Sunday, February 18, 2018

Unpopular Opinion: Why I Don't Shoot Film

A lot of you have stayed with me over the years, and some of you must have wondered if Robin Wong has ever tried shooting film? Why is there no blog articles about film? The short answer is, I do not shoot film. I shall explain myself in this article why I never bothered about film and why I never will.

I am not against film photography in the digital age. If you love shooting film and it gives you that much pleasure and satisfaction, by all means, continue doing what you love doing. This is not going to be an article about film vs digital photography, that is a treacherous terrain that I would be suicidal to cross. I will explain myself as simple and as straightforward as I can: I just do not see the point of shooting film now.





I discovered photography in the digital age.  My first ever camera I have used was a digital compact point and shoot, the Kodak CX7300 which was quickly upgraded to Kodak CX7430. My first Digital SLR was the Olympus E-410. I learned photography with digital cameras and grew with them over the years. I was trained in the arts of composition, exposure basics, getting critically accurate focus and seeing creatively through digital imaging products. Everything that I have learned and gained over my experience and endless trials and errors have led me to where I am today. The photography journey is endless, that much I have realized and I still have a long, long way to go. Every day I strive to be a better photographer. My tools have always been digital. I never wished things were different.

I will never understand the magic of film photography, because I have never tried shooting film. I will never know how the process of shooting film, from the loading of film to the winding of film after every click and then the darkroom development procedures. As fun as these tasks sound, they do not entice me in the slightest bit. Then there are those who proclaim the "film" look in the images that digital cameras fail to reproduce, or how the grains look beautiful, something I also fail to see. Sometimes I do wonder, am I missing that much? Those who preach film kept telling me that real photographers shoot film, and I am not considered a real photographer if I have not experienced film. I refuse to believe in that.

The more I explored photography the more I learned from photographers who really breathed and lived with film in the old days. I have also found that these photographers who were doing the real stuff when film was the only medium available before digital have moved on to digital, and they have not looked back ever since. They have told me that they did not miss film at all, and they gladly chose digital over film if they had the choice back then. There was no magic, no nostalgia, no special look in film that they found lacking in their digital tools. I often wondered, could it be that the new, hipster generation of film photographers these days are romanticizing about a film nostalgia that they never had in the first place? Scott Bourne from Photofocus wrote an article about this, and I agreed with him.

Personally to me, I want the easiest tool I can work with. I welcome the convenience. I am a learning photographer and I want to be allowed the flexibility to experiment without hefty costs. I do a lot of trial and errors and I allow myself to make mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes. I do not have the luxury of time (all the waiting) and money (imagine the cost of films and developing them) to spend. I also do not believe in shooting less making you a better photographer. I believe in being out there as much as you can shooting images. It is like any athletic sports, you have to spend ginormous amount of time training and training and training to get stronger, faster and better at your game. Why should you limit yourself? I also agree to strict editing and curation process, but when I am shooting, I do not like unnecessary limitations. I do whatever it takes to get the shot.

Why am I ranting about me not shooting film? Because I have had film worshipers banging on my door shouting at me, harassing me for not having the same belief as they did. Many people said they wondered how my images will look like if I shot with a film camera instead of Micro Four Thirds system. They complained that I shot too fast, blogged too fast, and film will slow me down and make me a better photographer. The reason I am not a good photographer is because I am not shooting film.

Many of these film photographer wannabes shoot film for the sake of shooting film, and have no idea what they are doing. The proof is in their "prints". Badly exposed images, severely out of focus shots and images with no subject content or having weak composition choices. Yet when I pointed out these weaknesses they dismissed them because I was not qualified to comment and critique, since I was just a lowly digital shooter. I see film photography being used as a bad excuse to mask bad photography. Just because you shoot film it does not make you any better than others, there is no skipping photography basics, and there are no shortcuts.

