The Revelation

About two days ago, I posted something rather cryptic on my blog, which originally I have intended to be a full out defense on a very sensitive topic. I was expecting a rather negative feedback, but surprising even to me, nothing actually happened. I then realized, and strongly believed I must have attracted some of the most beautiful and kind mannered readers from the online community !!

So here is the revelation. The original topic to the blog entry here (click), was... *drum rolls...

Why I Don't Shoot Film?

If you go back to that blog entry and re-read the whole thing, everything will become clear to you now, why I said the things I have said, and the reasons I am staying with digital, and not picking up film. 

Please bear in mind that this is NOT a film vs digital argument that shall see no end. I acknowledge the strong presence, and significance of film and its rich historical tradition. Film has its place, and it is not going anywhere. I have highest respect to friends and professional photographers who still shoot seriously with film. However, to my own personal preference, my own style of shooting, and my needs when I am using the camera, I just do not see how film can fit into anything that I do, and will do in photography. Yes, my reasons are personal, so is the whole subject of gear choice itself in the first place. 

Sony A350 and 50mm F1.8

If you really look deeply into each and every photograph I have presented in that blog entry, you will find that using film will restrict you from achieving them, and there are just too many uncertainties and struggles, which are totally unnecessary. Those should not be any issue if digital gear was the option. 

The reason why I wanted to make a blog entry on this sensitive issue in the first place, was because too many people have asked me the same question: "Robin, when are you going to start shooting film?". My answer was simple, I was not interested in film, not the slightest bit. And you know what? The reaction I got from that simple reply I gave them, was shocking to say the least. It was their facial expression of disbelief, and I'd add, some degree of disgust, knowing that I chose digital over film. There was also the impression of pity, because somehow I was being looked down just for not using film. There was even this over-enthusiastic friend who sat down with me for more than half an hour, trying to convince me how beautiful the grain of film is, how natural and different the color is and how film makes you a better photographer. What a miserable, MISERABLE half an hour it was !! Such agony I have to go through, just to accommodate a friend, and trying not to alienate him seeing his immense passion in spreading the gospel of film photography. (That same friend also labelled those who do not shoot film second class photographers)

Shooting film does not make you a better photographer. Abundant patience, burning desire, true passion and sheer will to make the shot happen, those are the important ingredients to great photography. 

Shooting less due to limitations of film, and restricting yourself won't improve your shots either. In my case, if I were to restrict my shutter movements, I will just MISS all the photography opportunities, some of my best photographs, as showcased in the previous blog entry. You fire the shot when you have to fire the shot. You burst when you have to burst. You just shoot. Hesitating will lose the moment. 

They say chimping is bad for you. I strongly disagree. I say chimping might save lives !!

At the end of the day, to me, the most important thing, is to GET THE SHOT. No matter what means you employed, if your photographs are good, I have deep respect for you. Gear choice comes secondary. If you show me a photograph, if it was good, I honestly say it was good, regardless if it was taken with film or digital. 

Do not get me wrong, I have nothing against film at all, nothing. It was those who could not understand my personal choice of not shooting film that I have something against. They thought they were so good and better than everyone else, that they wanted to "educate" us lesser photographers who have not touched film. 

They showed me their supposedly "beautiful" film photographs, supposedly "better than digital" photographs, supposedly "something digital cannot do, only film can accomplish". They rattled on and on about how lovely the film grain is (which I have yet to appreciate, I apologize), how the tones are different, how dynamic range is wider and how the colors look much better, with reference to their favourite film of choice, either Kodak or Fuji or some funky film which I would not care about. As I looked deep and hard into their photographs, it was very, very hard for me to say something positive about them. You know why?

Half of them were out of focus. 
"Oh, why must every photograph be in focus? Film photography makes you concentrate on getting the moment. Blur is art"

ALL of them were either over-exposed, or under-exposed. And I mean, seriously wrongly exposed. Yet they corrected them via post-processing, digitally after the scan (what an irony, needing digital to save your analogue mistakes). 
"Oh, film has such wide dynamic range, it is ok if your metering was not accurate". 

Many of the shots were badly composed, and seriously could have been better. I commented that one shot could have been better if it was taken closer. 
"Oh that was the last exposure after the shot, hence I needed to reload the film and the scene changed after that"

There were many shots blurred beyond salvation. 
"blur is art, didn't I tell you that earlier?"

