Why Everyone Should Own a Film Camera

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?


Find a camera at our own F Stop Cameras

Find one on eBay

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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. 


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  • Reply
    February 25, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    Hi James

    I like your blog, and I like the article except for one thing. Did you really mean to be so sexist??


    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      February 25, 2018 at 6:17 pm

      Hey Richard, Thanks for the kind words. It was not my intention to be sexist here and I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization, but I could be wrong. I see this article as similar to those on other lifestyle sites that might write articles suggesting that every guy should own a wristwatch. Or articles listing the best summer reading for women. Are these kinds of articles sexist? I don’t think so. Are they dumb articles, and is this one dumb? Could be. In the end I think this site has always been incredibly inclusive, and we always encourage everyone to shoot how and what they want. We’ll try to do better.

      • Reply
        Jack Crowe (@InvisibleElvis)
        February 25, 2018 at 8:43 pm

        I can see from both perspectives to be honest, I really like this article and the opinion you have. GQ have written a ton of articles about men’s watches and fashion accessories. It’s always welcome to cater to all sexes in an article but in this case I think it’s acceptable.

      • Reply
        February 25, 2018 at 11:37 pm

        I don’t think it’s sexist at all. You can extrapolate from this article. Most cool mechanical things, whether they are targeted at men or women, are even cooler if women use them. A nice Cartier Roadster stainless steel watch – cool on a dood. Way cooler on a woman. A Ducati SuperSport – cool ridden by a dood. Way cooler ridden by a woman. A Nikon F – cool used by a dood. Cooler if used by a woman.

      • Reply
        February 26, 2018 at 9:26 am

        Didn’t bother reading the article as it wasn’t aimed at me. Stings, doesn’t it?

  • Reply
    Merlin Marquardt
    February 25, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    Well, you certainly have a valid point of view, and I don’t disagree with you, but there is something to be said for accuracy and immediacy of images that digital photographs can provide.

  • Reply
    Yann Kaneko (@YannKaneko)
    February 25, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    “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..”

    This is not just in photography, it is in movie, furnitures, customer service, computers, music, etc, ect. This lack of life, of passion, of purposes, of soul. We move like robots and do not stop to do things properly with care and love that this moment every moments, persons, animals and things deserve.

    I now refuse to buy anything not made with a minimum of purpose and care. I avoid those industry like store like Walmart, Target to only name those. I try to eat only where they greet has a human been, they don’t need to converse with me or to be in a great mod but just acknowledge there somebody breathing in-front of them.

    People believe this was brought by technology, I do not think so, I think most peoples can’t stop. They do not enjoy there live because they believe there is something better ahead so they can’t see that life is a series of very small moments, perfectly insignificant.

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    No time to stand beneath the boughs
    And stare as long as sheep or cows.

    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

    No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance.

    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began.

    A poor life this is if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    William Henry Davies 1831 – 1921

  • Reply
    Fredrick Orkin
    February 25, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    While I do believe that using a film camera (especially a ‘manual’ model) forces one to be more thoughtful about both technique & resource consumption (film & processing are getting pricier), I’m not sure that the experience, character, taste, etc. that one might argue is present in the film-derived print overrides the inconvenience & additional costs incurred with film photography. Also, the statement that a (high-quality) film camera is “one tenth” the cost of a DSLR is not true for some of the sought-after film cameras: on eBay, a nice-looking Rolleiflex 3.5F with Zeiss Planar lens costs more than $1500 (Rollei 2.8F Planar, >$2500) & may need a CLA (cleaning, lubrication, & adjustment) for another several hundred.

    • Reply
      February 25, 2018 at 11:26 pm

      Compare like with like. That Rolleiflex – which is beyond awesome – is a medium format camera. A medium format digi cam costs anything from 5 to 10 times as much. And if you decide to use something like a Yashicamat 124 – which still produces incredible pictures – the price differential is 20 to 100 times as much.
      AAAAnnd – medium format digital still isn’t as big a 120 film. Which ones are 6×6, let alone 6×9 like a Fuji GW 690? Which is a $400-$500 camera.

