There are many reasons to shoot on film rather then digital, and this post is all about those reasons. By the time you're done reading, the question we no longer be, 'should I shoot film?', it'll be 'shall I bring my film camera or my digital camera with me today?'. Here's what shooting on film does for you…
Helps you Learn the Basics
The great thing about film cameras (especially the older ones) is that it forces you to learn what each part of the camera does before you can even take a photo. This is something that many amateur photographers overlook when they first get their camera; they've seen what it can do, they just want to start taking photos. This often results in the camera being left in full auto mode or a preset, when with just a few clicks of the dial, they can learn to take much better photos.
When you choose a roll of film to put in your camera, you're effectively setting the ISO speed as you can't change the film until you're finished. That leaves just the shutter speed and aperture to play with, and when you take photography back to basics like that, you'll soon start to learn how exposure works, and how to best use it to your advantage. If you're a kinesthetic learner like me, you'll find using film cameras a much better way to learn about photography.
It Helps to Hone your Skill
We're all guilty of getting a little bit snap happy with our cameras in the past and taking loads of useless photos of nothing in particular, just because we can. Well, that's not really an option with film (unless you've got more money then sense) because you can't just take a bunch of photos and transfer them to your computer, you have to actually think before you take a photo – it can't just be of anything. This added pressure of not wanting to waste money on film and developing means that you become a much more careful photographer and you consider how else you might take the photo before you actually take it. Think twice, shoot once.
Mistakes can get pretty expensive if you're not sure what you're doing with your film camera so this forces you to learn quickly about what you're doing wrong. There will be times when you go to take your camera out, adjust the aperture and shutter speed, and then manually focus and end up missing the shot. This is ok though as it's all part of the process and you'll soon get faster and better with your camera which will transfer over to your skills on a digital camera. Don't worry about missing a photo, we all do it, chances are if you wait a little bit you'll get an even better photo.
The cost of second hand, top quality, film cameras has gone way down since the advent of cheap DSLRs, making now a great time to get into film photography. Just because a lens doesn't autofocus or fit onto a modern day camera, doesn't mean it's no good, infact, one of the best lenses I have is a cheap 50mm f/1.7 that fits onto my Minolta with a bayonet mount. Old prime lenses without autofocus have very few elements to worry about, meaning that that the overall quality is better.
Another great advantage is that you can get a 'full frame' camera for less, meaning that you get the most out of any full frame lenses you may have. I'm a Canon shooter and all their EF lenses from 1987 and onwards all fit on both their EOS digital and film cameras. What this means to me is that I can spend money on a lens and still be able to use it on my film camera, in full frame. I won't go into too much detail about full frame cameras, i'll just link to this post, but what I will say though is that modern digital full frame sensors are called full frame because they're the size of a 35mm piece of film. If you don't have a full frame camera, using film is a great way of seeing what you're missing and a different perspective.
The first thing I noticed when I got into film photography was the difference in quality – it was almost shocking. A camera's sensor is just an expensive imitation of the roll of film, and it has in no way caught up with technology decades older then it. Not only that, but a camera's sensor is limited to a number of pixels that's built into it, where as a roll of film is only restricted by the quality of the scanner that captures it – usually much higher. Remember, you can still get digital copies of your photos when you go and get them developed. All of that aside though, I just find photos shot on film to be sharper.
The colour of the photos produced are much better then on digital as a roll of film doesn't have the restrictions that a sensor has. Not only that, but you don't have to worry about pesky white balance nearly as much when you're shooting on film. Have a look at the photo below, this is one of my favourite photos because of how well it captures the purple, red, blue and brown without losing any detail. This was shot on my Minolta SRT 101 from the 1960's.
Better Dynamic Range
Another thing I noticed when shooting on film was that I could shoot in conditions that I wouldn't normally be able to and still get good result. This came from the dynamic range of the film that I was shooting on and if you have a look at the photo below, you'll see trees that would normally have been silhouettes if I had shot on digital, now had much more detail on them.
In general, I find that film to be much more sensitive and handle grain much better then any digital camera i've used. Have a look at the photo below and you'll see even though there is noise, it's a uniform colour and it's much smoother. The speed I shot on was ASA 200 and provided excellent results for the conditions I was shooting in. This photo is also another great example of how the dynamic range is better with film; there's no way my camera's sensor would have handled that shot as well.
You can shoot all day long on digital, but it doesn't really mean much if you end up looking at them once and putting them on the computer. It's great to have physical copies of photos that you can frame and hang around the house to be seen, the way photos were supposed to be handled.
What to Watch out for
No matter how much I rant and rave about film photography, it's still a dated technology, so you will still end up having to buy second hand. Find a good secondhand retailer nearby and you won't have too many problems as they know how to check the cameras before they sell them and will guarantee anything they sell. That being said though, make sure you check the camera yourself, because you can't retake holiday photos that don't come out. I once bought a camera and took it on holiday with me and it wasn't until I got home and got the photos developed that I found that the shutter wasn't going up fast enough and ruining my exposures. I got it replaced without hassle for a better camera, but the damage was done.
If you buy a range finder as apposed to an SLR, you will leave your lens cap on for a few photos here and there – that's just a fact, i've done it many times. You become so used to being able to see your photos framed through a viewfinder, that you forget that a viewfinder is not connected to a lens on a rangefinder camera.
Something a little bit rarer then the above is light leaks which are usually found on much older cameras for a variety of reasons. In my photo below, I was using an old Olympus Pen (which used to shoot 2 shots to every frame), and the tripod mount fitting had falled out of the bottom of my camera and was allowing loads of light in, ruining the center of each exposure. There's lots of lessons to be learnt when shooting on film, but the results are still worth it.