I did not see good photographs. I saw unforgivable technical mistakes. I saw poor composition. I saw poor artistic vision. 

You see the problem is, for most beginners, using film can either push them hard to be better photographers (which may be true, I have seen some friends really improve), or make them even worse, being lazy with tonnes of excuses. 

Those who know their craft well, who shoot religiously with film, who produced amazing photographs with film, I bow down to you. I cannot say the same with most people I have met, especially digital shooters who just recently converted to film.

As for myself, here is the list of things I want to explore further and improve on next in photography:
1) Get more serious about insect macro shooting.
2) Find more paid assignment, wedding jobs, event coverage, product shooting, etc, so that I can fund for gear purchase.
3) Shoot more stage performance, eg music concerts, theoretical play, cultural dance, Chinese Opera, etc.
4) Local documentaries: aboriginal tribes, and the one I have done recently, the charcoal factory.

Now tell me, where does film fit into all those objectives? 

There I have said what I wanted to say. Be nice in the comments. Meaningless trolling will have your comments vanquished into the nothingness in the realm of internet. 


  1. I hope I wasn't one of those friends who wound you up as I would never try to antagonise you, plus I consider myself somewhat agnostic towards film and digital. It's certainly a tiring and mostly pointless argument but it can be fun to hear people's views on the subject. It's emotive and reveals a lot about a person's character. I can see you're deeply uncomfortable to try something different and perhaps you just don't enjoy a challenge, but I do admire your conviction. Too much is said about being open-minded and some of the greatest artists were very stubborn people.

    1. Hey nick,
      no worries!! Of course those I was referring to was not you, but our discussion did spark the interest to write this entry. ask Luke, he knows about the long history of me and 'those film users'.
      Nonetheless, it is indeed a personal choice. I see film being too restrictive to my needs in shooting. I can't shoot macro with film. and I love macro dearly.icertainly can't shoot an event or wedding with film. I choose practicality and what works.

  2. Good for you Robin, that you've figured out your stance and formulated it. I've come to a different conclusion for myself and I may disagree with some of what you write, but that's okay. If film doesn't work for you, more power to you. For me it's got some of the creative juices flowing, not the least because I shoot with different types of cameras (like the almost 30 year old Nikon L35AF). I also find it oddly liberating not being able to see a shot on the LCD display the instant after I press the trigger. Then there's the anticipation and excitement about seeing how the negatives turn out, and that the whole process requires some planning on my part. But that's me.

    1. Indeed, it is very personal and there is no right and wrong. if for you, great!! Continue making great images with it, and I am sure many will see your passion through the results.
      I think the sad case on my part was being looked down on not using film.

  3. Hi Robin, Nice post. I am a film user and I have been using it for 20 years. I understand how you felt by getting the weird look from being not part of a film group as vice versa same experience apply to me when people are telling me it limits me.

    1. Hello Anonymous,
      do leave a name when you comment next time. I think it does not matter what we choose to use, the most important thing is we enjoy shooting and we are actually making good photographs.

  4. Great article as always Robin. I'm 65 years old and have been taking pictures my entire life. I love digital and will never look back. It works for me in more ways than I can say. And for the film lovers I say awesome and I know you must be having a great time with it. Thank goodness that we don't all have to be doing the same thing. I love variety. And finally, thanks to you for your work doing this blog.

    1. Hey Tom,
      Great to hear from someone who has used film since forever, and still embraces digital. I think most long time film user would have no issues with digital users. It was the new comers to photography who started a little in digital, then switched to film that made the most noise, as if they knew everything.
      It is my pleasure to do what I do here !!

  5. Hello Robin,

    reading especially the excuses for the "out of focus pictures" made my laugh out loud :) I am wearing glasses and according to the entry, everytime i take the off, i see art, because everything id blurred :D
    But seriously: i am photographing since 2 years and since the beginning, i used Olympus. My gear at the moment is a e-620 with my "always-on-lens" 12-60 SWD. And i absoluetly enjoy this camera and the digital photography. But since a few month, i restarted the Chinon CE-4 from my father and i have to say, that it is a great alternation to shoot with a film camera. The most shots i do, are made with the e-620, but sometimes i switch to the Chinon.
    I hope, that i belong to the type of guys, which are getting better in their photography (because i always try to be on focus, blur is not art, it is: "You´re doing it wrong" ;) )

    No matter if you start to doom film photography or not, i will follow your blog ;)

    Greetings from a snowy Germany.


