In this era of digital photography, interest in film photography is at an all time high. While film photography can be loads of fun and is incredibly instructive, there are many reasons why using film for photography sucks. Here are seven reasons that I believe film photography sucks.
1. No Preview
One of the most frustrating things about film photography, especially if you’re used to shooting digital, is the inability to instantly review the image you’ve just shot. Until your film is developed, you won’t know if your image is in focus, your shadows have detail, your highlights are not blocked, your composition is correct, depth of field… etc. There is no screen to preview or review your image. When I was doing location portraiture in the 1980’s, I would attach a Poloroid back to my Hasselblad The peel-apart Polaroid would give me a quick check to be sure of my lighting balance and that my strobe sync was set properly. The ability to instantly preview and review an image is absolutely amazing and does wonders to remove some potential “suckage” from your images.
2. Film is Bulky!
With a medium format film camera you are limited to around 12 exposures per roll of film. The 6×4.5 format will give your 15 and the bigger 6×7 format will give your 8 per 120 roll. 35mm film is better, but not by much. You still will have only 24 or 36 exposures per roll of film. If you are going on an extended trip, you’ll need to pack dozens of rolls of film to get enough shots to record your holiday. At 30 megabytes per RAF image, you can fit almost 2200 images on a 64 gigabyte card. If you are a JPG shooter, that’s about 12,600 images on just this one card. To get that many exposures with 35mm film, you’ll need to pack 350 rolls of 36 exposure film
3. Radiation and other light leaks
Film can be exposed not only by visible light, but by light rays outside of the visual spectrum. That means that X-rays can fog or ruin your film. The modern X-ray equipment used in most airport security is much lower power than it used to be, so this problem has been largely eliminated, but can still happen. If you’re traveling and are worried about X-rays, there are lead pouches or bags that will protect your film from damage. This will require you to request your bags be hand inspected at the airport security clearance, and the lead bag will likely be flagged at security as a risk. This could result in checkpoint delays and the potential of a missed flight, especially in our era of heightened security.
Some films are also susceptible to “light piping.” This is where light can strike the edge of the film and travel through the backing much like light travels in a fiber optic cable. This can happen when loading or unloading the film in the camera. Load film indoors or in a highly shaded area to help prevent light piping.
4. A Two Legged Stool
With a modern digital camera, you have control of all three sides of the exposure triangle with every image. Shooting film the one side is locked in once you load that roll of film. If I want, I can change the shutter speed, aperture and ISO with every single shot on my Fujifilm digital camera. With a film camera, the ISO is set once I load the roll of film. Film is rated at a specific ISO and can;t be changed on the fly. Load a roll of ISO 100 film into your camera and you are shooting that entire roll at ISO 100. Deviating to one stop underexposed will probably result in the loss of all shadow detail and over-exposure by more than two stops will likely mean your highlights are blocked. This means that you need to choose your film for the shooting conditions you expect for the time that film is loaded. If you load a roll of ISO 1600 film for some low-light shots, that film will do poorly for some shots at the beach on a sunny day. On the flip side, using an ISO 100 film can work great in sunlight, but will be a challenge for handheld shots during an evening stroll.
5. Locked Into One Emulsion
If you load color film into your camera, you’re taking color images. B&W film will give you B&W images. Im mean, that’s pretty logical, right? But there’s no such thing as shooting a B&W simulation, and then reviewing the color image in the RAW file. A B&W film negative will always be a B&W film negative. Yes, there are ways to color and tint B&W images. In fact, most professional portrait photographers shot B&W film and hand colored the prints all the way up to the mid 1970’s! The fact that I can shoot an image and have my Fujufilm camera process it for me with Classic Chrome, Portrait Negative, Monochrome, Acros B&W, Velvia, and more film simulations is like a dream come true! Add in the ability to manipulate the RAW files in Lightroom, Capture One, Photoshop, Affinity Photo, etc. is almost miraculous!
6. White Balance
Modern digital cameras have the ability white balance to suit the lighting conditions. This can be automatic, or can be done manually. Film generally comes in two different white balances: Daylight or Tungsten. Daylight is just that, the film is balanced for about 5500ºK. Tungsten film is engineered for traditional light bulbs at about 3200ºK. Using daylight film indoors will result in overly warm images, or colors that are biased toward yellow/gold. Using tungsten film outdoors will result in images that are exceedingly blue and cold.
7. It's Expensive
Film photography is much more expensive than digital photography. Remember earlier when I said that it would take 350 rolls of film to equal the number of JPEG exposures on just one 64 gigabyte SD card? As of this writing, a roll of 36 exposure Kodak Gold 200 film is about $11.00. 350 rolls of Kodak Gold 200 would set you back $3850 USD. Conversely, a quality 64 gigabyte SD card is less than $20. Oh, you might want to have your film developed. Assuming you’ll use a lab for development, that will run about $12 per roll. Adding those together results in more than $8000 USD… and that’s without any prints.
In Conclusion, or "Why I Still Love Shooting Film"
All that being said, I do believe learning how to shoot film is one of the best ways for you to learn and improve your photography. Basically because there’s nowhere to hide! If you miss your exposure, there’s no “lifting the shadows.” If the dynamic range of our subject is beyond what the film can record, those parts at the extreme ends of the exposure will be gone. W you will learn to be more aware of your composition and how to see two-dimensionally as the camera sees, since there will be no LCD screen to show that to you. You will also learn to be more deliberate in setting up and composing your photos, since taking 100 shots to maybe get it right will cost you some serious coin. All this said, I still love shooting with film cameras. The analog images and the tactile feel of the gear helps keep me grounded. The simplicity of a simple film camera – once you know how to operate it – is incredibly freeing. Bonus, if your film camera is mechanical, you’ll never run out of battery power!