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12 Reasons Photographers Still Choose To Shoot Film Over Digital – Even Though They Really Don’t Have To

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On April 24th, Sam Cornwell published an article on PetaPixel under a similar title (everything before the hyphen). Here’s the link to his article.

As with far too many things these days, the article feels like the author is missing the good old days when things were “real”. However, Sam and his fellow photographers might forget that for most of human history photography didn’t even exist.

So, with that tone I’d like to comment on the points he gathered and listed.

#1. Film was already perfect

Um. You sure about that? 800, 1600, 3200 ISO films were all fairly common but 1600 and 3200 were so grainy it was like playing in a sandbox. I know 6400 ISO existed but I never played with any. Were there faster films? I don’t know, but after struggling with 3200 I couldn’t imagine trying to use anything that would introduce even more image degradation.

And yet, today, we can shoot at 6400 nicely and cameras will go to over 400,000 ISO! Are they actually usable at that? Probably not. But another couple generations and maybe super high ISOs could be completely usable.

Digital is simply the transition that was needed to get away from the limitations of Silver Oxide.

As for the example of albums, well, we can really only blame individuals for our failure to continue this practice.

#2. Higher Dynamic Range

Okay, this is true. Can’t deny that.

We need to realize though that digital photography is still in its infancy. Sure we have methods to increase dynamic range, some cameras even have pretty good real time HDR previews. Who knows what sort of dynamic range we’ll get in the next 3 – 5 years!

If the high grain in film is good enough, then the reduced dynamic range of digital should be fine for most situations. And it has been.

#3. It Slows You Down

More accurately it FORCES you to slow down. You can slow down with digital too, you just need more discipline. Also, even with film, photographers used to shoot Polaroids to test their lighting and concepts before using their good cameras for the final images. isn’t that the same as chimping these days?

So challenge yourself, take as FEW images of a scene as possible and only press the shutter release when you are 99% sure you want to. Don’t just push it to see what happens.

#4. The Pictures Are Permanent

Not true. Any fire or flood could easily wipe out your only copy. With digital you can make dozens of copies in seconds and have them distributed around the world just as quickly ensuring you will ALWAYS have a copy.

Of course, the sad truth is MOST of us don’t do this reliably. I always recommend people use a service like www.backblaze.com to protect their hard work.

#5. The Chemicals Smell Oh So Good

Well, they certainly smell!  I know some photographers love the smell but I couldn’t get into them personally.  Sure I’d have some great memories flood back when smelling them after a time, but I was never a fan.

And also, depending on the chemicals, you may have been causing yourself life threatening damage!

#6. You Don’t Need Electricity

This is true.  If you want to be doing wet plate photography.  But if you want to shoot 35mm film, or really any roll film, you’re going to want to use electricity to make this film.

Also, photograms are lousy memories of family members.

#7. It “Just Looks Better”

I hear this one a lot. I can’t deny that some images certainly look great. But better? Some people like Instagram filters better. Who is right? Well, we all are. It’s the final result that really matters isn’t it?

My only real problem with the digital film grain options is that they’re essentially using scans of film grain. Which means you get the exact same grain every time you use that filter. And that’s unfortunately. You would think math geniuses could figure out decent fractal noise algorithms for generating the various types of grain in a true random fashion.

#8. A Digital Photograph Is Just A Pixel Mosaic

Sam suggests in this point that a “Pixel Mosaic” is inferior or at least less desirable to the pleasant randomness of the grains of silver oxide crystals.

When they’re microscopic, does it matter?

#9. Film Cameras Are Inexpensive

Well.  Yeah.  NOW they are.  Sort of.  But they USED to be the same price as current Digital DSLRs.  And you can only get them used now so who knows what condition you’re getting something in.  If there’s anyone selling new cameras, I’m pretty sure they’re not all that cheap, though certainly less than a couple thousand dollars.

But then consider. With digital, every photo you take kind of saves you money whereas with film, every photo you take is going to cost you.  Even if you get a nice camera and lens kit for $400, how many photos will you need to take to equal the cost of a good DSLR?

#10. To Be Different…A Talking Point

Film cameras are definitely that. Here Sam talks about standing out from the crowd on Facebook and other social media. I guarantee you 100% of non-photographers can’t tell the difference between film and digital.  To them, ANY film look is done by Photoshop anyway. And I promise, well over half of actual photographers won’t be able to tell the difference either.

#11. For The imperfections

Okay, this one I get. And it’s fine if you’re shooting for fun or for arts sake. But if you’re shooting for clients, you need control over everything. By using inherently faulty gear in order to get an effect you risk not getting a shot at all. Clients may not approve of this.

#12. The Element Of Surprise

Again, a very valid point. However I’ve had some pretty surprising moments when shooting digital. That’s part of the fun of experimenting.  And experimenting is cheaper on digital than on film. Or is it cheaper on film, than digital?

Ah, who am I kidding.  Both will cost you substantial sums of cash! And both can be used in a variety of ways for a wide range of effects and emotions.

So go.  Do what you want!  Enjoy what you do!  And stop hating everything!