Why Switch from Digital to Film?

Switch from Digital to Film


• A film camera— or a collection of film cameras— can offer far more outlets of creativity than a single DSLR or mirrorless camera with even multiple lenses. Film photographers have a choice between 120, 35mm, slide, infrared, Polaroid and various other films. Many films have their own unique look. This ‘look’ is precisely why so many photographers switch from digital to film.

This is a typical shot on Flickr with way too much post editing.

• With digital everything happens in post. For example, many high-end DSLRs take more or less the same looking photo straight-out-of-the-camera. After shooting, all the magic finally happens in programs like Adobe Lightroom and DxO OptixPro. So many presets and sliders are in these programs. A beginning photographer may find these editing sliders overwhelming. It takes years to fully understand how and why to use all the available tools to edit a photo. All the editing in the world can make a mediocre photo ‘look cool’… but it will still be a mediocre photo.

These eBay screenshots are all of very capable film cameras at inexpensive prices.

• Film cameras are rather cheap to buy. Rangefinders, Polaroids, point-n-shoots and a plethora of 35mm camera SLRs can all be bought on eBay for around $100— or cheaper! Medium format beauties can also be purchased at a lower cost then many current DSLRs or mirrorless cams.

35mm Detail

A 100% zoom crop of a 35mm photo. Shot with a Canon Canonet QL-17.

• Film actually has incredible resolution! A 35mm frame scanned at 3200 resolution can easily be printed about 17″ wide. In digital terms this image would be equivalent to a 16mp DSLR photo. A 6×7 120 frame is about 4x the size of a 35mm negative— this is roughly a 70mp image! Check out the resolution of a Pentax 6×7 in this portfolio entry.

Dynamic Range Example

A cropped Kodak Ektar photo. An example of the great dynamic range of film.

• You might’ve heard that film has incredible exposure ‘latitude’. This is so true. This means that film has the ability to capture all the dynamic range of a scene. Highlights are not over-blown, midtones are plentiful, and shadow detail is balanced. I’ve had photos both under & over exposed by 2 or 3 stops that still retain good detail in shadows and highlights. During one photo shoot I intentionally underexposed a frame of Kodak Ektar just for the fun of it. This shot is one of my most popular on Flickr.

Bucky Adox Color Implosion

My cat Bucky shot with Adox Color Implosion using a Lomo LC-A.

• Different film stocks produce uniquely different looks. Kodak Portra has a balanced tonal range that is great for portraits. Kodak Ektar gives wonderful false colors. CineStill can give a cinematic look. Adox Color Implosion offers a groovy 70’s look and feel. These are only a few I’ve shot with. I won’t even get into all the great tones and textures that b/w films have. Also, don’t forget about the wonderful world of Polaroid film. A resurgence of instant film is growing thanks to Impossible.

Shot with Kodak Portra

Kodak Portra photos from a Diana F+ left, Canon Canonet QL-17 on right.

• Interestingly the same film stock shot in different cameras can produce uniquely different images. For example, a Kodak Portra photo in a Lomo LC-A will be noticeably different compared to one from a professional Nikon F3. Portra loaded into a toy camera; like the Diana & Holga, will take photos so unique and otherworldly that I think every fine art photographer should have one.

Nikon F3 Pentax 6x7

Examples of top shelf film cameras. 35mm Nikon F3 left, 120 format Pentax 6×7 on right.

• Nothing compares to shooting with a classic film camera. It’s quite romantic shooting with a well-made 30, 40 or 50+ year-old camera. High-end classic cameras operate with the precision of a perfectly machined, well-oiled firearm.

Negative Notebook

Always store negatives in Print File archival sleeves.

• Film is a future-proof storage medium. On the contrary, digital photos are only as safe as how carefully they’re backed up. Film is not bullet proof, however. Negatives should always be stored away from extreme humidity and kept away from extreme heat. They also should be kept in notebook film sleeves. If properly cared for the only thing that will destroy film is a house fire.

