With Kodak trying to sell their film division I woke up this morning with the urgent idea that we only have a short time left to work with film cameras in a meaningful way...

This is my primary film shooting camera. It's a late model Hasselblad 501 CM camera body with an A12 film back, a waist level finder and an 80mm f2.8 Zeiss Planar lens. Most people today would find it kludgy, slow and difficult to shoot with. They would also find its rarified diet of medium format film  expensive and off putting. I'm not sure I disagree. But when I look beyond the need to meter, to manually focus and to compose on a screen with a reversed image I come to grips with the understanding that these impediments are actually leverage points for mindful photography.

To commit to using a medium format film camera is to open one's self up to the possible satori that comes from diligently working with actual intention.  I don't mean that I lack intention when I pick up a digital camera and go out to shoot for business but I have come to understand that the tyranny of endless choice with no immediately discernable costs waters down the most important aspect of interesting personal photography: making a strong choice.

You've heard the brutally overused saw which says, "If you give someone a hammer then everything looks like a nail." I have a photographic corollary that says, "If you give a photographer a big empty memory card everything looks like a photographic opportunity." Paying for film and processing, and the tougher physical process of making an image with a medium format film camera re-introduces the need for discernment and positive discrimination. Since you feel the cost of the material and time you are apt to more carefully select both your subject and your optimum moment.

At this point the same linear people who always chime in are warming up their keyboards to tell me that they are able to focus their energies and concentration so well (and effortlessly) that they can leave their homes with a digital camera and a 64 gigabyte memory card and very easily (and I'm sure with rigorous logic and rational control) come back at the end of the day with only one or two shot frames; if that's what they planned for at the outset.  Please don't bother to chime in.  In a very real sense, no matter how the hopelessly pragmatic choose to spin their regimented methodology the rest of us understand that the ability to rationalize choices hardly makes them either universal or understandable to the rest of us.

When I shoot with a digital camera I am routinely driven to shoot 200 frames to make one portrait because I'm convinced that I can play the numbers and wear the subject into submission by a process of inundation. No similar workflow happens when I shoot slow film. I must slow down. I must give more thought to each shot and I must make choices about when to shoot and when to stop and look and explore and engage my subject.

If you've read my blog over the past few years it's no secret that I end up shooting all or most of my commercial jobs with digital cameras but that I have a real affinity for the magical aspect ratio of the square and the wonderful tonality of the raw, square "footage" big film provides. While the number dweebs are captivated by sheer resolution I am captivated by the infinitely smooth tonality that film brings to the table.  We could address it as dynamic range but I prefer to describe the effect as extended tonal range.

When I shoot for myself my first choice is always the Hasselblad. I may miss moments because of the operational slowness of the camera and that's okay.  Like a powerful boxer when the Hasselblad does connect with the right image at the right time it's a total knock out. I hate paying for film and processing as much as the next guy but sometimes you have to in order to get exactly the look you want.  We gave up too much when we gave up on medium format film for our dearest work. If you have a rationalization for why you enjoy digital better you might think of this analogy that a highly successful female photographer once told me when I asked her why she was still carrying around her medium format camera.

She said, "The difference between a big, wonderful film camera and a digital camera is like the difference between one of those all you can eat buffets and really fine dining. In the bargain buffets the people rush to the serving lines and pile their plates high with lots and lots of mediocre food. Then they sit down and stuff themselves. It's hardly a unique experience, not one you'll remember with fondness, and nothing stands out as special. But, in a really fine restaurant with a talented and artistic chef you go for the experience of trying delicacies and masterpieces. You will not fill your plate but you will have a unique experience, the flavors of which will infuse and enrich your life, and memories, for years to come."

She went on to say as she put her camera into a straw basket and got ready to bike home, "I can't always afford the fine dining experience. Sometimes I just need to eat because I'm hungry. So we need both kinds of restaurants. But the times when art meets food are the times when I feel like I've had an experience that will subtly change my life. The rest of the times I'm just placated until I'm hungry again and go off to refill my plate with inconsequential food."

"But what does this have to do with my question?" I asked.

As she peddled off on her bicycle she turned over her shoulder and suggested, "Isn't photography a lot like food?"

Blogs like this (about film and digital) seem  to attract comment wars wherein the old codgers who are zealous converts rush to the defense of digital by trotting out their litany of aches and pains and how digital brought the joy of their photography back. Younger people comment about people in the generations above them who just don't get that digital is a whole different medium and one that no one above their station in age can possibly understand.

I like to think that we deserve to be open to both experiences. The experience of economy and heedless speed as well as the experience of slow, mindful craft.  And if we (the majority of artists) have problems with self imposed boundaries maybe the difference between the digital and the film cameras helps us to change gears in our minds and in our artistic spirits and bring to bear the right  mental point of view that lets us divide our art into categories such as practical and unfettered; quick versus slow, methodical versus flippant, immersed versus surface infatuation and so on.

The realization that Kodak is exiting the film business tells me that we have very few years left in which to shoot and have our films lab processed at a reasonable cost. I, for one, want to take the opportunity to shoot film until it vanishes.  There might always be film as there is still vinyl but the lack of access and the high costs might become to overwhelming to most photographer and we'll have lost another set of tools and aesthetics in our chosen art.

I am curious to know from my readers: Do you still shoot film? Have you ever shot film? If you've been engaged in photography for a while have you switched totally to digital or do you still  have a foot in both camps? If you still shoot film what are your favorite emulsions and how do you see film as different, artistically, from digital?

I've just taken possession of a beautiful, black 501C Hasselblad and a new lens and prism finder. I'll be selling my earlier black 500CM body and back (no lens) in short order. Stay tuned for more information.


Marco Venturini-Autieri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marco Venturini-Autieri said...

"I am curious to know from my readers:" thanks for asking!

I do a little microstock. As far as I know, there are very few people who do new microstock with film: I am one of them :-) I don't just scan old archives, but every week I try to make something new with my Nikon FM2n, Bronica SQ, Canon EOS 1n, and Olympus XA. Yes, I do also use the Sony NEX-5 but almost exclusively for when shooting in studio (Studio? Let's say: at home ;-) )

John Labovitz said...

I only shoot film. Since I found my magic Rolleiflex about fifteen years ago, most of it has been medium-format, on a variety of cameras (including a Hasselblad), with a few excursions into larger and smaller formats.

I love the fact that film is so intentional. Before I shoot a single image, I must decide whether I'm shooting B&W or color (usually the former); whether HP5, Tri-X, Acros, or Portra (among still many others); which developer (Xtol? HC-110? Diafine?). In a way, I have *more* choices than when using a digital camera's single, fixed sensor, but the choices are still fairly limited, and I execute the choice when it's necessary. Waiting to make creative decisions until later has never appealed to me. (I see the same problems in digital music recording, where the convention is to record everything "straight" and then figure out how to process it when mixing.)

I've tried digital cameras a few times, sometimes for as long as several months, but was never happy with either the process or the pictures. There was always something missing, and whenever I went back to film I found that intangible feeling again. So I've given up on digital, except for very utilitarian purposes like using my my phone to shoot items being put up on eBay or Craigslist.

Recently, I've gone crazy (;-) and re-discovered 35mm cameras. It's my version of the digital advantages: compact, transparent (this is an old fully-mechanical M2 rangefinder), high-capacity (36 exposures!). I love going on a walk and exploring the city in the space of those 36 frames...


Jessica Sweeney said...

I'm a young photographer who grew up digital but has started to play with film (not medium format yet, just 35mm for now, but I still love the tonality). Do I want to shoot everything on film? No way Jose! I certainly wouldn't want to go to a wedding with 25 rolls of film and no LCD screen to check anything on.

But for my personal work, or part of a portrait session, film makes me happy, it makes me slow down and focus, evaluate the light more carefully, and it fulfills me. So I'm going to keep shooting both as long as I can.

Anonymous said...

I am a keen amateur photographer and still use film quite regularly. I have several 35mm cameras (Canon FD, Canon EOS, Olympus 35RC) and a Yashicamat 124 medium format camera. I do shoot colour but I have to admit that digital is probably more convenient and cheaper. However, I do enjoy shooting black and white film. I develop it in the kitchen with Kodak D76 stock and scan on my Epson scanner. Now I just want to save up for a Hasselblad and a 150mm lens so that I can try to get the same sort of portraits Kirk does.

I like Tri-X and HP5. I've also tried a few others but I think I should just pick one and stick to it. Probably Tri-X.

cidereye said...

Shoot film still, every single week of the year both 35mm & 120. I prefer the whole process of film photography period from start to finish especially MF.

Not shot film for over a week though while I've been playing around with my NEX-7 but the main joy of using that has been it's excellent performance with older legacy lenses and the variety of adapters out there to play around with.

Fave films? B&W Neopan 400 for 35mm & 400 CN for 120 though I do of course love Tri-X. Colour = Portra 120 & 400 for both 35mm & 120, the 120 versions being sublime.

"how do you see film as different, artistically, from digital?" - Easy answer for me, I find digital images far too clean. So often digital images look like a CCTV screen capture. Sure with PP you can change wall that but film produces my vision for a shot (as envisioned when I took the shot more often than not)instantly with only a few minor adjustments in PP usually.

