How a Film Camera can help your Digital Photography.

The rise of the digital camera and the demise of film has been both a godsend and a potential downfall of photography. The godsends are obvious, superb image quality, instant reviewing, no need to print or process The list goes on and on, however, the pitfalls are only now becoming obvious. The most obvious is the loss of knowledge of photographic techniques. The modern day marvels that are today’s cameras inspire such confidence that many photographers never take them out of auto.

Many people will be happy, indeed impressed with the images they are getting in auto modes. They are, however, missing out on a  range of techniques. Techniques that can really only be explored using manual modes. Whilst it is possible, with will power to switch your digital cameras to completely manual, the temptation to review and delete will still be there. This means that you may not learn from your mistakes. The answer – buy a film camera.

Film Photography – Relevant to both stills and motion

There is a certain irony that to learn to take great images and video on modern digital cameras we turn to the era of silver halide. The reason is simple, it teaches you how to use a camera manually. Manual exposure and manual focus. Understanding that these attributes are highly desirable in photography and a definite must in video making. Shooting film can teach you this.


To achieve this film  good knowledge of manual exposure and manual focus was required

Where to buy a Film Camera

A quick trawl through eBay these days will reveal a plethora of film cameras for silly prices. Cameras that a few short years ago would have cost an arm and a leg can now cost next to nothing. When considering, which one to buy, it’s a good idea to stay with the same brand of digital camera that you have. The reason for this is simple, ergonomics, the layout will be familiar, meaning you will quickly be at ease with the camera. Nikon users will have the added bonus that many of their current lenses will work on the film cameras.

Nikon F100

Costing over $1000 new, pro film cameras like this can be had very cheaply these days. By Mig Rodz

So, you are now the proud owner of a nice, good condition film camera, time to go and use it. Of course, most film cameras of the last 20 years have auto modes and auto focus and to start out you can use these. For the more adventurous you can switch over to manual exposure and manual focus straight away and really dive in at the deep end.

What can your learn?

Let’s take a look now at what you are going to learn from your film camera. The first thing is not a technique at all, it’s something intangible yet incredibly important to photography. That is that photos have a value. Every time you fire that shutter, it’s costing you money. Now whilst you might take that as a negative, it is in fact very positive. Firstly it teaches you to slow down and think about every shot, meaning every shot will have a concept and though process behind it. In the digital age it is far too easy to fire away without thought, This has lead to the general perception that photography is both easy and requires no creativity, both of which are entirely wrong. When you are paying for every image, you will be more creative because you have to be.

Learn to shoot film to improve your digital

Shooting film teaches you to slow down and think

The second thing shooting on celluloid is going to teach you is how to learn from your mistakes.  There will be not a single shot that you can review and delete. This means that when you get your roll of film back from the lab, you are going to have plenty of mistakes. Because these mistakes are there, immortalized in transparency or print, you are more likely to take the time to look at them. You can then analyse what went wrong. Have you got an issue with shutter speed or is it focus? Was my aperture too wide for the amount of light. When you first start shooting negatives or slides, you will make more mistakes than you get good shots. However by understanding the errors, you will roll by roll find yourself improving, making fewer and fewer mistakes.

Learn to shoot film to improve your digital

The value in shooting film teaches you to learn from your mistakes

The last main reason for shooting film is simple. It teaches you the relationship between aperture and shutter speed. In other words how the film and hence sensor reacts to light. How different shutter speed and aperture combinations can entirely change the look of an image. When you shoot, you cannot adjust the curves in photoshop after the fact.  You need to workout whether your exposure is good enough to reveal details in the shadows. Can it hold some highlights in the clouds without blowing them out?  In short it teaches you to concentrate and think about exposure and to not rely entirely on what the exposure meter is telling you.

You will also understand dynamic range, where you exposure meter excels and where it fails. For those of you that want to shoot long exposure night shots you will need to learn about reciprocity failure in film. This requires that you  to finely balance your shutter time and aperture. You will also gain a greater knowledge of how film speed works. You will learn how an increased film speed increases grain in our images.

Learn to shoot film to improve your digital

Shooting film gives you an understanding of the latitude and dynamic range


Is film for me?

Buying a film camera may not be for everyone. However for those of you really wanting to understand the true nature of photography and film making  it is a great way to push forward your knowledge. This in turn creates a better understanding of this wonderful hobby.

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