Shoot a film camera and you will have been asked this. The smart answer would be “no, they stopped making film, but I can dispose of your old film cameras if you give them to me”.
The other question is “why are you shooting film? Don’t you have a phone / digital camera / any friends / a life?”
Yes, I do have some of the above. Though I admit that my presence on Twitface, Flinger or Instabrag is minimal, as I post fewer than Graham’s Number of pictures online each week and anyone I think is following me is only heading for the same bus in the morning. But I like taking pictures on film. Specifically I like taking monochrome pictures on black and white film.
Part of it, I suppose, is that this is what I learned with. My photographic heroes all shot black and white and I so wanted to be like them. I gradually learned to see the difference between tone and colour (like shooting a green tree against a blue sky through a red filter and getting featureless murk as a result). I kept going because I enjoyed it and for a long time film was better than digital. In recent years I thought I would one day be sending my cameras off to landfill when the film finally ran out. There was no point in trying to buy better cameras as nobody was making them any more. I would keep the lenses though, as they all worked on my digital kit. Ilford dodged death and kept going, so that meant my favourite films were available throughout the dark years to keep me going. Then film got funky and rose from the grave and all was right with the world again.
So why does anyone stick with an analogue craft process in a world of bytes? Part of it for me is the investment in each frame. That was why I had to work so hard at the conversion when I bought a decent digital SLR. If I had just picked it up and used it I would have known no difference. But I wanted to know if it reacted like slide film or negative and what the hundreds of functions did. Did I want in-camera sharpening or automatic white balance? Do I want to save both a jpg and a raw file? It turns out I need to treat the highlights like slide film and avoid burning them out, but I need to treat the shadows like negative film and give the picture as much light as it will take. The difference is that I have learned how to do this on film but it was new to me on digital.
I still shoot digital like I was paying by the frame though. I hear of people shooting thousands of frames for a single event. How does anyone put a wedding album together, say, from more than a thousand pictures? I went to a talk by a sports photographer who covered football matches. He had his camera linked to a laptop that had a live data connection. The competition was so fierce in his field that he started uploading captioned pictures as soon as the match started. His basic ‘boring game, nothing to see here’ would be at least a thousand pictures taken. He had set up keyboard macros on the laptop to save time from having to type each player’s name.
I learned of a camera feature for the first time with digital: the number of shutter actuations. It had never occurred to me using film that there was an upper design limit to the number of times the shutter would work. Perhaps film cameras have exactly the same limitation, but nobody has ever reached it? My original film SLR is nearly 40 years old and I’ve shot a lot of film, but I have a hunch it will be something like the meter or mechanics that dies first. I have heard of 20 year old cameras with shutter problems, but there does seem to be a difference between the vertically-run metal Copal shutters and the traditional horizontal cloth curtains. But if I shot one film a week for those 40 years I might have fired the shutter around 80,000 times. Our footie-shooting pal on two matches a week could hit this in one year. Second-hand DSLR, anyone?
So, rant over: the preciousness of each frame. Given at most 36 shots before a slow reload, I do tend to take more care with each one. Although I also tend to take two shots of anything important. This is a legacy of all the past mistakes in handling and processing. The opposite used to be true too: we used to joke about the film that went in for processing with Christmas at each end and a summer holiday in the middle. I was never that bad, but there is a risk if you have more than one camera that some of them sit on the shelf.
Is there an equivalent in the digital world for gear acquisition syndrome? There probably is, but I expect it’s focused on whatever is new and shiny. I did hear someone on a podcast saying that he had two copies of the same camera, one in black and one in chrome, and he would have to buy two copies of a new lens he wanted so that he could match black with black and chrome with chrome. I hope that is an extreme case.
I think the difference is using film. Providing the shutter works and it can focus the lens, the camera body is immaterial. The key parts are the lens and the film, and changing either one of them can change everything about how the picture looks. The only way you can change the film in a digital camera is to change the body. Perhaps this is what drives the turnover of kit. And yet there is a massive demand amongst film shooters to buy more cameras. There is even a Facebook group dedicated to GAS (also known as the burglar’s guide to cameras). I can see the attraction if you have always longed for some exotic professional gadget in your skinty youth, but there must come a point where you have more cameras than you can really use? It is tempting though, especially if what you want is to try a thing rather than own a badge. Half-frame? Medium format? Rangefinder? I can understand that. But wanting to have one of each model and variant of your particular object of lust? That’s collecting.
It’s ironic that we all thought we would be left with working cameras but nothing to shoot in them, while we are more likely to find we have film but nothing to shoot it in that still works. Still get film for it? Take a look at Analogue Wonderland’s stock list, or the list of available films put together by Em. Some of the processing labs managed to survive the lean years too, and can turn your film into digital scans. There used to be a processor on every street, but there’s enough left to make things viable.
As for the cameras, the old and simple ones will probably survive better than the clever ones. That could be why something like the Pentax K1000 still fetches good prices while the later autofocus, auto everything models can be had for the price of a fancy coffee. I’ve got a 1930s vintage Balda folding camera that still takes cracking pictures and a 1990s Minolta that died when the electronics developed a leak and let the smoke out. Who cares? What what need is something that keeps the dark in and can drive a good lens. The rest of the picture is the film, and I can change everything by changing that and not the camera.
The other aspect of film that has relevance, but is not the reason I use it, is longevity. Film is a physical object and black and white film in particular can last a very long time. My mum gave me a carrier bag full of old negatives that came from clearing-out when my grandparents died. Despite the fact that the negatives come in every popular format ever used I have usable images that go back as far as my grandparents as young people, my parents as babies and children and me as a babe in arms. There is even colour: my granddad had been told or read that a good colour photograph needs something red in the frame to draw the eye into the picture. So I have pictures of family and relatives taken in his back garden with a red plastic watering can playing a cameo role in every one. I’m not sure that my kids will be able to read the raw files off my old hard disks in years to come.
So I like using film. I like being able to get at least 170 (at current count) different styles of image using the same camera. I like having to think about what I’m doing and I like being responsible for how well things turn out. I’m a Film Using Photographer (and a duck).
One thought on “Can you still get film for it?”
Snappy suit, Ken! And you nailed it perfectly with the “Why film?” explanation (or rant, as the case may be).