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Why Film Can Never Die

Posted by Scott

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I love digital technology. I love the convenience, the economy, the permanence, and the instantness (yes, that’s actually a word….who knew). So I’m constantly trying to trick myself into believing that I don’t need film photography because digital can replace it. Then I see pictures like the ones above and remember that it’s never going to happen. There’s something going on here that I’ve yet to see captured in a digital image. Sure, I’ve seen incredibly beautiful digital photographs, and they stand on their own. But that’s all they do. They don’t stand over film and they don’t replace it. Film can never die or we will lose our ability to capture the beauty that hides behind the subtlety and nuance that digital seems to miss. There’s a tone, a separation and depth here that I think can only be produced by an analog chemical reaction. The grain is so beautiful it just begs to be blown up to wall-size.

The pictures are of the band Panic Ensemble and were taken with a Canon AE-1 Program by dirkhaim. AE1-P’s can be had for next to nothing (with glass!) on eBay.

40 Comments Leave A Comment

1

Chicago Jake says:

April 2, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Don’t forget Scott, there’s a Photoshop filter than can take care of that sweet grain on it’s own…

3

morgan says:

April 2, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Hello,
I completely agree with you about the irreplaceability of film.
I do however, have something spontaneous that i have discovered about digital…

Last year, my friend was taking a photo of my wife and I, attempting to stand on a paddle board together, while she was knee deep in the water. Balance was the main issue in getting a successful shot. At the last second, even with the delay of a a Fugi s-3100, she was able to get the shot. Right after she took it, We fell off the board, sending it flying into my friends upper thigh, causing her to fall into the salty sea, with the camera.

(This is the actual image)

For weeks after this event, the camera was not working. I aired it out and set it aside for about 2 months. One day, i picked it up and thought about throwing it away, but decided to give it one more chance. The results were stunning. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it renewed my faith in digital.

In still camera mode, unless I was lucky I came out with some pretty abstract or non-existent images. In video mode however, it was full of so much life and spontaneity, and one year later, i am still surprised by the results.

(Still Photo Ex.)

This is the first edit i made using my “digged” camera.

maui digged out 01 – cheralee and morgan – west maui 08

There are a few other edits on my myspace Video page, but the first one has a special place for me. I picked that Iron and Wine song without knowing the words, and edited the whole thing without ever previewing a render (until it was finished.)

5

Scott says:

April 2, 2009 at 9:52 pm

morgan-
wow, that’s pretty amazing. what’s the image link you were trying to insert? I can put it in there if you just post the raw url.

6

NAVIS says:

April 2, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Morgan -

That video was awesome. Thank you for sharing that! Do you have that video up on youtube by any chance? The little blips and cut like effects that are a natural part of the video are amazing. Well done sir.

My father has a Hasselblad camera that he doesn’t use much anymore. I’d love to learn to use it. And you’re right, when you hold a film photograph to a digital print… there’s subtle difference but the film just feels more tangible in a weird sense. It feels more real.

Maybe I can figure out how to use the Hasselblad in time for my United Kingdom to Mongolia road trip coming up in July!

7

Thomas R. Koll says:

April 2, 2009 at 10:15 pm

What I love more about analogue photography is the wider range of cameras, all with different technical details. A Canon AE-1 is nice, for sure, but try an Ensign Ful Vue, nothing but a box with glass, primitive shutter but a gigantic viewer. Or an Agfa Jgestar, 6×9 medium format, that’s eight shots a film, more than enough. Or the new Voigländer Bessa III if you don’t know what to spend money on: A brand new product based on cameras from when my grandparents where young.
http://www.voigtlaender.de/cms/voigtlaender/voigtlaender_cms.nsf/id/pa_fdih7jzjul.html

I wish digital cameras would find back to the experimental stage they had at the very beginning, then maybe there would be one for me…

9

morgan says:

April 2, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Thanks Navis,
I do have some on Youtube as well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXmuXeGRogg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffTX-9rWjN0

Here is the most recent footage.

http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=54893317

I made this one wondering why i make them. Just to post online for friends to see? Or, so my Wife and i can remember our lives if my hard drive crashes again. It’s all so fragile.

I’m not sure why this glitch occurs, but it has made shooting alot more interesting. I wonder if there are any sites dedicated to glitched out digital cameras. Anyone know?