Unknown said...

I'm on my third year of photography as a serious hobby, and I spent most of the second year shooting black-and-white film – inspired directly by your comments about film, and by Mike Johnston’s editorials about how everyone should spend a year with an M6. Tri-X captures human character better than anything else I’ve tried, T-Max 100 gives me strong shapes in bold light, and T-Max 400 pulls the emotion out of dark, humid days with delicate clouds and fog. Development courtesy a local Seattle lab a few blocks from my house. The 6MP "basic JPG" scans I get back from the lab so often have a texture and sharpness and character that I haven't been able to match from my other format of choice, Micro Four Thirds. Among my friends (who tend to tote big Nikons or tiny Sony Cybershots), I was the one oddball clutching a film Leica.

Then after about a year of that, my wife (who has formal art training) convinced me that if I really wanted to improve the quality of my work, I had to try my hand at printing. She was right, of course - even if the screen is my final destination, printing and evaluating and re-evaluating and re-printing has helped me steadily improve at all phases; even though I only have time to go shooting perhaps twice a month, the time spent grappling back and forth between Lightroom and physical print gives me a greater sense of purpose and more concrete ideas about what to look for and pay attention to next time I go out with the camera. This in turn drives me to really learn the capabilities of my cameras so that what I get back from the field is closer to what I want to print. The more time I spend in this learning cycle, the less I find myself reaching for the Leica. I don’t really have a well-defined artistic ‘vision’ or ‘voice’ yet, I’m still learning to think about what kinds of scenes have what kind of emotional impact. In this exploratory phase, RAW files give me so many more options and possibilities.

I’m a little saddened that by the time I get past this particular phase and have a stronger sense of what I want to say and how I want to say it, film may not be a viable option for me. When I take a look at the pictures from my honeymoon to Japan last year, taken on T-MAX, they’re too perfect for words.

kirk tuck said...

Fun to hear this. I owned a Bronica SQ for a while and found it to be a really nice system. Thanks for responding!

kirk tuck said...

Sigh, I love the self-imposed discipline of 12 or 36 frames. And I regret ever selling my old M2.

kirk tuck said...

Beautifully said.

Wally Brooks said...

4X5 sheet film Ilford HP5 @iso 300. 14 minutes normal development in zone system parlance. D 76 diluted 1:3. 5 film holders (10 sheets of film) is all that I carry. When shooting at dawn you learn to wait for the light. Oh MF! You also get to say: I don’t shoot anything that small! Digital with flash shot in manual mode is for my grandkids running around.

Tom Barry said...

I am an enthusiast only, but have been one for more than 60 years, so for most of my life film was my only medium. I still think film, particularly monochrome, can have aesthetic and technical superiority, but today my primary medium is digital. The Kodak news does encourage me to use my film cameras more frequently while I can still do so without much inconvenience and now that the weather in the Austin area is moderating, I think I will buy some monochrome film and break out one or two of the film cameras and try some contemplative shooting.

Jim said...

The hopeful part is that they are selling their film and paper business not shutting it down. Of course there are those other film manufacturers too so even if they shut it down it just means more business for the competitors which means greater likelihood that they will survive. FWIW I have been shooting Ilford film for years. I can't remember when I last bought a yellow box of film.

Dave Jenkins said...

I don't shoot much film, but when I do, it's usually transparency film in a twin-lens reflex. Fuji recently discontinued Astia, my favorite, so I'll have to make do with Provia and a skylight 1A or an 81A filter.

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

I started with 35mm film when I was around 20 or so (not counting the box-type cameras I had before). Photography as permanent brain tattoos as you called it. A-1 with 28, 50, and 135mm lenses.

Now, additional to the E-520 and a E-PL1 Pen I bought an OM-2N. Would love to have a MF film camera, but the OM-2 is nice as well.

When I cleared my backpack of some stuff yesterday, I found myself putting the color negative film out, and keeping Agfa, Kodak, and Ilford B&W films in. Just love those.

Film is different in that it makes you think and select. I mostly take portraits of our daughter or other people with film. While digital can make one a happy snapper, doing it with film brings back much of the artistic side of photography. You just press the shutter when you're really happy about what you see, not earlier. Anticipation of that right moment is so great. Sometimes you miss it of course, but when it all comes together it's a knock-out indeed.

Eric said...

I'm pretty close to your age, so started out (recreationally) with film, switched to digital when it came out (largely driven by family snapshots, but later worked up to shooting stock for Getty), and am now tinkering with film on the side. Bought a good used Hasselblad 500CM, still have my Olympus OM-1 (my first "real" camera), and have picked up some Polaroid cameras for fun / retro art.

So the Kodak news is sad, but hopefully their retail film line will be purchased by somebody that actually knows how to run a business, if only a smaller one. Meanwhile, if you think shooting film is pricey -- try shooting Polaroid!

Ira said...

I started with film but I didn't get serious about photography until I got my first DSLR. I didn't truly understand the effects of various apertures or shutter speeds until I spent some time shooting digitally because I never had the discipline to log my settings with film. I knew wider apertures gave me less depth of field but I never developed a sense of which aperture would give me the effect I wanted. In that regard, I think digital was invaluable.

I still shoot both film and digital, depending on my mood and what I'm shooting. I've recently started doing my portrait shoots on 35mm Tri-X and I'm thrilled with the results. Part of it is the shallower DOF compared to my APS-C camera but I think the slower process really does improve the end result. I pray that someone will pick up where Kodak leaves off--I don't want to live in a world without Tri-X.

Bat54 said...

" Like a powerful boxer when the Hasselblad does connect with the right image at the right time it's a total knock out. "

Kirk, one of your earlier posts had portraits of Lou taken with digital and with the Hasselblad. The Hassy was the total knock out as far as I'm concerned.

I used to shoot with Hasselblad 500cm, 80mm and 150mm and Nikon Fm2n. Sold to go digital...wish I still owned them.

I actually don't miss the hassle of the darkroom much, but the prints from the Hasselblad are hard to match. The only film camera I own now is an Olympus XA that belonged to my mother. It has a roll of Ilford B&W film sitting in it right now that is half exposed and has been that way for months because I just never think about it.

Dillon said...

I'm 23 so I started shooting with digital. In college I shot with 35mm and medium format on a borrowed Rolleiflex. The Rolleiflex was rather clunky but still fun to use.
Now I use my Olympus 35RC for hiking and off the beaten path trips. It's nice not to have to worry about batteries and the little 35RC is a joy to use. I'd use it even more but the meter is off so I have to rely on the sunny 16 rule which for me means shooting in daylight only.

kirk tuck said...

Dillon, if you have an iPhone there's a light meter app that works well and is free. I use it sometimes with my Hasselblad and it's usually right on the money.

Jeff Damron said...

I spent my first 19 years in photography with a Minolta SRT202, which was bought new for me when I was in high school. But recently I have been growing increasingly weary of the the digital merry-go-round of "new and improved" cameras every other week. I'm seriously considering selling DSLR kit on ebay and going analog again, including putting my enlarger back up and getting my darkroom going again - "darkroom" being a little extravagant for a description since it is also our utility and laundry room. But I have found that trays of chemicals rest just fine on the washer and dryer. I have to say that the last few years I was shooting film I was using all Ilford materials and I will probably return to that as I have always been impressed by Ilford's dedication to black and white.

Matthew Wagg said...

I don't think that Kodak exiting film will be the deathnell of film. Sure some of the very best emulsions will be lost. Tri-x and Portra but where they are gone we have Ilford to take up the slack. Ilford also make some amazing emulsions so I'm not that worried about losing Kodak film. Though I do love Tri-x and it will be missed Hp5 is just as good.

As you might guess I do shoot film almost exclusively now. At least for my important stuff anyway. I agree totally with what you said about film being like fine dining. I'd actually go a little further and say its like being a cordon bleu chef and making your own fine cusine.

Matthew Wagg said...

I've used my apps for metering and they are pretty accurate. I've measured it with my selenium cell, my sekonic and my digital. They're well worth the download.

Anonymous said...

I haven't shot 6x6 since the 1970s. But I've shot a lot of 35mm Ekta Press 400, Fuji Press 400, Ektar 100, TriX, P3200 and BW400CN. P3200 and BW400CN are my present favorites. The thing I like about P3200 is it can be pulled to ISO 800 and pushed beyond ISO 3200 when needed.

My main problem with 35mm film is sometimes it takes me several weeks, or more, to take 36 shots. Other times I'll go through 3 cassettes (108 shots) in a day. I tend to shoot with a purpose, and do almost no street photography, YMMV.

I've started to experiment with B&W digital and so far most of the software conversions (Snapseed, Flare, etc) leave me cold. Using 0-hue and curves in Digital Photo Pro and Pixelmator seem to work best.

I have a local lab that can make silver prints from B&W digital files, so I may sell my four film cameras if I can get the look I like from B&W digital.

For iOS photographers, check-out Hueless at the app store.

BTW the light meter app also works well on an iPod Touch 4G.


