If you look around the internet you will find what almost appears to be a bit of a film renaissance. People all over the internet are adding film back into their photography. It seems people are not abandoning digital for film, they are simply adding film to how they work. While the end result between digital and film are the same, pictures, they both have various strengths and weaknesses that can and should be exploited.
Digital is really great at a lot of things and I shoot 75% of my work on my Nikon D300. You can make thousands of tweaks to the camera, change the ISO speed at any time and can see what your shots look like right now. All of these things are really beneficial and if you are a professional out shooting a wedding or a fashion shoot these features make all the difference in the world.
If, however, you are a amateur photographer, like myself, speed and efficiency is not always the name of the game. If I’m out for a walk and want to do some shooting, efficiency is less of an issue. Quality and enjoyment are what I am after. There is something incredibly satisfying about pressing the shutter release button and then hearing the motor wind crank forward on my Nikon N80 film SLR.
Something else that film offers me, by way of using my Nikon FE, is a very tactile process of making an image. The FE is a film camera that has no automation to speak of. I manually load the film, focus the lens, set exposure, take the picture and then wind the film forward for each shot. It’s not the camera I grab when I’m shooting sports or want to be able to shoot fast, it’s the camera I grab when I want to slow down. It forces you to commit to the image before you take it. While you are doing all of the things it takes to setup the camera you have an extra 2 seconds to be really looking through the viewfinder. The FE is also built like a tank, they don’t make ’em like they used to, and it’s the camera I’m mostly likely to do crazy things with. I’m more worried about breaking the pavement then I am the body…
I’ve also found the images I get from my film cameras to be more pleasing to my eye. The colors tend to pop more in the image without looking garish as they can on digital. The film grain on my goto film, Fuji Superia 400 ($2 for 36 exposures), is very neutral and soft. The D300’s digital noise, while very good for a digital camera, is obvious to me and distracting. It’s the same with the audible noise you get from analog tape versus digital recording. One is pleasing to the ear, the other is harsh and intolerable.
I should also point out that buying a 35mm film camera is cheap. I bought a Nikon N80 for $100. It supports all the major features you could ever want in a Nikon, the AFS focus motors, vibration reduction, and loads of late model lenses dating back to before I was born. It’s also small and light weight, it makes my Nikon D40 look like a brick, let alone the beast that is the D300. I thought digital technology was supposed to make things smaller.. not heavier and larger!
I paid about $1800 for the D300 body alone, no lens, which seems to ridiculous to me now. With the Nikon N80 at $100, that leaves me $1700 for film and developing. That would equal 13,600 frames of my favorite 35mm film, developed, before the cost was the same. Add in the cost of the accessories the D300 needs just to shoot, like expensive large capacity, fast, CF cards and the numbers skew ever more in favor of the film camera.
For me though, at the end of the day it’s not about the cost, though keep it low is always welcome. Both digital and film are affordable for most people these days. Go down to walmart and spend $100 on a digital point and shoot pocket camera and you can still take excellent images. For me it’s about the experience. I find getting out there and shooting to be very relaxing and film only adds to that experience.
I’m not saying you should chuck your digital and shoot all film. Quite the contrary. Shoot you digital when the speed and efficiency make the most sense. When you are out for a walk and looking to relax and enjoy, grab the film camera. I’ve been a Nikon shooter for several years to I have a decent heap of lenses and since Nikon has never changed their lens mount it’s not hard to find lenses that work on both film and digital cameras. With the exception of the 18-55mm kit lens that came with my D40, all of my other lenses work great on my film cameras. There are few things as satisfying to me as dropping a couple prime lenses in my pockets and heading out for a walk with no camera bag and having everything I need.