    1. Hello Stefan,
      no no I am not dooming or condemning film, just pointing out good photography does not rely on the medium, and whichever you choose, film or digital, it takes more than that to make good photographs !!
      Thanks for the show of support. There is so much more I can do with digital, and I am not about to slow down.

  6. During the years (long ago) that I was a newspaper photographer, Tri X, Plus X and Kodachrome were my constant companions and darkrooms my haunts. But acquisition of a Nikon D1 -- and many digitals thereafter -- changed all that. For me, Photoshop and related apps are the color darkroom I always dreamed of but could never afford. Also, I still have many sleeves of negatives from my film days and, speaking only for myself, my digital images are infinitely better. Perhaps I was just a lousy shooter back then but I did have thousands of pictures published. I absolutely "get" why some folks prefer film but I also understand why digital has been so warmly embraced. Content is king and the best tools it takes to get it are the ones that work for a given individual. Even more important than the gear and techology (and I really LOVE the gear and technology) is passion and the joy inherent in producing an image that evokes a reaction in those who view it. The technical path to obtaining the image should be irrelevant.

    1. Hey David,
      thanks for sharing your history and background with film. Thanks also for being so honest and forward about your preference, and thoughts on digital. I am sure your film photographs were excellent, else they would not have been published !! And it should not be compared to digital, because you only had what you had, and with that you made do the best you could. That should be the way, to optimize the equipment and focus on shooting.
      As you have so appropriately put "The technical path to obtaining the image should be irrelevant", it is the photograph that matters !!

  7. Great Article Robin. I have been following your blog for a while and enjoy it very much. I think yo have hit the nail on the head. It is the image that matters not the method of capture. A photographer will be most successful when they work with a tool that they are familiar and proficient with, digital or film. I shoot digital (OMD) and am very happy with it. I used to shoot film and was happy with that. Sometimes when I want that “film feel” I will turn off the LCD and not chimp all day. I will also shoot in jpeg. And do almost no post processing. I never know what I have until I get home and download. I admit there is sort of a magic fun about that.
    What I Find most disturbing about digital has nothing to do directly with photography. It is more of a philosophical unease about disposability. Old film cameras were wonders of mechanical engineering a design. Just beautiful to hold an use. The beauty of the system is/was that the part that really mattered (the film) could change over time and was the least expensive component! Take a beautiful Leica M3 from the late 50’s and though a roll of new Velvia or TMax in it and viola! Images just like a new Nikon F6! Granted the F6 makes things a little easier (focus, metering etc) but in experience hands, Magic! I have really despaired at the “Digital Rot”, but I guess that is the price to be paid for “progress”. Guess it is better to spend money on good glass. A good lens will always be a good lens. Sorry about the ramble ;-)

    1. Thanks monochrome eye !!
      It is great to hear from another photographer who shoots both film and digital and acknowledge the joy of using both !!
      You were right, good glass is better worth the money spent. No worries about the ramble, I have always written very lengthily about my own experience and ranting, it is a joy to hear from another photographer's point of view.

  8. *Hari nik*

    Hi robin ..we meet again n again n again .... never bored to read ur blog ..i agreed with ur statement..when i was child , my father like to take a pic with he's gear..using a film u cannot do a single mistake when u take a pic. Just like a sniper, one bullet is for one target..if u buy a 24 roll of film, u must get 24 great pic without fail..b4 u press d shutter u must set everything single simple mistake will effect to ur father told me everything to me and try to teach me how to use he's gear..but unfortunately when he give me a 24 roll of film, i will get only 4-7 nice pic..other than that just "art" like u said..with now digital technology, i can do anything with them..i can explore more what i want & i can learn how to improve my skill ..i still respect to old timer user like my father who use film to take a pic...without live viewfinder they still can take a great pic...really salute to them..

