Film is a Choice of Medium; Not a Hipster Aesthetic

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer 4V Design Lusso Slim brown and cyan product images review (1 of 9)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 2.0

In 2016, I’d like to think that film finally became a respected format again that lives as its own individual medium. For the most part, that’s true in the artistic end of the photography world–but there are still those that associate it with being hipster, inadequate, and in no way superior to digital. Those beliefs couldn’t be any further from the truth. It’s a tougher medium to master (along with all the other analog mediums): but in today’s day and age there isn’t a single photographer whose entire career (all the way to the end of it) has been founded on and fully digital.

Film, instead, just reminds us of the absolute truth of photography: there are abysmal digital photographers and there are abysmal film photographers. Then there are those who excel no matter what medium they choose.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MA first impressions (6 of 6)ISO 6401-80 sec at f - 2.8

Film, like digital, is a medium in which we can do photography and artistically share images. Digital, in all its convenience and immediacy, literally emphasized that–the immediacy of taking a photo, retaking, taking it again, and again, and again and again. On the other, the mindset behind film requires you to be incredibly more discerning. With 35mm, you’ve got only 24 to 36 images. With 120, you’ve got less than 35mm but the number varies on the format. With large format, you’ve got one shot. To get that one shot the absolute best you can, you’re going to work harder to ensure that not only is the exposure in line with what your creative vision wants, but also if other elements in the image are exactly what you want.

Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot either medium the way you want and that digital photographers aren’t careful or that film photographers aren’t careless. Instead, it’s purely about your mentality, approach, and about how much you think you actually care about the image–which translates into intent.

Chris Gampat Bronica etrs and film 75mm f2.8 (1 of 1)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 1.4

The rest: they’re just a medium–but the way that they were designed lend themselves to a specific style of shooting over the other.

This is easily likened to other mediums: the Wacom tablet hasn’t replaced the paintbrush and canvas, synth hasn’t replaced the sound and feeling of dedicated musical instruments, and the stylus hasn’t replaced charcoal. It’s relative and makes sense then that film hasn’t been replaced by digital in the artistic sense but instead in the mainstream availability’s sense. A hand drawn piece of art can sometimes easily go for much more than one would charge for a digital piece. To that end though, it’s still just a choice of tools.

These tools though don’t make a person a hipster so to speak: what makes a person a hipster has to do with intent. If a person chooses that format, they often do it for the experience in the same way that one uses a Zeiss lens over an autofocus lens–the manual focus experience forces you to put a greater emphasis on what you’re doing, concentrate harder and pay attention to details that otherwise could easily be neglected with digital. Again though, it has to do with the process.

In 2016, I’d really hope that these irrelevant quibbles end not only in the photography world, but in the general sense of the public understanding. The two companies I think could do this more so than anyone else is Kodak and Fujifilm. Lomography, CineStill, and others have their own niche targeting the newer mindset of photographers, but when people think about film in general they think about Kodak, Fujifilm and Polaroid. Kodak has started it a bit with the new Super 8 camera; but I genuinely also believe that both Fujifilm and Polaroid could do a part in equalizing the industry and therefore putting of an emphasis on art and the creative vision rather than the industry’s current hold on pixels, high ISOs, and all things technical.

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Shooting film is as much about the camera itself than the film for me (& by extension the whole process of taking the photo). Film cameras are far more durable & well-designed than their digital counterparts. You think any digital camera will still be shooting in 70 years? My Argoflex E from the 1940s still works perfectly. That’s amazing.

  • Austin Beeman
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    Film is like an acoustic guitar. Digital is like an electric guitar. It speaks mostly to kind of art you feel lead to make.

  • whitezo
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    Slightly off: does anyone recognise the camera strap on the first pic (on the Nikon)? It’s just what I’m looking for…

    • ChrisGampat
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      • Mark
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        Way, way over priced…

        • ChrisGampat
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          No way. Italian leather, an extremely comfortable shoulder pad, grippy interior, a balance between being tough and elegant, and the fact that it will last years and years makes it justifiable I believe vs getting a cheaper one and having it fall apart after a couple of years.

          • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

            Aaaand this is exactly why film is considered hipster medium. Fancy leather strap, pair of Ray Bans, Caffè latte at Starbucks, an iPhone, and the world’s your oyster.

