Eight months into my exploration of film and I’m still finding it as fascinating as when I first began back in May.
This is unexpected. Always there was a niggling feeling that this was just a fad, a dip back into a long lost world that would pass as quickly as it began. I think that feeling is still there, somewhere, but it’s definitely being buried deeper.
Part of my gravitation towards film is driven by a reaction to current developments in photography. If you, as I do, follow any of the popular photography website, be it PetaPixel, dpreview, Digital Photo School, or (as a Canon user) the Digital Picture, you’ll find yourself rapidly becoming acquainted with latest cameras and lenses, complete with ever more impressive technical specifications. All fine and good, and the quest towards greater technical achievement should not be dismissed out of hand, but I find such an emphasis works against my own personal artistry.
It does so by replacing consideration of what I can achieve by consideration of what I might achieve. A better sensor, a better focusing system, a sharper lens – all of these are desirable, but they do not, in themselves, guarantee better photographs. Yet, thanks to the skillful marketing of such upgrades, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking precisely the opposite.
Film has helped break that cycle. Because the medium has been abandoned as a cutting edge photographic tool, to make use of it is inevitably going to throw you back onto relying on long superseded equipment. The second hand bodies I use with my Canon EF lenses, Elan 7Es and, amazing, an original EOS 650, are back-to-basics cameras, with few modern features (many more so, mind, in the Elan’s case vs. the 650). Outdated technology using a largely abandoned medium. And then there is the Rolleiflex 3.5F to consider. An entirely manual operation camera requiring no batteries and dating back to 1960 or so. Primitive, yes?
No. It’s not primitive and neither are the Canon film cameras. They do everything necessary to take excellent pictures. In fact, using these cameras is a potent reminder of how much we are fooled by bells and whistles. Use washes away such concerns and takes me right back the basics of photography. Considering how light, lens, aperture, shutter speed and film sensitivity work together and arranging these elements to get an image that pleases me. If it requires rather more awareness than is necessary with today’s computer controlled cameras, well, that is a very good thing.
Lenses, too, become much more practical and much less bogged down with consideration of MTF charts and sharpness comparisons. You really do not need a super sharp lens to get a good film photograph. Especially when working in 35mm format. Grain tends to limit resolution and most definitely discourages pixel peeping, but when you dial back from that 100% blowup of your photograph and look at the whole picture, you’ll be hard pressed to claim that a super high resolution digital image offers anything more. Sometimes less. Discovery of the effect of grain has been one of the pleasures of film photography. In many cases it adds a deeply satisfying quality to the resulting picture. Such as in the photograph above of a mound at Cahokia Mounds.
So the net effect of my use of film has been to return me to the consideration of the result, not of the process. In doing so, it has restored all the sense of artistic accomplishment that I was beginning to lose beforehand. That’s the prize.