You might think that the digital revolution would do to film cameras what the invention of the car did to the horse and cart - limit their use to fundamentalist religious groups and those in the third world unable to afford a digital option - so how come film is still around, still being produced, and still used by an increasing number of people? I'm going to give you some reasons why I shoot a lot of film, maybe I'll convince you to dust off your mum's old AE-1P along the way.
'Film is expensive, you have to pay for each roll!'
Yes, you do have to pay for each roll and unless you have the tools to develop the film yourself you also have to factor in paying someone to develop it for you. However your average entry level film camera costs a fraction of what you'd pay for a DSLR and the legacy lens options are often a noticeable step above cheap low-quality lenses.
In the same vein, older SLR bodies are likely to be tougher and more resistant to knocks and scrapes when compared to their digital successors. Entry level DSLRs use a lot of plastic in their construction and are prone to damage which the older generation could easily shrug off. Sure you're going to have to take weight into account with full-metal-bodies, but the freedom to chuck it (in a non-literal sense) into your day bag and not have to worry about it getting too close to your car keys might outweigh this.
The 'sensor', or in this case film-area onto which your image is exposed, is important in considering the final image. Detail, contrast and depth of field are all advantageously affected by larger sensors, and most people shooting a 'crop' sensor have a mind to eventually upgrade. Film grants access to 36x24mm from the get-go, and at a fraction of the cost. Modern Digital Medium format options can set you back the price of a car, not so with film.
- Your average Entry-Level DSLR shoots an image on a 25.1 × 16.7 mm sensor.
- Your average Higher-End DSLR shoots a 36×24 mm and often retails for at least $1500.
- All 35mm Film cameras shoot at 36×24 mm, and can be picked up for $100 or less.
- Medium Format Digital cameras shoot 60x45mm and cost upwards of $5000
- Medium format Film cameras can shoot up to (and above) 60x70mm and start at $300.
If you're looking to upgrade your sensor, give film a chance.
Imagine spending the day in town: You're channeling your inner Cartier-Bresson and looking to take candid street scenes but as soon as you lift your DSLR to your face you're treated with worried glances and people asking 'Excuse me are you trying to take my picture?'. The hefty black bodies are often reacted to with negativity, and this can hamper your efforts and ruin potential shots. Shooting film removes an element of this, so long as you're not invading people's personal space (or using your telephoto in a playground) you're granted a 'quirky photographer' card - a lot better than the 'prying weirdyman' card. Added advantage: Once you've taken a photo you don't have to show everyone and face the inevitable 'that's not a good one of me can you take another one?', ... or be asked to delete things.
Colour Film and editing:
People have started spending large amounts of money to make their digital photos resemble colour film, why not just start at square one - shoot colour film!
There's a certain quality to film colour rendition that digital sensors can't provide. Film grain beats digital noise any day of the week, and the colour tones digital cameras provide take a great amount of detailed effort in Lightroom to correct. Colour temperature, tone curves, noise reduction are all examples of tools used by digital photographers you just won't need shooting film. It's not as if Lightroom is the fun part of photography, do you want to be in the queues at Alton Towers or do you want to be on the rides?
Shooting film is a learning experience:
Taking digital pictures and immediately reviewing them on your LCD is likely to lead to a degree of stagnation when it comes to your skills as a photographer. Why meter correctly if you can just review the image and bump your iso as necessary? Why use anything but AF-A when you can take 60 photos and pick the best of the bunch back at home? Why compose a scene when you can compose *every* scene visible from your viewpoint and choose your favourite of 500 images at home on your couch.
Film slows you down. 36 shots per roll, no review, no immediate confirmation. You'll focus slower, choose your settings with care and compose with a degree of consideration above what you end up doing digitally, and all this will help you as a photographer.
At this point you might feel I'm some zealot who scorns all digital media, one of those people who only listens to music via organic vinyl LPs.... You've got me wrong. I shoot both formats, I have digital kit and I have film kit and I pick which feels right for an occasion. Occasionally I'll be somewhere and think to myself that I'd rather have bought the 'other' kit bag, and more often than not this will happen hundreds of miles away with no chance of returning home and switching out.
There are some things film is awful at too: Need high shutter speeds in low light? Digital is better. Need high fps? Digital. Travelling for an extended period of time? Digital. Want to record video on your camera? You get the idea.
All I'm saying is this: Give film a go. You might love it, you might hate it, you might instantly sell your D800 and buy a Pentax 6x7. If you're interested in photography, the history of photography or just taking nice pictures and you've never shot a roll try it out! You don't know what you're missing.