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Why We Love Film
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August 2013   Better Pictures   Nikon   Canon    Fuji    LEICA   All Reviews

How to Shoot Film


Example Photos     Film Resolution       Film vs Digital

Examples from 2009: Death Valley in January 2009, Route 66 in February 2009, Volcano Country in April 2009, and Monterey in June 2009.

More about why Hollywood still shoots hundreds of thousands of feet of film every day. Digital is catching on in Hollywood, but only for immediate cost savings, not for picture quality or for archivability. Even the digital shoots today are still archived on B&W separation negatives.

Here's another great article from another pro about why photographers prefer film.


Film versus Digital Capture

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

I use these stores. I can't vouch for ads below.

"Capture" means how an image or data is acquired.

After it's caught, either on film or with digital capture, all of them are workable and archivable and printable in a computer, since all my film is scanned at the time of development.

If I capture on film, it all goes into the same digital workflow, archive and backup plan. The only difference is less work, less expense, better-looking files and more fun with film capture.

Film capture also gives me the option of a second, parallel workflow that both gives me a second set of permanent, eternally legible backups (the film itself), as well as the freedom to edit, print and project directly from the film if I so choose.


Dynamic Range?

You want dynamic range? I got your dynamic range right here in this little canister. It's called film; a write-once, read-many (WORM) medium.

I made this shot on a Contax G2 with a 21mm Zeiss lens at f/8 on Fuji Velvia 50, which was processed and scanned at the same time at NCPS. The dynamic range is so great that the hellacious sunbursts you see are just what's naturally coming off the diaphragm blade at f/8, as if 1,000 suns were shining in the lens in the two-minute exposure.

Not only that, but the film I shot in a Canon EOS Rebel G film camera, worth about $20 today, was sharper as scanned at NCPS than the file I made with the same lens on a Canon 5D, which is sharper still than anything on earth from Nikon digital.

How about that? A $20 camera with a $5 roll of film and $20 to process and scan the entire roll is sharper than a $5,000 camera. (The Contax cost more, but still loads less than anything in full-frame digital.)

35mm Film vs. Digital

A frame of 35mm film, scanned cheaply at a good photo lab to a CD, is about equal to the resolution of a 25MP DSLR.

If you want to compare actual optical prints, which lets film look much better than simply scanning it, ISO 100 film is much better than even a digital Leica M8.

When doing film vs. digital comparisons, I prefer to compare like to like, and compare larger formats of film, as shot by most pros, to the DSLRs used by most pros. 35mm film is an amateur format, so I've never bothered to compare.

I was shooting a 1956 Kodak Retina IIIc, and out of curiosity had some automated 5,035 x 3,339 pixel scans made at NCPS. Just for laughs, since these scans looked so good, I shot the same thing with my 2008 state-of-the-art Nikon D3 (that cost me $5,000) and 24-70mm f/2.8 AFS lens (that cost me $1,700) to compare to the Kodak.

The 1956 camera, with its fixed 50mm f/2 Schneider Retina-Xenar on Fuji Velvia 50 and a good automated scan, has better resolution than Nikon's state-of-the-art digital!

Hee hee! One day I'll have to shoot a modern camera and have a real scan made from 35mm, which will be much better, and maybe I'll even compare to the current state-of the-art in 35mm digital, which is Canon, and is also better than Nikon.

Digital is easier and cleaner, but even 35mm film shot on a 52-year-old camera still has more sharpness and resolution. The Retina camera and its meter both work without batteries.

Roll mouse over to see how far we've regressed in s 50 years.

This Kodak Retina IIIc cost me only $75 over eBay, complete with German lens and working meter. So it goes. Film: The Immortal Medium of the Masters. Digital: Profit center for large foreign corporations.

Kodak Retina IIIc

Kodak Retina IIIc.

Want an explanation? See Film Resolution.



Now that it's been less than a month since I discovered how easy it is to get great-quality digital files directly from professional transparency film at the same time its developed, some bigots have had a problem with how great film is.

Today I can drop my Velvia at NCPS, and a few hours later, all my film is processed, scanned at higher resolution than a digital camera, and ready to use. (NCPS does mail order, too.)

