A lot of people asked me again why I want to start shooting in 35mm film in this digital age. This is a question that I also could not answer properly before I started to get hands on with it. At that time, I just know that I have to get my hand on one of these 35mm film slr from Pentax to experience myself the satisfaction of capturing a still photo with it. Only after a few roll of negative later and a short online research, I am beginning to understand why some photographers still swear by their film camera, for example Eric Kim the street photographer who uses Leica M6 & Ken Rockwell of Kenrockwell.com.
To me, the main advantage of film is that the camera itself if very compact. In digital, I uses Pentax K-5, which is very compact dslr if compared with its equivalent Nikon D7000 and Canon 7D. My film slr, Pentax MZ-3 is at least twice smaller than the K-5. It is true that the film’s MZ-3 has a lot less function than the digital’s K-5, but in itself has all the functionality that the photographer needs to capture a good photograph. In being compact, it enables the photographer to blend to its surrounding and the camera to become an extension of himself. Especially in street photography, it enables the photographer to capture a split of a second moment that will be impossible with the massive full frame Nikon D700 with FX 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. Having my film camera around me all the time also enable me to capture some photos opportunity that I found on the road & work. If I have only my DSLR, i would never bring it all the time because it is heavy, and 10 times costlier which means I have to take care of it and it becomes a hassle rather than a tool.
35mm film slr also enable me to explore the so called digital full frame effect, with a very much lower entry cost to it. With the advancement of today’s digital sensor technology, the advantage of full frame has been cut down to the bokeh effect and the slight increase in image quality due to the larger sensor size. But the difference in price between a APS-C DSLR and the full frame DSLR is still very huge, for example Nikon D7000 is around RM3000, while D800, a full frame DSLR is at RM10,000, more than 3 times the price of D7000. The price factor prevented most amateur photographers from getting their hand on it. But a basic 35mm film camera with autofocus & auto exposure setting with a standard zoom lense can be found with as little as RM150 per camera. If the cost to process and scanned the negative is factored in, every 1000 shots only cost about RM600. Thus it is very much a cheaper option to take photo with 35mm film slr rather than invest in the full frame digital DSLR for amateur photographer. And you have to trust me that the extra framing of 35mm compared with APS-C sometimes enable more details to be captured in the photo and the viewfinder.
Film being analog also captures a much higher dynamic range than digital, thus skin tones & sky tonal changes are more pleasing. Out of focus image in film is also more pleasing and become an artist tool of expression rather than being a mistake in digital. In the quite recent article below, it demonstrates the difference in tonality between film & digital output. http://bwrightphoto.blogspot.com/2009/05/digital-vs-film-real-deal-nikon-d300-vs.html
Some examples of the difference of film & digital from the link is here
The characteristic difference bring a kind of artistic value to film which could not reproduced 100% in digital. Film as a medium, offers a authentic but altered version of reality that cannot quite replicated in digital.
According to Eric Kim, a famous street photographer, film allows him to concentrate on his project rather than individual photo. For film, every shot could not be reviewed immediately. Normally he stores up to 10 rolls of film before sending it be developed once a month. The wait makes him more objective in assessing his photo, allows him more focus on his project rather than individual photo itself. The technique of getting the best photo from film is different from digital. With digital, normally we just shoot non-stop, and select the photo later and than post processed it. In film, the photographer is forced to visualize the final image first before committing to normally a single shot of the image. Thus, shooting in film forces us to be a better photographer.
As for me as an occasional photographer who shoots film & digital, film offers me a more authentic medium which allows me to go to the roots of photography. Photography which uses film starts way back in the first decade of the 19th century, whereas digital photography revolution only began in the last 15 years. The great masters of photography such as Ansell Adams and Henri-Cartier-Bresson shot in film, and their works are still admired until today. Even today’s film camera is full of automaton compared with what the old masters have on their days.
Some people might be concern about the availability of film processing and how much it cost to develop film in Malaysia. Even though the cost will go up, I would like assure you that film processing will be available in years to come. On the international scene, Kodak might already going busted, but another stalwart of film, Fuji has already made a commitment to continue manufacturing & maintaining film & its processing machine. Locally, it has becomes harder to find a shop to process film, which is normal as the demand is diminishing. I believe that film processing will become consolidated which mean that they will be two or three big shops offering film processing. Other shops will become a collection centre for the big shops. Which only means a good thing since quality is easier to maintain and cost will drops as economies of scale is achieved.
Some people might be concerned about the availability of film processing and how much it cost to develop film in Malaysia. Eventhough the cost might go up, I would like assure you that film processing will be available in years to come. On the international scene, Kodak might already going busted, but another stalwart of film, Fuji has already made a commitment to continue manufacturing & maintaining film & its processing machine. Locally, it has becomes harder to find a shop to process film, which is normal as the demand is diminishing. I believe that film processing will become consolidated which mean that they will be two or three big shops offering it. Other shops will become a collection centre for the big shops. Which only means a good thing since quality is easier to maintain and cost will drops as economies of scale is achieved.
Currently I can get my 35mm film developed at RM6 per roll and scanned with unlimited roll at RM5 per CD. I don’t print the film, I stored the scanned photo digitally with all my digital photos. If you do the math, the cost to buy & develop 1000 pieces of photos is about RM600, if I sent 3 roll together to be developed and scanned. Roughly it cost 60 cent per photo, but remember that use film slr is very cheap, I can get a very good semi pro film SLR at around RM300 compared to RM3000 for a semi pro DSLR. That means if I take a total of 1000 film photos a year, my total expenditure in film will take about 4 1/2 years to be the same with a semi-pro digital SLR like the D300s, which is about the lifetime of the DSLR itself.
Here are some samples photos using film slr.