My Return to Traditional Film Photography

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

It may seem strange to some that, in this age of digital photography, I am spending more and more time shooting film. But to me, it’s more of a return to my roots, as I started my photographic journey shooting film. In fact, if I actually stop and count my cameras for image type, there are more film cameras than digital.

Part of my reasons for returning to film is that the mindset and processes are different. No more chimping at the LCD screen for instant gratification (or disappointment) after each shot. No more rapid fire of multiple shots on the off chance that one image might be a keeper. Instead, it’s a slower and more methodical approach as you take more time to consider the subject, viewpoint, framing, and exposure, not forgetting that you only have 36 shots (for 35mm) or 16 for (6×4.5).

My film arsenal encompasses both 35mm and 120 films, with my current preference for the 120 film format and a 6×4.5 negative size, using a Mamiya 645E camera. Although I would certainly love to explore other film sizes and formats as time and finances permit. So far, I’ve shot a roll of Kodak Portra 400 through the Mamiya (got it a week ago) and am now exploring the capabilities of Kodak Ektar 100, but also plan to experiment with B/W film. My current thoughts on film choice are Ilford Pan F Plus and Ilford FP4 Plus.

Will I abandon digital and just shoot film? Unlikely. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and I’m not about to off-load all my digital gear, but it will be taking a back seat for a while. As with a lot of things in life, there is a time and place for everything, so choose accordingly.

And why did I pick medium-format? Mainly because it offers a significant increase in image quality over 35mm (due to the larger negative) and also because it affords me a chance to slow down and take more care in image creation. Plus, by utilizing a handheld spot meter, I can explore the zone system while using black and white film. Certainly, modern hi-resolution digital cameras can match (or come close to matching) the output from a scanned medium format film image; there are still certain qualities that it can’t match. Similar to how music from a vinyl record possesses certain qualities that a CD doesn’t.

However, one thing I won’t be pursuing for now is developing and printing the film(s) myself. It is indeed a goal of mine, but it will have to wait for now, and I will continue using professional labs and printing services.

Originally published Apr 16, 2018

Ian Mildon

Ian Mildon spends his days working as a software application developer. When not doing this he is a keen photographer, working with various formats; digital (full frame, APS-C), film (35mm, 6x4.5, 6x7), mobile (phone), instant. Ian is also a fairly prolific writer, mainly on subjects pertaining to photography, although he does not limit himself to just this subject matter.

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