Why I Haven’t Shot Film In Two And A Half Years (And Haven’t Looked Back)

My great film adventure began on my birthday in June, 2012, with a Holga 120N and five pack of Ilford HP5 Plus 400. 

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
From my first roll of film I ever shot, Holga 120N, Ilford HP5 Plus 400

A month later I’d dipped my toe in 35mm, and for almost five years, this was my predominant photography medium.

But, since the spring of 2017, I haven’t shot a single frame of film. It’s all been digital. 

So what happened?

Quite simply, whilst film blew my photography world wide open from my previous experience of a Nikon Coolpix compact, and prior to that, Sony phone cameras, I came to realise that virtually all of the pleasures film photography gave me, were available with digital too.

My main reasons for shooting film, with old film cameras were – 

– To enjoy using vintage gear, especially lenses, like Asahi Takumars, and Pentax-M and A series.

– To have more control over my images than I did with the Coolpix and camera phones, by shooting aperture priority mode with 35mm format prime lenses.

– To become as immersed in the experience of photography as I could, so lost in the frame of the viewfinder or screen, that the rest of the world disappears.

– To have a way to capture the beauty I find around me, so I could then share it with others.

– To give me an excuse to wander around the countryside alone more.

Aside from using vintage film bodies, all of the above I can do (and do do) with digital bodies. 

Plus with digital cameras, there are other added benefits that just suit me better, such as –

– No ongoing cost, whether I shoot five photos or five hundred photos in a week, it costs me the same, ie next to nothing. Unfortunately, the cost of film photography made it prohibitive for me.

– The immediate feedback means I can try different settings on the fly and see what difference it makes, rather than making copious notes then waiting a week so see the results, and then take the next step, as with film. I just learn better this way, and the knowledge I gain embeds in my memory more deeply.

– Simpler processing. With my favourite digital cameras I can set them up to get images I love in camera, then just download the results to my MacBook ready to share. When I press the shutter button, the creation of the photograph ends.

It avoids the whole scanning dilemma with film (either you relinquish control and rely on someone else’s scanning, or go through the laborious torture that I found home scanning to be).

This post isn’t about film versus digital.

I still feel there are plenty of reasons to shoot film in 2019.

It’s about simply finding which format and set up and approach to photography works best for you, and allows you to enjoy it to the fullest. 

For me, that hasn’t involved film for two and a half years, for the reasons above, and I can’t see me returning to film any time soon.

You might feel similarly, or you may currently be elbow deep in film photography and absolutely loving it.

It’s your photography. Do what works for you, do what matters to you. Enjoy!

How about you? What’s your preferred way of enjoying photography right now, and how has it evolved in the last few years? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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15 thoughts on “Why I Haven’t Shot Film In Two And A Half Years (And Haven’t Looked Back)”

  1. I agree: digital solves the ‘film problems’ without taking much from the ‘film advantage’. Having shot I-don’t-know-how-much film in my life with literally hundreds of different cameras I can say that digital is my preferred method of making pictures. I miss the mechanical cameras for what they are (interesting technology) but I can no longer cope with the hassle and expense of film.
    I do hope every photographer gets a chance at the film experience, though.

    1. I missed the experience of mechanical cameras too, for a while. I don’t really think of any digital cameras as beautiful feats of engineering (though some are remarkable tools), but both my two remaining 35mm film cameras I would put in that class.

      I think in retrospect, the film camera that wowed me the most, and gave me the most memorable experience compared with anything I’d tried before, was my first film camera, the good old plastic Holga 120N.

      I still look at it and think how on earth can one create any picture at all with such a primitive hunk of plastic, let alone some of the images I made that I’m still very fond of.

      I’ll certainly never say never to using that again, because it’s nothing like digital, whereas shooting 35mm film with an SLR is in practice 90% the same as with a DSLR and the same lens(es).

      So if I was recommending someone try shooting film, it’d probably with something more offbeat like a Holga, a pinhole or something.

  2. I’m of two minds about this. If I could could find a digital equivalent of my beloved Rolleiflex and Ikoflex rollfilm cameras, I would be thrilled. On the other hand I have never, ever gotten better results than I have seen from my Fujifilm X-pro after shooting some very high end cameras over many years. The only film camera that came close was a Hasselblad system that I just couldn’t get on with. I spent the afternoon yesterday testing some of my Minolta lenses on the Fuji with an adapter, and the results were pretty shocking, at least to me. I’m talking about really cheap lenses here, nothing high end. I’m not sure I’ll quit film completely, but it’s getting hard to justify when I results like that from a cheap digital camera, and common inexpensive lenses.

