I’ve been called a dinosaur. It happened in a photography seminar a couple of years ago when the instructor asked for a show of hands from those still using film. Actually, I was one of two dinosaurs that he labelled. Not an encouraging ratio for a class of about 20 people.
It’s no surprise that professionals (like our seminar leader) have largely abandoned film, given the breakneck speed at which improvements in digital camera resolution and color accuracy are taking place. Gone are the days of carrying packs of Polaroid film and camera backs for verification of exposure and lighting. Now, we simply check the digital camera’s LCD screen and its histogram, and make instant adjustments.
One harbinger that struck home recently was when I took my 120 format film to my favourite camera store, a.k.a. my reliable old local film processing facility. They informed me that their machine was acting up and that they likely would not be replacing it if it failed. If I was to continue to make my big, beautiful transparencies, I was likely going to have to mail my film to another city for processing. Until, that is, their machines also croak.
You can’t blame them. They make their money selling digital cameras to a new throng of consumers who previously couldn’t have been bothered with getting films developed.
My disappointment doesn’t stem from the fact that I dislike digital. In fact, I shoot largely with a digital SLR now, and started scanning my 35mm films long before digital cameras achieved their current popularity. I also license my images online. In other words, I’m firmly entrenched in the digital photography realm.
I think it’s more a case of nostalgia. Only in recent years have I been able to afford quality medium format film gear, albeit used and decades old. They’re built like tanks and have lenses made from high quality glass. Yes – they’re heavy and awkward, but the image quality is phenomenal. After shooting grainy 35mm slides for decades, I was now ready to emulate work done by real magazine photographers. I even purchased a scanner that allows me to scan the larger format films.
So, do I now sell off my antiques and scanners, only to replace them with the best and newest digital SLR? Well, judging by the amount of used film gear being bought and sold online, I would say – not so fast! Yes, some companies have dropped out of the business of supplying films and processing chemicals (AGFA), but others like the UK’s venerable ILFORD (black and white only) and film giant KODAK are picking up the slack. New film products are even hitting the market! And others, like Freestyle Photographic Supplies, are doing what they can to keep the art alive by supplying film, darkroom supplies and film cameras.
Where this is leading me is that I can continue to use my film gear for as long as I’m willing to develop my own film, if necessary. The simplest by far to process is black and white, so when push comes to shove, that’s what I’ll be shooting. With my scanners, I’ll be able to convert the films directly to digital without worrying about printing with an enlarger.
Is film dead or dying? There is no doubt that the professional’s workflow today is predominantly digital. But, there is enough film equipment still working and in the hands of both professionals and enthusiastic amateurs that I can confidently predict that film will be around for a long time.
Gordon Wood is an engineer, writer and stock photographer. His main activity is technical writing, which he conducts through his company, Task Partner (http://taskpartner.ca). He has served in various industries, including microelectronics, anti-submarine warfare equipment development, heavy equipment manufacturing, medical imaging systems, digital projection systems and contract electronic manufacturing. Gordon’s photographic work can also be viewed at http://realworldphoto.com
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