What’s it like to shoot film these days
Recently I decided to take up the challenge of shooting a few rolls of film through my old Canon AE-1. To be completely honest here the last film I shot was a single roll through a Holga two years ago and before that it was somewhere around 1982 that I shot with a film SLR. For you folks who have never shot with an older film camera, I wanted to try and share my experience to hopefully share my joy, or possibly my pain. Read on and see how this experiment went.
First off many people think that all film cameras are probably very difficult to use and all manual. Newer film cameras like a Canon Rebel are just as easy to use as a digital SLR with all the same features like aperture priority, shutter priority, program mode, automatic mode, creative modes, auto-focus lenses, etc. Internal meters make getting your exposure quick and simple and really the only downside is the lack of an LCD on the back.
Older film cameras like the AE-1 lack many of those features. While the AE-1 does have an internal exposure meter, what the meter tells you is what aperture it thinks you should be at for the currently selected shutter speed. The general process for taking an image goes something like this:
- Set your shutter speed where you think you want it
- Look through viewfinder at scene and press shutter half-way
- Find the suggested aperture setting in the meter
- Look at lens and adjust aperture as needed
- If you do not have enough aperture to get the shot, adjust shutter speed and go back to step 2
- Look through viewfinder again and try to get a good focus (no autofocus here)
- Press shutter
- Crank film advance
Certainly a little different than how fast we can get a good shot with a modern DSLR.
Rolls 1 and 2
I started off with a roll of color film and a roll of Black and White film. I shot away for two weeks using the camera every so often until the film was used up. I rewound the film and dropped it off at the local lab. The next day I go in to get it and the entire roll was bad. Apparently I hadnâ€™t loaded it right and there wasnâ€™t a single image on either roll. Not to be put off, I grabbed another roll of film on the way out.
Roll 3 was a 36 exposure roll of color film and I made sure to load it right, click off a few frames and make sure the takeup reel was turning with each shot. To kill off the roll I pulled out the camera during a weekend drive-around shoot with my friend Chris Diset. On Monday I dropped off the roll back off at the lab and opted to only have a CD with the images instead of getting prints. The lab told me to come back at 4pm the following day for the images. Day 2, I head over to the lab at 4pm as instructed and get told that their developer machine has died so come back tomorrow. Day 3, I run back to the lab again and am told they had to replace the developer machine and the prints will be done tomorrow. Day 4, back to the lab and this time I get told that they sent the film out because their system was still not back up, but fortunately my film was now backâ€¦except that I had ordered a CD and their scanner was down. Day 5 I head back to the lab AGAIN and this time I get my CD of images finally. Back to the studio and load them into Adobe Lightroom.
Of the 36 images, I am pretty happy with 8 of them. Focus is certainly an issue. Its very hard to manually focus in low light and the dimmer shots certainly proved that point. Other images suffered from too short of a depth of field. Overall though, the shots I really wanted to get right did turn out good.
It helps to really know how to use your camera, understand exposure controls and know how shutter and aperture work together. The Canon AE-1 was a serious workhorse and many iconic images from the past were taken with it. The quality of the images is still excellent even if you need to take some extra time to take the shot.
We live in a world of instant gratification and shooting film most certainly does not give you that. Besides the time from shooting to getting the film to the lab, this last experience added four more days to process, really testing my patience.
Is 8 out of 36 a good ratio? Considering what I was shooting, I am going to say yes. Some of the â€œnot keepersâ€ were experiments with some of the lenses I had, so in a since they did turn out. On the next roll there will likely be no experiments and I will be focusing on making each image count.
Oh yes, there will be more rolls dropped off at the lab this year but not to prove a point to anyone, not to be able to call myself a film shooter, and not to be able to say that I can shoot film and other people canâ€™t.Â My renewed interest in film, especially on essentially what is a completely manual camera is much more about preserving the craft, continuing to hone my eye for exposure, and teaching myself to slow and make each shot count. At $6 for a roll of film and another $6 in developing each click of the shutter drains about 33 cents from your wallet. This can add up quickly and you certainly want your percentage of keepers to be as high as possible. By pulling out the film camera and having a real cost for each picture, it certainly puts much more value on each shot versus loading up a 16gb CF card and cranking out a few thousand pictures during the course of a wedding.
To Use or Not to Use
The next question is whether or not I will be using film at any weddings or other events this year and I think I actually might. Certainly not as my primary camera but I may drop a single roll at each wedding, engagement, or model shoot. If they turn out, then great, if I blow another roll then I am not out any important images.
Think You Can Do It?
If you donâ€™t have a film camera than I am not going to suggest that you go drop some money on one. You can get a lot of the same experience with your digital camera. Try using some gaffers tape and covering up the LCD on the back on the camera. Bonus points for shooting only in manual mode, and double points for shooting with manual focus. The goal here is to really learn how your camera works and not rely on chimping the result on the back.
If you do experiment with this, please post your results and comment here. I would love to hear what you think of trying it out for a weekend.