From film to digital and back again…
I came relatively late in life to ‘serious’ photography. I was in my mid twenties when I bought my first SLR. Prior to that I’d only used point and shoot cameras – apart from a very brief period in my early teens when my older cousin lent me his Rolleicord TLR. He also gave me a lightmeter, which I could never figure out, and consequently none of my shots came out. I still have the lightmeter and with all the experience I now have with lightmeters I still can’t figure it out, so it’s no wonder I struggled with it back then.
My first SLR was an Olympus OM-40, then an OM-1N and an Olympus XA (both of which I still have).
I stopped shooting film around 1998/99 and switched to digital. In other words I made the switch to digital pretty much as soon as it became available. I used digital compacts for a while and then bought my first DSLR, an Olympus E-1 (which I also still have). And then when mirrorless cameras came along I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M5, which I still use for the occasional digital shot. Can you tell I have a thing about Olympus by the way?!
About 4 years ago I became aware that more and more people seemed to be going back to film. That didn’t make any sense to me but my curiosity was piqued so I decided to dig a little deeper. I started seeking out photos shot on film online and for the most part liked what I saw.
I decided to try film again for myself, this time in medium format. I set myself a budget of £100 and bought a Rolleicord Va on Ebay, similar to the one that I’d used in my teens, along with a roll of Tri-X, and a Russian light meter that cost 10p. I took some test shots around the house, of my dog, and some on a local beach. I sent the film away for a ‘process and scan’ and eagerly awaited the negatives and CD with the scanned images.
Receiving that package in the post was incredibly exciting, and when I loaded the CD in my computer I was blown away by the quality. It’s not that film is sharper or ‘better’ (that’s a debate I’m not going to get into), it’s the subtle way the tones are rendered compared to the rather more harsh and clinical rendering of digital. The photos were just beautiful.
I started dabbling more in film, bought a developing tank and changing bag so I could develop my own film, and a scanner, so I could cut down on the processing costs. Pulling out the film from the tank for the first time to see images was another unforgettable moment.
At this point I was still shooting mostly digital and just dabbling in film now and again and then I came across a Hasselblad 500C/M with prism, 80mm lens, A12 back, and Polaroid back for £300. I’d never actually seen a Hasselblad in the flesh, never mind handled one, but I wanted to try it to see what everyone was raving about. And when I started using it I understood. Suddenly I didn’t want to use any other camera.
For the next six months I shot digital and film, but film gradually took over so that eventually I stopped shooting digital for all my photography, apart from what I was required to shoot for my work. From that point onwards all photos uploaded to Flickr, my Facebook page etc were film. My web site at http://cariadus.com is entirely film.
My collection of film cameras has grown considerably too. I still mostly use the Hasselblad (but now a 503CX rather than 500C/M) but I also have five Olympus OM bodies, an Olympus 35DC, a Contax G1, a couple of medium format folders, a Crown Graphic 5×4, a Holga and probably some others that I’ve forgotten to mention. Collecting film cameras is just as addictive as shooting film.
So why film? Well, I suppose a detailed answer to that is another story, but the short answer is that I like film. I like the tangible nature of film, I love the excitement of pulling the film out of the developing tank and seeing the images (especially with transparency film) and I love the look of film images.
I no longer shoot digital at all for personal work. On a recent trip to the Algarve I didn’t take a digital camera with me, other than the camera on my phone, but I took three film cameras.
So I guess my journey really has gone full circle from film to digital and back to film.