Oh, the joy of shooting film. I grew up from the 90’s (my favorite decade by the way) where my family would come together and I'll spend a day playing with my cousins and aunts/ uncles telling stories, and the rest of the adults chit-chatting with each other. Then come lunchtime we all gather around the dining table to say our grace. But before we all sit and fork some food, someone from the bunch would shout "PICTURE!". It’s either my aunt or my uncle with a point and shoot pointing at us. Snap. A memory recorded for the rest of our lifetime.
That was my memory of film cameras when I was a child. It records everything from a school dance to family beach outings. All the photos are at mom’s home organized inside the photo albums stored inside the cabinet.
Fast forward to the time I got into photography which was 2014, I was using a mirrorless camera back then. I was always intrigued by the street photographers I was following that time that was using film. Plus the idea of learning more by going back to the basics fancied me. So I bought my first film SLR, a Canon A-1. The best plunge I did. Now, after roughly about 3 years of using film as my main medium, I want to share with you the joys I had with shooting film. Let's go!
When you ask someone who shoots film, the "film look" is usually what they would say. It’s one of those common answers you’ll hear. In fact, that’s going to be my answer as well. Apart from the image quality film produces, there is a quality in it that is just unparalleled. Sure you can imitate the same look with digital images and photoshop or Lightroom presets but nothing beats the real thing. The natural grain and distinct colors each line of film produces and probably the best way to put it is how organic it looks versus photographs taken with a digital camera.
Just like the uniqueness of its quality, it’s also very nostalgic. Looking at it just brings you back in time. It’s just different with looking at a photograph that is digitally processed or taken with a digital camera. Even if a photo was taken very recently, there is still that sentimental value to it. As if it’s a photograph taken years ago.
Those like me who are born where photographs are taken with film know this nostalgia I’m talking about. Maybe kids that didn’t grow in the heydays of film photography would not understand the nostalgia but I can for sure tell that a lot of the younger generations understand the vintage feeling it gives out and I’m thankful a lot of them are curious and interested to give it a try.
I’m kind of giving credit to the younger generations as they help keep the film industry alive and well and of course those who have never left it or went back to shooting it. Film ain’t dead. It never died in the first place.
Anticipation and Surprises
Photographing with film cameras, you cannot chimp. You don’t get to see the photograph you took until it’s developed and either printed or until you get the scanned copy. This could make people anxious especially those who have never shot film before, but for some this longing to see the roll intensifies their excitement to see the negative for the first time. I, for one, is like that. I usually get my exposed rolls of film processed every 1st week of the month. Yes, That means I shoot film for a month and only get to see the results the next month.
I kind of like that. The waiting game. It makes me forget the photos that I took and when I finally get to see it for the first time, I get to relieve the moment I took it. And to add a cherry on top, the surprises. These are the images you were not expecting. Either some light leaks or lens flares that make the photographs much better. It’s like a gift after the long wait.
I don’t experience this with my digital camera but I do try not to chimp and only look at my photographs when I’m done shooting or I’m back home.
Experimenting with a film is different from digital cameras and post-processing. With digital, you can try your idea and just slowly adjust your composition/ settings until you nail it. What I find bad with this is people tend to not understand the process or they tend to become lazy both in learning and figuring things out. They just rather guess the settings until they get what they desire. With film, you have to process everything in your mind, a few pieces of research here and there, a lot of rethinking and reassuring your hypothesis before clicking the shutter. Your mind is more involved and you go into the details. This time you are not just guessing. You create a hypothesis.
The result is a hundred times more rewarding.
Experience of shooting film cameras
For some reason, all digital cameras I've tried and used all felt the same. Too electronic, too disconnected. It just does what it should, which is good, but I long for a connection with my camera. Something I only get from analog cameras. The closest feeling of shooting analog cameras I felt was from Fujifilm cameras. (I’m not paid by them, I just think they are doing a great job, and not to mention the image quality the cameras produce.)
With film cameras, everything gives a different shooting experience. From the difference in loading the film to setting up the exposure triangle. Everything seems to be done differently.
I’ll try to share with you the difference between the cameras I’ve tried.
SLR: I’ve tried 3 SLR’s but I’d only mention 2 here as the other one is a medium format with a waist level finder. So these two cameras are the Canon A-1 and Olympus OM4-ti. A-1 felt more like an analog camera than the OM4 which felt closer to being a digital camera, which is very surprising and interesting.
Medium Format: I first had a Bronica ETRS with a waist level finder and another was a Fuji GS645S, a rangefinder. The most evident difference is their body types, ETRS are big and chunky while the GS645S is thinner but still larger than a conventional rangefinder. You frame your subject using the waist level finder on the ETRS (you can use a prism finder that makes it closer to SLR’s) while the GS645S is in portrait orientation by default, not to mention it's a rangefinder. Interesting huh?
Point & Shoot: I’ve had a Ricoh GR1v and a Nikon 35Ti. They actually felt closer to each other, to be honest except for their physical appearance. The GR1v are smaller and noisier while the 35Ti is a bit chunkier although still fits the pocket, and it’s a lot of silent which I prefer the most.
Rangefinders: The first rangefinder I had was a Canon Canonet QL17 GIII. I loved it, but for comparison, I use my Leica m6 and a Voigtlander Bessa R2A. Both have a built-in meter but the R2A has a little more feature like it having the aperture priority which I now prefer over the M6. Bessa’s are 3 times cheaper but the M’s are 3x better in the good looks department (it's subjective, of course). The Leica had stood the test of time, while the R2A is pretty new and still have to prove it’s durability. Honestly, I’d prefer the Bessa over the M’s but I don’t mind having both.
Learning more with film
This last point I want to let you guys know is the joy of learning the basics of capturing images. When I first bought my digital camera, I had fun. Soon after getting more involved in street photography and photography in general, I wanted to understand more. How I can understand light and how I will adjust my settings in relation to how I want to capture the scene. I decided to dive into shooting film. I bought myself a film SLR. This marks the start of my journey into learning how to create photographs.
Using my first analog camera means learning how to focus. Comparing to my digital camera, I was damn slow. But after getting a hang of it, I improved. Not because I learned to focus quickly, but because I understood what zone focusing is, the distance scales, and taking advantage of shooting at high ISO and small aperture. All these made me faster, almost treating my camera like a point and shoot.
I also learned to read light. Later in my quest to learning more, I decided to move to a more mechanical and a fully manual camera. No batteries, just a handheld light meter to read the light. Soon, because of repetition and familiarity, I started to read light on my own. I’d play a game where I would guess the right exposure settings and verify it on my light meter. Most of the time I got it right. Not only did I learn to guess the light, I also understood how the exposure triangle works. All because I relied on my own and strived to learn without getting babied by digital cameras.
Shooting film is fun. It’s amazing how a tiny canister of a film can hold so much detail. It’s amazing how a chemical turns a film into a negative film with the images we took. And after seeing the images we took, it’s amazing how beautiful and full of character the image holds.
With the rising number of people shooting film either trying for the first time or returning back to their roots, I can confidently say that the future of film is getting better and better as days go by. Even movies are starting to return to shooting in film. I hope that with the rise of the people’s interest in shooting film, the big names of the camera world support it and starts supporting these population. Maybe a new analog camera like what Bellamy is cooking up?
Hope you like this, hope I inspired you to shoot more film or if you never have, I hope I’ve encouraged you to do so! Now is the best time. Share this if you think this is valuable. Maybe we can both share the film love to others and get them into shooting film too!f
Now, load your film, wind that shutter and let's go out and shoot!