Nikon released the D3 and the D700, digital cameras with an image sensor that is the same size as a frame of 35mm film. I got to thinking about the cost of the new digital cameras, $5,000 and $3,000 respectively and I wandered around the internet looking for the cost of color film and Nikon film SLRs that could use the lenses I already own. Up until the release of those cameras all Nikon digital cameras used a image sensor that was smaller then a frame of film. In my searching found that I could get a great film camera that supported all the same lens features of my D300, for which I paid $1,800, for $100.

My D300 is a ‘traditional’ Pro-ish digital camera body. It uses an image sensor that is smaller then the size of a frame of 35mm film and will shoot at about 6 frame per second. It’s also quite good in low light. It works great when I don’t want to think too much about shooting and just want to get the shots. It’s very automated and really allows you to setup the camera and just shoot till your hearts content. The only real drawback is that smaller image sensor means that lens focal length is ‘longer’ then it would be in a film body. Basically, if you use a 50mm lens the sensor size is reduced so that the sensor only captures the center of what your lens could otherwise capture. When you look through the view finder on the camera you see what will be captured so it’s not hard to shoot with but that 50mm lens actually shoots like a 75mm lens would on a film camera. The problem is that wide angles are very hard to come by. A lens that would be incredibly wide on a 35mm film body is really more ‘normal’ looking. A 20mm lens on film is really 30mm on digital. It’s not a problem per say, just a drawback if you are looking to shoot wide angles. The D300 and all digital cameras are also much larger and heavier then their film counterparts.

Now, I love my D300 and have nothing bad to say about it. It’s fast, simple to use and has proven very reliable over the course of this year, and about 20k images. My issue is that the camera allows me to forget about the process of taking pictures and ‘machine gun’ around capturing anything and everything. For somethings, I really like that. If I’m shooting a concert or a sports game I want to be focused on what’s happening, not fiddling with my camera adjusting small minutiae. I want to prep the camera to shoot in a certain way, and I just want it to do that. Truth be told the camera can be setup to shoot all on it’s own with timers and other do-dads. It really allows me the freedom to keep moving and keeping getting ‘keeper’ shots. 90% of the time that is exactly what I want in a camera.

The other 10% of the time though I want to force myself to really get into each shot and think about what I’m doing. I want consequences for not paying attention. For these occasions I want a camera that needs me to be there to make the shot happens. I will mention here that D300 has fully manual exposure modes that can force you to make changes shot to shot. I know that. I sometime want even more though. Sometimes, I want to crank the film to the next frame and reset the shutter. Sometimes I want to be forced to focus manually. Truly, what I am looking for though is limitations. I want to make a decision as I walk out the door and then no matter what happens once I start shooting, I have to make what I brought with me work. It’s the difference between shooting to gather images, or enjoying the company of my fellow photographer friends, and shooting to enjoy the process of making images.

For me, I’m the most relaxed and am enjoying photography most when I have my Nikon FE and a couple prime lenses in my pocket. This isn’t a ‘look at me’ sort of thing, nor is it me being a masochist, it’s simply the pleasure of having to slow down. I live in a very fast paced world and it’s not often I can really slow down a bit and just be. Photography is very fun to me and bringing the pace down has made it even more so.

As an extension of that I have also begun developing my own film. To date I’ve only developed black and white film and while some consider the medium to be pretentious, the fact of the matter is it’s much, much simpler to do at home then color film is. All you need is a few jugs, a home development setup and some chemicals. With a little mixing and a timer you can develop film at home without any real effort and very little cost both upfront and over time. I thought I would need a dark room just to develop the film but the only thing that needs to be done in the dark is loading the film onto a spool and for that I have a little light tight collapsible box that makes the process easy.

I’m looking forward to taking the next step and beginning to make my own prints and enlargements in a dark room. I’ve never done that before, but I had never shot film before, or developed film before either so I’m not too worried. Odds are the internet will have plenty of help to guide me along and freecycle will continue to provide me with a steady stream of items to keep the cost down.

I was writing up a long explanation about the costs of both film and digital and the difference in how each one looks but really, that isn’t what this is about. My choice to shoot film sometimes has very little to do with how one looks compared to the other or how well they respond in different situations. Photography is strictly a hobby of mine. I’m not a pro shooting under a tight deadline. I’m out there simply to enjoy the sights and take a little of it back with me.

I plan attempt to detail my process developing film and making prints but there is so much info out there, I’m not sure I need to add it to the pile. Well see… at the very least some scans will show up here and in my gallery though I’m sure.


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