WHY FILM? OR WHY IS SHOOTING FILM BETTER THAN SHOOTING DIGITAL?
(For personal stuff at least!)
My wife and I both shoot with film and have been shooting most of our personal/family stuff with it for the past few years. I initially started out my photography journey over 10 years ago by shooting film on a Pentax Me Super and a Yashica Electro 35. Digital cameras were either too expensive (for me) or a bit naff back then and film still had the allure of being more of a craft as opposed to taking hundreds of snapshots. It still rings true and is one of reasons both of us still shoot a lot of film.
As wedding photographers, we shoot thousands of images digitally and roughly 80 percent of our time is spent at a desk editing photos. It’s fair to say after a few family holidays taking our dslr cameras with us, and finding the images just lay dormant on memory cards or within Lightroom, that we soon realised shooting more film for personal stuff was the way forward. It’s pretty simple, you shoot less (film is expensive), take more consideration over the photos you do take and have minimal, if any, editing to do afterwards.
A FEW POINTS ABOUT WHY IT’S AWESOME.
- You enjoy your time a little more. You only have 24-36 exposures so you’re not running around taking all sorts of quirky photos, you just slow down and take a photo when you really feel you need to.
- It’s exciting! The last batch of films we sent off to our lab were taken over the course of at least a year. You easily forget what you’ve taken and getting all these little gems back is so cool.
- Film just looks so good! For almost a decade there has been a massive rise in photographers wanting their digital photos to look like film. There’s a reason for this!
- You don’t worry about battery life! (If you’re shooting a manual camera anyway.) Batteries in our cameras last for years!
- Nearly no editing. I just wanted to make this point again. Sure you can tweak to your hearts content but in most cases you won’t want to as it already looks good.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some big cons. Yes, it is expensive…..£6-£10 a roll then getting your negatives developed and scanned at a decent lab is a further £10-£15. So if you take a 36 exposure roll of Fuji Pro 400h with a high res scan it works out at roughly 70p a photo. It’s quite a lot if you accidentally press the shutter button every now and again! Another downside is that if you perhaps make mistakes you simply won’t know for a long time and at a cost. I recently took a lot of photos using my Pentax LX and a lot of the exposures came back out of focus. Upon further inspection, I’ve found the diopter was out by quite a bit. (I’ve sorted it out, but I’ve still no way of knowing if it’s that, or if it’s my lens that is out or the focusing screen is out of alignment etc etc.) All of this can happen especially when you’re shooting with cameras up to 40 years old.
SOME RECOMMENDATIONS AND TIPS ON SHOOTING FILM
I don’t want to teach anyone how to suck eggs here and I’m far from being an expert but here’s a few things I’ve learnt to make the whole process a little better.
FIND A GOOD LAB
I used to get my photos developed at Boots and then try (in vain) to scan my negatives to the miserable point that I found it just easier to scan the actual 6 x 4 prints that Boots gave me. Poor prints, poor development and no proper colour correction all resulted in me giving up on film for a good while. Then I came across a good film lab. Just send your film off to the lab, they develop it, scan it and colour correct it (to your preferences if you like.)
Finding a good lab has been personally instrumental in achieving good results, not only do they take care and pride in what they do but in the case of my lab, they provide you with tips on how to shoot in a more appropriate way for film. Sometimes the advice is through their social media or blogs, but they also provide feedback for every order you make with them.
SHOOT 1 STOP OVER EXPOSED (Nearly all the time)
This isn’t what everyone does but I’d say at least 80 percent of film shooters do this if not more. Film has way more latitude for over exposure in terms of highlights compared to digital, so much so in fact that shooting 1 stop over exposed nearly always results in a better image, it gives a denser negative so the lab has more information to work with. It’s hard to get your head around if you come from a digital background and you can immediately think won’t it just look like you’ve blown the image a bit? The answer is no, it works and it’s awesome. The easiest way to do it is simply tell your camera you have a slower film speed. So if you have 400 film speed (think of it as ISO 400 – on your digital camera) set your camera to a film speed of 200. That way if for a scene your camera is at 400 and would have used a shutter speed of 1/125, after telling the camera you have a slower film speed inside, the meter will read 1/60 meaning your film will be overexposed by one stop. Doing it this way just means you don’t have to think about it. You just pop in your film, set the film speed at 1 stop slower then go ahead and shoot. You can of course just set the overexposure to +1 if your camera has it, but this won’t work if you are shooting in manual mode. One thing to note is that you can’t really change film speeds halfway through a roll. Technically of course you can, but you would need to cut your film up in a dark room and develop each section for different lengths of time.