Jeff Damron said...

Given tne number of times it usually takes me to get a comment posted on Blogger these days, I think I may be a robot.

kirk tuck said...

Take a big competitor out of the market and the prices will go up quickly. That's something to keep in mind. I'm sure we'll find out where the ultimate tipping point is pretty quickly.

kirk tuck said...

Jeff, what's the problem?

Carlo Santin said...

I shoot both film and digital. I much prefer the results I get with film, 35mm but especially 120. It just has a look to it that I find appealing and that speaks to me.

I recently purchased my first TLR, a Yashica 24. I gives me beautiful 6x6 negatives. It is quite an experience looking down into the big focusing screen to compose the image. I thought it would be similar to looking at an LCD screen but it is altogether different. It's like you can see your photograph, exactly what it will look like, before you press the shutter.

I also learned how to develop my own black and white film. I've picked it up quickly and find it to be rather enjoyable. I feel much more connected to my photographs, much more invested in them, and the process of developing has made me a more thoughtful photographer. I'm going to learn how to print from a negative next and am currently researching photo enlargers and the whole darkroom process. There aren't many labs where I live that will do this kind of work so I figure I might as well learn how to do it myself. Lots to learn, and this is where the convenience of digital is always pulling at me.

Jan Klier said...

The Kodak announcement is a bit hard to decipher. You may be interested in this comment on a separate forum from a Kodak rep:

"Please be assured that Kodak's motion picture films are not part of this announcement. Motion Picture will remain with the company as the largest driver of film manufacturing volume. Film manufacturing is not included in the sale. It will remain within the Graphics, Entertainment and Commercial Films group, including consumer and professional still film.

In addition to manufacturing film, we are pursuing market demands that will utilise our technologies for a variety of alternative and exciting products. This includes Functional Printing applications as well as Thin Film and Specialty Chemicals growth opportunities.

And if you haven't caught up with this news yet, we have just launched a new Kodak Asset Protection Film, an affordable, innovative color film solution optimised for content owners who originate or finish their productions on digital formats and want to protect their valuable media for the future."

-- Ingrid Goodyear of Kodak, posted in CML forum

Craig said...

While I do own a digital camera (an Olympus E-P2, which I almost always shoot with old manual-focus primes on adapters), most of my photographs are made with manual-focus film cameras such as the Nikon F2 and F3. I love the look of film and the experience of shooting with film and that sort of camera. I also have a Hasselblad 500C/M for those occasions when I want the square format or the extra detail of the larger negatives.

To my mind, the camera industry jumped the shark somewhere around 1985. Cameras got uglier (blobs of half-melted black plastic); unnecessary, battery-draining features were added such as autofocus, built-in advance/rewind motors, and LCD displays; and cameras became harder to use as they became more and more software-driven and needed complex menu systems to configure a plethora of settings.

One reason for the insane collection of optional settings in modern cameras is excessive automation. A purely manual camera forces the user to make decisions for himself. When the camera takes over, it then needs more options to enable the user to regain control of the result. A purely manual camera does not need an exposure compensation setting, for example, nor does it provide multiple AE modes to choose between. A digital camera without AE, AF, or video capture, that produced only raw files, would be orders of magnitude simpler than today's DSLRs and MILCs. Whether anyone but me would buy it is another question, of course.

As for film, I mostly shoot Tri-X, though Ilford HP5+ is a fine B&W landscape film and I also shoot FP4+ or Plus-X when I want slower film. For color, Provia 100F or Velvia 50. TMax 3200 when shooting in the dark (at speeds from 800 to 6400 depending on the exact lighting).

dd-b said...

Long-time crazed amateur ("very serious" isn't really accurate :-) ). I have negatives going back to 1962, started doing my own darkroom work in 1968 and got an SLR in 1969.

First digital in 2000, first DSLR in 2003, and almost no film since then. Got rid of most of the film bodies most of a decade ago, except I do still have the 4x5.

For me, film was always about fighting grain. I shot lots of stuff late at night indoors, musicians and parties and such, mostly where flash wasn't accepted and always where it looked totally different with flash anyway. Mostly TRI-X developed in Autofine, for EI 1200 as I remember it; sometimes resorting to EI 4000 using HC110 replenisher. Used Plus-X at normal speed when shooting flash was possible (the Braun RL-515 was the best flash I used before the days of OTF TTL flash metering). Tried one roll (meaning 100 feet) of Ilford FP4 and hated it, went back to Plus-X quickly.

I rather regret not learning about lighting earlier (studio, I mean) and getting more serious about medium format (I had at various times a Yashicamat 124G, a Norita Graflex with just the 80mm f/2 lens, and a Fujica GS645). Bigger negatives would give me smoother and cleaner shots in good light. But the cost of medium format would have dented my budget. And I probably imagined needing more lenses than I really would have (35mm thinking, you know; I was spoiled by having such a range of lenses, and such fast lenses). Same now; I'm shooting a D700, which is marvelous for my low-light situations, and don't have a D800 which would be marvelous for portraits and landscapes. The low-light work is what's important to me, the other is playing with photography since I have the equipment.

(Just spent most of the week working with fiber-base darkroom prints from the 1960s, though, scanning and preparing files for a display at the World Science Fiction Convention next weekend. Not my photos, shots by Jay Kay Klein, who donated his archives to the Eaton Collection at UC Riverside before he died this year.)

While particular favorite emulsions in B&W may well go away, I don't think there's any serious chance of it all going pop like a soap bubble. The chemistry is fairly simple and very well understood, the coating process is remarkably simple (B&W is; color is much hairier to manufacture I believe), and the developing chemistry is easily formulated from easily purchasable chemicals. I don't think there's any danger of basic B&W film being unobtainable any time soon, at least in 35mm, 120, and 4x5.

Mike Peters said...

Hi Kirk,

Like you, I'm a working pro, been at it since 1979. I came up with film and shot everything from 35 to 8x10 over the years. In many ways, digital for a living has been a gift that allows me to work quickly and spontaneously under almost any light with very little gear. I'm grateful to not have to schlep around huge cases of lighting gear anymore.

However, I've never given up film for personal work. Like you, I very much enjoy the power of the square and the look, feel and limitations of film. I've shot with Rollei 6006, Rolleiflex, Mamiya, Bronica and Hasselblad cameras. My current and all time favorite is the Hasselblad 2003FCW and 110 f2.0 lens combo, with the 50 f2.8 and 80 f2.8 tied for second.

I've just this year switched over to Kodak Portra 800 after 12 years of using Fuji 800Z. Since I shoot on the street in sketchy light, the Portra 800 is flexible enough to work well in any light, and it scans fabulously well. If Kodak ceases production, I'll be crushed. No one else makes 120 color film at that speed. Maybe I'd have to go back to shooting black and white. But I'd have to learn how to see in monotone all over again.

There is something fundamentally satisfying on both intellectual and physical levels to using mechanical cameras that require you to do everything. The feedback of the film advance, the turning of the gears, the smoothness of the helicoid, the limitation of 12 frames, the snap of the image coming into focus in the viewfinder are all such simple pleasures of pure satisfaction. And then there is the very "thingness" of film... it exists, it is tangible, you can feel it's heft, it is finite, and real. When I set out to make images that have meaning to me, the reality of that piece of film just seem so much more serious and worthy of the importance that I ascribe to those images.

Not to disparage the wonder and utility of digital imaging, but to me, digital seems trivial in comparison. I don't know why my mind perceives it so, but there it is.

Thanks for the great writing Kirk, you keep me coming back every day.

All the best,

steve said...

Wow so many great reply's to this thread. There is no chance film is going anywhere, just look at all the film shooters here.

I don't really have much to add that hasn't already been said - Except - I'd like to know why you(Kirk) use a lab to develop your film? It cost me less than 30 cents(AUD) to dev a roll in my bathroom (AKA darkroom) and I get better results than most labs. Total control to push/pull or what ever, no scratches or drying marks. Unlike the results I get from most labs, who's machines are operated by some pimple faced kid on minimum wage who just doesn't care. I do both B&W and C41.

I think sending film to a lab is like giving a lab your SD card so they can photoshop it for you.

This year I have been doing alt-processes from the 19th century, its fun to make you own paper and glass plates. But I still love Ilford delta and Kodak Portra.

Craig Yuill said...

I read the Kodak announcement about an hour after I had finished processing a 120-format roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 film using a full set of Kodak chemicals. For B&W shooting I preferred using Kodak films and chemicals to others, going back to when I was in my teens. I have to say that this announcement both saddened and bothered me. I know that Kodak owes me nothing, but I feel that something iconic and important in my life is about to be removed, to a large extent because of poor strategic decision making on the part of Kodak executives. I think that films and chemicals right now are probably as good as they've ever been. And I've enjoyed getting reacquainted recently with my old medium-format film gear. Sadly, I think you may be right about having only a few years to work with old film cameras. I guess we need to enjoy film while it's still here.

Ron Greer said...

Still shoot my street photography with my trusty Mamiaya 6 w/50mm lens. I have a few hundred rolls left of Fujipan 400 left in the freezer; after that's gone (next summer) I had planned to switch to Tri-X. I'm assuming/hoping someone will take the factory over and continue production.