Bingo! I now can shoot film as fluidly as a digital camera. The big block between film and getting it scanned so we can do something useful with it has gone away. I have all the quality, artistic, economic and logistical advantages of film, and all the speed and flexibility of digital. Whoo whoo!

It the old days (the late 1990s), all we had was film, and klunky scanners that took at least ten minutes per image to scan images slide-by-slide. We had to work exclusively with film, and pick and choose the few images we wanted scanned to digital. This was a pain, and the scans were only of so-so quality unless we wanted to send them out for $50 drum scans on $100,000 PMT scanners.

Digital SLRs replaced film for newspapers in 1999, and became popular with hobbyists starting in 2003, all for their convenience in getting your pictures immediately, not for their image quality.

Today, 99% of amateurs use DSLRs. This is because DSLRs have been the fastest and most convenient way to get digital files of moderate quality, and the immediate LCD feedback helps newcomers to the hobby see what they are doing as they do it.

DSLRs are all fine and dandy if you don't mind blowing a few grand every other year just to stay current, but DSLRs cost more in other ways. Every time a bigot sends me hate mail about how expensive film is, I also have to point out that I blew $6,000 on my desktop Mac and 30" monitor in 2006 just to look at my digital files (and do this website). With film, no computer is required (just print optically, or bring your scan CDs back to the lab for printing and editing on their kiosk), and with film, you don't shoot all the thousands of deleted rejects people do so blindly with digital cameras.

I've spent thousands of dollars more on digital gear than I've ever spent on film and film cameras.

If you shoot sports, action and people, by all means shoot a digital SLR. On the other hand, if you're shooting nature, landscapes and weird stuff to create great art, film has always been the way to go.

Film takes more skill to get right, but when you do, it's magnificent.

Why is it the same dweebs who obsess about pixels all day reading about it at work send me hate mail when I point out that even 35mm film is still superior to any DSLR? Pointing out how even crappy film cameras can whup expensive digital cameras is something they don't want to hear. Funny, but since it's so easy to shoot film for superior results today, these people still clinging to their DSLRs are the newest Luddites.

Why do we love film? Let me count just a few of the many, many ways.


Technical Superiority

Why is it that the only reason most people give for using digital cameras is that you can "erase the bad pictures, for free?"

It seems digital cameras are all about the freedom to make pictures that suck, at no cost.

I don't know about you, but I prefer to make good photos. I don't take them when I already know they're going to suck. That's why film shooters make better pictures: we only take the good ones!


Better Colors

Tufa Gold

Tufa under Pinatubian Light. enlarge.

Transparency films reproduce a far wider gamut than any digital display or print medium.

Look at a Velvia slide on a light table, and you'll see deep, deep vivid reds. Your computer screen or print media can't make these reds: all you get digitally are reddish-oranges. (when film is scanned, you're subject to the same limitations, but projecting or optically printing to Cibachrome, you can get these deep, true reds.)


It Just Looks Better

No digital display medium can match the brightness and vividness of a transparency on a light table. My cheap light table measures 800 foot-Lamberts of luminance (brightness), while my 30" Apple Cinema Display , which is the brightest computer monitor I've ever used, measures only 100 foot-Lamberts cranked to its maximum.

Fuji Velvia has a real display contrast range of 10,000 : 1, which is what dMax 4.0 (log 10) means. No digital display comes close.

This is why slides jump off a light table: the whites are ten times brighter, and the blacks are far darker. A slide simply has a higher display gamma than prints or computer monitors.


No Dadblasted Noise Reduction (no differential texture problems)

All digital cameras use electronic noise reduction (NR) to smudge over details to reduce noise.

This reduces noise, and also reduces texture and detail.

Mouse-over to see the dulling effects of noise reduction.
(Crop from center of above.)

Roll your mouse over the crop to see the effects of noise reduction in a typical DSLR.

NR is smart enough to leave the edges alone, so digital photos always look sharp, but NR usually smoothes over the subtle textures that only film can capture.

This is usually OK for color work, but unacceptable for black-and-white.

If there is too much NR, we say that the image looks "like a cartoon," because it has sharp edges, but just flat color in between those edges.

If you printed the entire image at the same magnification as the crop above, your print would be 4 x 3 feet (125 x 85cm).

