Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Film: Seriously, It's Not Hard

- Film, yum. Shot near 9th and Race. Cameron Knight

I'm new here at QCD, and you may have noticed my photos have been shot on film. People talk about shooting film like it's coke habit. Expensive, unpredictable and harmful to your libido. I beg to differ. 

We recently got a comment about film on the QCD Facebook page: "if digital cameras didn't exist, would you still have your blog if you had to develop film from your shots and had to scan all of them? I don't think I'd have my blog cause that would be a complete pain not to mention expensive."

I ran a film blog with daily updates for over a year. It was a lot of fun. So the short answer is yes. It requires more planning, and you typically can't be as timely with your posts, but it's definitely possible. The main hang-up is that people don't typically shoot a whole roll of film in one sitting. Developing a roll of film at Walgreens takes an hour, doing it in your house take 30 minutes. Scanning a frame takes three or four minutes.

Farm Charm
- Shot with a Rollei 35 on Niederman Family Farm in West Chester. Cameron Knight

I like to shoot tons of film. I use it for almost all my personal work. I decided a couple years back that I needed to bring all the film services in-house in order to save money. So I built my own darkroom and started developing and printing everything myself. The initial investment was less than the cost of a new Canon Rebel.

I bulk load my film, too, which significantly reduces cost. A 36 exposure roll of film costs me about $2.75. The chemical to develop one roll of film costs me about 50 cents, maybe a bit less. Scanning is free once you have a scanner. So if you shoot two rolls a week, you're looking at around $340 a year, less than $30 a month.

So yeah, it's not free, but I'm not sucking dick in a back alley to buy film or anything. Also, it's not like I'm addicted to the stuff, I shoot for a living and own a Nikon D700 along with a few other digital cameras.

- A shot made with a Pentax Spotmatic around Bellevue, Kentucky. Cameron Knight

But why shoot film? Well, film looks awesome. And like cocaine, you're not sure what's going to happen with it. The delayed gratification, the post-nasal drip if you will, causes you to be even more proud when you nail a nice shot. It makes you more conscience on what you're shooting, too.

There's many great attributes to film, but why I honestly shoot film is because of the cameras.

Let's start with 35mm. I shoot Nikon professionally, so I have a kit of good Nikon lenses. Two weeks ago, I bought a Nikon F4 for $60. The F4 was the top of the line camera in the late '80s and early '90s. It cost $2000 brand new. It has smoking fast autofocus. It has knobs and dials to control everything instead of dumb menus, and it shoots six frames a second. It's also built like a tank and can be used to murder people Cain-style.

Want to talk medium format? You're looking at a slightly higher film cost, but a whole new way of shooting. My favorite medium format camera at the moment is my Bronica SQ-A. I've slowly built up my kit. I have two film backs, a 40mm lens, a 80mm lens and a 150mm lens. I paid less than $1000 for all of it. It's a great camera with great lenses, and the resolution will beat all but the biggest dogs in the digital market. A low-end digital medium format camera costs $10,000. It makes you feel like Diane Arbus when you shoot it.

- A shot made with a Lubitel medium format twin lens reflex camera. Cameron Knight

And now, it's time to drop the hammer. My loving fiancee gave me a Speed Graphics 4x5 camera a few months ago. I'm not sure what she paid, but you're looking at about $500 for a typical model on the used market. There is nothing that can complete with 4x5 film, except even bigger film.

The most important thing about shooting 4x5 isn't the resolution, it's the lens movements. Tilt, shift, rise and fall can't be described in a blog post, but they add a whole new dimension to photography that most of us haven't experienced.

- A shot made from Carew Tower recently with my Speed Graphics large format camera. The large building in the foreground is the new casino. Click here to see a larger version of the photo to really see the detail. Cameron Knight

Let's run through some of the other awesome cameras you get for a steal if you're willing to shoot film. How about Russian and Bessa rangefinders? You've got advanced point-and-shoots from the 80s and 90s that can be had for less than $10 and are some of the fastest, sharpest picture-makers ever. How about anything ever made by Rollei? There's just too many great cameras out there for me not to shoot film.

Vine Wall
- A photo shot with a Nikon L35AF, an autofocus point-and-shoot sold in 1983 with a tack sharp 35mm f/2.8. Shot near Piatt Park. Cameron Knight

In the digital age, we should have more choice, but we have less. Every DSLR works essentially the same way no matter what brand you get. Mirrorless cameras are offering us a little bit variety, but it's still all menus and plastic. Point and shoots, again, pretty much all work the same way.

For the polyamorous among us, film is the only way to go. Some people may not be able to handle some social use of film. You know what they say about drug problems: it's only a problem if you can't afford it.

- Shot with a Zorki 4K in Over-the-Rhine. Cameron Knight


  1. Nice post. I've been shooting nothing but film lately (and have ranted about it a couple times on my 'blog'). Since acquiring a few new [to me] film cameras I haven't touched my D90. I sent a bunch of rolls to the guys at and can't wait to get them back.. any day now..

    I never shot film back in the day and I've never developed or even been in a darkroom. I would love to get some insight to setting that up as I want my next move to be large format and I want to develop it.

    1. Been reading your stuff over there and it's really good work. What is indiefilmlab?

      I took some film classes in high school and used to know how to develop, but haven't really shot film all that much. I have a Nikon N80, but just can't seem to find the time to shoot film.

      Or I'm just lazy.

      Probably just lazy.

    2. I was just gonna drop a link to Alan's blog but he beat me to it.
      Film has character that digital might never catch up to, especially black and white.
      I have a couple lomo cameras but the turn around for me on film is a killer.

  2. Damyou.... Now I have the sudden urge to dig out my Rebel and go shoot. I literally have a grocery bag full of film to use with it... just never got around to it. Who wants to carry a hige camera and bag around, has been my thought recently. And snow pics are fun!!

  3. Robin Imaging was a godsend to film shooters. About a two ago, they could process anything for you, 35mm-4x5, color, b/w, slide. They did it all. But last year they were down to only processing C-41 (color neg) once a week. And then not at all. The only place in town I can find to process film is Walgreens and a couple Krogers. They're limited to C-41, so buy Kodak Ektar if you want really nice pics, and Walgreens in my experience is very expensive.

    But don't be turned off by the darkroom, you only need a darkroom is you want to print. To shoot black and white and then scan it, you only need a few things:
    1) A changing bag - $20 I think (a one time cost)
    2) A tank and reels - find someone to give so to you, like me, or buy used on Etsy or eBay for $20. (a one time cost)
    3) A bottle of developer - I use HC-110, at the rate I'm going through it, I'm think I'll be able to process 50 rolls with one bottle. A bottle cost $13. And a bottle HC-110 will stay fresh for several years, instead of several months like other developers.
    4) A bottle of fixer - I use Ilford Rapid Fix and buy it buy the liter, which costs $10 and will develop at least 60 rolls. It stays fresh for a long time, too, but not as long as HC-110.
    5) A bottle of Photo-Flo - it cost $8 and process 100 rolls of film at least.
    6) Some string to make a clothesline to dry your film on and some binder clips to hang the film with - $5

    You'll need a scanner. I use an Epson flatbed with film scanning capabilities. I can scan up to medium format. I spent less than $150 on it.

    So for start-up costs for equipment including a scanner, you're looking at about $200.

    For chemicals, you're looking at maybe .50 cents a roll.

    For the film itself, if you bulk load, $3 a roll for top end film.