My 35mm eq sadly sits on the shelve, although I do play with it while I'm waiting for my 120 film in the washer.

Anonymous said...

I started with photography as a hobby in 1989, while still in college, and always shot 35 mm. Dipped toe in digital starting (slowly) in late 2006 and rarely if ever shoot film anymore.

I sometimes think I miss film but I don't. What I really miss are the tactile sensations of using film cameras (even something as simple as adjusting the aperture on the lens ring) and holding 8x10 fiber prints of b/w portraits in my hand.


kirk tuck said...

Two things: Holland Photo Imaging in Austin, Texas is a great, dedicated custom lab with real experience developing black and white film. They do a better job than I would. Second, you may have noticed that I keep pretty busy and as a result I get jealous of anything that encroaches on my leisure time. It's always a trade-off. Also, when I get into a groove with film I might come back with 20 or 30 rolls of film from a long weekend. I have no patience anymore souping that myself.

Klarno said...

I greatly enjoy shooting with Tri-X, and I'll mourn its passing if/when it is discontinued by whoever Kodak spins off their consumer film division to. It's by far my favorite black and white film. Unfortunately I no longer have a way to process it myself, so I really don't shoot it so much anymore (I even gave away my box of 35mm and 120 Tri-X, Plus-X and expired Portra to the local community college's photo department a few months back).

I don't get any joy from shooting color negative film. I'd rather shoot digital than color negative. But for color, give me slide film. Love me some Velvia 50, and Fuji isn't going anywhere yet...

Philip Ho said...

Hey guys,

I'm 20, and I started taking photographs seriously when I got my DSLR in December last year. Recently I've switched over to film with a Nikon FE and two prime lenses, the E series 50mm, and the Ais 85mm. My two favourite emulsions are Tri-X and HP5+. I develop my own film in my bathroom with Ilford DD-X, and it's been great fun.

In my opinion, one of the things about digital photography for me is that it is a great learning tool. Being fast and nearly costless (apart from the initial investment), you can afford to make many mistakes. And if you are discerning enough, those mistakes can be addressed immediately and learned from. However, if you are not, then I feel that you run the risk of running around in circles while thinking that you have learned much, which can be dangerous.

On the other end, film, which costs you for every shot, will punish you for your mistakes painfully enough for you to remember. Although, I feel that once you have understood what it is that you want out of your photography for yourself, that film will be a very cooperative partner in the endeavor of creative work.

I for example love photographing people in the street in black and white. When I shoot digitally I have to keep fiddling with things like ISO, exposure, and white balance. With film I just pop in the film, set to Auto, and go.

And when I compare the photographs of people I have made with digital and film, the difference is very clear. The tonal range in film is astounding, and as a result, I rarely encounter blown out highlights or muddled shadows as I would if I were working digitally. And film has depth too: the pixels in a digital image are lined up side by side, but in an emulsion, you have layer after layer of grain. As a result, images from film display a much more soulful range of tones, and what I feel is a more complex transition in tones in accordance to changes in brightness.

I will say in closing though, that all this is in respect to how I look at these two tools as an amateur hobbyist (even if I do take my hobby very seriously), and that a professional photographer who specializes in say, landscape instead of portraits, might have completely differing and equally valid opinions. Also, that in the end digital and film photography are just tools, and I think that what really matters is that you choose the one that helps you best say what you want to say, the way you want to say it.


ginsbu said...

I've recently started shooting some film in addition to digital. Currently using an Olympus OM-4 and Canonet QL17 with Fuji consumer color neg. I'd like to learn to develop B&W at home and perhaps give MF a go. I enjoy the simplified, slower, more thoughtful shooting experience, the mechanical quality and ergonomics of the cameras, and the exposure latitude of negative film.

I find myself thinking that one of the best things about digital photography is that you can see results instantly on the back of the camera, but one of the best things about film is that you can't.

ChazL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChazL said...


". . .kludgy, slow and difficult to shoot with"??? A Hasselblad??? That's hilarious.

(whose medium format camera of choice is an RB67 that's seen damned little use lately)

steve said...

that's a fair call. l get a lot of enjoyment from dev and printing my own - its part of the joy of film, part of the magic ;-)

Rob Grey said...

It was a sad day when I read about Kodak's decision to sell off its film division. I hope that the buyer will want to keep it going in some capacity. Photographic film was one of the few profitable divisions within Kodak. The quality and maturity of Kodak films is unparallelled and I am happiest using them.

My favorites (in order) are Tri-X, Acros, Portra, Ektar, and Provia. I use Delta3200 sparingly as well. The new Portras are something special, I really hope they stick around, even without the Kodak brand. I do believe that Tri-X will live forever, unless Ilford or Fuji buys it and kills it, which would be a grave mistake.

I still have hope for film. It may get expensive, but I'll stick it out as long as I can; for all the reasons you've outlined above.

Anthony said...

I grew up with film and spent about 25 years shooting with an OM2n. I still try to shoot with film once in a while, using film -> scan -> Photoshop as the method, but digital has become my preferred medium. I was shocked by Kodak exiting the film market: probably shouldn't have been, but even so (and especially shocking was the circumlocution that disguised the fact in their press release.). I'm sure film shooters will still be catered for: Ilford seems to be doing well enough, and there are some other specialist film makers now. I have rather taken to TMax 400: I like the way it scans, and I certainly fear for its future. I borrowed a friend's M3 recently, and spent a day in London shooting TMax400: most satisfying. Colour film, though, is another matter. I bought some Provia last year and I found I no longer enjoyed using it at all: it was just to expensive to enjoy, and when I saw the results, I found I preferred the look of digital. I'm afraid my days of colour film are gone.

Ashley Medway said...

Most of my shooting is still on film (my OM-D is my first real digital camera). I mostly use Ilford films, as well as Acros and Trix-X in my Rollei TLR and Canon 35mm gear (and I'm loving Ektar in my pinhole camera)
I am a bit of a sucker for the DIY thing and I do all the processing and printing myself so the cost doesn't bother me, finding the time to do it all is the problem.
I think I need some form of framework, I was a little lost with the OM-D until bought some prime lenses for it, and even then I'm still getting the hang of this camera.
I'd have to say a waist level finder, square format and no battery to worry about seems to give the best results for me, and for the Rollei, the history of images that my grandfather, father and I have got with it in the past.
All within the self imposed discipline of 12 frames.

Trevor M Johnson said...

My Olympus E1 has made money for me, providing images for lectures and publications, with a macro lens and ringflash, but my personal photography has been largely made with a Leica M4 and 35 Summicron aspherical lens.

From where I am typing, if I look behind me, I can see boxes of Fuji reversal and Ilford black and white film, in 35mm, 120 and 5x4 sizes. The writing is on the wall for colour, but black and white will survive because it is relatively simple to produce (although silver is now rather expensive) and those of us using it are diehards. the other factor is that younger photographers, in my opinion, if they use film, will choose black and white rather than colour, as digital workflow has made colour so much more predictable. Yes, I have shot lots of Kodachrome and GAF 500, the latter surely being one of the most fun films ever produced.

However, I bought a NEX-7 a few months ago, with the kit lens (excellent, I thimk those that decry it have never used it) and the Zeiss 24mm E-lens. Comparing the Sony combination to the Leica is interesting; the Sony images have so much more detail and dynamic range and the shooting experience is more fun too. Although I used to partly hanker after the M9, the cost, irrrespective of whether I could afford it or not, was a big turn-off and having used the Sony, the picture making experience is so good I would choose it over the Leica anyday. (For the record I have also used Hassleblad HD39s, etc., so have some idea of what digital imaging is capable of...)

Geoffrey Crawley (past editor the BJP and film guru, especially acutance developers) commented a number of years ago that the best 35mm and medium format camera systems resolved similar amounts of information, but what set medium format apart was the tonality form having physically more grains. The same goes for the NEX-7 which is one of the reasons the images are so good. Here is a dig at some internet observers: those who think that the NEX-7 should have had a fewer pixels, e.g. 16Mp, so it could shoot at high ISOs are completely missing the point. Haven't they heard of tripods or artificial light? I shoot at 100 ISO come what may although I have been daring and once turned the wick up on the Sony to 400... High ISO capability is a complete irrelevance to me and probably to many people. Rant over!

So in a few minutes I am off to take some photographs in York and the Sony is coming with me. The next roll of film I take will be in the big Bronica EC with the Nikkor 200mm lens, a combination that makes the equivalent Hasselblad seem quite petite! Enjoy the rest of the weekend

Neal said...

I couldn't let this go by without commenting too, As it's all been said above this is just a "hands up" post.

I only shoot film, while I did try digital for a couple years it just doesn't have the feel and quality that I get with film. I have always been a hands on kinda guy so working in the darkroom has always been a pleasure, I shoot a variety of formats from 35mm to 4x5 Large format, and have been trying my hand at some alternative processes as well. very fun.

Really for me it boils down to this, if it aint fun, why bother. for me film and darkroom is as fun as it gets!

Reed George said...