It has come to a point when I had to decide enough is enough, and I chose to distance myself from these fanatics. I do not find similarities between my photography approach and theirs and there is no point co-existing with so many differences between us. I respect them for their boldness and loyalty to film photography. Fanboy-ism is not doing anyone any good. Since I do not believe in their cult, I just have to cut myself away from them.

To me, good photography is good photography, regardless of the medium used to produce the photographs. Either digital or film, if I like the image, who cares how it was shot in the first place? Some people are so fixated in the process that they have lost sight of the bigger picture. Photography has always been about the photographer's vision and how he sees the world.

I like that I can review my images instantly to ensure my images are perfectly in focus. I like that I can immediately see how my street portraits looked at me in my shots, because the eyes speak volumes. I like that I can decide to reshoot my images if the first takes were bad, or unsatisfactory. I like the ability to change ISO. I like the versatility of post-processing RAW files. I even like the colors that my digital cameras are rendering. I also like that in every new camera releases, technical optical and imaging flaws are better managed and controlled. I like that I can almost shoot endlessly with just a 64GB memory card and a few spare batteries. I like to work with the tilt screen with touch shutter for street shooting. I like the lightning fast autofocus that gets the shot every single time.

I like my digital camera.

So screw you, if you don't like the fact that I do not shoot film. I like the way I am. And I will continue shooting digital.

26 comments :

  1. Hi Robin,

    you have some very good and valid points.

    And I agree with a lot of them. Like taking more photographs, which would be very expensive when doing that on film, so choosing digital is the smart move in improving fast.

    It's just sometimes, when seeing old silver gelatin prints of (mostly large format, translates to very expensive today) film photography that I stop and think hmmm - have we lost something when we all went digital? This of August Sander and the likes - if you've ever seen one of those "prints" (they weren't even "printed", they were developed the old fashioned way), so if you've ever seen one of these with you own eyes, I bet it would impress you as it did with me.

    But still, I'm totally with you. Digital is nowadays in almost every respect way better than "analog" film ever was. Don't listen to any self-proclaimed experts who are maybe half my age. I used both film and digital - and still do sometimes. You? You go on and use whatever you like. It's the best and only approach which makes sense.

    And who dares calling you a bas photographer? Let's see some photos of those please.

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

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    1. exchaneg bas to bad - sorry for the typos...

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    2. Thanks Wolfgang for sharing your thoughts! I understand your feeling and I agree with you that seeing real prints is an entirely different thing. You have lived and breathed photography so that is a very valid point for you. Unfortunately, these newer film photographers lack your experience and insight, so I would not take their words too seriously

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  2. Having the experience of developing a roll of black-and-white film is one that I really enjoyed. And slowing things down can be nice. But there were so many blurry bad photos. Who misses that discouraging moment of opening the envelope with prints that are just terrible? The feedback of digital is fantastic. And people telling you how you should practice your photography? That's just ridiculous. With you 100%. Lose those creeps.

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    Replies
    1. I agree that slowing down is important to improve. However, I can also slow down when I shoot digital, if I choose to. Yes, people do actually preach photography like it is a religion, which is totally crap. I am trying to lose those creeps.

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  3. For the most part, I agree, Robin.

    I do not romanticize 35mm film at all.

    But, but, but, there's really something about a large format (10cm x 12cm and bigger) print that can be magical. Large format can still record more information than the best digital cameras can.

    Likewise, the process of doing large format photography is completely different from doing digital photography, particularly for landscapes, still-life, etc. When the end result is expensive, the process tends to be more careful and deliberate. Is that "better" than simply taking 1,000 digital shots, and throwing 999 of them away? I wouldn't say so, but it might be. If I'm planning to shoot my Linhof Super Technika (a rare thing, these days), I allocate no less than half a day, and figure I'll spend upwards of an hour setting up each shot. There's something lovely about that process that not all appreciate!

    My spouse hand-sews quilts. She also has an incredible ~$20,000 quilting machine that fills an entire room, that can record her stitches and replicate them in multiple patterns, but she also hand-sews from time to time. She refers to it as "meditative."