  • Reply
    February 25, 2018 at 11:13 pm

    Great article! 100% agree

  • Reply
    February 26, 2018 at 6:23 am

    My father always told me you should always have a good watch and pen. Pens are also a classic, albeit not really needed item these days.
    I agree on a classic film camera too. Very enjoyable article James.

  • Reply
    Marco Venturini Autieri
    February 26, 2018 at 6:48 am

    “Today we talk about optical image stabilization.”
    Well, I wouldn’t be using my wonderful EOS 1n if it wasn’t for the wonderful, full frame, IS lenses that I can use with that. IS is especially useful with low-ISO films (think of Velvia 100) and almost useless on digital.

  • Reply
    Jason S
    February 26, 2018 at 7:19 am

    I find the title of this article off-putting in that it singles out men vs women who may be interested in reading it further. Why not just say “Why Everyone Should Own a Film Camera”? For a site like this, I don’t see any reason to target one gender over another. I’m sure your intention was not to be divisive here, but it’s worth looking at how the end result comes across for readers.

  • Reply
    Dan James
    February 26, 2018 at 8:57 am

    James, I really like the gist of your article, that film cameras are beautiful objects to own and hold and use. I would disagree about comparing them with DSLRs and how you assume people use DSLRs, as well as the cost.

    I use a 12 year old Pentax K10D (their flagship model at the time I believe) which cost me about £90. I had a virtually identical Samsung (they basically rebadged the Pentax) which cost £50.

    My favourite film SLRs, and the only two I still have, are an Asahi Spotmatic F (£50) and Contax 139 Quartz (£60ish, and bought after your article here a while back). So in my experience the DSLR does not cost ten times the amount, the prices are fairly comparable.

    I don’t use my K10D in a very different way to the film SLRs. I use the same K mount and M42 lenses I used and still use on film cameras. I don’t take 200 shots of the same subject. I sometimes retake a shot if the exposure wasn’t quite right, but generally I take one shot, same as I do with film, because I don’t like spending hours sifting through and processing images afterwards, that’s not my thing. The actual process of going out shooting with my Spotmatic is not radically different to going out shooting with my K10D.

    with regard to negative, yeh I like the physical feel of them too, and I really enjoyed the recent post on CP about slides and slide projectors. But I would imagine most casual photographers who have prints made, get them from the digital scans of the negatives. In the same way you can, if you want, get prints made of digital images. This is nothing to do with the camera, but a person’s preference to view mostly prints, or digitally on screens.

    So yes, I applaud the praise of film cameras and shooting film, but some of us (if you check out Pentax Forums, quite a lot are still using old(er) Pentax DSLRs!) have taken some of the best parts of shooting film, and used that for our digital photography too.

    Oh and I know it’s been mentioned, but I would have rather seen a title more like “Why we should all own a film camera”, rather than specifically reference “guys”. This is a personal view – I think I’m just bored of reading blog posts full of guys talking about the technical details of cameras and losing sight of the passion and enjoyment of photography – film or otherwise. Just like your paragraph preceding “god that’s lame” described, in fact!

  • Reply
    Ned Bunnell
    February 26, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Loved the article James. For me, shooting with film slows everything down, forcing me to be more careful about how I compose images and think about what I’m trying to convey visually. It’s a nice chance of pace.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    Great article! all the reasons I switched back to film almost ten years ago! As a professional artist and part time teacher there is not comparison to film. Digital is great I see the use. Its also great when learning photography but that being said I think digital pictures biggest downfall is the loss of flaws and the magic of the negative. also I am the kind of person that likes having the physical negatives vs having an image on a hard drive. have had too many hard drive failures. thanks for keeping the magic alive and keep up the great articles and reviews!

  • Reply
    February 26, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    I can’t imagine anyone reading your blog who isn’t already knee deep in film cameras. I check it every day, by the way, ’cause you write interesting-er than most other film blogs.
    I snort that you caved on the title, but funny that a significant number of dorks commented on the gender of the article rather than the content. They must have not been able to find any spelling or grammar mistakes.
    Only one correction: cameras really don’t have a soul, I think fountain pens might.