I very much enjoyed this post, as I regularly enjoy your blog.

I am definitely still standing with one foot in each world. While I'm a huge proponent of digital, specifically Panasonic, Leica, and Nikon, I still really love shooting film.

I really like the analogy to "all you can eat" versus fine dining. At the buffet, I will never miss anything I'd like to taste. At a fine restaurant, I will miss some. But what I do get will be so good it won't matter.

I recently sprung for a used Leica M9. I'm in love with it. But, I very nearly decided to buy an MP instead. I would have loved that too, for different reasons. As I mature as a photographer, I am realizing that for me (not for business), I don't have to capture every shot. I need those I capture to be great. That's where I'm focusing.

As for your other questions, I find that scanning negatives and post-processing in LR basically takes away many of the criteria I used to have for film emulsions. Aside from native grain, there's just not much difference, even when I plan to convert to B&W. So, I shoot inexpensive color print film, of the iso I need. That's essentially the only consideration for me.

Film allows me to shoot for creativity, not technical perfection. In fact, the imperfections make it feel real for me.

I can also admit that some new post-processing approaches allow me to regain the imperfections, as crazy as that sounds.

Thanks for a great post!

Blog: DMC-365.blogspot.com

Dogman said...

I've been shooting pictures for over 40 years now. So, yes, I've shot film. But I now shoot only digital.

Like you, I had that epiphany about it becoming more and more difficult to shoot film as time rolls on. That's when I had to make the difficult decision to sell my Leica gear, shut down the darkroom and accept the inevitable. So I did. I don't regret the decision, nor do I regret the many years I spent with all the various film cameras.

I realize there are those who push one method or the other, each side claiming film or digital is a unique and completely separate medium, each medium with their own complex protocols. I guess they can be if you want to make it so. I never found it to be that way. It's photography. It's not rocket science and it ain't really that hard to do.

Jacques said...

Most of my students in Architecture started with phones cameras and such devices... At the end of their studies about one out of five is buying a film camera (or discovering that their dad's camera was something brilliant they had overlooked ) !
One of out ten gets a medium format camera (Bronica, Hassy, RB 6x7), just for the pleasure of it.
Though they all work and believe in a digital world, they also feel and see the quality of that unique picture, brought by medium format film. They don't feel it's a war between the pro's and the con's, just that they can have a richer experience... And that's what they want... :-)

Claire said...

Jeff, that makes to of us on thr robot team ! Maybe my 43 yr old eyes are not sharp enough to decypher those scribbled hieroglyphs, but it usually takes me 2 or 3 tries to get through...

Steve J said...

Dogman, I totally concur with your last statement.

I don't think preference is something that requires justification. It just is. I have been shooting seriously since around 1980 (first SLR) though mainly in colour. I started scanning and editing in the mid '90s and then went digital only in 2003. Perhaps if I shot MF the transition would have taken longer, or if I shot B&W I would still have a 645 in the corner loaded with HP5 - but I didn't and I don't.

Digital for me is about the editing process. The source is largely irrelevant but a full digital workflow gives me feedback and control of the entire process and I actually find that makes me a much better photographer. I love having the freedom to experiment and expand the envelope of what I can shoot and the conditions I can shoot in. A lot of the low light work I enjoy would have been near impossible with an analogue process.

However with digital you simply have to impose some self-discipline instead of expecting the medium or the gear to impose it on you (some like that, I don't). I only experiment with a purpose in order to learn (why didn't that work, how can I do it better, is it a dead end, can I make someting of this?) which is really hard to do with film. Also, I am very selective about what I show on the web and even moreso about what I print, and yes I can spend an entire afternoon walking around without taking a single shot because I know what really doesn't work.

In the end, all we are doing is making images that we, and hopefully other people, like. How we get there is a choice and what drives and motivates and inspires us is unique to each of us. Digital gives me control and enormous flexibility and that's what I want. If you prefer film, I say go for it. Just don't tell me it is qualitatively "better". In some cases it has quantitative advantages, in others not, but if it works for you and meets your aesthetic needs then that's cool.

But when I look at someone's work I don't think "oh, that's nice because it's Velvia". I am in awe of work done in every medium depending on the concept, composition and presentation (in that order) and you can go a long way with the first two armed with a point and shoot.

Arvind said...

I've been shooting 4x5 film for a couple of years now at a low pace - 4-6 sheets a month on average. I shot film earlier till the D70 started off my move away from film. Today I wonder why I got so carried away!

Years later in 2009 I picked up a Large Format camera in Bangalore for close to nothing and started shooting Ilford 4x5 FP4+.

It really slows you down, and I find the viewfinder is sometimes too dark to prop up even with a dark cloth. So you begin to imagine frame lines based on what you can make out on the inverted image - all the rest composition wise is in your head. It's kind of meditative when you spend all those minutes on a single shot in the field. But I'll vigorously nod in agreement that it's a bit like slow cooking, fine dining, walking (as opposed to driving), etc etc. The pleasure of examining film has been processed is hard to describe.

David said...

Do you still shoot film? No, I went totally digital in early 2006 when Nikon said they were getting out of the film camera business. It took a while to get used to the look of a Nikon D-50 file. But by the time the D-90 came along, things were OK. Today I'm totally micro four thirds.

Have you ever shoot film? Yes, starting in 1967 with an old Speed Graphic, and then with various 35mm SLR's, an old Leica, and some 35mm point and shoot cameras. Tri-X in D-76 was the standard. Put it into Accufine for shooting basketball in the dim cavernous college fieldhouse. (ISO 1200!) Later switched to color negative film because is was better for scanning.

I made art with film and wet darkroom. I made art with film, scanning, Photoshop, and inkjet printing. And I'm making art with digital, Lightroom, and inkjet printing.

Different canvas, different paint, but it doesn't stand in the way of making art.

kirk tuck said...

I would argue that the feedback loop and "total control" make you more technically proficient but have nothing whatsoever to do with making art. And while making photographs has never been easier making relevant and amazing and evocative photographs has never been harder.

kirk tuck said...

So much time honing the technical, how do you get "disciplined" to let go and understand art?

kirk tuck said...


Paul Glover said...

Hope this isn't a duplicate comment, had trouble posting...

Film only here, except when photos *right now* are needed, which is surprisingly not that often. I confess I do dabble in Instagram on my phone once in a while but I don't consider that "real" photography, more of a disposable playing around thing! ;-) Actually most of what I put up there originated as film in a real camera anyway.

I prefer the process of shooting film. I do make better photographs on average, even in 35mm. I love black and white but still have a hard time thinking in black and white when the camera I'm holding is shooting color. I do better with the enforced slowness, the requirement to actually *think* about the shot. I seem to do best of all when I leave home with one focal length, a few filters and one or two rolls of film to shoot. Apparently I need that enforced discipline. (I used to get more done back before I had the distraction of the internet, too. This isn't just a photography issue!)

Photography, in a way, is one of my mental relief valves. It's something I turn to when I need to get out, flip my brain from it's usual logical mode to just seeing, appreciating, and capturing my surroundings, where the only problem I have to solve is how to compose and expose the scene I see before me. I work with computers 40 hours a week and the *last* thing I want is to have to deal with yet another complex computing device when I'm trying to escape the world of "digital convenience" for a while.

As for Kodak, I moved over to Ilford film stock a while ago for my B&W shooting. If any film manufacturer gives the impression of being in it for the long haul, it's them. They're already set up to run smaller volumes profitably and can likely cope well with fluctuations in demand. Bit of a shame that they don't do any color lines, but they've figured out what they need to be focusing their efforts on to remain profitable.

Here's the thing that bugs me though: I shouldn't have to justify or defend my choice, to anyone. Nor should anyone have to justify their preferences to me. I just don't get the people on both "sides" who treat this as some sort of holy war in which the other "side" must be vanquished. Surely it is more fulfilling to go out and enjoy whatever camera and capture medium they prefer, rather than arguing about why everyone else should agree with their choice? I just don't understand those people (nor do I want to, now I think about it).

rlfsoso said...

Hi, I shoot film, only!
My Nikon D70s with simple Sigma Kit-lens gets some use for trivia family snaps only, the occasional gear portrait for ebay postings.
I use an ancient Nikon F2 Photomic with a couple of lenses (2.o/35; 1.4/50; 3.5/28; 2.8/135) most of the time on Tri-X 400 and with the occasional Portra 400. I develop my own B&W, scan and process in Aperture. For me creating images was something I rediscovered after a lapse of 15 years.

Personally for me taking pictures involves the haptic quality of the camera and all the digital stuff I have laid my hands on just feels lacking (as would in a fully automatic workhorse like an F5). Besides most of the stuff I could not afford. That has changed with the demise of analog: So now I got me a ETRSi with 2.8/75 to do again medium format stuff (In the past I used a Pentacon Six TL now down with a broken shutter). I donot believe that Kodak's move will be the end of the film production. The market for B&W film is not shrinking any more as some German seller and supplier of analog gear and stuff wrote in connection with the end of production at Fotokemika (they make Efke film – including the last infrared stuff available – and some papers for Adox) recently wrote. That means enthusiasts/artists et al. They even started to make new high quality B&W film in Germany (see www.adox.de - www.adox.de/english/). Development of B&W film is easy and cheap. I am a bit worried about the question if research & development of new film which led to the new Kodak Portra will continue, and how a buyer of Kodak's plants will be able to downsize the huge plants to nowadays markets needs.