CHOOSE A GOOD FILM STOCK
Back in the days when I was slumming it trying to scan my old negatives on a cheap scanner using Boots development, I just used the cheapest film available; Fuji Superia X-tra 400. To be honest it’s actually pretty good, but doesn’t hold up to the two modern classics; Kodak Portra 400 and Fuji 400h. Better film stock gives you more leeway when you make exposure errors, can be finer grained and can have much better colours and contrast.
35mm FILM STOCK REVIEWS
KODAK PORTRA 400 MINI REVIEW
Amazing film. You can get it in film speeds of 160 and 800 but 400 is fine for general purpose and it can be pushed and pulled in development a fair amount. Again there’s load’s of information about this on the internet and I fear I’ll just confuse anyone if I start talking about pushing and pulling film. For an example though, if you have 400 speed film and you’re losing daylight and you’re getting exposure times in your meter of 1/15, you can tell your camera you actually have 1600 speed film inside. This would essentially mean your underexposing your 400 speed film. In that case you can tell your lab to push the exposure up two stops. This essentially means the lab with develop the film for longer than would normally be required. When this happens some films can start to get very grainy and it can also affect the colour, shadows and highlights of an image. In the case of Portra 400 it handles this pushing process rather well and you still get a lovely image depending on the scene.
FUJI PRO 400H MINI REVIEW
When I first started shooting with decent film stocks, this was definitely my favourite. I just preferred the look of it and the colour palette for a negative film was so rich. People say if you want lush greens and a touch better contrast, shoot Fuji Pro 400h and if you want lush yellows and finer grain with a bit more exposure latitude then shoot Kodka Portra 400. I’ve shot way more Kodak Porta 400 than I have the Fuji Pro 400h and this was simply down to price. It used to be that the Kodak was roughly 20 percent cheaper and you still get awesome results but at the moment in the U.K its actually becoming quite hard to get hold of so the price has gone up and they are now nearly the same.
KODAK EKTAR 100 MINI REVIEW
I love this film, it’s such a nicely fine grained film to work with and is lovely to use for landscape. If you want to use it for portraits be careful though as it can give quite a strong red/orange glow to the face. If used for portraits in shade however it can be amazing. In terms of latitude, its not really a film for pushing or pulling a lot and shooting it at box speed is probably a good idea – otherwise you’ll find yourself struggling with much lower shutter speeds – that’s only if you have a film camera where you can dial in the film speed at 50 anyway.
OTHER FILMS: SLIDE + BLACK AND WHITE
I’ll be honest, I’ve only ever shot black and white a few times with Kodak Tri-X 400 and I just didn’t like it. One of the biggest reasons I shoot film is to get awesome colours and with black and white I just prefer editing digital photos, you can get so many looks that way with relative ease compared to colour editing, for me at least. I’ve also shot a limited amount of Slide film and to be honest I think it’s really best suited to much sunnier scenes and I used it on overcast days. It wasn’t a look I liked and like Ektar, most slide films tend to be rated at slow speeds and have less exposure latitude than negative film. Also make sure your lab actually can develop and scan Slide film (E-6) as some can’t.
Anyway, wow I only intended to write a few paragraphs and I’ve waffled on for quite a bit! Most of the images are shot on Kodak Portra 400, some on Fuji Pro 400h and some on Kodak Ektar 100. I’ll let the images do the talking. The images are a mixture of photos taken by myself and my wife :)
Some useful links and better (correct!) articles on how to shoot film:
The Lab we use: http://canadianfilmlab.com/