Why Use Film in a Digital Age?

Psychic shop in NYC, 2011 Kodak Porta 400

I began shooting film when I was seventeen, in the dark room lab of my high school that made me feel like Batman going to brood in his batcave. Learning how to develop and bring my negatives to life made me respect the true art of photography and gave me the power to understand and manipulate light. It was like Christmas when I saw my negatives for the very first time!

Lady shopping at an outdoor winter flea market in NYC, 2011 Kodak Portra 400

Film has been around for over a hundred years. Most people know what it is and how it works but as time goes on, the idea of film and how to use it has begun to lend itself to something of the past. Instead of using the word “camera” to identify one, we say “film camera” as if it’s some kind of mystical device that is so foreign compared to today’s digital; a sundial to a digital clock. Meeting another photographer that uses film more than digital is like witnessing a unicorn run across 695 and live to tell the tale. Plainly stated, film isn’t that popular with the general public; it’s expensive to process and cameras that take film that don’t need to be refurbished can cost a lot of money. So why use film?

Film is the long rivalry of art and science finally coming to a peace treaty to create something beautiful. The step by step process it takes to see a roll through until the end is really a labor of love, so much effort is put into a roll of film. The results often show it. Film photographs have a higher resolution, better color and overall much better quality than digital. Film photographs also carry that “ohhh and ahh” factor you get when you view a photo that not only has a captivating subject, but also has a brilliant aura about it that you can’t look away.

Lady and a rockstar, NYC Subway 2011 Kodak Portra 400

This photograph was taken in a NYC subway. I had just received a camera from 1972, a Canon-AE1 model, for Christmas. I hadn’t used film since high school, so I had no idea what I was doing aside from the muscle memory in my hands on how to insert the film roll and what I remembered about light metering. I gave it a whirl, not expecting much. Film cameras are often very discreet and quiet, which is why I was able to go unnoticed in taking this photograph. This result made me stop and realize I wanted to continue my career in photojournalism in film. The color rendition, focusing and light are all true to what it was in that very moment. The fluorescent subway lighting had burned this moment in time to my film frame forever and it was mine.

This specific camera was a Canon AE-1. A film camera that debuted in 1976. It was in demand because it’s an SLR, which

Canon AE-1 from 1976

means you can change the lenses. It looks like this. This is the camera that I used to take the above photographs, with a roll of Kodak Portra 400. Finding one in good condition with a variety of lenses included, won’t top $400. Sounds expensive but the quality of photos it produces is well worth it, I promise! These cameras are often heavy, they are solid metal, but often feel nice in the hand. What if you find one of these for cheap and it doesn’t work? Can it be fixed? YES.

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