Then there is still Ilford with some great films I will look into in future.



clive evans said...

I started out in photography 45 years ago with 5X4 film in an MPP[that's how we were taught in UK photo school then], was then allowed to use a Hass 500C,then a Nikon F and then finally a Leica M3.
I stuck with RFs for the next 35+ years,going digital with 2 Epson RD1s [still using them for paid work,can't justify Leica M9s] but was drawn back to film in a Hass Xpan [still shooting this a lot-love the format] and a Hass 503 [sooo cheap now!], to Fuji 6x9s , and back to 5X4 [Linhof Tech V, USD 2000 with three lenses!]
So we go full circle, I have 10 boxes of 5x4 Pola 55 that I'm shooting on a long term project, the rest of the time it's Velvia 50 [have stash, also 35mm for the xpan]for things that don't move much and TriX or Portra 400 for things that do.
If I have to explain.................

Anders C. Madsen said...

I started out shooting film on SLR back around 1986 and did most of my shooting with a Minolta camera but it's long gone and has been replaced by digital cameras - the first being the Minolta Dimage5 (not a SLR but a 3.3 MP bridge-type camera) and later by a Canon EOS 30D and now a Canon EOS 1Ds MKII.

It may be because I never used to develop my own film, but I really don't miss film one bit, and I love the image quality that I get from my 1Ds - it is really as close to film as I could want it. Again, this is from someone who has always had ordinary lab quality as the benchmark so that may definitely play a part in my lack of enthusiasm when it comes to film.

George said...

Greetings to Kirk and all. Nice blog, discovered it thru your collaborations on TOP.

Let's hope there's a good outcome on the Kodak sale. At best, nothing should change and there might even have an improvement; at worst, no more kodak film. I suffer the most for Portra and Ektar, likely to go away first.

I am one of the youngest generations to shoot film (just a few months to be 18), I tried film a few years ago and ended liking it. Even shot Kodachrome, being the first slide film I was able to shoot.

I am bitten by the MF bug quite hard, the problem is that I'm unable to jump on it (budget). I'd love to get one of those Fuji 6x9 Rangefinders. But I fear that by the time I'm able to upgrade (at best the fall this year; but probably after summer 2014), prices will be way to high or there won't be any color film around. The MF 8-12-15 frame limit isn't a problem for me, as I'm incredibly slow to shoot a 36 exp roll (unless having an exceptional inspirated day or traveling).

As of digital, it's a great medium but given my budget constraints, I just prefer to spend it on film & equipment.

Tony's Vision said...

Great post and comments. Sixty years ago I had a Kodak Duoflex. It shot 620 film and had a waist level viewfinder. Prints from the Rexall Drug Store were flat and not very sharp. But I was enthralled by the magic of capturing moments. What completely hooked me into photography was seeing handmade black and white prints. They weren't fine art prints, simply a record of a 1950's sport's car club excursion from the San Francisco area to Reno, Nevada. Printed on double-weight paper, they were dry-mounted back to back and bound into a book I still have. The thrill of seeing the crispness, the fine, sharp grain, and distinct tones was life changing. Ever since then, well, up until the digital age, I have pulled together darkrooms in kitchens, bedrooms, closets, and basements. My film cameras are nothing fancy - an Exakta VXIIA in perfect working order because that was my first "real" camera, and a Mamiya C330f, which truly puts me into "photo mind". Oh, and a Nikon D90s which, by reading light bounced off of the film, does a better job of balancing flash with ambient light than any digital camera I've had. I still love to use them on occasion, and process the film in my treasured stainless steel Nikor tanks, if just to prove I can still wind the film onto the reels. The negatives get scanned, though, and with an Epson R3000 I can make black and white prints that almost - almost that is - rival my old silver prints.

Carl Marks said...

I'm 26 and shoot 35mm and 6x7. I learned on a D90 though. My favorite photos of yours are swimmers with the hassy. It's the benchmark for my own portraiture. Developing film isn't a problem for me, or the cost of film, I just wish my tiny apartment could accommodate a good darkroom. I'm planning for a full darkroom when I buy a house. If film availability becomes difficult, I'll buy a freezer and enjoythenext 20 years.

Dillon said...

I'm rather strange in my age group in that I shoot film and don't own a cell phone. I'm rather ambivalent about format (film or digital) but I've yet to see digital camera that's as joyful to use as a film camera. I've been waiting for years for a 'perfect' digital camera but it hasn't come out yet. Namely a camera with good usability: quiet shutter, big viewfinder, small size, fast lenses... This has all been achieved decades ago with film cameras. I may end up settling for an OMD em6 or 7 when the they upgrade the viewfinder but I think it's hard to beat the usability of cameras like the Olympus OM, Nikon F, or rangefinders

Dillon said...

I definitely agree with you Philip about digital being a great learning tool. Because of the expense of film I simply don't shoot enough. My shots are perhaps better than they would be if I was snapping away with digital but I'm not shooting enough and thus I'm not learning and improving enough.

Steve J said...

I'm not sure what that has to do with the medium? There is no right way or wrong way to express yourself, only ways that resonate and ways that don't. It helps if you learn your craft (whatever you choose) but no more so than a poet requires a grasp of language. Whether they write with a quill pen on use a word processor hardly matters does it?

hbernstein said...

I used to shoot 8x10 and 4x5; medium format was my 35mm and I loved it. I shot a lot of Polaroid, too.

I used to work methodically, and of course, always on a tripod. I would shoot very little.

Nowadays my work is exclusively digital. I still don't shoot much, don't use the tripod much, and am basically coming up with crap. Digital is becoming ruinous for me. There's something about the ease of capturing a fair, if not very good image digitally that cheapens the entire experience in my head. I liked the serendipity and rigorous discipline of using film. I couldn't chimp film, nor be lazy. I couldn't delete my expensive mistakes, and enjoyed knowing in advance what was necessary to coax a beautiful image from film.

Digital, of course, also benefits immensely from good technique, but it's all too easy to get sucked into a A.D.D. approach to it.

Scott Price said...

I learned photography in the digital era, but have since come to appreciate black and white film photography. The instant feedback of digital was a great teacher, but black and white film has the benefit of outrageous tonal range (harder for me to really mess-up an exposure, but I've succeeded at that as well). Lately, my camera of choice has been a Pentax Spotmatic F with a 55mm F1.8 lens and Acros 100. The camera and lens combination has a unique characteristic that I love. Namely, the focal length of the lens, combined with the magnification of the viewfinder results in a life-sized image. This means that I can have both eyes open and focus them on my subject (one "naked" and one looking through the viewfinder). This works well, as long as my subject is more than about 6-7 feet away. The resulting experience is much more transparent than my DSLR. I simply look at my subject, raise the camera to my eye, and a frame appears around my subject with a focus indicator in the middle. I have yet to find a comparable viewfinder/shooting experience with anything digital, although I would imagine that EVFs could accommodate this easily, if camera companies cared to do so.

I like Acros 100 mostly because of it's resistance to reciprocity failure (handy for night photography), and its linear characteristic curve. I scan/process all my negs and I'm trying to apply zone system adjustments by manipulating the tone curve in Lightroom. I figure this combination allows me to control the tone curve in one place (i.e. in Lightroom), from a neutral starting point, much like I do with the files from my DSLR.

hugo solo said...


Jan Klier said...

I have my feet in both camps. Actually, to be accurate in three. There are two dimensions in your post: working with film instead of digital as a medium, and working with less automated/mechanical cameras instead of high-tech digital everything. The two often are correlated but don't have to be.

When shooting film, I enjoy both B&W (TX-320, HP5), and Color Neg (Pro400H, Pro160S/C, Porta 800). Colors are richer, more natural grain, heavy blacks. I shoot film on the RZ67, a Canon 1, and a QL17.

But going back to the slow distinction, I shoot my RZ67 w/ a digital back as well. Still manual focus/exposure and a more intentional shooting process, as well as good dynamic range and rich colors. Though not quite the same as film when it comes to blacks or grain.

hugo solo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noons said...

Here is a reader that uses film primarily. Slides and colour negative developed in a shop, b&w at home. Scanned by me, all of them. Also use a dslr, when speed in getting results is a convenience. Which it rarely is, me being an amateur. I like digital as well for macro - shoot, check results, adjust, rinse and repeat - and for underwater work. About a 80%film-20% digital balance. And I don't see it changing anytime soon. For a great many reasons I won't go into here. The whole "wars" with film vs digital I address very simply: stop telling me how or what I should use to make my images, it's my choice - none of anyone else's business!

Zoomer said...