10

zenzanon says:

April 2, 2009 at 11:19 pm

I think film images have a certain organic feel to them. You’re definitely onto something when you mention the tones that film images contain. And you’ll always have a physical object that represents a place or moment you have seen first hand. That strip of negatives was actually along with you while you were shooting.

Navis, I’m so envious of you having a Hasselblad at your disposal. You should really take advantage of it. 6×6 is a beautiful format.

11

Bas says:

April 2, 2009 at 11:41 pm

@zanzanon: Yeah, you are right. It really feels good to carry the negatives around with you. I think the tangible aspect was the major reason so many photographers waited so long with switching to digital.

It’s funny, because I was thinking about film last couple of weeks. I was thinking about buying a scanner with a filmstrip scan function. It’s more expensive in use and it’s far less handy, but the image quality – that’s what it’s all about, not all those camera features – is just begging to be exploited.

My dad has an old Ricoh with Pentax lenses lying around somewhere. I don’t think it was in the time a superb camera, just a good one, I guess.
But I really like it. A couple of years ago, when I was 17, I was really into photography. I made a couple of shots the old way then. This was the one I liked the most:
http://basw.gfxartist.com/artworks/123288

I already planned to grab that Ricoh camera when I’m at my parents this weekend, can’t wait.

12

Bas says:

April 2, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Oh, and also: I really don’t like prints of digital images. The ones you make at a local drug store/warehouse. I always find them terrible. I don’t know if that’s better in the USA, but here in the Netherlands the common quality is really crappy, if you ask me.
And film is always nice. The image I posted is a scanned print. Even when it’s converted to pixels, it’s still far better.

It always feels/looks as like film photos have more fluent edges – the whole worlds blends just a bit better. Digital photos often have these artificial edges, but that’s mainly on compact cameras. I don’t know if it’s the manner of focussing, but it’s just there.

I love digital photography, btw. It has tought me almost everything I know about photography in a very brief period. But analog has to remembered indeed.

13

zenzanon says:

April 2, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Most labs these days print their digital pictures the same way as film pictures. None of the places around me do c-prints.
I started out with digital, then moved onto film shooting both about equally, and now my digital camera hasn’t been used in close to a year. I might as well sell it while its still worth something.

Scott: Any idea what film those were shot with? It looks like fantastic film.

14

NAVIS says:

April 2, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Hey Bas -

Have you ever seen a digital print on metallic film? It’s pretty awesome. I just ordered some test prints from a professional printer on some Kodak Endura paper and the results were pretty awesome. Still – the images were warm in color but still had that digital coldness to them (I got the same photo printed on matte paper 20×30 and felt a lot warmer). Not that it’s a bad thing, just different. But I’m digging this metallic paper shenanigans. The color hues and saturation are pretty stellar. There’s like a whole new layer to look into. It also has a slight reddish tint which is lovely.

15

Hannes Fostie says:

April 3, 2009 at 12:51 am

Being a child of the digital era, I really don’t have much of a clue of analog photography (or photography an sich, really) but I just have to ask:

How do you even get effects like that? Is it based purely on the type of film? Are they manually produced, or just sent to the shop? Lenses, even settings on the camera (can you even edit a lot of settings on an ancient thing like that?) ?

Great photographs, just great. They do shout “enlarge me and hang me on your wall” if you ask me, damn

Hannes

16

matt says:

April 3, 2009 at 4:11 am

scott, I totally agree.
I just got my old canon ae-1 repaired and I’m so happy about it.

the only thing I’m afraid of is that digital technology finds a ways to make digital photos look like film ones. we already see that happen. it feels wrong to me.

17

Julie says:

April 3, 2009 at 5:09 am

My father is an architect and photographer and I grew up surrounded by his passion for photography.

He owns a Nikon FTn and a Rolleiflex T1 and since I was 9 or 10 I was intrigued why he loved these cameras so much. I even borrowed his Nikon for an assignment in college (DSLR cameras were not that affordable back then) and the results came out pretty ok but I became uninterested with film cameras after I got my first DSLR 3 years ago.

Then one day I just felt the urge to check his Rolleiflex again after many many years and oh boy I’m glad I did it. I fell in love instantly after checking a few pictures my dad took with it back in the 60′s and 70′s. Medium format is my new baby. No DSLR can beat the colour richness and charm medium format has.