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      February 26, 2018 at 3:03 pm

      The idea was that we might be able to pull some outsiders in, people who might not be camera geeks already. The hope is that this post gets some syndication outside of the usual photography channels. Thanks for visiting the site and the kind words regarding the content here. Please keep coming back.

      • Reply
        Mike R
        February 26, 2018 at 7:46 pm

        Way to go, James. Keep at it — the content here is too good to not be noticed by other sites.

      • Reply
        Dan James
        February 27, 2018 at 8:41 am

        James, following your thoughts about attracting new readers outside “the usual photography channels”, I wonder if you might consider some ideas for posts that might bring more female readers? I can’t recall the last time I read and post or a comment here that wasn’t written by a man.

        I know from elsewhere online there are plenty of women who enjoy shooting film, it would be good to try to reach out to that wider and more diverse community. And your blog with the quality of writing here, is in a better position than most photo blogs to be a platform for the kind of photography community that better reflects the fact that there are an abundance of film lovers across both genders.

        I wasn’t offended by your original title, it just seemed to be pushing the site in the wrong way and trying to make it appeal even more to just men. You have no shortage of male readers! I think you’re potentially missing out on a far more diverse audience.

        (I come from an angle where I was almost at the polar opposite a few years back – I ran an online artists community that was about 95% female, and was always trying to encourage more men to balance it out more!)

  • Reply
    Mike Eckman
    February 26, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    I am a big fan of Casual Photophile and have enjoyed many, MANY of your posts. I have an issue with this post however, and it’s even after the wise choice of renaming the post…

    The idea that a camera is an accessory or to quote you, “If you care about style, class, substance, or what you’re doing with your life, you should shoot a film camera”, bothers me.

    A camera is a tool, something used to make photographs. It has nothing to do with class, substance, or style. If you like film, then shoot it, but if you prefer digital, then that’s cool too. Many film enthusiasts, myself included, happily shoot both film and digital cameras and it has nothing to do with style or substance.

    You should buy a film camera because you want to, not because it’s stylish or “hip”. The idea that somehow shooting film puts you in a different class or even that film is somehow superior is a naive and foolish way to think. Film is not better than digital or any other art form. It’s just different. I’ve read many of these types of posts online about how it’s more pure, or analog, or some other rubbish way of suggesting an elitist way of thinking.

    I love analog cameras because of their history and their quirks. I often wonder who owned this camera before me, and where has it been? The thought that a bunch of metal levers, springs, and gears can fire a shutter and capture an image just like a modern silicon and microprocessor controlled smartphone can. I love the challenge of getting a good photograph and the “happy accidents” that you can get unintentionally when something goes wrong. When I send off several rolls of film to a lab that I shot weeks, sometimes even months ago, the excitement of getting that package back in the mail not remember whats on those rolls is like Christmas for me! Not every image I shoot is great, or worthy of sharing online (very few actually as I think I’m a terrible photographer), but when I do manage to get something special, there’s a sense of accomplishment that I simply can’t get from a digital camera.

    It’s those reasons that I think someone should try out a film camera. Sorry for the rant, but I think you wrote this article for the wrong crowd. Again, normally I love your posts, but not this time.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    This piece suffers from “affluenza.” The list of cameras “everyone” should own seem overwhelmingly skewed towards the deeply pocketed. For a writer who has often crafted pieces admonishing elitism, there is plenty here to be had.

    That aside, I’m not sure who would read this piece and have an epiphany that they have been convinced to start shooting with a film camera. And while The hobby/field could benefit from more who want to partake of it, those who indulge in it should be genuinely interested and engaged by it, and a camera should be more of a tool than an accessory like a wrist watch.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    A film camera is a tool to make photos, like a Ferrari is a utility vehicle to get from point A to point B. Who are you trying to kid?
    A film camera is a needless contrivance, pointing back to a time when gears ruled the world, a time when mechanical precision and beauty met, now used mostly by those who are seeking a hobby for enjoyment, and the higher on the precision / price / beauty ratio the better.
    Sure, all film camera users want the world to “come back” to film, so the cameras will have a nice rise. Get your Leica now, before the bubble.

