What I miss about film photography. Not much. I’ve snapped pictures for 62-years, and all but the last 7-years has been with film. In 2009 I made the epic migration to digital and I’ve never looked back. The digital experience is amazing when compared to film. The biggest difference, and the biggest reward, has been learning to process my images in a virtual darkroom (Photoshop, Lightroom and Photoshop Elements). That’s also been the biggest learning curve for this old man.
There isn’t a film made today that can compare with the latest digital technology. That wasn’t always the case but it is now. That statement will be controversial in some photographic circles, but it’s not even worth arguing about in my opinion. So I won’t. Accept it or not. There are some photographers who are so pretentious as to label themselves Purist. Really? That’s just a bullshit way of saying you’re a snob. Their poster child is Ansel Adams, but the truth is Ansel Adams was NEVER a purist.
Adams was always at the forefront of technology and innovation, always on the cutting edge. He would be today too if he were still alive. If you think different go back and study your history. Adams is still an icon in the world of photography, but many (if not most) of his techniques (and those of his peers) have been incorporated into modern digital image processing software. Even modern digital cameras have taken his advanced exposure metering computations (zone metering for instance) and built them into their various exposure metering algorithms.
Film photography was complicated, restrictive and expensive. For any photography beyond the Kodak level it was an elitist hobby that most could ill afford. Do I miss anything about film photography? Strangely enough I do. And what would that be Mr. Know-it-All-Smarty-Pants? What I miss is:
The cameras themselves
The anticipation (sometimes)
Just pickup (literally in your hands) any one of my three favorite cameras: the original Nikon F SLR, the Leica M-3 or the Rolleiflex TLR. You will quickly understand, or at least I think you will. There is craftsmanship, simplicity and a tactile pleasure that just isn’t available anymore (they were completely mechanical, no electronics whatsoever). You old film guys will probably back me up on this, especially if you’ve ever owned any of these iconic cameras. I passed mine to my kids when I left the States, and I’m sure they’ll never be used again, but I just couldn’t consign them to the junkyard.
I sometimes miss the discipline that film photography required. Film was expensive like I mentioned earlier. There was the purchase price of the film itself, then a processing cost at a photo lab (no Photoshop, Lightroom or Photoshop Elements) and finally the printing costs (again done at a professional lab). 120-film usually shot 8 or 12 images depending on the format of your camera, and 35mm film came in either 12, 24 or 36 exposure. Each shot counted. With digital it’s often spray & pray because you have unlimited shots and instant feedback. Sometimes our photography suffers from a lack of discipline.
I “sometimes” even miss the anticipation, but I’ve grown to expect digital’s instant feedback. Within a nanosecond I get relevant information and can make necessary adjustments while shooting on-the-fly. In the old days a good photographer carried a notebook and made notations for each frame shot (with enough shooting under your belt you could make some pretty good guesses about how your photo would turn out). I prefer the instant feedback of digital (and its made me a better photographer), but sometimes I miss the Christmas morning aspect of getting your results back one or two weeks after shooting a roll of film (and the whole roll had to be shot before processing).
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveller