Film isn’t dead, it’s just resting its eyes

Getting rambly and nostalgic in my middle (going-on-old) age…

Remember film? I do. I remember hand-processing black and white film in the Bath Chronicle dark room. I remember chemicals that stained my clothes and made them disintegrate. I remember the beautiful, shiny strips of cellulose hanging in the drying cabinet, fluttering ribbons of potential Pulitzer prize-winning images awaiting the lightbox, the loupe and the enlarger.

And now I’m getting all nostalgic again because for some strange reason I went from preparing to sell my last film camera (a Canon EOS 1N) on Ebay to buying black and white film and shooting some photos with it the other week.

This change of heart/mind came about partly because having seen some of the feeble prices the 1N commands on Ebay I knew I’d get more than 90 quids’ worth of fun from using it again.

I hadn’t used the camera since the year 2000 when I went digital, but it still works perfectly, and going back to film has re-informed how I shoot digital.

As an example, because I was shooting film that I didn’t want to waste I decided to be extra careful with the metering, so I used a hand-held light meter instead of relying on the built-in one. Seeing the consistency in exposure across the negatives, and thinking of all the times I’ve had to override the metering on my digital cameras, I think I’ll use a hand-held meter a lot more often when shooting digitally.

Now as tempting as it is to go back to processing my own films, and I do still have the tank, bag and reels for doing that, I don’t think I’m going to go that far. At least not yet.

For my first outing with film in 12 years I opted for Kodak BW400CN, which is black and white film you can process in a colour lab, which means that having shot my film I was able to drop it into Boots and have it processed and printed in an hour.

The next stage was to choose a couple of negatives and have them scanned by the lovely folk at click2scan who by amazing coincidence have just expanded into a premises in Frome. The photo here is my favourite from the roll of 36, which was mainly test shots for metering, contrast and the like.

Catering staff on cigarette break in Frome, Somersey

Smokers, Apple Alley, Frome

I’ve put another roll of the 400CN in the camera and might shoot colour after that. If I do, I’m sure I’ll keep you updated here.

In the meantime, why not dig out your old film camera and try some shots (instead of taking snaps on your iPhone and trying to make them look like old timey Polaroids, Kodachromes or sepia prints) But be prepared for something that took me by surprise; at first, every time I shot a frame, I’d find myself looking at the back of the camera where the digital preview would be. A slightly embarrassing tic I need to deal with.

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  • pixelogist May 1, 2012   Reply →

    hell yeah! i love film myself. just recently discovered its magic. and cant get enough of it. got myself like… 3 good film cameras, and 3 toy film cameras. hahaha. and i love developing b/w film too. although i cant afford the equipment to make prints

    • Glass Eye May 1, 2012   Reply →

      Maybe find somewhere local to you that has darkroom for hire 🙂 Not sure such places exist any more, but it’s where I cut my teeth.

  • laumerritt May 1, 2012   Reply →

    I remember one day I was taking some outdoor photos with my Canon G11 during a sunny day and when I had to change the battery, I instinctively looked up for a shady spot 🙂 Some habits die hard.

    • Glass Eye May 1, 2012   Reply →

      That’s brilliant! 😀 They should have made batteries film canister-shaped for extra nostalgia.

  • Ken of London May 3, 2012   Reply →

    Tim, this is a great story, I love using my old film cameras, glad to read that the EOS 1 lives to fight another day.

    I hang with this mob of guys and gals:

    “The Filmwasters” – (mostly the forum)

    They are the least camera club, camera club you will ever encounter, that’s why I love these guys and gals. Our next get together will be Photographica:

    come along and have some fun looking at old cameras and then a pub lunch.



    • Glass Eye May 3, 2012   Reply →

      Thanks, Ken. What amazes me is that the secondhand value of the 1N is so poor for such a sophisticated piece of kit, but then it doesn’t have the ‘romance’ of a Leica M-series camera.

      I’ll have to take a look at filmwasters, sounds interesting!

      Thanks for your kind words yet again 🙂



  • decroce May 17, 2012   Reply →

    I spent way too many nights in the darkroom to actually miss the olden days. But I do appreciate the nostalgic reference.

    Every professional photographer should take your advice Tim, and burn a few rolls (or sheets) of film. And you’re right about how much more careful we were with film. With digital capture the workload is heavily scaled towards the edit because we shoot so many more images. Whereas with film, the workload tipped more toward preparation and forethought.

    But the digital world is more than just capture. To really appreciate the old school, one needs to remember a time before photoshop and computer retouching. Back then, we employed airbrush artists to make major adjustments to our commercial photography.

    I wonder if the new crop of photographers could ever really appreciate the genius of Jerry Uelsman.

    • Glass Eye May 17, 2012   Reply →

      Hi Edward, I probably didn’t enjoy late nights in the darkroom and am probably looking at those days through rose-tinted glasses, but it did teach me a lot which I carry with me now that I shoot digital.

      The workload being scaled towards edit/post-production also means it’s loaded onto the photographer now. Once I became a staff press photographer I just had to process my films in the work’s minilab, choose which images needed printing and let the print technician get on with the rest while I wrote up my captions.

      Now we have to shoot, edit, do the post-production, captioning and everything and that’s the time that’s harder to bill for.

      I don’t know Jerry, but when I went to see Don McCullin’s Shaped By War exhibition I also took the time to look at some of his landscape and travel work. What struck me beyond the sheer quality of his vision was the incredible print quality. Far beyond anything reproducible with digital, I’m afraid to say. I know Don prints all his own work, and those decades of experience really show in his prints.

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