  • Reply
    Miguel Mercado
    February 27, 2018 at 3:38 am

    Frankly I’m appalled that the original title of this write up offended people to the extent it did. I would’ve kept the original, though I’m aware why it was changed. Anyways, great write up as usual James keep up the fantastic work. Can’t wait for the next article.
    PS: I see how that CLE made its way in the cover photo, nice.

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      February 27, 2018 at 7:14 am

      Without the CLE it would’ve just been a bunch of old junk. 😉

  • Reply
    February 27, 2018 at 7:37 am

    This is a great post! Enjoyed reading it however…the one thing you forgot to mention is that owning ONE film camera sometimes turns into two, or three. Or in my case, 32. 32? My goodness!

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      February 27, 2018 at 8:17 am

      I see nothing wrong with this!

    • Reply
      Chris Cushing
      February 27, 2018 at 4:05 pm

      I have to catch up. My original two turned into 15!

  • Reply
    Karl Valentin
    February 27, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    Film or Digital is not the question they are only mediums to “keep images” for longer than a heartbeat
    The question is why we make them and what they mean to us we do that way we do
    For me Digital will be my first pick when I need to realize a exact defined style or picture
    If I am free and without any task Film and old analoge cameras are a joy to use and “catch memories”

  • Reply
    Brian Nicholls
    March 8, 2018 at 1:36 am

    “WHY EVERYONE SHOULD OWN A FILM CAMERA” Profound wisdom and a most compelling case. Thanks James.

  • Reply
    Larry McArdle
    March 8, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Definitely a good read – and you had no reason to be vexed about your original title.

    A camera is a tool – a box that captures light. A film camera is a mechanical tool, rather than an electronic one. I can take photos with my Minolta XD-11 without any batteries, as long as I can meter my film speed for 1/100s. Buy a Fuji GW690III medium format camera, among hundreds of other film cameras, and you don’t need any batteries.

    Would we really advocate that every woman should own a film camera, a mechanical tool? Why? Should every woman own a set of hand tools? Should every woman own a grill? Think of items that every woman should own – how many of those would I really want, let alone need?

    Noticing and/or noting differences between the sexes is not inherently sexist. In fact, one could argue it would be sexist if I assumed that every woman should own a set of screwdrivers. Why would I force my traits as a man carte blanche upon a woman? Isn’t that sexist? Or misogynist? Or simply impolite mansplaining? As a man, it wouldn’t be sexist if you wrote an article explaining why every woman should own something?

    And any woman who didn’t read this article because of the original title doesn’t think much of the man in her life. If this site had an article titled “Why every woman should own a blah-blah-blah”, I’d still read it to see if my wife would benefit from owning a blah-blah-blah. Why would that be sexist, especially if it were written by a woman?

    My wife has no interest whatsoever in carrying around either of my DSLRs on holiday, only with a 50mm prime attached, because they’re too heavy. I didn’t even try her with good glass, nor longer glass. That’s perfectly fine. I bought her a Sony RX100IV to shoot with, and her daughter shoots with an iPhone 8X. Neither of them can understand why I’ll sometimes break out my Maxxum 7, let alone the XD-11. But they accept the fact that they won’t see the photos for a few weeks, just as they admire how I can see the photos in my head as I take them. And I accept that my wife will sooner let me watch her change a tire than shoot with a film camera.

    Every guy should own a film camera. As a guy, I can’t imagine why every woman should own one, let alone would want to. I’ll leave it to a woman to write that article. Does that make me sexist?

    • Reply
      Per Kristoffersson
      March 10, 2018 at 6:58 am

      Well, everyone should have access to hand tools, cooking apparel and whatnot. Regardless of gender.

      And everyone should have a film camera for if/when the shit hits the fan and digital cameras get to be useless due to shortage of electricity. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem as unlikely as it did 15 years ago, there’s a lot going in the wrong direction

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