Should Schools Totally Stop Teaching the Use of 35mm Film?

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer 4V Design Lusso Slim brown and cyan product images review (3 of 9)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 2.0

Before you grab the pitchforks and scream at me to shut my trap because an idea like this could hurt the film community, bear with me,

For the past couple of years, I’ve been asking myself very personal questions when it comes to using film. You see, in general all my digital photography is commercial or for the Phoblographer (which then turns commercial) and all my personal project work is film-based. Granted, that’s not the case for everyone.

However, on the same train of thought, it can be very well argued that digital photography at both the APS-C and 35mm full frame level have both caught up and arguably surpassed their film counterparts in terms of versatility, detail rendition, etc.

But it hasn’t quite caught up with all that 120 can offer.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Cinestill 800T sample photos (13 of 31)


So with that said, is it time to totally stop teaching students 35mm film? Lots of schools these days have switched over to digital and some even totally forget about film. Forgetting about film I personally feel does a great injustice to students who are paying way too much money to a college or university with no guarantee of a job when they get out.

Cinestill photo

My answer: not really. 35mm film still has some very specialized offerings like the stuff that CineStill, Lomography and a couple of others offer that you can’t really get with standard Kodak and Fujifilm offerings. Let’s face it: Kodachrome is gone. Very few people these days really know how to take the biggest advantage of Velvia, etc. Perhaps the best color film out there right now is Fujifilm Natura, and that stuff is only available in Japan. For years I was a tried and true Kodak Porta boy, but photographer Simon Chetrit showed me otherwise.

I mean, have you seen the look of CineStill? To be honest, I’d vehemently argue that it’s the best thing to happen to 35mm film in years.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all either championing the abolishing of all film being taught in schools. Instead, I believe that focusing on medium format, large format and alternative processes like Wet Plate, Instant, etc is quite important. The reason for this is because it teaches photographers to slow down. Not everything in photography requires you to have the fastest autofocus, the most accurate and precise focusing on someone’s iris, etc. Instead, it’s a slow process that makes you think carefully about the image that you’re going to create.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Cinestill 50D sample photos (14 of 29)

Think about it: your entire grade revolves around 35 frames for an entire semester. What would you shoot? There is no extra credit; and each image is very important let alone graded. That means that you’ve got 36 chances to ensure that you’ll get an A or a passing grade of some sort. To be honest, that’s a lot of opportunities. It would teach someone to be very careful about everything that they do and not only teach valuable artistic advice, but also teach valuable life advice about thinking before you do something?

Pro Tip: Handheld light meters can help with figuring out what your flash settings and camera/lens settings should be.

Pro Tip: Handheld light meters can help with figuring out what your flash settings and camera/lens settings should be.

Think about how much value a student could get out of that?

Now, going back to my idea of teaching medium and large format, condense that down to even less frames. Say 24, 12, or maybe even 10. Each image would be harshly criticized. It would teach photographers of the future such valuable lessons! However, these lessons are really only given with the larger formats than 35mm. When these students have worked with larger formats, they’ll then apply those theories and concepts to smaller formats like a full frame 35mm digital camera or even with a phone. Then think about how much their work could stand out from the rest of the applicants for jobs out there?

35mm film, which it is fairly cheap and lets photographers get the analog experience for a cheaper price point, isn’t necessarily a viable teaching tool anymore because of everything that DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can do these days. But at the larger formats and the specialized emulsions, it’s very viable as a learning tool.

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Schools need to continue these skills, or no one will truly understand the real basics of photography. Also schools need to teach painting, colour theory, and life drawing, so that students can slow down and see light, and colours without the need of using black and white paints. There are many other colours on the wheels to use. Printmaking is another skill, learning how those masters produced lights and darks was amazing!

    Everything I do, everyday goes back to when I shot using film and my fine art skills. Not only did I develop b/w film and print it in a traditional darkroom using RC and Fiber based papers, but I also printed using a traditional colour darkrooms. I also learned how to create 35mm, 4×5 and 8×10 dupes in a professional colour lab as a full time job, and processed film in dip and dunk tanks. I’m dating myself here, I don’t care, but these are skills that I’m genuinely proud of.

  • BlackRipleyDog
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Shooting film not only teaches you the basics of photography but it forces you to slow down and be conservative in your shooting style. You have a roll of 36 exposures, your camera set at ISO 200 and you may only get one chance to nail an image. You do not get that immediate feedback from looking at the screen and checking the histogram on the camera to see if you hit it. You have to wait until you get the film back to lab for developing and the negatives in the enlarger to really see what you captured. Technique and a true artist’s eye develop this way. A high frame rate, scalable ISO and white balance and in-camera jpeg processing does not help you accomplish that.