    1. Hello Hadi Nik,
      Thanks for sharing your background story again. I wish my parents were interested in photography. My family never had a camera, when we needed we borrowed from my aunties and uncles. There were not many photos, but we were not a big family.
      Indeed it is amazing that film users actually have to be very careful, and each mistakes will cost money. But that was before the option of digital. Learning is a lot easier now without that restriction. Learning is also a lot cheaper, and faster. It all comes down to how much the photographer wants to learn and improve.

    2. I agree digital is great for learning. Can yu imagine the cost of trying to "learn" doing 8x10 or 4x5?! The cost would be prohibitive today. Yes, I know that is hwo the Old timers did it, but there weren't that many photographers either. That can get to be a very elitist argument. Digital like the Kodak Brownie are the great levelers. Bringing photography to the masses. I remember coming back from a vacation and having 20-30 rolls of film to develope and even then trashing 75% of the images on the first pass. I think I would enjoy film more now. I know better what kind of images I want to take, and how to deal with the light in a given situation. I find i take fewwer and fewer images for any given amount of time. I have thought about going back now and doing some film again, just for fun.

    3. I think once we know what we are doing (getting the exposure right, utilizing the light, proper focusing, and composition) surely shooting with film would have been more rewarding. It was the uncertainties and struggles that beginners have to face, which could be costly, and frustrating. The sad thing is that those newcomers did not want to admit their mistakes and call them art instead. I believe some basics should not be skipped !!

  9. Always use the right tool for the job!! Sometimes it's 4x5 Fuji Velvia 50 and sometimes it's a camera phone. Although I started shooting film over fifty years ago my most used camera is the .7 megapixel camera in my iPod Touch 4G. My second favorite camera is the Sony NEX-5n, soon to be replaced by an Olympus E-PM2.

    I shot a print ad last week with a DSLR, first time I've used one in over six months. If the E-PM2 works as well as I think it will, all my DSLRs will have to find new homes 8-)

    As much as I like film, I'll soon be selling most of my film cameras (I'll never sell the Toyo 4x5). Recently I've been shooting B&W JPEGs with the 5n, using both 21 Orange and 25 Red filters. You can go from grainless to grainy by cranking up the ISO. Time to live modern and go all digital.

    Robin, your digital work is great, don't change!!


    1. hello c.d embrey,
      Indeed, the right tool for the job is very crucial. Thanks for the kind words, and sharing how you are leaning toward digital !!

  10. Photography is art. Art is subjective.

    Camera is a tool to create a photograph - it doesn't matter what tool you use to create your art.

    Film has its place so as digital. This is part of your toolset, it's like a format or maybe process (whatever you want to call it) so as long as you know what you're doing it doesn't matter what you use. However, there are differences on how you can achieve your goal, one example: digital is faster than film. Do you know any sports photographer who still use film for sports photography? Another example, there's a lot of landscape photographers that still use film, large format even, now why is that?
    Going back to ART - it is subjective so some may prefer the film medium or the digital medium.
    And then there are people that go for the experience of using tools that give them pleasure just by using the tools they like (rangefinders, medium format, large format, etc.).
    Now, I don't think it's fair to say that because you shoot digital only, you're second class. Or turn it around so just because you shoot film you're first class. So I very much agree with your previous post's point, let the photographs speak for themselves. There could be many ways to creating what you want, what matters is you as the artist achieved it and achieved it in a gratifying way. I often tell co-photographers, focus on what you think will produce the best photograph rather than what others will think. Like any other art form, Photography has rules and they are there to guide us. We don't have to follow them all the time, what we need to learn is when to apply them best and when to break it, after all it's art and we are free to do whatever pleases us.

    1. I could not agree more with you Eugene, it does not matter what tool to create art, if it is art, nothing can change that.

      The blog entry was not film vs digital. I never claimed which to be superior, or better. I acknowledged the significance of both. It was that rising, growing group of careless and self-righteous photographers who think they know what they are doing with film, in fact they just started to get their feet wet in the world of photography.

    2. I was not commenting about film vs digital but reading my comments again I now realize that I dwelled about the two. Anyway, my comment above was both for your revelation and your previous post. I totally respect why you don't shoot film and I'm also with you with your feelings about people who could not understand this. I hope you were able to prove or awaken them to reality that using film doesn't make you a better photographer.