Too bad developing 120mm film is a tad difficult around here in Brazil, specially in B&W and that’s a shame because I’m dying to buy some Ilfords :(

It’s a shame film is dying but I’m glad there are tons of us who struggle to keep it alive :)

18

Julie says:

April 3, 2009 at 5:19 am

Oh, I forgot to mention that I purchased my second Rolleiflex this week (Automat K4A) and I’m damn happy for that. I’m definitely giving it a try this weekend :D

19

Kyle says:

April 3, 2009 at 7:06 am

The third picture’s Flickr page says it was taken with a Canon PowerShot S3 IS. Still very nice looking though. Love the grain on the film shots.

20

Brian says:

April 3, 2009 at 7:36 am

I suspect the same thing will happen to film, that happened to Polaroid: the larger companies will stop producing it all together, and some smaller company will take their market share. I doubt film will ever die. There are a lot of very faithful photogs out there who use film and always will.

Personally for me, it is something I will always continue, even if it is only %10 of the shots I take. You hit the nail on the head when you said that digital cannot replicate the tone, depth, and quality of film. Sure, you can tweak digital in post to look like film.

Another thing that film holds over digital is Printing. I see tons of new digital photographers emerging every week. But 95% of them are just sharing photos on the internet. That is all good, but if you are serious about photography and print your work to sell or hang in shows, film blows digital out of the water. At least in my opinion.

As mentioned in previous paragraph, what bothers me about digital IS the fact that there are new photogs emerging every week: or at least they like to call themselves that. Everyone’s photos are starting to look the same…..

21

Julie says:

April 3, 2009 at 7:59 am

I wholeheartedly second Brian. Real photographers (also) shoot film. Sometimes I feel digital lacks emotion and depth.

22

Alex / HeadUp says:

April 3, 2009 at 9:26 am

Film = win…I have yet to be tempted by the dark side of modern SLR cameras. I’ve captured some very unique stuff on my Holga, and for the price, I can’t not add this to my arsenal…thanks for sharing this!

23

Alex / HeadUp says:

April 3, 2009 at 9:28 am

Also, agreed on how analog captures something that digital misses out on…it’s a chemical reaction vs. a much more complex technical attempt at accomplishing the same thing. Film has an imperfect, organic feel to it that still looks equally if not more pleasing.

24

Fern says:

April 3, 2009 at 10:24 am

Heartily agreed. As I was beginning to get interest in photography, last year I almost paid a small fortune to buy an expensive (entry-level) SLR but took a chance on a $30 Canon Rebel film SLR on Craigslist. The results are better than anything that could be made on digital. And the technology of film is static, and isn’t constantly changing and becoming outdated, like that of all digital cameras. You’re right- there is a special depth and vibrancy there to film photos, even when there is little to no grain. Since then I’ve picked up a cheap Minolta point and shoot (also excellent photos- any film camera will take great photos as long as the aperture is big enough), and a Canon AE-1 Program. It’s a lot of fun tooling around with these old cameras and learning how to master them. There aren’t a million tiny settings to worry about, so you focus on the basics of taking a good photo…and exercise some patience as you wait for them to develop!
Here are some examples of my regular shots, ones that I took with little effort on Program mode:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/francesslee/3370279373/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/francesslee/3357979034/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/francesslee/3196134116/

26

Lyndon says:

April 3, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Analogue is irreplaceable in so many ways, but actual film type and manufacturer has a lot to do with it as well. I am curious to know what type of film was used for the shots Scott posted (and track some down for my voigtlaender).

27

Mike says:

April 3, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Scott, thanks so much for the post. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve only shot digital, but am almost always more affected and moved by images on film.

I have had my eye on the AE-1 for a while, and just grabbed one on eBay. So excited.

Thanks again.

28

zenzanon says:

April 3, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Julie, you should totally just make your own darkroom for developing. Chemicals and such are not that expensive in the long run and you’ll never have to pay more for pushing/pulling film ever again!

29

Mike says:

April 5, 2009 at 2:17 am

You cannot replace the raw authenticity from using a SLR camera with expired film or current film. The amazing quality if you try and seek old AGFA 35mm film brings such a tremendous amount of satisfaction. But it’s really about mastering the technique of photographing that is the ultimate outcome whether your using film or digital. Just last week, I got my brand new prosumer Canon SLR to replace my first purchased EOS 300 (a standard consumer) and what it will give me cannot be compared to digital. It’s vitally important to have a good lens as well.