    I would never say you are less of a photographer for not shooting film. But I would encourage you to spend a day shooting with a large-format photographer some day, just to get some insight into what all the allure is about!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing about the large format photography. I would gladly spend a day with you or any one shooting with large format, and even do a short documentary style blog article about that. I understand that there are things that film can do that digital simply can't, and this goes both ways!

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  4. Hi. It's a matter of different perspective. But i hate negative perceptions. Hahaha

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    1. I do not like to just simply put it a way "different opinions" because if you do that, it is just plain counter-productive to even bring up the topic in the first place. It is a lazy way out of a meaningful discussion.

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  5. Bravo Robin! So glad to se simplyROBIN coming back and with attitude, you rock!

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    1. Thanks! Will do my best to put up more meaningful contents here.

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  6. Thanks for voicing your viewpoint bravely Robin :) I was raised on film and only later started shooting digital. I am very happy with what digital offers and do not think someone who shoots digitally is any less of a photographer compared to one who shot or shoots on film. Personally look at an image and see if it is good without caring what medium it is shot on. Maybe later I might take an interest in the medium but that has very little relevance to the image itself, rather a secondary curiosity. I do shoot some film mostly for personal enjoyment and once in a while if a client requests it (very rare but it does happen). What I cannot stand is the cult like sentiment forming around analogue photography you very aptly described. So often this quasi-religious fervour comes with extremely poor imagery to back it up. Almost as if film photography has to be bad to be good. In reality it is often used as a cover up to hide glaring faults of the photographer in case and lack of photographic insight. Having said that I do enjoy both mediums but there is only (one) photography be it digital or film. Let the images speak for themselves. Keep on shooting awesome pictures Robin.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Aleksi, appreciate the support. I feel the same way about that cult preaching about analogue photography! As you have mentioned, let the images speak for themselves!

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    2. Well, wile admitting that there could be a quasi-religious fervour about film one misses another angle on subject. What does it take to make a picture on film. The basics, a dark box holding a film, a lens and a film of course. Then an enlarger which is a kind of reversed camera and piece of photographic paper plus chemicals of course. All those things with exemption of lens and not even that you could make yourself. There`s a basic gene print in be i hole camera or Hasselblad 500. And you can produce results no matter when the equipment was made.
      Now what takes to make a digital picture. A digital camera, a computer and a digital printer. Of course even here we have some quasi religious movement using the oldest possible divi stuff even so that gets complicated due to obsolete software. The what, more pixels, more speed, more resolution, every year we are exited whats the newest and smartest, technical quality having overhand over the picture itself.
      So for some shooting film has an meditative quality to it, it`s getting away from what new,whats smartest maddening digital world. Great HCB took it to extremes, turning in his old days to drawing. What more basic, a piece of paper and a pencil, something that unites us with mankind across ages, something that can produce a great art.
      I do shoot digital with my some 9 years old Ricoh GXR, lousy 12MP APS-C , lousy AF, lousy write down time,. Yet I get cool pictures with it, mainly B/W. I know I could get better quality like results with newest stuff but I still feel I could take better photos with better mind not better camera. Let me finish with a battle cry - I´m not a luddist, I am a buddist.

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    3. Now here is a question, what if HCB found your Ricoh GXR? I am sure he will love it, if you ask me.

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    4. Well, to me, it does not matter "how" I make the photograph. The easier, the better. The less I have to think about the process, the easier it is to ave the "zen" state. Being truly meditative in the field while shooting means I can immerse myself fully in the creation of image, instead of being restricted with so many limitations imposed by film. Of course, if film works for you, go ahead. The way that you have described so much about the whole process of film being the meditation, it shows that we are approaching photography very, very differently. It is ok, do what you feel is right for you. After all, photography should be personal.

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    5. what if HCB found your Ricoh GXR? I am sure he will love it, if you ask me. Yes he mightbut there is one thing that bugs me with mirrorless. Slow reaction time. I mean power-up and press expose. With film camera cocked, it is instant, always ready, just press the shutter button. Decisive moment.