Hi Kirk,

I have been shooting film for around 60 years (I started very young). I currently own three good digital cameras and I use them most of the time, especially when travelling. However, for good monochrome nothing beats a good film developed in one of my favourite developers -just nothing in my opinion. Taking a film out of the tank and seeing a set of nicely exposed and developed negsatives is an experience I hope to be able to continue for many years yet. I scan the negsatives, both 120 and 35mm, and post process with Picture Window Pro. I am lucky enough to have a good printer with grey and black inks. I would not even think of printing in a dark room now.

Although I like to use colour film, it is becoming increasingly difficult where I live to find a good processing lab. Most of the colour negative work is posted interstate now.

Cheers, love the blog, Arthur Locke.

Andrea Costa said...

I started to shoot film in 1989, and I've done so for the best part of ten years, then started to use digital. Last week I bought an used Mamiya C220 for a fair price and shoot my first medium format roll (tomorrow I'll have it back from the developer, I don't have the opportunity of doing it by myself).
I wanted to start medium format because I need, once in a while, to do something different - and full frame film is, for me, not so different from what I usual do on digital - I love to shoot full manual with my old legacy lens in RAW then convert and print it in b/w. What I needed was the feeling of a venerable "iron brick" between my hands, of the slow play over the knobs and levers, and yes even the incredulous smiles of the people around me that see me fiddle with a contraption from the Sixties...
BTW I'm 46 years old, so my camera is still younger than me.

Steve J said...

Hi Kirk, reading your last two posts again, are you proposing that it's harder to create art with digital, or just harder generally?

I think half the issue people have with digital is that they prefer the "look" they get from film and cannot recreate it. That's fine, but it's a long leap from there to say that digital is less "artistic". It is capable of it's own styles which are much more in the hands of the artist.

If anything that just pushes the bar higher.

kirk tuck said...

I think it is harder generally.

Alex Monro said...

I've been seriously into amateur photography again for about 6 years (I did some as a teenager, shooting B&W, mainly Plus-X, and doing my own D&P), and although I now mainly shoot digital, I still shoot about a dozen rolls of film a year, mainly Ektar 100, with some XP2, Using an FM2 and ME Super. I now let a local minilab do the precessing, getting scans done at about 6Mpxl, which I then edit digitally before lightjet prints done through online services.

I do find that there's something special about shooting film with manual cameras that I find missing when I shoot digital.

Greg Brophy said...

I just bought an 8x10 camera to take portraits for just about all the reasons you mentioned. I have a Mamiya 645pro that I still use but am thinking of selling to get the Hassablad in this article, it just like the way it feels in my hands. I also used to shoot with a Mamiya AFDII with a Phase One back. I plan on getting a micro 4/3rds for when I travel. I also love shooting Polaroid and Fuji film.

After starting 15 years ago with film going digital and going back to film, their is just something about holding a physical object when all is said and done. The magic of seeing something appear on film.

I plan on learning how to make platinum prints this year. My wife went on a business trip to San Francisco where I read about a photo studio there that takes wet plate portraits and asked her to get one made. When she came back with it I was amazed at the depth and quality of the photo.

I think film will always be around in a much more limited way. Look at the Impossible Project and what they have done. I know that it is expensive, but this weekend I tried a new film that no longer needs to be shielded and is free of virtually all the problems that plagued the film before. Now I think we have the film we all grew up with again. The NY Times Lens blog did a feature on the 8x10 film they just released. I personally believe we will be using film for a long time. It will get more expensive and their will be less of a choice but I don't think digital can completely replace it.

AdamR said...

Since you asked, I shoot both film and digital. Photography is all just a hobby for me but I do help a wedding photographer some weekends and also shoot pictures for the website of a volunteer organization I'm a part of. I use a digital camera for all of those plus things like family get-togethers.

I'm 25 years old (if age is one of the fields you're data-mining :D ), and my first real camera was a DSLR I bought in college. Somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to try film photography (I lean a bit contrarian at times). For our wedding my wife and I bough each other film cameras, I got a Nikon FE and she got a Yashicamat 124G. To even things out we got her an FE and I was given a Rolleiflex :)

I certainly enjoy the experience of shooting with my film cameras much more, sure its expensive and my pictures don't always turn out perfectly sharp or well exposed, but the process of finding and taking the pictures makes it worth while for me. In the same way, I enjoy the friction shifters on my road bike and sewing my own hiking clothing and gear. I know I could save myself time and effort by buying things off the shelf or just taking digital photos but I like that I'm able to do some things on my own.

I'm probably in the minority as someone who shot digital before shooting film, but film isn't so much about artistic expression or a "look" I can't achieve with digital. I shoot film because I have more fun when I'm shooting with a camera that doesn't make any decisions for me. I still make mistakes whether I'm shooting digital or film but the successes with film are much more satisfying.

My preference is Tri-X in my Rolleiflex but I've made some good photographs with Tmax 100 too.


David W. Scott said...

My childhood was all on film (I'm in my 30s now) and when I got serious about photography was during the transition period - 2005? I had a Nikon F80, replaced it with a Pentax *istDL. I used both mediums in the same way. What really blew me away was the big colorful slides that came out of my first medium format camera (a Yashica.) So smooth! So bold! Completely different than digital or 35mm. Now when I shoot seriously (portraits for friends, etc) I use a Bronica ETR kit. With multiple backs of film, I can work almost as fast as shooting digital in the same circumstances. My favourite stocks are Porta, so I am concerned about Kodak's announcement.

Sometimes I need a camera that's faster handling and has excellent built in metering. If there is no time for roll changes, the Pentax K5 gets the assignment (jobs like events with lots of action or lots of grip and grins.). But if I have time to change film, I will choose 35mm instead. The Pentax LX or Nikon FM2n are perfect little beasts suited to shooting fast and shooting discretely. Loaded with Portra, they give me a look that is different than digital and very flattering to humans.

But I also appreciate the strengths of digital. The sensor in the K5 is astonishing. Walking around shooting low-light city landscapes, I capture images that are impossible on film and have their own unique breathtaking look. Using LiveView, I can enjoy a process more like shooting 4x5 -- I mount a classic Super Takumar prime, maybe with a stack of closeup tubes, put the K5 on a tripod, and then take 15 minutes to adjust camera position, depth of field, exposure.... And when I release the shutter I have a high resolution file that is cleaner than any film scan I could make.

So, I enjoy both mediums! I don't worry about black and white film. There are more manufacturers, and companies like Ilford have already right-sized themselves. I do worry about color. Some manufacturer somewhere needs to preserve at least two products - a high saturation color like Ektar or Velvia. And a low saturation portrait film, like Portra. Maybe I should try the Rollei CR200? I hear that film is akin to the old AGFA RSX II, which had a portrait look that I liked.

Barry M said...

Kirk; My first post. Another great article on VSL.

I got into photograpghy in the late 90's using a Contax Aria CZ kit; more good luck than judgement. I didn't know the lens was slow but that was fine as my prints were so alive and puchy. Curiousity led me to buy some old Rolleiflex kit from a pro. As I was never into shoting sport, this was a joy to use and the prints stopped me in my tracks.

When I look back over the last 15 years I'm so glad to have captured so many special shots on film (mostly B&W). I did go digital with a Nikon D200 (perfectly fine camera) and a few others since. When I look back over my images/prints, the film work is so much better than the digital stuff; I got lazy and trigger happy. From a technical point of view I find it hard to pinpoint why a portrait of my kids shot with a Mamiya 645AF and Portra 160 film is so much more engaging than a super clean digital file. It's slightly unfair to criticise digital for being perfect; the parallel with audio is very strong. Much of vinyls attraction is due a euphonic sound; more pleasing to the ear than strictly accurate. I see film the same way.

Like many film users, I scan my negs in and print at home using a very good Epson printer. We're actually really lucky to be able to meld the analogue and digital worlds. Long may it continue; well at least a few more years.

Steve J said...

Yes, I agree with you on that one, but that would be a very interesting topic for its own thread I think (hint!! :)

I realised a few years ago that the real barrier to my photography was simply ignorance, not of camera technology but of art. I've worked hard on that aspect since, and it has helped. Yes, it made me realise how far off the mountain really was, but it has also made my life a lot more interesting.

Aesthetic qualities are superficially pleasing, but like sugar frosting, they can often just dress up a very mundane idea. Talking about ideas is a lot more challenging.

Ron Nabity said...

My first real experience in photography was in 1973 with 4x5 B/W sheet film in a homemade pinhole camera. Talk about the need to be deliberate! From there I moved toward 35mm SLRs until I completely switched over to digital in 2003.

I cried a little when I helped a guy load all my darkroom gear into his car (at my yard sale). Simultaneously, I miss and don't miss the long hours in the darkroom, the smell of stop bath, and the feeling of tossing away lots of mistakes in the trash can.

To be fair, I also used to drive only manual shift cars, I thought air-conditioning was for wimps and I rebuilt my own engines. None of that is the case these days.

I accept the trade-offs of moving to digital. I still have a couple of functional film cameras and unused rolls of film - these give me the sense that I can always shoot film if I want to. Realistically, I probably won't.

I do vicariously enjoy the experiences that people share about shooting film ... especially from the younger people who were born into the digital age.

Olaf Hoyer said...