  • johnnykangaroo
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    I used to shoot medium format film. It cost a lot of money and was tedious to share the images with anyone. I stopped because finding equipment that was in decent condition and keeping it in functioning condition just was too much work. Have you seen the state of used cameras? It simply seemed ridiculous to me to shell out thousands for decades old Hasselblads or Leicas when I could buy a digital camera for essentially the same price, when I did have to pay $0.25 to $1 per frame. It was great and the images did have a different look to them, but I haven’t looked back. People think it is hipster because for most people it simply is an unreasonable cost to shoot film. What is most annoying is those folks who use algorithms to make their digital images “look” like film. Sorry bits aren’t crystals no matter how much you want them to be.

    • ChrisGampat
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      At the 6×7 and larger format though you really can’t beat film. I bought an RB67 last month and it beats the pants off of any 645 camera I’ve used both film and digital.

      • johnnykangaroo
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        Except if you need to carry it anywhere, shoot any sort of quantity, want wide or telephoto lenses, or if you just don’t have money to burn.
        What do you do with it once it has been exposed? Developing BW at home is tedious, but cost effective. Same thing with scanning. I used to shoot 6×9 before 35mm frame digital became affordable. Looking back, even though the detail is on the slide, the workflow is basically obsolete. In the past when film was a somewhat realistic price and there was actually a place you could take it to develop it and have prints made, there would have been an argument. The whole process is not something I would encourage anyone to do.

  • Gypsy Frank
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    I have a different path. My journey in photography started with digital. The camera wasn’t so cheap, but I had access to a computer and software. I didn’t get into film until much, much later. I think had a started with film, I might not have kept up with trying to learn photography. Film is great, I love the feeling of winding a roll into my Ricoh or Bronica, using the advance lever, heck even handling the film after it’s been developed is cool as hell. Also, nothing I do in Lightroom will get my digital images to look like Acros 100 or Ilford FP4. Jesus those are some beautiful emulsions. On the flip side though, film is fucking expensive. Pre-packaged 35mm roll film costs a lot, 120 is not that much cheaper and unless you’re developing and scanning it yourself, lab fees will eat you out of a house and a car.

    That last bit there is what keeps me shooting digital no matter how gorgeous I think FP4 is. I’m not in a situation where I can setup my own lab so I have to send out to labs to get my film developed. Between the wait time in just shipping my film to the lab and the $10 per roll fee that doesn’t even give a scan the same size as a file from my Fuji X-E1, I rather shoot digital. Wedding shooters who shoot film can afford the associated costs because really their clients are REALLY footing the bill, but for someone like me who just shoots portraits, it’s not really feasible for me financially. I have decided though that when I am able to be in a space to do so I will invest in my own developing setup…..until then my X-E1 will do just fine.

  • Paul Torcello
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    I’ve been working as a professional photographer for over 30 years and have been shooting digital exclusively for the past 8 or so. All I can say is it’s so, so much easier with digital than film and to someone who trained in the ‘old dark’ arts (darkroom, etc,) and trained in studio lighting for 8″x 10″ tranny, it’s a blessing. Digital is so forgiving but as a result most photographers these days can’t light for shit! Shoot, look at back of camera or monitor..too dark, adjust, shoot again and then fix it up in post: the discipline all gone. Sure I love digital but it’s not the way to fully appreciate how light works, nor is it as satisfying according to younger photographers I know who are rediscovering the ‘old ways’. To each their own, I enjoy both but think that some experimentation with film should be encouraged to photographers starting out. Fine art painters are always taught life drawing before majoring in the abstract.

  • Victor Reynolds
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    Good article.

    Like Andrew stated, I was one of those who started shooting film-period. Today, I use both mediums; and each has their own unique qualities. I found that I can work well with both. Yes, it’s easy to “wax nostalgic” about film’s “warmth” and “soul” (been there, done that) like it’s a furry kitten. However, at the end of the day, they’re both mediums to be used as part of your work.

  • Andrew
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    IMHO this discussion is ignored by most of us that started our photographic journey shooting film because we didn’t have a choice. There was no digital, it wasn’t even a dream because it was so foreign a concept. Photography (at that time) = film of some sort. It is only since digital became a “choice” that people have begun comparing it to the “other” medium. There are as many opinions about film and digital as there are people who care to discuss it. I think it’s a waste of breath, and to say one is “better” than the other is like saying you like oil paint better than water color. It’s irrelevant. My only beef is people who shoot film because they believe and claim it has some magical quality that surpasses all other mediums, especially digital, describing it as having “warmth” and “soul” and [fill in descriptive you might normally associate with a living thing]. It’s just different, it won’t keep your bed warm at night.