Film has more grain at any given ISO than a digital SLR (but better than digital point-and-shoots), but film grain is pleasant and organic. Digital noise has nasty, obnoxious blotching in addition to the fine grain.


Sharper Pictures

Film is always sharp.

There is never any need for sharpening, or sharpening adjustments, as there are with digital.


No Auto White Balances to be Fooled

Film has its own fixed white balance. It can't be fooled by the subject.

Point your camera at something red or green, and you get red or green. You don't get the cyan or magenta shift you'll often get with digital cameras set to AWB.

You never need to screw with raw files, since film's WB is always where it needs to be.

To adjust to conditions, one uses filters. I usually use an 81A (A2) for most shots, and warmer filters like an 85C as needed.


You Can't Lose the Highlights

This doesn't apply to slide film, shot by pros, but if you shoot print film, as did most amateurs (and what's in today's popular disposable cameras), it's nearly impossible to overexpose a color or black and white negative.

So long as it's printed by a lab with an operator who hasn't fallen asleep, you can be many stops over and see no difference in the print or scan.

I tried once, and made a shot four s tops overexposed on print film. When I got my prints back, I couldn't tell which shot was which!


Free HDR for No Work

We never had HDR (high-dynamic-range) time-wasting with film because we didn't need it.

Film already has a huge dynamic range.


Real Knock-You-Out Velvia Colors

Digital keeps trying, but if you want the spectauclar look of Velvia, all you do is spool up some Velvia 50 and shoot.

Drop it on your light table, and you'll see colors and a power-of-image that you've never seen on a digital display.


Logistical Superiority


Film costs less

In March 2010, I ordered a few year's supply from Adorama (120 rolls 35mm and 50 rolls 220).

It cost me $1,300, and lab fees usually run about the same. To add scanning as I do, it's another $6 a roll ($12 if you want stupid-high resolution).

This should last me three to four years.

$1,300 for film, $1,300 for processing, and $1,300 to $2,600 for scanning.

Divided by three or four years, that's $1,300 a year for all I can shoot RealRaw, with full digital scanning and DVD backup of every single frame at the same time it's developed. There are no wasted trips back just to get single frames scanned.

With film, you don't shoot everything just to throw it away later. You only shoot what's going to look great, so you have both a higher hit ratio, and make fewer shots overall.

$1,300 a year including is a lot less than how much I lose on DSLR depreciation, and I shoot a lot of film.



You don't need to carry backups when shooting film, since film doesn't erase, lose data, crash or malfunction.

You can't screw up and format your film by accident while shooting. Your film never crashes and can't be read, and never breaks if dropped. For you people on Windows, film never gets viruses and makes you have to replace all your film. All my shots still look as I shot them.

In over forty years of shooting film, I lost 7 frames back in 1974 when I was 12 years old because I loaded a roll of film incorrectly (I learned how not to make the same mistake again), and in 1998 I lost three frames when a lab developed them the wrong way. I had other duplicate shots that were fine.

In digital, I've lost hundreds of frames in an instant when I've had flash cards misread. This happened to me several times back in the early days of digital SLRs, and to quote Nikon when I asked them about this, they said I was lucky not to have had more failures with as much as I shoot.


No Attention Wasted Looking at the LCD after Each Shot

When you click your shutter, you're done. Period.

You aren't distracted from the next photo by wasting your time-on-station looking at what you've already shot.

This is much more deeply significant than you think. When I shoot film, my mind is on the next photo, and not on looking at what just came up on the LCD. Staying focused on the subject leads to better photos.

Shooting film lets you see more because you're never distracted after the shot looking at settings and playback wondering "what if." Since your head is always paying attention to the scene and shooting, 100% of your concentration is on the subject, and not on jacking with your camera.

Do olympic runners spend their time looking backwards on their competition as they're sprinting to the finish? Of course not: they're intently focused on the finish line, since they know that any distractions slow them down. Any time wasted looking at your LCD is distracting you from your subject, and in turn, makes your images weaker.

Remember the Kenny Rogers song "The Gambler," where he advises that "you never count your money while you're sitting at the table; they'll be time enough for counting when the dealing's done?" It's the same thing: counting money or looking at an LCD distracts you from what you should be doing while playing poker or shooting. You'll have plenty of time to count your chips or look at your pictures later, when you're neither shooting nor playing.

Don't look at stuff as you shoot, and don't look at it back at the hotel. Save that for when you return.

With film, the fun of seeing what you got is deferred to your choice of whenever you'd like to sit down and enjoy your photos, not having to do it at the same time you should be shooting.

Film gives you twice as much time to shoot because you defer all the reviewing to later.

Instead of showing LCDs to each other while you should be shooting, you now have an excuse to get together after the trip when you shoot film.


No Computer Required, Ever!

Even using a Mac all day, I'd rather be outside and not in front of a screen.

Even if you print and edit your film digitally, you don't need a PC. All you do is take your CDs back to the lab to print, and edit on the kiosk.

Want to sort and file? You can do it all on a light table, no time wasted installing and maintaining software or waiting for files to ingest.

Pros use light tables many feet wide. You can't get computer monitors that big for sorting and selecting.

If you don't want to mess with scans, even if they're easy, no problem. Sort on a light table (pros often just hold slides up to the light, no table needed), and send them out for optical Cibachrome prints.


No Computer Junk Needed, Ever!

Carrying a laptop everywhere is easy, compared to all the chargers, cords, backup drives, blank CDs, blank DVDs, cases, and even more cords and mice and junk required to keep a laptop working.

When I first dumped digital, I didn't realize how all that extra junk took up more weight and space than my laptop did. Now that I don't bother with either while out in the field, I can take a much smaller travel bag!

I bring an iPod touch in my pocket, which gives me full Internet access for all my travel needs.

Film needs no laptop, no laptop charger, no blank CDs, no extension cords, no power strips, no backup drives (I always carry two), no mouse, no card readers, no spare rechargeable camera batteries, no camera battery chargers, etc.


No Motel Shenanigans

When you get back to your motel at the end of the day, you can just go to sleep. Your film is already in the can safe and sound. You're done for the day.

You have no digital garbage to take out, like downloading, filing, cataloging, sorting, organizing, posting, backing-up, burning CDs or organizing.

You can get to sleep and get up refreshed, You'll be out there the next day before dawn ready to shoot with open and excited eyes, which is what makes great pictures.

Night time is spent asleep, or planning tomorrow, not reviewing the day's old photos. With film, we get to defer reviewing our images until we're home and can enjoy them fully, and spend out time in the field on making photos.

With film, you can spend any motel time each night cleaning your cameras for a few minutes, researching tomorrow's locations and activities, and getting to sleep.

With film, your entire nightly regimen is:

   1.) Stow exposed film.

   2.) Put new film in your photo vest (or camera bag).

   3.) Clean your gear.

   4.) Put all filters, lenses and caps back where they belong on your lenses and in your photo vest, so you know where it all is when you start out tomorrow. Just as digital cameras wind up set to ISO 1600 and blue (tungsten) WB at night unless you remember to reset them before morning, you'll probably have your glass filters and lenses not where you expect them for dawn's first shots.

Note that step 4 is the same for digital, except that there are far more settings on far more cameras to reset, and that digital shooters are usually too busy jacking on their computers to bother with step 3.)

Steps 1.) and 2.) take less than a minute, compared to the hours wasted by digital shooters downloading, jacking, backing and organizing files.


No Friggin' Shooting Delays

With film, press the button and you're done. Few film cameras, even with flash, use preflashes. It's weird to have a camera go off instantly after you've been used to all the preflashes and other weird stuff many digital cameras do to get in the way of your pictures. The Canon G10 can take what seems like forever between preflash and exposure, guaranteeing missed shots, even when used correctly.

Use a really crappy film camera, like the disposable Fuji QuickSnap, and its scary how it just goes when you push the button. Bingo, instant response, always. Timing and gesture is what makes a picture, not pixels.


Wives and Girlfriends Love Film

Girls hate it when boys waste their time while on vacation by looking at their photos of the vacation, while they're still on that vacation! This isn't why a woman goes on vacation.

Your resort room isn't intended for you to be playing on your computer when you have your girl there. Shoot film, and you have more time in your room for what it's intended.


