Like the best hobbies, photography is something that the more you learn, the more you discover there is to learn. Over the past year, I've rented a whole variety of digital cameras and even written a couple reviews on them (FujiFilm X-Pro2 & Sony A7r II reviews). During this time, I've developed a night time ritual, armed with my 9.7 inch iPad Pro, of scouring the internet for articles on how I can improve my photography.
While on this search, I found a couple articles that really spoke to me as arguments for shooting film, specifically black and white film. Erik Kim's 2015 article on what he learned shooting 100 rolls of black and white Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed to 1600 and a 2014 education article from Fstoppers by David Geffin on Why It’s Still Important to Shoot In Black And White are two excellent articles if you still need convincing.
The gear addiction was back, I knew I wanted to buy the FujiFilm X-Pro2 for my digital camera but now all of a sudden, I was more excited about learning about film cameras. So I called my father-in-law, who I knew had an old Minolta SRT-201 with a few lens. He was happy to let me borrow it and was cool with me taking it to the local camera store the next day to get cleaned up. Of course, the night before that next day, I read up on the best vintage film cameras to own and stubbled upon Ken Rockwell's post on the Leica M3.
The LEICA M3 is the best camera that LEICA has ever made, and by many accounts, the best camera of all time.
Great, just great. I head to the camera store and after 30 mins of telling myself not to do it, I finally casually ask, "You guys wouldn't have an M3 laying around here in good condition for sale would you?" A little bit poorer, I walk out with a double stroke M3 and 50mm Summicron f2.0 lens both in phenomenal condition.
And this is when the fun started...I never knew how good or subsequently bad I had it with a digital camera in your hands. With a fully mechanical Leica M3 rangefinder, you literally have 1 dial on your body to change your shutter speed and one on your lens to change your aperture. The speed of the film is the speed of the film. Light meter, what the hell is that. Oh so that's why those professional photographers put those thingys with a big white globe near peoples' faces. I had never even contemplated exposure until I shot with film. The only time I pulled the ISO off auto was to shoot night time astrophotography shots. Aperture, oh that's just the thing I change depending on how much bokeh I want in the shot. I was a complete idiot, noob, normal when it came to shooting truly manual. Oh and then there's the difficulty of focusing with an imposed upon shallow depth of view due to slow film, low indoor lighting, and manually focusing through a viewfinder patch built in 1960. All of a sudden the hamster upstairs is moving.
So the obvious questions are: Why do this to yourself? How can any film camera be the best camera of all time?! What benefits can there be to film over a digital with all the film filters there are today?
If I learned anything from my leap into film photography it's the realization of how powerful, versatile and option heavy digital cameras are today. It's like driving a Lamborghini Veyron in first gear 15 mph down your neighborhood street to pick up some milk from the grocery store less than a mile away and coming home. Like most advances in technology, the advances in cameras were added to make things easier for the operator or user. With the advances in ease of use, came the reliance on the technology and further removal from the understanding of what the underlying technology is doing. Why do I need to know about exposure if the camera's algorithm will do it for me? Owner's manual; people still read those?
Don't get me wrong, technology in photography has made film extremely more accessible, just see any person with a camera phone these days. It's also added a ton more flexibility: you can take more shots, adjust how the system of light metering, not worry about speed of film, add in software film simulations, give you an EVF that can show you the black and white photo before you click the shutter, and on, and on.
The next statement has been said in any article advocating shooting film and it's the truth:
Film makes you slow down.
You have less of everything with film photography and the well known secret is that it can be more. You have to think about the lightning of your shot to get your exposure right. Am I going to be shooting in low light or bright sun light? What size of grain, if any, do I want in my pictures? All of this determines the right film you load and now commit to for 24 to 36 exposures. You definitely think about composition more before you take the shot as each one you take cannot be so easily deleted off your camera. You have to wait to see your images. Sometimes awhile if you send off your pictures to a lab. Now you aren't checking every picture to see whether it was framed perfectly and instead are in the moment of taking the shot. Another benefit of the wait is that you separate yourself from the emotion of the shot when reviewing it so that you can have a more objective critique and be able to "kill more of your babies."
The main benefit to all the slowness is that you think more about your photography. You think before you go somewhere you'll be shooting, you think while you're there before raising your camera to your eye, you notice the light more, and you try to imagine in your mind's eye a picture before you snap one of your 24/36 rectangles on your negatives.
I'm not giving away my new FujiFilm X-Pro2 anytime soon. In fact, I think I shoot better with it now that I'm shooting film as well. If you're not ready to make the leap into film quite yet but want to try getting a similar experience with your digital camera then I highly recommend doing this photography project from Rob Rhyne.