Why I {love} shooting film

I would like to share my honest view of film vs. digital within my own field of expertise as a pro digital and hobbyist film photographer. I have never shot film for any of my professional work, only in school and on my own personal projects. But I am a huge admirer of a few great pro film photographers and a continuous student of photography – both in the film and digital arenas.

I “learned” photography on a film camera (my mom’s Minolta Maxxum 5 to be exact), I learned how to dodge and burn with random objects that were lying around the dark room, and I learned to develop that film with my own hands in a dark room. The overwhelming satisfaction you get when you put that 8×10 print through the dryer, take it out into the light, and see the finished product is intensly gratifying. And honestly, so is the fact that you have to BE PATIENT with it. You can’t see your image right away like you can with the digital cameras, which also means you can’t see if you got the shot or not. Which I happen to love in this “instant gratification” world we live in where everyone and their mother that picks up a digital camera thinks they’re a photographer…

I can definitely attest that film has several advantages over digital – mainly, the dynamic range (or, ability to preserve details in highlights and shadows over a wide range of stops), and also the forgiving nature of film when you overexpose it. It’s very difficult to blow out film even with overexposing by 2-3 stops – and the highlights with film roll off beautifully. In that regard, you can relax a bit when you’re shooting film (especially if you have a great photo lab to develop and scan it, but that’s another topic altogether.)

However, film does have a couple of weaknesses as well. Buying, developing, and scanning film is getting quite expensive. And the FACT of the matter is that you can’t take as many images if you have to continuously change rolls of film as you can when you have a 32GB CF card in your camera. Another disadvantage? You can’t back up film; if something happens to your rolls between shooting and developing, that makes for a very unhappy photographer – and an even unhappier client.

Don’t get me wrong either, I love digitial photography, but it also has its weaknesses. The biggest weakness is dynamic range. My Canon 5D simply will not handle light as well as film will, and the light will not look as soft and even as it does with film. But I think this problem will improve over time with digital cameras, as newer models with better sensors are developed. Now, that being said, you CAN compensate this weakness by shooting in RAW format to maximize the recovery of details in highlights and shadows, and by working on improving yourself technically so that you achieve more consistently precise exposure. I always shoot in manual/RAW and spot meter, which is a huge help. I know before I press the shutter if I still have enough details in my highlights and shadows where it’s important to have detail. This is the result of lots of practice – and I’m still always working on improving my exposure.

At the end of the day, it would take a lot of convincing by a very persistant bride for me to shoot a wedding now a days on film. For me, it is just simply to risky, but I do have to say, I might start bringing my Minolta with me on wedding days as a back up 😉