To say I was intimidated the first time I put my hands on a film camera would be a generous understatement. I’m not a photographer by any standard. I’m a millennial with a smartphone, accustomed to all things automatic. And the last film-thing I touched was an old Polaroid in 2nd grade. So why shoot film?
Trev, my boyfriend, nudged a little Olympus XA across the table in June.
“I want you to take this and shoot with it and send me the film when you’re done.”
Two minutes later, he was next to me and pointing at different parts of the camera, burning through a list of photography tips for beginners and saying things like “range finder” and “shutter speed” and “aperture.” None of it made sense to me, of course. But I took the camera back to Sacramento with a few rolls of FujiFilm FujiColor 200 and started shooting.
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200 is a great low cost,
high-quality beginner’s film.
By the time I loaded roll number three into the XA I was hooked.
In the middle of the fog and muted tones of San Francisco, I noticed it: film was changing the way I saw things. It had me slowing down, appreciating and marveling at light and color like I hadn’t before. It was even making me brave, nudging me out of my comfort zone more and more so I could capture the new beauty I saw.
While learning how to shoot film, remember to take
your time—good shots require patience.
Recently, my grandpa sent me his old 35mm Nikon Nikkormat EL. It had been ages since the last time he shot film with it, so he brushed off the dust and passed the torch. It’s a sweet camera too—boxy, all metal, and complete with a hidden 8 second shutter that makes me feel like a super spy. Last weekend I loaded it with Kodak Portra 400 and took it out for its first spin at the family cabin in Lake Arrowhead. It was an exciting thing—honestly—freezing family memories the way my grandpa once did with the very camera he used years ago.
Killer moments like these
remind me why I shoot film.
I’m convinced film has dibs on serious and unique beauty smartphones can’t touch.
When you shoot film and it turns out, you did something to make that happen. You turned a dial and guessed at light, and pulled a trigger and it worked. Why every Harry Potter fan doesn’t shoot film, I don’t know. It’s a small act of wizardry in itself—a sort of tangible magic.
What’s the Best Film?
The most comprehensive index of film types; characteristics, examples, and reviews.
And it’s not perfect. I think that’s the most captivating thing about it.
We live in an age of instant gratification. Little effort. Everything is digital, clean, edited to perfection. Film does not accommodate our need-it-now mentality. It doesn’t entertain perfectionism. Film slams on the brakes and it yells authenticity.
It is a pinch of grit and grain—a bit of life uncensored.
So why shoot film? It’s a fresh breath.
For those of you flirting with the idea of film, I’d encourage you to go for it. It’s only intimidating if you let it be—so don’t. And if you’re worried about cost, The Darkroom’s standard package is only $11. And it might surprise you how inexpensive it can be to get a film camera in your hands.
Thrift stores, garage sales, Amazon, and your grandma’s closet are all great places to score sweet film cameras for beginners. Some point-and-shoots start as low as $15. And FujiFilm FujiColor 200 film comes in at around $10 for a four-pack.
Afraid you’ll burn cash on a bad roll? At The Darkroom, if you send in a blank roll, they’ll send you a voucher for your next roll free. A “redo” if you will. And they even provide a prepaid mailer to send your film in.
You see? There are far more expensive ventures. Like scrapbooking. And starting a band. So grab a camera, ditch your editing apps and get your hands on some untailored, film goodness. Chances are you’ll love it.
About the Author
Hannah Lush is a freelance writer from Sacramento, California. When she isn’t stalking her favorite coffee shops and contributing to her blog, she enjoys all things Sci-Fi and hanging out with her dog, Mulder.
For more information, visit her website hannahlush.com.
So much fun to read your take on film! I started taking film on entry level double lens reflex cameras (120 film?), then 35 mm Pentax. There were three consumer films available: Kodachrome, ektachrome, and Tri-x Pan. #1 was for color prints at 64 ASA (ISO?), #2 for color slides (~100 ASA), and #3 Tri- x Pan was high speed (woo hoo!) Black and White 400 ASA. You could “push” #3 to higher ASA’s, but you lost detail very fast. Lo, and behold, I got a complete “enlarger” (look it up!) dark room set up, and I was off and running. Remember: there were no home computers in 1968! Everything was manual. After you developed your film, you had to expose your photo paper, with the enlarger, and develop THAT! This is where film kills digital. Film DPI is measured on an atomic level, by the density of silver atoms, which is why digital has to huff, and puff, and it hardly gets to the same detail and quality of film.
It is fun to hear the millenial take on film! An excellent reason for patience was that it was EXPENSIVE to develop color film! ( spent two years in a Swiss boarding school in the mountains, which was perfect for Ektachrome, which leaned heavily to blue.) Even do it your self black and white was pricey! But as you say, Hannah, there are pay offs with film you cannot get any other way. Even HDR, a digital effort to approach to film quality, is like “lossless” audio compared to Mp3s! Film is like hearing music in person.
I think the set up now, to send film for development and digitizing, give you the best of both worlds. You get film quality, and digital quality. There’s nothing like spending hours in a darkroom to appreciate digital manipulation!
Dear “Why I Shoot Film”,
I really enjoy your reasoning when it comes to photography with film. I am an old guy who has been doing photography for over 60 years. In the last twenty almost all digital. From my long ago days as a wedding photographer I still own 2 1/4,6X6 equipment that has long sat idle. The fact that a youngster like yourself enjoys the “old way” has me excited about film once more.
I got my first 35mm camera at age 10 (1973) but did not really learn the technical stuff until I was in my mid teens. Having shot digital for the past thirteen years, I found myself wanting to go back to the discipline that film brings to photography. The calm. The thought. The length of time to consider composition and settings as if it were the only one chance that I had to take the shot. Now I have a selection of 35mm point & shoots and SLRs to choose from and I mainly shoot Ilford film. The Darkroom offers a great service, one that I am happy to keep using for my film needs.
