In the same way that every self-respecting human should own a wristwatch, so too should everyone own a film camera. A watch tells people you’ve got places to be. A camera tells people you’ve got a reason to be there. And a film camera tells people you’ve got taste.
Yeah, your iPhone tells the time and your DSLR takes clinically perfect photos. But neither of these things have soul, and neither are as good at their job as their makers would like us to believe.
With a digital camera or phone, you might make two hundred photos of your subject. When you get back home you’ll upload them to your computer and either forget about them, or spend four hours editing two hundred very similar looking photos. Ten of them will be good; perfectly sharp, in-focus, properly exposed digital files. One of them might be interesting. None of them will have character.
Digital cameras robbed photography of all its cool.
Before digital, photography was equal parts art, science, and magic. Images were ideas captured through mechanical light boxes, burned onto strips of chemically-treated acetate. Shooters were artists and they reveled in the process.
Photos were interpretive. The feeling of the shot was what mattered. Film photographers knew not to obsess over sharpness. Distortion was a tool used (or not) when dictated by the shooter’s vision. Focus was a choice. Prime lenses were king. Photographers used their feet to get close to the action, and better photos were the result – more intimate; more involved.
Today we talk about optical image stabilization. We peep pixels at one-hundred-percent crop. We worry that our Summicron type IV might not be as sharp as the Summicron type V. We’re obsessed with fast lenses that “bokeh” the context out of every shot. We argue about image sensors and field curvature. We make every photo as perfectly clear and realistic as possible.
God, that’s lame.
Luckily for the lame averse among us, film cameras still exist and companies still make film. There are shooters who never stopped shooting film even as they adopted a digital workflow. These two methodologies can exist in the same space and time. It’s just a matter of taste and whether or not you have it.
Do you want to dig through your pockets and pull out a distracting phone to check the time, or do you want to casually glance at a tiny purpose-built machine on your wrist?
Do you want to take coldly precise images that all look the same, or gorgeous photos with real personality that need no editing?
Getting beyond the image, classic cameras are uniquely interesting. The best of them are tools made to an incredible standard and for varied purposes. There’s a machine for every shooter and for every situation. Like a Rolex Submariner, they’re classic and mechanical and real. They look amazing, perform a function, and engage the senses. They also happen to cost approximately one-tenth the price of a DSLR. And that’s for a professional’s film camera. The camera that shot that famous photo everyone recognizes costs eighty bucks today.
There are small film cameras, large film cameras, film cameras made out of exotic materials like titanium. There are film cameras with synthetic ruby shutter release buttons, and film cameras that orbited the Earth. There are rare cameras and film cameras that have been on the moon, and film cameras that have dived with Jacques Cousteau. There are film cameras that were used by KGB spies, and film cameras that stormed the beaches on D-Day.
Film cameras are as storied as Le Mans winning classic Porsches (indeed some film cameras were designed by Ferdinand Porsche’s Porsche Design Group). They’re as intricate and precise as mechanical, Swiss wristwatches. The people who made them were as genius as any craftsmen in any field.
Why, then, don’t we talk about film cameras the same way that we wax on about other modern style and function obsessions – wristwatches, cars, furniture?
Barrier to entry? Hardly. Shooting film is easy. Buy a camera, buy some film, load it up and get shooting. The results will be better than you can imagine. Even if you screw up, film has a way of rewarding mistakes. Some of the best photographs I’ve ever made have been technically horrendous, but motion blur can create an impression of movement and imperfect focus can force the viewer to think.
The film images you make are yours to keep forever. Apple won’t ask you to buy more storage space and Facebook won’t sell your negatives to an advertising firm. Making film photos requires thought and patience. You shoot thirty-six frames in a roll, and those thirty-six shots might take you a month to get through. You don’t need to look at a screen, or navigate menus. No one will ask you to tag them in your film photos. You can disconnect from this wretched digital world for those thirty-six shots and shoot for no reason other than to make photos.
Get some experience shooting film and I guarantee you’ll never look back. There’s nothing to compare it to in the digital age. It’s magic, it’s science, it’s art.
You should own a film camera. It should sit on the shelf by your door with your keys and wallet. It should be ready to shoot when you want to shoot. If you’re going out for the evening, you should bring it. If you’re going on vacation, you should bring it.
Making photos is one of the most universally accessible ways of preserving ourselves after we’re dead. You don’t want your life’s record floating in The Cloud. It won’t last. And even if it lasts, people won’t look at it. You want your life stored on negatives or slides, where it can be held and viewed and, yes, even digitized for easy viewing on your computer and phone, or whatever retinal projectors your great-grandkids will have implanted in their eyeballs.
You should make a record of your life on film, so that your boring stories that everyone’s heard a hundred times have a visual accompaniment to make them not so boring.
Too long, didn’t read? Here’s the deal. If you care about style, class, substance, or what you’re doing with your life, you should shoot a film camera. So what are you waiting for?
Update : This article was originally titled “Why Every Guy Should Own a Film Camera.” Some readers took exception to this title, thinking we were intentionally excluding women photographers. Though this was never our intention, we understand how it could be seen that way, and since our site has always been about inclusiveness and urging more people to shoot pictures we’ve made the decision to update the article title to reflect this philosophy. We want everyone to feel welcome. Apologies for the misstep.