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    6. I don't know which planet you come from. Mirrorless cameras I have used from Canon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic and Olympus all have near instant power on time. I have had many critical moments and the cameras delivered flawlessly. Oh, and super fast AF. It always bothered me when I cannot get critically accurate focus, especially dealing with film. Don't go to those zone focusing bullcrap. That is just plain lazy way of getting the shots.

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  7. Hi again Robin,

    here's another photographer's opinion on it: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/peter-lindbergh-the-importance-of-being-more-than-a-fashion-photographer

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  8. Ansel Adams wrote in "The Negative":
    "I eaderly await new concepts and processes. I believe that the electronic image will be the next major advance. Such systems will have their own inherent and inescapable structural characteristics, and the artist and functional practitioner will again strive to comprehend and control them."

    I get the feeling the father of the Zone system would jump to digital if he were alive today!

    It is too bad people feel the need to trash others that don't share the same viewpoint.

    That all being said, thanks for all the effort put into this blog. When I got my EM-1 v1 when it was 1st introduced your articles were key in convincing me it was sufficiently good for my needs. More importantly, I really enjoy looking at your photos!

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  9. I understand your sentiments. I'm an old film photog guy who collects vintage cameras/lenses and still occasionally will shoot some film. I use almost all of the vintage lenses adapted onto my A7RII and really enjoy the different looks and qualities of them. Although I've come to find the various coatings probably have as much to do with the look of each lens as the optical characteristic's of the glass and construction do.

    I loved film. I love digital. I now choose to shoot almost exclusively digital. I love the immediacy of being able to swap vintage lenses -- I've got close to 200 -- and evaluate the different looks in real time so as to choose the exact lens or lenses I want to use for particular shots.

    I shot almost 48,000 digital exposures last year. That's probably around half of all the film exposures I've shot in my lifetime. And while I identify as being an old film guy, I've now shot more years on digital and many times more exposures. That said I still don't think I've ever seen a digital image, no matter what processing or filter applied that looks exactly like some film shots. And I think that's pretty cool -- the uniquely analog look film has. But that's not enough to move me to shoot film more than very occasionally. That's because I"m fairly well addicted to the usage, spontaneity and malleability of digital. It just opens so many doors of possibilities -- from immediacy, to widely variable camera shooting parameters, and finally the many post processing possibilities.

    You see mostly, I'm an old techie engineer guy and digital has a way of feeding that junkie image fix side of things. Years ago when I only had film, I'll admit that I liked the darkroom and chemistry side of photography as much as the camera shooting side. But digital has transcended that greatly and even opened up so many possibilities on the shooting side to balance with the post processing side. I now typically have a shooting day followed by a processing day, whereas before with film, I'd have a shooting day followed by sometimes weeks on the darkroom processing side.

    So for me, digital has been a big win win! Thats win win because digital is here and my preferable choice, but I can always shoot film anytime I want. I see no negatives in this coexistence. Unless you're shooting film of course .. ;)!

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  10. In my opinion there might be one reason to shoot film similar to the reason, why my father wrote all his books using pen and paper and never switched to a computer. He said, that it is totally different mental process. With pen and paper he thought every word and sentence out before putting it on paper. With a computer people quickly write anything down and then modify it several times to their satisfaction. When I go out with 15 frames in my Pentax 645, I think thoroughly about every frame before pressing the shutter. But I do this similarly with digital, because I hate to have too many pictures for post processing. :-)

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  11. I honestly like both. Pretty much equally. I love my digital for birds and wildlife. I prefer black and white film for, well, black and white! I have spent years working in the darkroom and years working on files on the computer. I like both. I do not hold anything against anyone for what they prefer. Your work, along with many other m4/3 photographers have me with a strong desire to go back into the Olympus fold, both for film and digital. I really missed my OM-4 last night. I love the new Olympus glass. If only my daughter was graduating from the University of Texas this year! Please, continue to post your wonderful work!

    ReplyDelete
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