Photography is a fairly solitary pursuit, so a recent photo charter I attended brought me into contact with a load of other photographers. I was intrigued to see the variety of equipment people were using. As well as a few high end pro level DSLR’s such as Nikon D700’s and Canon 5d Mk2’s, the majority were using (for lack of a better expression) entry level and mid range DSLR’s. However, there were a few people using film SLR’s, and two using medium format film camera’s. Now I also had a film camera and used it to take a dozen or so shots to finish off a film, but I wouldn’t want to shoot the entire day on film. Why not? Other than the obvious inability to instantly check my results, the poor and changing light made the ability to change the ISO a godsend. And yet, photographers made do with this for years, although the ability to change backs on some medium format cameras does give the ability to change ISO. And the lack of continuous shooting and limited number of exposures per roll demands more thought as to when to press the button, rather than just clatter away and select the best shot afterwards in post processing.
My Nikon F100 – looks like a D700, handles like a D700, isn’t a D700.
Although digital photography is here and won’t go away, there are not only people who haven’t and won’t move over from film, but also people who’ve used digital and either use both or have jacked in digital completely. Going onto film photography forums and flickr groups is a bit deceiving as you get the impression that there’s loads of people using film, when in reality, there isn’t, it’s just that they all go on the forums. OK, so I can’t prove that last statement, but it’s a phenomena you see in any minority community that thinks they are bigger than they actually are because they don’t see beyond the community.
All this pondering brought me round to thinking about using my own film cameras more. I’ve done a bit of medium format before, I even have a Mamiya 645 somewhere that yields nice results but I can’t get used to the lack of a meter and the upside down view in the waist level viewfinder. And although I run a few films through my Nikon F100 a year, it’s very much in support of my digital camera. So how about giving the digital a rest for a while and using more film? The downsides are the expense and the wait to get the film back. And there’s the argument that if you’re going to scan it anyway, you might as well just use digital. And yet, I always find myself thinking a bit more when using film – you’re paying for each shot you take, so might as well make them count. It’s just that digital is so convenient! But there is a question that’s nagging away in my head – am I using the awesome technology of my DSLR as a crutch to support me, or as an aid to improve my photography? There’s a subtle distinction to be drawn there.
With film, there’s something satisfying about getting a packet full of photographs and negatives that you haven’t seen before and seeing how well they came out that I sometimes miss. I think my challenge for myself this year is to shoot 15 rolls of film, just to see if this is a passing whimsy that I need to get out of my system, or something I need to get into more. While I think I’m competent enough a photographer to be able to take a half decent picture on any camera, it’ll be interesting to see how I get round the limitations of film and older camera technology.