No Batteries and No Battery Chargers

Digital cameras are dead without some way to recharge their batteries every night or so. When digit head are out shooting, every night they need to plug all their junk into the wall to recharge.

You never need to cheat death fumbling with a car charger, either. You can pay attention to your driving, and looking for great photos.

Pro film cameras, like 4x5s, don't use batteries at all. Old cameras, like 1950s Kodak Retinas, use no batteries, and even their meters are solar-powered. You can shoot for decades in the woods and never need anything.

Of course most cameras made since the 1970s use batteries, but their batteries are tiny and last years. An automatic Nikon F3 or FE or Olympus XA runs for years on two S76 watch batteries, and gives you weeks of notice when they are low. A spare pair fits in your pocket, and you can buy these batteries everywhere (including inside key chain lights).

Autofocus and autowind cameras use more power. Big deal: today's brilliant Nikon F6 runs on two CR123 cells, a spare pair of which also fits in the little key pocket in my jeans. I haven't changed the batteries in my F6 since last year.

With film, you can shoot for a long time and never need to plug-in. With film, you're free to wander the globe and shoot, never needing to waste time looking for power.


Film Costs Much Less

When digital cameras came out, we all giggled when we realized, after shooting 389 shots of nothing, that that would have just cost us $400 in film. As we racked up thousands of shots on our digital cameras, we rationalized the thousands of dollars we blew on our now worthless Nikon D100s and D1x' by telling ourselves that we had already paid for it in the film we didn't shoot.

Or did we?

Let's be honest: just how much film actually did you shoot? Digital might be fun because we can erase the pictures that suck, but if they sucked, why bother making them in the first place?

With film, we didn't make 27 shots of our feet in the parking lot while we're waiting for something. With film we shoot less, and get a much higher percentage of keepers.

As film format gets bigger, we shoot even less, and have even more keepers. That's why 4x5" film usually looks so good and costs so little. We shoot only several sheets in a day, and they are all winners.

Professional film cameras, like the superb professional Nikon N90s, can be bought for under $100. Buy one, and it will last you a decade or more.

Digital cameras cost thousands, and you'll throw it away in two years when the newer one comes out.


Permanence and Legibility

Decades from now, all you have to do is look at your film. Negatives from the 1930s of my mom and dad are still as useful as ever, and can always be scanned for digital use.

I doubt any of you can play any of the files you made even one or two decades ago, simply because the files are recorded on some medium, like floppy disks or obsolete memory cards, for which you no longer have a player.

Black-and-white has already proven itself for over 100 years of permanence, and my Kodachromes from 1973 (and Velvia from 1990) still look exactly as they did the day I got them back from the lab. If they do fade slightly in 100 years, it's trivial to correct it digitally.

As the Library of Congress points out, film is always visible simply by looking at it.


All the Benefits of Digital, of Course

When you have your film scanned as it's developed, you have all your photos as files and can do with them as you wish.

Film is the original raw. If you don't like your scans, you can do them again, and ten years from now, you can have them scanned even better than we can today. If you wasted your time with digital capture, all you have is your digital camera file, but no film record for printing, display or future scanning.


Faster Editing

If you lay your stuff out on a light table, it's much faster and easier to sort than do to the same on a computer.

If you do use a computer to sort your scans, since you've shot your film more carefully than you would digital since you're paying for each shot, you have fewer images through which to sort.

Film shooters won't waste 40 identical frames on the same subject, so there's a lot less crap through which to sort.

Just like everything else in life, when you have to pay a little for each shot, you don't waste them. You pay attention, and your results improve. Digital is like a Communist economy or government organization: when no one is paying for something themselves, they waste it recklessly.


Better Shutter Feel, No Recoil, and thus Sharper Photos

With a thumb-wind camera, I can squeeze the shutter smoothly through all its travel without fear of the camera accidentally firing any additional shots.

With slow speeds, I can leave the shutter fully pressed at the end of the shot until I'm comfortable letting up.

Even when set to single-shot, most motorized cameras lack hysteresis and may shoot an extra frame or two if you very slowly press the shutter through it's "fire" position.