  • satrain18

    You should also invest in a frost-free refrigerator to slow down or prevent dye degradation in color film. Sources:The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs: Traditional and Digital Color Prints, Color Negatives, Slides, and Motion Pictures by Henry Wilhelm
    http://www.wilhelm-research.com/pdf/HW_Book_19_of_20_HiRes_v1c.pdf http://www.wilhelm-research.com/subzero.html http://www.wilhelm-research.com/pdf/HW_Book_20_of_20_HiRes_v1c.pdf http://www.wilhelm-research.com/

    • Paul Hargett

      Thanks for these links about frost free preservation. Looks to be a great resource to have in the ever-crowding internet. I currently store both my unopened film and exposed rolls in the freezer of a frost free fridge. After reading those articles I bet I’ll discover all the intricacies for the reasons why you should.

      • satrain18

        I’m actually talking about already processed color slides and negatives though…

        • Paul Hargett

          Ah, ok. I did not have processed films in mind when I replied back because I just only skimmed the pdfs. A freezer can also double as a stop-gap solution for a fire safe. Fire safes suitable for film can cost thousands of $$$$. Although frost free freezers protect very little from fires they can protect from water damage.

  • satrain18

    I know you love film and absolutely hate digital(and yes, you are a member of a Flickr group called “I Hate Digital!”(https://www.flickr.com/people/131320187@N04/groups/), but you need to get your facts straight:

    “Film actually has incredible resolution! A 35mm frame scanned at 3200 resolution can easily be printed about 17″ wide. In digital terms this image would be equivalent to a 16mp DSLR photo.”
    Sensor size for film size, digital have already beaten film. And your crops are blurry at best.

    “Film is a future-proof storage medium. On the contrary, digital photos are only as safe as how carefully they’re backed up.”
    You do know that color negatives and slides(and C-41 B&W stuff) contain unstable dyes that will fade and produce color shift, or worse, fade to nothing in as little as five years, even at room temperature. The only way to slow this down is cold or frozen storage at 40˚F or below at 30% to 50%relative humidity. In other words, you’ll have to buy at least one refridgerator with humidity control https://www.imagepermanenceinstitute.org/resources/newsletter-archive/v12/preserving-film-collections https://www.filmcare.org/vd_dyefade.php http://www.wilhelm-research.com/pdf/HW_Book_19_of_20_HiRes_v1c.pdf https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/14-10.pdf

    On a personal note I quit shooting film years ago not only because of rising film and processing costs, but also because of the growing snobbery in film photography community, especially from film-only photographers. And after reading their vitriol(yours included) I will never go back.

    • satrain18, I appreciate your comments and linking those resources on this blog article. I was unaware of the effects of dye degradation over time. Most of my knowledge is accumulated from all my years of being a photographer, discussing with fellow photographers, and of course, the internet—like anyone. I did know that film degrades over time if not properly stored. I do know that keeping film in a controlled environment while cold is an ideal way of extending the life. But no, I did not know about dye fading… but it makes perfect sense.

      I have 2 decent sized boxes of old film & prints stored away that was developed using 1hr. processing. These are easily 15+ years old—all without taking a care in how they were stored. Those negs look as good as new when I looked at some a month or so ago. Yes, properly storing film in an archival way will surely lengthen its life… but you don’t need to treat negs like they’re made of china. Give me a break.

      As far as scanning 35mm negs using 3200 res is concerned: I confess, I did take liberty in sweetening what a 35mm 3200 res will print @ 300ppi. When properly scaling a 35mm photo up in Photoshop I can *easily* make a 17″ wide print without any discernible degradation in its resolution/appearance. I’m not arguing the film vs. digital resolution debate; what I made a point on is that an old ass camera does have the resolution of a fairly current DSLR. Yes, digital does have far more clarity; but film shooters shoot it for the look—not for razor sharpness.

      FilmAmmo is a fanboy website for film photographers—but not without substance. I put meaningful content on this site and also try to provide an accurate resource for digital photographers looking to get into film. I’m sorry you quit film because of how much we gush on how awesome film is.