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Eileen Fritsch| March 29, 2009
If you've been shooting digital for awhile (or if that is all you've ever known), try shooting some film while it's still available. There is something different about shooting film that you miss if you're totally absorbed in digital.
Although film may no longer be the predominant method of image capture, the glory days of shooting and scanning film aren't that far behind us. Those of us who started out shooting film still have lots and lots of negatives and transparencies that we regard as integral parts of our archives.
I have many images on film that I would never be able to recreate digitally. One of the best characteristics of film is the texture and grain of the emulsion - how an image records on a particular brand of film. I was always partial to Ilford Pan F and Kodak Tri-X Black and White Negative Film (which happily I can still buy).
I learned about all of the subtle characteristics of different films when I worked in a pro camera shop in my younger days. We sold everything photographic, for both amateurs and professionals. Our store even sold used camera and darkroom equipment. So, I had access to many types of film and some great gear, including large-format cameras and lenses I could never afford at the time. I even shot the BW slide film from Agfa called Scala. I loved that film.
When digital imaging entered the scene, I got involved in the new process of scanning film. I worked with expensive drum scanners such as the Scanview Scanmate and the Crossfield Magnascan. Over time the prices of high-powered scanners have fallen so much that I now have my own 4800-ppi scanner that scans everything from 35 mm negs and transparencies to 8 x 10 negs and transparencies as well as flat artwork. You would think that my scanner would sit idle but actually it gets lots of use. Now that I co-own a design agency there is always a need to scan something.
When shooting film you have no instant verification of either the exposure or the composition. (I suppose you could use a Polaroid back, but it's never the same thing.) When I shot Ilford Pan F I had no idea what the neg would look like or if the capture was even in focus. Plus my beloved camera was mostly manual (I shot the rugged Nikon FM2 – a lifelong favorite) with a built in light meter that told me if the exposure was right on or over/under exposed by giving me a red led +,O, or -sign.
There was always a bit of mystery until I developed the film and printed a proof sheet. Watching the images appear in the darkroom was a magical process that I really enjoyed. Now, I am so grateful to have had "my time in the darkroom." Looking through my proof sheets today I feel a real sense of nostalgia that I miss with digital images. There is something about the material aspect of a proof sheet that I like.
All of the images shown below were shot on black-and-white negative film then scanned on my desktop scanner. Of course, I have used Nik Software to do some tonal editing, but we'll leave that for another post.
For now, if it's been awhile since you've shot film, I urge you to go ahead, buy some film, unpack that old film SLR (or borrow one!) and start shooting! You will be glad you did. (Let me know how it goes. I would be interested to hear more about your experiences!)