    Digital is great in a lot of ways, but it lends itself to generic and sometimes very pedestrian outcomes.
    It makes it too easy to produce what are technically, perfect images; but rarely do they rise to the level of true art. Every time you apply to an action to an image file in a software package you are essentially giving up some control over the outcome to an anonymous coder. The first time you try it, you like what you see and then you are hooked from that point forward. The current rage in PS or LR Presets are a manifestation of this. I do not use them in my work because each image is unique and needs to stand on its own. I choose to expand on my 1% knowledge of PS to push those bounds even further.

    One more thing film has over digital. Since you have to print it in order to fully appreciate your efforts, you understand that there is nothing like making a print, inspecting it under real light and displaying it. When you present someone with a framed piece is the most satisfying feeling in the world. You don’t need a mobile device to view it. It is there in the real world and not the virtual one, which has a ba-gillion gigabytes of images in the Cloud all competing for views and likes.

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Does learning an ancient language like COBOL (from the 1960s) make todays modern computer science majors better at building applications?

    Will engineering students benefit from learning how to build circuits with vacuum tubes?

    All these arguments about film formats is pointless nostalgic crap.

    • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      Learning a strange (even for it’s generation) language like COBOL would indeed be a pointless exercise in self-flagellation. However, learning an old computer language like K&R C (still used in OS and embedded applications) will make you a better programmer. Why? Because many modern languages (java, obj.c, swift, c++, c#) have inherited concepts and syntax from it. 35mm film (in my opinion) is more ANSI C than COBOL. Like C, 35mm film is the Latin of photography. It may be swiftly becoming a dead language, but if you learn it, doors to other photographic mediums will open with greater ease.

      • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

        Actually C is still in heavy use. But you miss my point. Learning to shoot film does not make anyone a better photographer. Get an award winning photographer to make that statement and I’ll concede the point. This line of thinking is just a variation of the larger sensor versus small sensor or Nikon versus Canon versus Sony arguments. It’s pointless and divise and designed to make one feel superior.

        • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

          Yeah ANSI 99 C is in heavy use for sure…. I shot digital for a decade (that’s what I started with) and only had the barest clue how aperture, shutterspeed, and ISO influenced the finished product. It was not until I picked up an old Nikkormat FTN that I learned the fundamentals of photography. Listen, I get what you’re saying. You don’t need to know that stuff these days because the technical aspects of photography are largely handled automatically (and well). But there is still a certain kind of artist that needs to have granular control of his light box. A fully manual 35mm film camera is a great way to learn because the lack of a ‘P’ on the dial forces you.

  • ShowHarmony
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Film ( in various sizes) should be an elective course, not a requirement.

  • Victor Reynolds
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    I shoot with 35mm, 6×6 and Instant. Although 35mm has been the educational staple for years; moving up to medium format, instant, and large format helps the mind to think more since there are less images to work with.

    When I had commercial photography classes in the mid 80s, we worked with studio (large format) cameras with 4×5 sheet film. It was a process in being truly in the moment. Although 35mm still has its merits; a larger format (even instant) will make a student think through a shot more.

  • Jeff Lynch
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Seriously. You are, I assume, talking about actually teaching how photography works. What are you going to do, teach students basic button pushing, menu navigation and cranking up the sharpening?

  • fhayes
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    So who really knows how to actually use a camera when it can be set on auto? I love my 6×7 and 4×5’s. They make me think and compose. Digital is catching up and may even get close in a few years. Enlarge a negative, enlarge a ? on a SD card, which breaks up first? Digital. Digital is nice, but there is no genuine craft as with film.

  • Bruce Harding
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Good words!

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s I used to hear “digital wont surpass film” , well here we are today. I still love film, but digital is winning for what I do.

  • Philippe Golaz
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Thank you for this great article. A year ago I wasn’t that much in photography anymore, lacking motivation and inspiration. But i took a film camera, took a training to develop and print my own photographs, and fell in love again with photography, improving my skills and the quality of my images in both digital and analog photography ! I love shooting digital, but also with my Canon AE-1 in 35mm or with my Rolleiflex in 120 format. 😉

  • Turbofrog
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    I regularly shoot 6×7 and Micro Four Thirds. I have several 35mm film cameras that go unused these days. The advantages that 35mm has over medium format in terms of flexibility, size, price, and ergonomics go out the window compared to M4/3, which also has better technical image quality.

    But medium format is still something really special…