    1. Jon, I went the opposite route – I started with vintage lenses adapted to my E-M10 Mk II. I too am blown away by the image quality from lenses that were considered “consumer” grade. My conundrum was what to do with the bodies that came attached to the vintage lenses I was buying, so I started shooting film.

      I’ve been super impressed by the film modes that Fuji offers on their cameras. It truly is the best of both worlds and makes me want to trade in my digital gear and move to Fuji.

      I agree with you on the medium format. I have a Rolleicord vB and Pentax 645 and I love the images I get from both. Medium format digital is just too far out of my budget.

      1. Rob, ironic that you shoot a certain type of film (medium format) because it’s affordable compared with the digital equivalent, and with me a major reason for giving up 35mm was it became unaffordable. I guess over time medium format digital would work out the cheaper option, per photograph. It might take a decade or two! Have you ever done the sums?

      2. Dan, the reality is that I spend way too much shooting film. It has been hard to quantify it since I tend to shoot film in spurts, mainly when I’m traveling or exploring. This means that I’m usually dropping off 3-4 rolls at a time.

        I shoot both 35mm and 120, B&W and Color. I try to stick to what I can get cheaply. Mostly Kentmere Pan, TMax 400, Color Plus 200, Fujicolor 200. I still have about 30 rolls of expired film in the fridge that I need to shoot through.

        I’ve mitigated the cost substantially by shooting more B&W and processing it at home. I’m lucky enough to have two shops near me that process film, so I take my color 35mm to one shop where they develop and cut it for me for $5/roll I take my color 120 to the other shop where they process it for $8.

        I have a nice Canon 9000F scanner that was a great $10 thrift store score (it was brand new!) that I use to scan my negatives.

        I bought about $100 of film close to the beginning of this year and I’m having 3 rolls of color film developed every other month, so about $172 a year for color film alone.

        Conservatively, I’m spending about $20-$25 a month total shooting film – ouch… That said, as of late I am giving my film cameras a rest and devoting more time to digital, especially now that we’re moving into rainy season here. My K-5 just got its annual baptism two nights ago in a surprise thunderstorm during my stepson’s football (American) game.

      3. I think it comes down to what we can each afford and, perhaps more importantly, what we can justify to ourselves. Spending $172 a year on film is only around $14 a month, a cheap hobby really compared to many. To others this would be too expensive to sustain.

        At my peak of film I was shooting around 12-15 rolls a month, at around £4-5 a roll (inc purchasing, developing and scanning), so up to £75 some months, which I just couldn’t justify. Especially as I was buying cameras and lenses too. When I went down to five or six rolls a month, which cost around £25-30, it was manageable financially, but I just wanted to shoot more than that! Hence my proportion of digital photography increasing, until it replaced film entirely.

        When I can pick up a DSLR and lens for £50 (as I wrote about recently), and then have no significant ongoing costs, it’s too affordable to ignore!

        PS/ I had that scanner too. It worked reasonably well but the whole experience I just found painful and couldn’t justify spending hours of my precious photography time each week hunched over a scanner and laptop. I’d rather pay the lab an extra pound or two to scan and get that time back for something I enjoyed.

      4. Hi Rob, the Rolleicord Vb and Ikoflex 1c are two of my most treasured possessions. The Ikoflex belonged to my Great Uncle and whenever I go out on a photo walk with it I am instantly transported back to my childhood and the seaside and so many happy memories. Also the Tessar lens has beautiful rendering. I also love the lens on the Rolleicord and prefer it to the high end models, and the simplicity is great. I will probably keep shooting film in these two cameras as long as I can get 120 film. Medium format digital is way out of my price range.
        I am probably going to sell off my M43 equipment soon, I’m pretty firmly in the Fuji camp now and will just keep shooting my X-Pro 1 as long as it lasts. I bought it used and Fuji doesn’t support them anymore so that might be sooner than later, but I’m enjoying the heck out of it right now. I’m not a very accomplished photographer, but at least for me, the results from this camera are in a totally different league than I was getting with M43. It’s possible that operator error accounts for some of that though, and the X-Pro is just so much less fiddly and easier to use.

      5. Jon, I think its awesome that you have two cameras that were handed down. The stories those cameras captured are so much a part of their appeal, don’t you think?

        I’ve never shot an Ikoflex, but the Rolleicord vB is one of my favorite cameras. I’m actually saving to send it off to Mark Hama for some TLC.