When shooting, I prefer a very slow, deliberate marksman-style trigger pull, and hand-wound cameras never play any funny business on me.

Electronic and digital cameras often fire off a few shots right at the release point of the shutter travel when pulled very slowly, which tends to make me wince and avoid pulling the trigger properly, or want to get off it before I follow through its complete travel. Slow shutter speeds demand careful shutter release, so trying to get off the button as soon as the camera fires makes for blurrier photos.


No Diopter Controls to Knock

Classic cameras, like most manual focus cameras, predate having annoying little knobs to adjust for eyeglass wearers.

I love not having to twiddle with the darn adjustment to get the finder sharp every time I pick up a camera. With older cameras, even if you do need glasses, you can buy special fixed diopters to make the finder sharp with no need to twiddle adjustments.

This is just one more of the many ways older cameras help make better pictures. Less distraction means more attention on making pictures.


Real Cable Releases

a.) Traditional cameras take a standard $6 threaded cable release. Every brand of camera uses the same one!

b.) These are easy to attach and remove in total darkness. Just poke them in and rotate. Today's $100 electronic releases require a flashlight and careful attention to attach in the dark, and you need a different one for every camera!


No White Balance Problems

Film has a fixed WB, usually Daylight. It's never, ever fooled by the color of the subject.

When we need to change WB on film, we simply use a colored filter.


Film Feels Good!

It's nice to use a pro lens that feels like a pro lens.

Nothing photographic feels better than Nikon's manual-focus lenses.

After settling for the nasty plastic of most of today's lenses, using a real camera for a change lets me appreciate how things are supposed to be.


Fixed Focal-Length Lenses are Easy to Zoom

Zoom lenses aren't needed to get exact framing.

Your feet have a lot more power to zoom than you think.

If you're using a set of standard fixed lenses, like 20mm, 28mm, 50mm, 85mm, etc, you'll see that it doesn't take much walking forward or back to get the exact framing you want.

These focal lengths were picked decades ago to allow just the right amount of overlap so just a few steps forward or back will get you what you need.

If you use these fixed lenses instead of zooms, you pick up several stops of more light gathering power (the same as having several stops better high ISO performance), much less distortion, and a much brighter viewfinder.

This all adds up to more fun with less work, which means better photos, even if we forget that fixed lenses are faster (thus sharper in dim light), and distort less than zooms.


No Wasted Shooting Time

With film, you never have to waste your time doing things like shopping to buy more CDs for backup or trying to borrow battery chargers from your friends when you could be spending that time out looking for more photos.

With film, you can bring along enough spare batteries to last a decade.

With film, all your vacation and shooting time is spent shooting, not supporting a computer system.


No Temptation to Waste Time on the Internet

The Internet was invented to give you something to do to pass the time while at work.

Don't waste time looking at it when you're actually out shooting, or on vacation.

Getting on the Internet takes you out of the place you're visiting. You could be walking the streets and getting to know where you are, or you could be reading more of the same crap you're reading now that could wait until you get back to your office.

Stay off the Internet. Read real books about where you are or where you're going, or get out and go for a walk.


Personal Safety

With film, you'll never get run over crossing the street while looking at an LCD.

For those of you who are snipers or in the military, film is much safer to shoot at night because you'll never give away your position from the glow of an LCD or digital camera pilot lights. Also, film cameras don't beep.


Image Security

It's easy to lose a CF or SD card. It's much harder to drop a roll of film and not realize it.

You'll never accidentally erase a roll of film. Film never has compatibility issues or errors.


Better Finders

Film has much brighter finders since fixed lenses are so much faster than the sorry zooms most people accept in digital.

Even the crummiest film camera has a much bigger finder than the best Nikon DX or Canon 1.6x digital SLR.

Film camera finder screens are optimized for the fast lenses, which DSLRs are not.


Faster and Easier to Focus

Film cameras are much easier to focus manually, since images just pop-in with 3-D clarity on an SLR with a fast lens.

With manual focus, there's no need to jack with selecting among AF sensors, popular in AF film and digital cameras. .


No Sensors to Clean, Ever!

Film is manufactured in dust-free laboratories. It's cleaned at the factory. Every shot is fresh and brand-new, with never a speck of dust.

