Why Are Some People Still Using Film?

Film or Digital

That heading (“Why Are Some People Still Using Film?”) probably sounds a little confrontational and it was meant to. However, I am not actually trying to criticize anyone who is still using film, I’m just really interested in the reasoning behind the decision to go one way or the other. Not that it is necessarily down to reasoning, it could be emotional or perhaps financial.

My own reasoning for converting to digital is clear. I didn’t have room for a darkroom anymore, family life leaves a lot less time for self-indulgent hobbies and I felt that digital had reached a point where I could achieve pretty much the same quality as I was getting with film.

The other day I was waiting outside Boots (the chemist) in a popular seaside town and I noticed a bunch of people who came out of the shop and stood next to me while sorting out a fistful of newly purchased 35mm films. Around the neck of one of them was slung a well used and (presumably) well loved SLR (should that be “Analogue SLR?”). What really struck me was that this was a young man; young enough to have grown up in the digital age. He must surely have chosen to use the old technology, as opposed to not having got round to replacing it? I was about to approach him and ask him about it when my wife reappeared from Boots and dragged me off to the beach. It was probably just as well – I’m not sure being approached by some fat old stranger piled up with bags, towels, buckets and spades, mumbling something about “why aren’t you digital?” would have made his holiday complete.

Later the same day, I visited the Photographers Lounge and was admiring and discussing the latest images by Richard Heeps, which are proudly hanging on the gallery wall there. Kate pointed out that these images are shot on film and traditionally printed in a darkroom. The prints have detail, a depth and a richness which I am not convinced would be achieved with digital, although I have no experience with the really high-end digital kit. Assuming that high-end digital would achieve the same (or even better?) quality, the cost of this equipment could be prohibitive to many photographers.

I can’t help feeling there are many really good reasons for still using film and just because I’m struggling to think of them doesn’t mean they are invalid. When I went looking for some 120 film for my Mamiya RB67 it was quite hard to find and the price was quite shocking. Not to mention the time, effort and cost involved in getting it processed.

I don’t want to get back into “which is better, film or digital?” because that is now a pointless fruitless exercise, but as someone who was reluctant to give film up for quite some time, I’d really like to hear some of the reasons other people have stuck with it.

14 Replies to “Why Are Some People Still Using Film?”

  1. I stuck with film for a long time because I thought it was better than digital. Then I tried, and began learning to use digital, and it worked great. Now I’m shooting with digital cameras, and I like it. This doesn’t change anything about the capabilities of film. Film works great. Digital works great. I choose digital, but I think the decision of film or digital has about as much bearing on whether I’m creating decent photos or not as my choice of which car to drive to work does.

  2. Digital has the one flaw that images only exist as data on a hard drive, CD, or DVD. If the hard drive crashes, there goes a lot of time, cost and memories. Digital media might not last as long as slides, negatives or prints on paper.

  3. Unfortunately, digital and film archives are both subject to destruction by fire and water (to some extent). The advantage digital offers is the ease and cheapness with which digital can be duplicated and the copy (or copies) saved elsewhere. I think the real danger with digital is that many people are quite blase about their digital media and seem to think it will be around forever. As technology moves on, who knows how inaccessible our picture may be in the future? For example, does anyone else remember thinking Zip Disks were the way forward?!

  4. Some people like that fact that from their occasion, they get some actual “stuff” for their money. This could be in the form of photos, or even the film itself. Perhaps another appeal of film is that it is considered old school or timeless and that appeals to some people’s nature- Nate

  5. I shoot both.

    Digital for the convenience and the clean sterile look that only digital can give.

    Film for the feel of it, and for the look it gives. There is nothing quite like the look of Ilford Delta 3200 shot in available low light. Sure the latest full frame DSLR might better it, but it does not have the same look.

    In addition, film cameras have sex-appeal that no digital camera has even come close to replicating. Film cameras are desirable objects in and of themselves.

    For the record, I started serious shooting in digital, and have started shooting increasingly with film.

  6. The look of film and the longevity of it is a large part of why I shoot film. It is also an important part of the craft for me – ‘fix it in photoshop’ – is a phrase that I detest. I also want my daughter to have some tangible memories. I have a dedicated film scanner, so I have a hybrid digital system with a better archiving system than straight digital. I can drop my folder of negatives and slides and not worry about being able to “see” images after the drop, not so with my hard drives.

  7. I have a grudging admiration for Ken Rockwell, mainly for his passion and enthusiasm for photography. Ken’s article is interesting, but flawed in many ways. I agree (or want to agree) with much of what he says, but some of his arguments are a bit silly.

    Don’t misunderstand me here – I still love film and I think it is still superior to digital in many ways; I just choose not to use it anymore, for what I believe are good reasons (but MY good reasons, they won’t be true for everybody).

    So I don’t agree with Ken entirely, but I think his argument contains many or even most of the positive reasons why people are still using film. I hope they continue to do so.

  8. i shoot both of them..as for film, is my own thing…i like the relaxed timings of film, the mechanical trickings of my camera, the missing of a monitor on the back, so you just have to imagine…that’s for black and white, to me, since i haven’t shot color film for years now..
    I just love bw film tones, but more than all, the knowledge I will not download and start processing all that files the same day I’ve shot them like i do for all my work shots (and that’s enough..)

  9. Even though I have not put a film in my RB67 for probably 10 years, I still cherish it. No batteries, no meter, clockwork shutter, manual focus – it all adds up to an interactive experience that digital has not replaced (yet).

  10. Why do some individuals still prefer to write letters rather than to type up an email?
    It’s all about preference and convenience. I do think it is interesting that they still teach film photography in some high schools though.

  11. Actually, digital hasn’t yet reached a point where it can compete with some kinds of film photography, such as large format, which records film sizes of up to 8×10, which you could essentially enlarge to the size of a house with crystal clarity and no loss of resolution. Plus, there is an art to darkroom work – there is an art to development and printing, I know many other photographers who pride themselves on the perfectionism of their prints. I’ve worked in both digital and film, and find digital just far less satisfied. I don’t feel a tangible outcome, I don’t feel I have the same level of control as in a darkroom. That’s another thing – when you shoot digitally, the people who write the automatic programming and focus programming for your camera are involved. The people who make your SD card are involved. The people who write and script Photoshop are involved. In a darkroom, there’s just you and your film. Simple.

  12. Clare – I have noticed that those still using film, almost without exception, have the passion, commitment and personal involvement with it that you demonstrate here. Digital is easier in many ways, but that is not always (or often?) a good thing. I firmly believe that no matter what external influences or facilities are there, photographers should be judged purely by the picture they put in front of you. There are good photographers and bad photographers and every shade in between; all the kit is just… well… stuff.

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