I think the only reason why photographers use digital is because of the instantaneous ability for photo feedback and convenience. With film, you will always have to get it developed. But with anything, I find a good photo developing shop who process their work using a Fujifilm photo machine and I can simply ask them to enlarge the negative for me to whatever pixel size and then on CD.

30

Mike says:

April 5, 2009 at 2:23 am

Lyndon,
For bright lit sunny days, try Lomo film for 35mm. It gives natural bright contrast. The above photos certainly used a flash because of the night but you can try a mixture of any color negative film. Try finding old AGFA 35mm film (on ebay), it’s totally dead but it’s all from Germany and there’s places that still have them (try lomography.com). You can give current film. I prefer Fujifilm ISO 200 or 400 or the professional film. Go to your local film shop and see what they have.

31

Bas says:

April 5, 2009 at 7:24 am

Fern,
Great shots! Love the colors.

Zenzanon,
Can you give me some advice about starting your own darkroom?

32

Lyndon says:

April 5, 2009 at 7:41 am

Thanks for the advice Mike, will do!
I had found some Agfa 16mm for a Minolta 16, the tone is quite nice and gives good response under fluorescent lights, curiously enough. I just need to find a better way to scan the very small negatives!

33

Julie says:

April 5, 2009 at 7:56 am

zenzanon: since it’s nearly impossible to have 6×6 B&W film developed here in southern Brazil the idea of setting my own darkroom is growing on me. I am even starting to sort my shopping list and I’m sort of aware that it’s not going to be easy.

There’s an ongoing discussion on digital x film with a group of photographer friends because people in America (and maybe in Europe) have easy access to film rolls, darkroom equipment and specially film developing labs. It’s not that easy down here.

Buying film from B&H it’s also a royal pain in the buttocks because the shipping costs are obscene and the few shops selling them hardly sell Ilford Delta or Portra or Astia or Kodachrome. Impossible :(

People are simply paying more to develop their 6×6 film rolls because it’s all about digital and there are a few of those who decided to develop BW at home… I’m about to include myself in the latter.

Unfortunately living here makes all the process 5 times harder: buying the darkroom equipment itself it’s a pain in the a**, Ilford papers are rarely seen in photography shops (and Ilford themselves are really eager to sell their products in South America but I don’t know why the government is giving us a hard time).

Being a medium format hobbyist and enthusiast in Brazil is a good excuse to switch to digital, unfortunately.

34

Jesse J. Anderson says:

April 5, 2009 at 9:49 pm

This is the record vs. CD (and now MP3) argument.

There is a certain quality that some people see in that older technology… and so it will likely stay around for the niche market.

But for 99% of the population they are going to go with the improved technology which works better in almost every way, save for some small qualities that, relatively, few care about.

Film already is a greatly shrinking market, and is only going to get smaller as it will be extremely rare for a younger new photographer to buy film over digital.

35

zenzanon says:

April 5, 2009 at 9:57 pm

I’m not sure if I’m allowed to post links to websites without Scott’s approval but check out http://www.freestylephoto.biz for darkroom supplies.

If all you’re wanting to do is develop then supplies shouldn’t put that big of a dent in your pocket. Check out epson’s website for refurbished scanners. The v700 is apparently really great for the price and will pay itself off pretty quickly considering the cost of having a lab put your shots on CD. The scans you get from it will blow anything the lab gives you out of the water.

36

Mike says:

April 6, 2009 at 2:57 am

Well exactly Jesse. Neither is concrete. A matter of preference. Just make it original, your own and produced to the best of your ability. What you want to communicate.

37

Bas says:

April 6, 2009 at 3:25 am

Thanks Zenzanon,
Exactly – I will only develop my negatives and will buy a scanner next to that.

38

r says:

April 6, 2009 at 10:08 am

While I dabble in photoshop, I shoot on a manual nikon f5 and develop my own b&w prints and there is nothing I find more satisfying than seeing a final darkroom print. There is so much more depth and quality to a print created in the darkroom as compared with digital. I use ilford 125 and fuji professional 200 and 400 and have gotten some really great results.

And with all the great music available on this site — my darkroom playlists couldn’t be better!

Thanks for posting this!