On a whim last month I decided I would buy another film camera. I was wandering around Blue Moon Camera and they had a couple Nikon FE bodies, and one came with a 28mm f/2.8, so I bought it. There really isn’t anything remarkable about me buying another camera really, I mean I already have somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 cameras of various formats and age, but this one turned out to be different somehow because I’ve been shooting nothing but film since I bought it. In fact, I’ve burned through 7 rolls of 35mm film in the last 5 weeks.
To be certain the FE is a great camera. Simple to use, the light meter is dead simple and you really have to be either drunk or stoned to not be able to read it and get a solid exposure. I started out just shooting with the 28mm, then I picked up a 55mm Macro f/3.5. Not the fastest lens I know, and really I prefer 2.8 or faster, like the 50mm f/1.8 ( which is a glorious lens). But it’s been great. Photographically I feel more than just a little revived. I started shooting JCH StreetPan and Bergger Pancro Black & White which are both 400 ISO. I have been in love with Bergger Graded Fiber Paper since it came out, and after Agfa stopped producing its graded paper, I switched to Bergger exclusively, and the film is just as wonderful as the paper. The tone and scale of the film is lovely and the 400 ISO is a great all-around shooting speed.
As always, the subject matter has been all over the place. I shot some frames out in the Gorge of a small skull I found along the Klickitat river, then I shot some super expired MS100/100 out at the coast. The only bummer at this point is that the FE was missing a piece of felt and I didn’t discover the light leak until after I had burned through 5 rolls of film. Dammit Jimmer! But Blue Moon being the awesome group of people they are, the camera is getting fixed up right away.
I’ve been shooting just digital cameras for so long I had truly forgotten how much more thought really goes into shooting film. I spend a lot more time contemplating the framing and composition and subject matter when shooting film. You have a finite number of frames to shoot with film, and it costs money to have them developed and printed; something that you really don’t have to worry about when shooting with a digital camera. I know what you’re going to say. “That’s just a mindset thing, just force yourself to slow down.” Yeah yeah yeah. I’ve heard all that. But unless you shoot film a lot, and quite honestly, until you’ve shot anything large format, you really have no idea what the difference is. Maybe that comes across as being a camera snob, so what, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. There’s an aesthetic to film that you can be partially recreated in Photoshop, but it’s not the same. You cannot get the same randomness of the outcome in Photoshop that you get with film since everything you do in Photoshop is purposeful and deliberate.
The other thing really just comes down to it being more fun. I enjoy shooting film more than shooting a digital camera, and for me, they are two completely separate things. Both are photography, one is not more “valid” or true to the “art” of it more than the other, but they are different and I enjoy one more than the other. I’d be hard-pressed to find the same satisfaction with any digital camera that I get out of shooting a 4×5 camera. Shooting with a 4×5 is slow, deliberate and precise in every way. Shooting digitally has the potential to be similar technically, but it just isn’t. Digital by nature is fast, fleeting.
I have roughly 200gb of photographs that I have shot digitally over the last 20 years since I started experimenting with the Nikon D100 when it came out 2002. In fact, some of my favorite images of my oldest son were shot with that camera when I borrowed it from Pro Photo back when I worked there. I’m getting off track I think…
The point is, I’m shooting film again for the first time in earnest in a decade, and I love it.