No stranger to film, I’ve continued to use film cameras alongside my digital cameras for several years. Since 2002, specifically, when I purchased a Canon G2 digicam — a purchase that changed my views of photography as profoundly as Galileo’s telescope altered mankind’s view of the heavens. There has never been as fundamental shift in the technology of photography since the invention of the craft. Even so, I didn’t entirely abandon the old ways.
Digital, for all its convenience and WOW! factor, has some drawbacks. Its ability to record images with a large dynamic range is limited compared to C-41 films, and not even close to the range B&W film can capture. Until very recently even DSLR’s suffered from excessive noise at higher ISO settings. This is still a serious problem for small-sensor digicams. Films have a grain structure that gets more pronounced in higher-ISO films, but grain is aesthetically prettier than digital noise.
These are known facts endlessly debated on Internet forums so I’ll not pursue them here except to say I love digital photography despite its costs and its problems. And I continued to love film, despite its inefficiencies, lack of convenience, and the often annoying physicalness of the medium. But my love of film has been waning.
The main factor pulling me back from film is my health. Cardiac problems have left me with less stamina and energy. This, in turn, limits the amount of time I have to devote to photography if I want to balance out photography with my other interests.
Less time to spend means more of that time gets spent on digital. There’s a big difference between going for a photo walk, coming home and transferring the results directly into my computer than in coming home and popping a roll or two of film into a drawer until I have time to develop it, scan it, or take it to a store to be developed and scanned, then getting it into my computer.
Another factor drawing me away from film is that since 2002 digital cameras have improved dramatically, with great improvements still to come. When faced with choosing a B&W or colour film for my Nikon F3HP, then deciding which ISO film is best for the day, or simply grabbing my Nikon D300 that can shoot colour and B&W, automatically set a good white balance and even automatically change ISO values based on ambient lighting, there’s not much incentive to take the F3HP.
When I do take the F3HP it’s simply because I enjoy using classic film camera bodies. I grew up with them, love their heft and feel, and enjoy their comfortable old-school aesthetic. The shots I get with B&W film can, at times, be better than the B&W’s I can get with digital. But not better 100% of the time and not better by a quantum leap. Increasingly B&W film is only marginally better than digital B&W and is often inferior.
Part of the reason for this is the improved sensor technology in today’s digital SLR’s. My D300 at ISO 1600 is smoother, with better resolution, than any ISO 1600 film I’ve tried. There is no 35mm ISO 400 film I’ve tried that produces images as clean as the ISO 400 images from my D300, and my D300 is not even state of the art when it comes to sensors.
Another key factor is that six years of Photoshop experience and learning have taught me how to make very good B&W images. Good enough to please me at least, and I’m the one paying my bills.
You can no doubt see where this is headed. The bottom line is that I’ve now shifted to digital for 90% or more of my picture taking. My film cameras have become little more than nostalgia toys to play with the odd time I want a change of pace from digital.
So with a considerable amount of psychic pain I’ve decided to sell most of my film gear, including my wonderful Bessa R3A rangefinder and lenses. As much as I admire them, they no longer serve a meaningful purpose in my work.
I won’t, however, sell all of it. I’ll probably keep my Nikon EM, Nikon FM2n, and a set of lightweight E series prime lenses. And a Minolta Autocord TLR. I started photography with a TLR and want to keep one around to use occasionally to revisit my roots. Hopefully the rest of my gear will go to younger, or at least fitter, photographers who will enjoy it as much as I once did.
Phew! I’m glad to have finally got that off my chest. Now I’ll grab one of my digital cameras and head out for a pleasant photo walk. See ya later!