Why I Prefer Film Cameras Over Digital Cameras

A lot of people have been hopping on the film camera wave in the past few years. But I think for people who haven’t been introduced to film cameras and haven’t used one themself, there may be lots of questions surrounding the hype. I am here to answer some of these questions and hopefully bring light to them.

Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

Less overthinking

This may seem like a weird one, but let me explain. When you are shooting with film, you have a fewer number of opportunities to get the “perfect” shot. Most rolls of film only come with 12, 24 or 36 exposures — meaning you’re only allowed 12, 24, or 36 chances of getting your perfect shot per roll, so you have to be smart about what you take pictures of. You would think because you have such a limited amount of pictures you can take that it would leave more room for error, but it’s surprisingly the opposite. Because of not having the (essentially) unlimited amount of storage for pictures you would with a digital camera, it forces you to be more selective of what you take pictures of. This results in me carrying around my film camera all the time, but only taking it out 5% of the time. That 5% being when there’s a moment I truly want to capture. I find when I’m shooting with my digital camera, I’m taking multiple pictures of pretty much the same thing. But using a film camera forces you to really think about what is worth shooting.

Less critical

Because you can’t see what you’ve captured immediately after a picture is taken, it forces you to be patient, which I think allows more room for self-appreciation. Because you have to wait longer than you would with a digital camera to see your final product, you’re less likely to nitpick your errors or mistakes. Again, when I’m shooting pictures with my digital camera, there are almost too many things to take pictures of so I almost get flustered or overwhelmed in a way and sometimes end up taking pictures of nothing at all. I also find when I’m using a digital camera, I’ll take one picture and then immediately look at how it turned out, rather than just taking a string of pictures in the moment, and reflect back on them at a later point in time. Using film cameras allows me to truly be in the moment when I’m taking pictures which results in more genuine pictures that I (and hopefully others!!) can connect with.

Quality

As ironic as it is, I truly think I get better quality pictures when I use my film camera than with my digital camera. Now hear me out, neither of my cameras is super fancy. The digital camera I use (or rather used) is probably one of the most basic canon cameras out there; but I purchased my film camera at a cheaper price than my digital camera, so you would think the digital camera would produce better quality pictures…right? Well, I was mistaken. Take these pictures for example.

Photo Courtesy of Annalisa Hansford
Photo Courtesy of Annalisa Hansford

They’re both relatively decent pictures. But something about the first one just feels so… flat and one-dimensional. Despite the second being slightly grainy (hence the, ya know…film), there’s something about it that feels so personal. You can really picture yourself in the moment that photo was taken. It’s authentic. Looking at the first photo, I don’t know. I look at it and feel so far away. Maybe I’m stretching here, but hopefully, my point gets across. The quality of film photos gives off intimate vibes.

Price

Although this article is totally biased towards film cameras, I can’t deny the fact that there are some disadvantages to being a film photographer. For one, it’s more expensive. You can definitely find some reasonably priced film cameras on Etsy, but if you’re craving improvement and want to better your photos, getting a better functioning film camera is not cheap. There’s one film camera (that’s used!!) going for almost $8,000 on amazon! That’s insane to me!! But that’s not all. You also have to buy the film. Usually, one roll of films ranges from $6 to $13, depending on the brand. That may not seem like much, but the costs can accumulate quite quickly after time. Especially if you do photography for a living. If you’re shooting with someone, I’m assuming 36 pictures probably isn’t enough, so you’d probably want two rolls to be safe. If you have to buy two rolls of film per client, that can really add up. I can’t offer much advice about the business aspect of it since I’m not a professional photographer. Another big thing, if you don’t have access to a darkroom you’ll have to send your film to a lab each time you want your pictures developed. Whenever I send my film to the lab I use, it ends up being about $20, and that’s just for one roll of film. So, yeah, shooting with film isn’t ideal if you’re new to photography. You don’t want to spend all this money towards your photos if you’re not yet certain if photography is something your passionate about.

Unreliability

Although using film to take pictures can make for incredible pictures, it isn’t always reliable. I remember when I was taking a pre-college darkroom photography class, one week when I was developing the film I messed up. I had loaded the film onto the film reel and placed it into the film tank, but I had accidentally exposed the film to the light. This botched up that particular roll of film because some of the pictures had spots that were over-exposed. That was kinda my fault though because I wasn’t being as careful as I should have. A girl in my class, however, had done everything right. She was careful when putting the film reel into the film tank and she used the right chemicals and diluted when needed. Her roll of film didn’t turn out at all. Only one picture. My teacher had said she didn’t put the film in her camera properly, so she had lost all the pictures she had taken. Using film results in remarkable pictures, but if the developing process is not done properly you risk losing these photographs. There’s nothing you can do because there’s no backup of any of your pictures.

Photo: Mandy Choi/Unsplash

In Conclusion

For me, the advantages of film cameras far outweigh the downsides to them. I surely don’t take as many pictures as I would like, simply because the costs can accumulate quite quickly. But I find it is so much more worth it to have fewer pictures that I truly appreciate, than hundreds of pictures where none stand out to me. I hope this article was able to provide more insight into the film photography world for those who were curious and had some questions. If you’re interested in branching out and messing around with film cameras, I highly recommend taking a darkroom photography class when quarantine ends. You can usually find classes like these at local art colleges, or even community colleges. I met some cool people in my class and I learned a lot. If my high school ceramics teacher never mentioned this darkroom photography class I probably never would have touched a film camera, just because I found everything about the world of analog photography so confusing. A world where I was never introduced to film is a world I do not want to live in.

writer, lover of music. they/them

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