        I’ve thought hard about Fuji, but I invested pretty heavily in M43 and I can’t bear to think about the trade in value (or lack thereof!) in relation to buying a new Fuji.

        That and when I look at the pictures I’m able to capture with my Olympus 12-40mm Pro, I just don’t see the point of changing. That lens rarely leaves the camera.

      6. Mark serviced my Vb as well! Actually, only the Ikoflex was a family camera, and I’m not sure I would recommend one. Mine has needed service several times. Happy shooting!

    2. Ooh Jon, which Minolta lenses? I had a few Rokkors, and all of them were fantastic, not least of a 58/1.4, probably the biggest hunk of glass (in a lens) I’ve ever seen.

      I imagine your rollfilm cameras are a very different experience from shooting a digital SLR or mirroless, in the same way my Holga was. Perhaps it’s these we should keep and use, because there is no real digital equivalent.

      1. Dan, I’m slow as molasses when testing lenses, so I haven’t even gotten through all the Minolta lenses yet. I haul a huge heavy tripod, stop and take notes, etc. Sadly, my 58/1.4 was too sick to test, it has fungus, or haze or something. The big surprise was I preferred the more common less expensive lenses to the more celebrated ones. The cheap 55/1.9 lens, which has given me an unreasonable number of good pictures over the years is lovely on a digital sensor. It was only made for a few years and sold on Minolta’s cheapest cameras. Also the MD 35/2.8 which looks and feels like a cheap piece of junk is just unbelievably sharp and contrasty. I couldn’t get it to flare or take a bad picture, and the colors are shockingly good. Another surprise was a late MD “Celtic” 28/3.5 that did flare a bit, but so beautifully, and is very, very sharp indeed. The very cheap and common 50/1.7 MD-X was similarly great, no vices that I could find.
        On the other hand my very expensive 85/1.7 MD was very nice, but nothing to write home about, actually a little too sharp for portraits of anyone over the age of 20. I was also a little let down by the 58/1.2 I bought years ago. It’s a fine lens, but I don’t see anything that special about it. It’s sharp alright stopped down, but why carry a huge hunk of glass like that to stop it down. Maybe the digital sensor lets it down. Any way, this one is going to be sold for sure. The 50/1.4 late MD lens is nice enough, but I can’t see any reason to prefer it over the 50/1.7 which I think has more pleasant rendering, at least my copies. It’s also heavier and more bulky. I’m sure with lenses this old copy variation always plays a part.

      2. Jon, I found all the Rokkors I had to be excellent. I haven’t tried a “Celtic”, I understand this was Minolta’s budget line, but they seem to be very rare, and most bodies had a Rokkor 50/1.7 or 50/2 as the kit lens I believe.

        Whilst I physically preferred the older all metal Rokkors, like you, a late MD 50/1.7 which was quite a bit smaller and lighter, and delivered equally well on the image front, if not better.

        I had a few of their AF series which I used with a couple of Dynax 7 series bodies on film, and Sony DSLRs (same mount, Sony bought them out in the mid 2000s and kept the Minolta AF mount). The 50/2.8 macro and 35-70mm zoom were both fantastic lenses.

        Minolta know their glass!

  3. What camera would you recommend a guy that has travelled the same way as you, from analog collector to walkaround-shooter to digital? I love 1960s German viewfinder cameras and want to shift a little bit. There are several options in my mind, from Fuji’s xpro and x-e series to Sony’s a6000 to panasonic lx100 camera. The analoglike handling of more important that the image quality to achieve joy. Also a descent zoom lens gives enough flexibility on the go. Therefore I even don’t need changeable lenses.

    1. Oli, thanks for your question, but I’m not really very experienced with digital cameras. I had a Sony NEX, very practical for testing vintage lenses with all the adapters available, the tilting screen and focus peaking, but awkward handling and kind of muted and cool colours, which I never liked. I’ve tried a few Lumix, and liked them all, the LX3 is fantastic. But mostly I shoot b/w with its dynamic mono mode. For colour I nearly always use my old Pentax DLSRs with CCD sensors, and vintage lenses (mostly M42). It really depends what you want and what your priorities are. I don’t care about high MP and loads of features but do value handling, being able to use old lenses, and cameras that deliver great images straight out of camera. My main advice is don’t go looking for something new, or even a year or two old, there were some wonderful digital cameras being made 10, even 15 years ago that cost very little these days and still bring a huge grin. My favourites are Pentax DLSRs circa 2006-9, the LX3 (2008 I think), the Ricoh GRD III (2011) and Pentax Q (2011). Good luck!

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