In a world in which photographs are primarily taken with digital image sensors and phone cameras, there are a growing number of photographers who are newly interested in film formats of the past. But why would anyone in our age of technological convenience still choose to shoot with analog film?
When I started to take photographs there was no such thing as digital photography. One had to use film and at first I had to send it off to be developed and wait for the pictures to return. Later I built a darkroom and developed the images myself. Film is made of plastic and layered with silver halide crystals that darken when exposed to light, capturing negatives of images.
When the first digital cameras came out, the lack of ability to use my original lenses was somewhat of a disappointment. Image resolution was a key for continuing with film back then as Fujifilm’s Provia 100 film produced a resolution around 7 MP while Fujifilm’s Velvia 50 produced a resolution around 16 MP. Back then 35mm digital cameras did not compete with this. That being said, many professional photographers who shoot film now opt to do so with medium or large formats. Some medium format film has a potential to capture 400 MP, however, after digital scanning, one has in a resolution of 50 to 80 MP.
For a large number of years I used both digital and traditional film. There was still something special about using film, first the different colour renditions, the film grain, but most important of all the magical way the images appeared in the darkroom. The random appearance of small textures within a photograph was referred to as film grain. With analog film, grain is the result of small chemical particles that have not received enough light.
At that time I was personally involved in a major television series where we gave a Quantel Paintbox, the most advanced computer system for imagery in the world at that time, to a number of famous artists one being David Hockney. The series of programs was called Painting with Light. I came to see the use of digital imagery as simply another artistic tool. Like all tools it had its limitations, but nevertheless it offered extended possibilities to the creative artist.
With the advent of PhotoShop many of the image manipulation techniques that were offered by Qantel Paintbox were now available to everyone. I taught thousands of people how to use PhotoShop most from the arts communities. But I always thought of it as a graphics tool. Most users did not use it creatively, they simply applied effects until the achieved something they liked. As a result I returned to film and traditional photography.
The advent of high resolution digital cameras and most of all mirror-less cameras was the next big change for me personally. They have enabled me to use my original lenses for a start. Of course the magic of the darkroom is missing. But the use of a digital viewfinder does now enable me to see the exact the composition including the depth of field and bokeh, I can even face the camera directly into the sunlight and not blind myself.
When it comes to shooting in low light conditions, digital image sensors easily take the cake. Film can usually be found available in speeds between 100 and 3200, although 6400 film does exist. For most common roll films used today (135, 120, etc.), the ISO is kept constant across the entire roll. The exception is with large format cameras that use one sheet at a time, and thus can be switched between shots. Digital cameras have the advantage of being able to change film speeds between individual photographs.
Digital cameras make it possible for one to actually view the photos right at the spot after taken it and be able to delete or take another photograph if the previous ones are not actually good. To me more is not better, indeed this has spoiled the art of photography altogether due to the very fact that folks can take the images over and over again.
Today's digital editing software lets folk alter their images with ease. In the analog film era, editing photographs was difficult and labor-intensive but again this is not necessarily beneficial. I personally believe that digital photography has helped to reduce the creativity due to the simple fact that to many photographers do not shoot using special effects. For example, some folks do not even bother to blur or arrange the sharpness just because all these can be done with the aid of photoshop and other photographic design programs.
With a computer on board, one can actually delete, adjust red eyes and in extreme cases even sharpen the images. But adding bokeh and blur, cropping and colour shifts after the images have been taken does not achieve the same effects. People are using the additional creative tool as the only creative tooling this is a pity.
I will always remain a traditionalist and love film. But now I have a new creative tool to add to the collection of tools.