When people talk about why they don’t shoot film anymore, this is the reason I hear most frequently, in addition to the fact that people don’t want to wait to get their film processed and returned. They want things now–never mind the fact that there have been one-hour film processing labs for the past two decades–and film just takes too long. Yes, readers, the Internet age has made an hour too long to wait for one’s pictures. However, upon perusing many a facebook gallery, I have come to the conclusion that a little more time to think before posting that picture might have been a good idea; perhaps you’d have reconsidered posting it at all. Does the world really need more evidence of you acting foolishly under the influence?
But, I digress.
As I said, the main thing I hear is that film just costs too much. You have to buy film, pay to have it processed, and either pay to have it scanned or do it yourself. You can process film yourself too, but that just makes the whole thing too labor-intensive. Well, I have come to realize that this is nonsense. In fact, shooting film might even be cheaper than shooting digital. How can that be, you ask? Read on.
Case in point: like me, you enjoy shooting with a rangefinder. If you want the true digital rangefinder experience, you need a digital Leica (we are going to exclude the nearly decade-old Epson RD-1/s at this point). An M9 will run you about $4,000-$5,000 on the used market right now (November 2012); service for the M8 has just been discontinued, and cracked sensors are becoming the norm now, so let’s also shy away from that particular model. So you get yourself a used Leica M9–and let’s assume you already have a lens, to keep things fair–and you’re ready. A used Leica M6 will cost around $1,000 (if you need a meter, there are lots of Leica choices, however; see here for a great detailed article about the myriad different models) and others will cost even less. Get yourself a used Bessa R3M/A for around $300. Works great, and is full frame and as good as any lens you put on it. Remember, when we’re talking about film cameras, they are all essentially just light-proof boxes for mounting lenses on. Lenses and film are what make the image–the camera is just how you interact with those two things. In the digital realm, the camera is more like a computer and controls most of the image-making.
No film costs, you say? What about memory cards? Get yourself a nice card for $50-100. If you’re shooting Arista Premium (rebranded Tri-X) you can get about 35 rolls of it for $100 (or 17 for $50). That’s 1,260 frames for $100. Process it yourself (a batch of chemicals isn’t that expensive and lasts a while) and scan at home with a scanner for $100, or with your iPhone if you’re really cheap and just uploading to the web. Yes, the scanner is an extra expense, but it’s cheaper than all the software you’ll have to buy for your digital images, and it generally comes with some software for quick touch-ups to your digital files, post-scanning.
A digital SLR will cost you around $600-$1,000 these days? A used film SLR will cost you less than $100. Film costs are the same as above. For $200 you can get yourself a Nikon F100–a great pro-level SLR from the late 1990s–and a load of Arista Premium. What will $200 buy you in the digital world? Exactly: a whole lot of nothing.
Oh, and there is another cost. What happens when your computer crashes and you lose your files? What happens when you forget about your digital files in a harddrive somewhere and they become corrupted, or are no longer readable by future media platforms/devices? What does that cost you to have lost all those shots you made on family vacations or of your children growing up? With negatives, as long as they are stored dry and safe, they will last forever (at least, they’ll last longer than you’ll live; the same cannot be said for that DVD you’ve backed your photos up on).
Remember all those crappy digital cameras people were using in the early digital days? The images are pixelated, of crappy resolution, and just generally look terrible. They will always look that way. Film images can always be re-scanned in the future with whatever technology is available and will be as good as the technology at that point allows them to be. Problem solved. The above image of my father is a godo example. I re-scanned it using my scanner that I have now, but when there are better scanners and technology available in the future, I can continually re-scan it if I so choose in order to take advantage of improved resolution or whatever they are offering down the line. The memory is preserved, without being a crummy digital image from a 2MP sensor from the earlier digital days.
BUY FILM, NOT MEGAPIXELS.
At least, that’s what I’ll continue doing, and I encourage you to do the same. There really are very few reasons not to, and I hope that this rambling post helps to dispel one of the notions people have about shooting film these days. There are valid reasons for shooting digital, but cost isn’t really one of them.