    3. I agreed that the blog entry wasn't talk about film vs digital, I careless whether you're using film or digital. But when I read between the lines, I sense the different message, I sense that those people who have treated you as a friend but just wanted to share the joy of using film camera had being hurt and comdemned. Private messages/opinions had been quoted without consensus. I believe some are still young and never experience film photography before, it is naturally when they know a bit more on film photography, they're obviously excited and talked more about it, for example, "blur is art" was just our internal joke to tease each others when we got some not so good shots, it served as a mean to encourage the person to took more shots and not giving up. The above reply that quoted they are "careless and self-righteous" photographers had reached my bottom line to give a feedback to you. Maybe you will say it is not meant to talk about them, but who else that your friends are using film? Robin, I respect you always and I like reading your blog and like your photos but this one I beg to differ my opinion, it is too much to swallow .... sorry Robin, I have to say that.

    4. Hello Yap,
      I thank you for your kind response, and sharing your thoughts.
      Nonetheless the blog entry is an open one, and the readers may interpret it any way that they want. It was not meant to be offensive in any way, but my opinion stays. I was hurt in the first place, I was challenged and questioned. It is only natural for me to take my stance, and voice up my own words. Which better place to do so, if not on my own blog?
      I also fully understand that some people may not take what I have written here very well. That is very normal and I can understand that. However my message is very clear, worry not about what you use, and just focus on shooting. Show me your photographs, then we talk.

  11. WoW... "Show me your photographs, then we talk"...?

    I didn't know you gets hurt that way.. all i know was they (group that you always go shooting with) just trying to share with you about their passion and hope you can try it out... they hold high values on you, I always heard them said lots of good stuff about you even before I met you :) And yes, I can feel your passion in photography! I never doubt about this one bit!

    But sometimes, it is good also to take care and appreciate each other works and feeling, be open minded, challenge each other (in a good way) to help each other to grow together, etc..

    Honestly, I just feel sad how you replied and what you wrote in your blog, we know you and i'm sure they don't meant to sabotage you in any way...

    hope this wouldn't get into another argument, i just stated how I feel after reading this entry and those comments.


    1. Dear Scott,
      No worries !! Appreciate your comment here. If everyone can be honest, open minded and share their own thoughts, obviously, I am entitled to the same privilege. After all this is my personal blog, where I can voice my opinion. Where else can I do so?
      Nonetheless, you do not have to feel sad, there is no need for that. Just continue shooting, and keep that passion alive. that is all that matters really. Yes, and I meant every word. Show me your photographs. Not gear.

  12. Robin, the reason you didn't get much reaction on that film vs digital topic is probably that few film afficionados read your note, and few probably spend much time surfing. Because looking at prints vs LCD screens is another totally different matter, not to mention most LCD screens are badly or inaccurately calibrated.
    It does take a well tuned eye to notice then appreciate the qualities of film, by which I mean a quality print, of a good photograph. There is nothing "special" about film EXCEPT that it provides a well understood specific look depending on film emulsions and techniques used. In the digital realm the vocabulary is sort of infinite, with for example all variations (atrocities imho) of HDR (high dynamic range). And with the deluge of not so interesting images it is hard to find a specific "style" of images.
    Now, this isn't to say you "need" actual film to get film like prints. But should you try that route you would need really expert digital tools and craftsmen to be successful there. One of the most successful photographers does just that. His name is Salgado and he uses the DxO tools and techs to achieve the self similar look he used to achieve with wet film. His current prints have the same exact look as his earlier film work.

  13. Hi Robin: I worked with film and printing for 10 years with a marketing design company, and then switched to all digital DSLR about 8 years ago, so I know the pros and cons.

    Nearly all can be done in digital now that was done in film (even large format), it is just much faster in digital with infinite possibilities for artistic expression. Even medium format film resolutions and dynamic range is challenged by Nikon D800(E) cameras at 36MP or higher MF digital cameras when working in Raw digital. Black and white film was the longest to hold out as beautiful film B&W with toners etc. in high quality prints always looked great and inexpensive to print but wet chemicals are needed. Now with digital, programs like Nik Silver Effects Pro and Filmpack 3 (with DXO) and Exposure from AlienSkin can imitate most any film from the past (and film matches are labelled in software) and selections are modifiable, and B&W can be done well in ACDSee or Photoshop as well. There is just a huge advantage to speed with digital to film and we no longer need wet chemical lab at home or in labs. My 2 cents of opinion. Why go back?