I've entered photography in school, doing bw in the schools photolab here in Germany. After that, some pause occurred, as I was busy doing different things. With the digital age, some P&S Camera followed, and some years ago I decided that it was time to go at it again- digital and analog combined- therefore I chose Nikon as my system because of the great compatibility of their lenses.
As you pointed out in another post, some areas of photography are like mass food- like "all you can eat" buffets or similar occassions, some are like fine restaurants or occassions where you get to cook for yourself with some good friends- I'm doing some event photography in my spare time and sometimes you get to get around, meet interesting folks and have fun, other occassions are filled with cheap massproduction of snapshots from not-exactly-sober people...
Taking out my Nikon FG, popping in some Agfa APX (last stuff from shortly before Agfa Germany went out of business in 2006 were sold als Rollei Retro 100/400) and have a solid grip on the 50mm 1,8 E-Series ist some kind of nostalgic feeling, and slow movement to chill out- including to soup the film in classic Rodinal afterwards...
Here in Germany you still have a vast choice of b/w films- in fact, in the last years new films are being developed/manufactured. Agfa Belgium is still in business, and they are doing OEM services. German companies Adox/Fotoimpex and Maco are undergoing some effort to get some interesting stuff into the market, including replacements of the Agfa APX film, you have some aerial surveillance film that is also somewhat IR-Sensitive in a certain level available, there are classical films from Efke/Adox with high-silver-emulsions like in the 50s. Also small independent manufacturers like Spur or Moersch are providing very interesting developers, so life goes on.

Concerning Kodak: One has to read the announcement carefully: This means that Kodak is concentrating on the commercial sector with business customers, where they will still make money for some years to come, as movie is still shot largely in film, as in electronics lots of special film is used for the PCB manufacturers, or in medical for Roentgen apparatus (latter also crucial for Agfa Belgium...)
They will sell all the stuff that does business to private customers- with the current economical state, I also agree that this kind of business is unstable and depends on too many factors to rely on.
In another discussion some time ago, it was stated that the analog film business (also including the 35mm films) is still healthy within Kodak and brings in the money- so they would be very stupid to sell their only cash cow. (Or being really at the wall...) In Fact, Tri-X was mentioned as one of their best-selling films, even after that long time Tri-X is in business now.
Conclusion: Kodak wants to do business in a commercial way/customerbase. Commercial customerbase of course includes the small number of big companies that shoot movie and will buy lots of rolls of film, but also will include a medium number of small professionals which shoot small to medium amount of film in their work, like portrait photographers. They don't want to do business with the sinking number of end-customers like Granny oder Uncle Ed, that will buy some film, will print in a store on a Kiosk a picture from a digital snapshot- the ratio between investment and return (and work involved to care for this kind of customer) ist not too good anymore.

Olaf Hoyer said...

Sorry- correction: All still film, including those "professional" grade films like Tri-X and Portra are part of the deal- meaning they are to be sold. Only the "commercial" films (cinema etc.) are being kept.
Meaning: Thats the stuff that really brings some serious money in, and depending on the forecasts it may appear that now is the right moment to sell it.
Problem for Kodak and Fuji contrary to smaller companies: The machines are too big to operate economically- one of the big machines coates in one run in say, one day, for some lower-volume films the demand on market for several weeks or months- whereas smaller companies like Efke in Eastern Europe use small machines and mix their emulsions in a traditional style in 50 Liter (roughly 12 Gallon) cans... So the utilization of the machines with Kodak ist quite low- and to invest in smaller machines that is probably too expensive to justify investment given the actual market share.

Tony's Vision said...

Question - Comments I've posted here lately, I think carefully considered, relevant, and inoffensive, don't show up. What's up, Kirk?

Paul said...

The biggest regret I have was trading my Hasselblad 500cm and 80mm lens on Minolta gear in the mid 90's. Apart from the image quality their is nothing that beats the noise of a Blad in action. I'm an amateur and only shoot digital these days - I definitely don't miss the cost of processing 120 film. I might drag out my Minolta and shoot a few rolls before film dies - the ergonomics and flash system still beats my Canon

kirk tuck said...

Tony, I have no idea. I'm not moderating anything and haven't pulled anyone's comments in a while. Certainly none of yours. Whatever you did to get this one up seemed to work fine. E-mail me with details if you continue to have problems with the comments. You are not being censored at this end...

Anonymous said...

Wow 90 replies already.
Yeah, I have a cheap, entry level DSLR w/kit lens, that's it, my whole digital kit.

But, I'm 63 and still have and use my film cameras, OM and Pen F from Olympus's glory days. Also a variety of other cameras, old 120 roll film cameras and a Yashica D TLR. The reason I'm still using film are directly related to the cameras that I use. They are all mechanical and not one requires a battery to work, just to run a on board meter if designed that way. This is just a hobby so I can do what I want. I don't have to feed the family with my photography.(good thing to, we would all be homeless)

My film cameras feel so good in the hand, and even at 63 I can still focus with the OM and the Pen F, the digital SLR screen is bright but has no tooth and is very difficult to manual focus. I feel like I have an old friend along when I sling a film camera over my shoulder and head out. The plast-O-blob DSLR engenders no feeling at all. I have no more enjoyment with it than using my toaster, or coffee maker, or laptop. It is a appliance and when it dies will wind up where it belongs, in a landfill.

Here is my bottom line, If someone offered me, for free, with the stipulation that I could not sell the camera for 10 years;

A Leica M9 with my choice of 4 lenses, or

A like new Olympus Pen FV, with my choice of 4, mint, original Pen lenses.

I would grab the old Pen kit, no question.

Roland Hardy said...

i shot film for 30 years before owning a Nikon D1. I continued shooting with film as well because of the "film " look that digital just could not match then, and even now to some extent. But I think that I got lazy when I had to scan my film to build a digital data base ......and so on. My shooting days have diminished however, and I am shooting for pleasure with an Olympus E-P3, VF-2 and a 20MM F1.7 Lumix.

I do miss the simplicity of shooting with my Nikon F3, or Leica M6 using that stuff that requires Lab processing etc. but gives a specialness to the image that was given so much thought before pressing the shutter.


Libby said...

I just loaded up some 120 B&W into the old Agfa Isolette II. Next week we are shooting some commercial frames the the old tanklike RB67, still a favorite.

I started with a 120 TLR and 4x5 when I was about 12 or 13. I have actually thought about going back to some 4x5 but I haven't found the right rig yet. So 4x5 still up in the air.

I'd be very happy if a nice Widelux F7 fell into my lap. I've been looking but a reliable seller with a realistic price is hard to come by.

I need to load of on some Kodak Ektar just to be on the safe side - one of my favorite print films to use.

The Reluctant Rebel said...

Thanks for the post Kirk. I really enjoyed reading it.

Its funny, I was writing about this to a friend a few days ago - we were discussing whether one can sensibly make the statement "digital photography is 'more convenient' than film photography". My argument was that this is not a sensible statement unless your aim as a photographer is extremely narrow, i.e. to get to an end - the picture. For me photography is much more than an end - its the entire experience of visualising a photograph, setting the aperture and shutter speed, putting subjects at ease, rewinding the film (when using 35mm), developing it and waiting for the negative to be printed. I like to often draw what is probably an unfair analogy between hiking and photography: film photography is like overcoming a bunch of obstacles and climbing to the top of a mountain whereas digital is like taking the stairs to the top. Sometimes you need to take the stairs but at other times you may enjoy the climb. The point is, for an amatuer film photography and digital photography are two different experiences and it makes no sense to say one experience is more convenient than the other.

Just to answer your question, I am a young hobbyist who shoots 35mm and 4x5. A couple of years ago, I realised I could afford a camera, and long debated whether to buy a DSLR or choose film. Then I held a Nikon FM2 and was sold. I now have a fully functioning dark room, a fridge full of Tri-X and a lovely Shen Hao. I can't imagine shooting digital but I know lots of people who do and seem to love it. I do however scan some of my favourite pictures.

Blog: http://thereluctantrebel.blogspot.co.uk/

Andrew said...

I shoot probably 90% film over the last 2 years. I shoot digital for Weddings generally but I just love film! I shoot with a Hasselblad 500 CM mainly but also shoot with a number of 35mm film camera's. I develop my own B&W and scan the negs. I pretty much stick to HC110b as a developer and shoot mostly Tri X but also Acros 100 and TMax 100 and 400 and Ilford HP5 and FP4. The thought of film dying scares me! I'm fairly young (37) and shot digital most of my life.....when I found the joy of film I never wanted to go back. Of coarse this is also coming from the guy who is now growing his record collection so maybe I just belong in another era ;)

Jeff said...

At my cousin's wedding last year the photographer seemed to be on machine gun mode with his Nikons flash going off very often. With my Sony A33 I took mostly available light pictures (ISO 800-3200 & F2.8), about 120 total, and a few 5 minute videos. The DVD I made for her she commented the photos look like she was there again at the dark reception room. Her father loved the video if his speech!

Anonymous said...

Kodak is selling their 35mm film business to their pension fund. I believe, as I hope, they sold to the right people, people who know Kodak was built on 35mm film, and who can keep it going.