You never have to worry about changing lenses. Leave the lens off for a year, and the next shot is still clean.


No Worries about Dirt

Not only is film is made in dust-free laboratories, cameras don't really care about dust, either.

With digital, I worry about keeping my lens and body caps clean so they don't bring dust into my digital cameras, get on my sensors, and therefore get my photos.

With film, I chuck my caps in my dusty pockets and couldn't care less. Having to worry about dust on lens caps for digital is way too dainty for me.


No Need to Turn off Power when Changing Lenses

Manual film cameras rarely have any electronic contacts between the camera and lens. There's no reason to worry about turning them off to change lenses, as every autofocus and digital camera warns.


4x5" film is still the way

As usual, the cover of the November 2008 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine was shot on film. They fooled me: I looked at George Ward's awesome shot from Yosemite and thought "wow, digital is getting good;" but no, it's good old 4x5" film.

Like most magazines and other commercial media, Outdoor Photographer only talks about equipment and techniques covered by companies who buy, or might buy, advertising.

Since makers of large-format gear buy no ad space, 4x5" cameras get no coverage in Outdoor Photographer, even if they're what's used by serious landscape shooters, and even if 4x5" gear costs far, far less than digital.

As I tell anyone who asks, I shoot digital gear because it's fast and easy for pix of my family and friends and easy to post snaps online, but if I shot landscapes for a living, I'd be shooting nothing but my 4x5 camera. I shot more gigabytes of film in Yosemite last week than I did on digital.

4x5 camera systems not only cost less than today's forgettable and disposable digital camera systems, 4x5" gear will outlast you or me. My favorite 4x5 camera and lens were made in 1956!

Not only does the gear cost far less than digital, it costs less to shoot 4x5" than to shoot smaller formats like 120 or 35mm. Sure, the film costs more per shot, but you'll shoot far fewer shots on 4x5" each day. Because you can preview each on your ground glass for exact composition, you'll get a much higher ratio of great photos.

Regardless of your gear, be it superior and less expensive 4x5" film, or expensive throw-away gear like the NIkon D3 and Canon 1Ds Mk III, the only thing that matters are being in the right place at the right time with open eyes. George Ward's shot is on the cover instead of any of ours because he saw the light. George Ward, with a QuickSnap, would have gotten a better shot than I could with any camera in the middle of the day in the summer. There are few days with fresh-fallen snow, and even fewer with great light.

By "throw-away," I mean that in three years we will all have forgotten about the D3 and 1Ds Mk III. Indeed, the Canon 5D Mk II replaces the 1Ds Mk III as soon as it starts shipping in a few weeks, and Nikon's D3X is due to be announced any month now. By comparison, any 4x5" gear you buy today will still be working great not only in three years, but in 30 years.

When I shoot 4x5," I use a Nikkor 300mm f/9 I bought new in 1992, a 150mm f/5.6 Schneider convertible Symmar made in 1956, and a Schneider 75mm f/5.6 Super Angulon made in 1968. I need no other lenses; why would I?



Now that we all can get great scanned results fast and easily from film for art and serious photography, why bother with digital? Digital is for commerce, like news, catalogs and magazines where quality isn't critical, but time and convenience is.

The reason film became less popular was because there was such a large barrier between film and getting it into the digital domain via scanning. Now that it's trivial, by having my film all scanned at NCPS at high resolution at the same time it's developed, I can shoot film as transparently as a digital camera. I can post what I do on film on this site as fast as I can from digital capture, so why bother with the expense of a digital camera which will become obsolete in a year?

Don't let me stop you from spending your heart out (use my links and it's what supports me, thank you), but if you know what you're doing, film is wonderful, and better and less expensive than digital.

For news, sport and action, digital is fun, but for serious stuff I might hang on the wall, it's always been film.

In Japan, people are as nuts about film as anyone ever has been.


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I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

The biggest help is when you use any of these links when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. These places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

If you find this page as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

As this page is copyrighted and formally registered, it is unlawful to make copies, especially in the form of printouts for personal use. If you wish to make a printout for personal use, you are granted one-time permission only if you PayPal me $5.00 per printout or part thereof. Thank you!


Thanks for reading!



Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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August 2009