I think it’s interesting to find more and more people shooting film these days. A word about your prices though… most will say developing BW film is easy and fun but shy away from color. I develop both at home and before you say whooaa there that’s too complicated hear me out. You can buy a C41 Tetenal kit 2.5 L kit for 60 bucks. And with an initial investment of some kit, home developing 40-60 rolls for $1-2/roll. A decent home scanner and your on your way for the cost of maybe 30 rolls developed by an outside lab. BW film development you have to time for each film type. Color… 3′ minutes for all film types. Water temp isn’t that tricky, just pour a large tub with your water tempered 30c or 38c and off you go. There is a learning curve but the payoff is well huge, at least for me. I MAKE all my own images and after a few years the cost is dirt cheap and I enjoy every second of it. Just saying, it’s a possible next step and and easy one at that. Enjoy, take care and take pictures!!!!
Great read Hannah! You’ve captured the very essence of “why shoot film”. Congrats on the awesome images too!
I shot my first roll of film at the age of 6 in London, England, using an old Kodak reflex something or other with 620 black and white film and I still have almost every negative I’ve shot since then. In the late sixties I learned to process my own black and white then moved on to printing my own color work with a buddy’s enlarger and all the other gear I needed. Of course I swore that digital would never replace beautiful film images, though it comes close. I’d been shooting some 35mm images as late as a couple of years ago and though I never ordered prints I had the negatives left uncut and did get a CD but the last two years I’ve used a Nikon digital. Imagine my surprise last weekend when I shot some 35mm and discovered nowhere in this town of 80,000 people could I get my film processed without sending it off somewhere, and even then I could get a CD (always fairly low res) but no negatives because the negatives are destroyed and not returned. Ridiculous. But now I’ve found this site (though I recognize the name) I want to try the mailer service. Until last weekend I did not know just how much I missed my film cameras, lenses, motor drives, program flashes and just the smell of the film!
Awesome Jim, Thanks for sharing!
I have been shooting film for years, good old German lenses and good bodies, can’t get any better. john
good for you! I’m your grandpa’s age, or older, and have a large collection of film cameras. I still enjoy shooting black and white and I still develop the negatives myself. I shut down my printing darkroom, but still have all the equipment and might re-build it one of these days. All of history’s greatest photos were shot with film. For this reason alone, I want to keep the technology alive so that my grandkids and their kids can appreciate what people had to go through to create those historic photos. I read that film sales are increasing! So, maybe it’s like records (you call them “vinyl”). Their appeal will never go away, complete with all the clicks and pops you hear when listening to an old album. Let’s keep the old technology around.
I used to love shooting my Canon A-1 back when I lived in Leadville, CO. I took a darkroom class at Colorado Mountain College and really enjoyed that. I packed that camera everywhere in the mountains around Leadville … the scenery was beautiful no matter which way I went. Then the digital camera era showed up and thinking the film business more or less dried up, we bought a couple of different not-so-expensive digital cameras for our photos. We got some good photos with those but it just wasn’t the same. The camera we are now using is hit and miss as to whether or not a photo is in focus. I really hate that.
Dwelling on that today after not having much success getting good images of some hummingbirds visiting our feeder, I got on the Internet and discovered The Dark Room. Promptly went and dug my A-1 out of the closet; checked the two batteries I had … one was almost full voltage so put it in the camera. There was an old roll of film I never got developed in it so removed it and will be sending that in “just in case” there’s something there that hasn’t been ruined since I last used the camera (at least 10 years I think … probably a little longer). I had some unused Kodak 200 film I’ve kept in the frig all these years so warmed one of them up and put it in the camera. Hope it is OK as I want to test drive it on the grand kids this Memorial Day weekend. Looking forward to using my A-1 once again and also looking forward to using The Dark Room for my film developing.
Several weeks ago, my 13 year old got interested in the looks and feel of my old Nikon SLRs, and took the FE with a roll of Ilford B&W film to summer camp, where cell phones were not allowed. We made a deal where he had to pay for any “bad shots” (mom will be the judge) so he wouldn’t get too trigger happy. Yesterday, watching him cradling the camera with a telephoto lens, patiently stalking a shore bird on the beach, waiting for the perfect shot with the wave breaking behind the bird, I realized that he is actually a more mutual photographer than I was at his age. We just can’t wait to get back the photos from his first roll of film.
I have been shooting digital exclusively for the past 20 years and have recently become interested in returning to film again. There’s just something about the look and feel (drawn emotion) that comes with shooting film and looking at photos shot with film. I don’t know how else to explain it than to say that photographing with film is zen-like. It demands peaceful patience and careful, determined planning…unlike the shoot and spray, chimp and repeat method of today’s digital photography. I also enjoy some graininess and imperfection over the oversaturated, overdone, super perfect digital photos. Film is more real, whereas digital is often over manipulated pixels, in my opinion. That said, I shoot digital for paid gigs, but shoot film for myself. Enjoyed your article. Thanks for sharing. I am also enjoying others’ comments below it.
Great story and I am sorry if I am throwing water on the fire, but I vastly prefer digital SLR photography with a little Photoshop image optimization. To each their own.
Have you tried riding a horse to work? There is something ineffable about all that messing around with the tack to get ready and then leaving two hours early to get to work! And after a while, when you are all done, there’s the horse manure! Ah, the good old days were so much better!
And yes, I’m old enough to know what hc-110 is, and to have used it myself. What I miss the most is my knees and memory were better then.