Why film?

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A 30 minute Hasselblad exposure of star trails behind the St. Johns bridge.


During the course of my daily photographic life, both personally and professionally, it is not uncommon to hear one or more of the following comments or questions:

Is that really a film camera?
Does it work?
You can still get film for that?
I thought film was extinct.
Why would you want to shoot film?

Why indeed?  And why, in this age of digital cameras does a place like Blue Moon Camera and Machine insist on selling film cameras?  The reasons are varied, but here goes.

Perhaps the largest reason lies in the aim of the work we do here at the store.  Blue Moon Camera’s intentions aren’t limited to selling film and equipment to intrepid photographers, but perhaps more importantly to provide them with information, knowledge, and shared experience.  Our aim is to give photographers the tools they need to be better photographers.  To give them options, room to roam and explore.  Not to tell them they have to make pictures a certain way, with certain equipment.  Nor is it our goal to convince them that the more expensive the equipment, the newer or the flashier, the better their photos will be.  So, we provide the availability of film cameras as options.  As there is no shortage of businesses out there willing to trumpet the advantages of digital cameras (and there are several advantages), there are now relatively few businesses who make it a priority to remind us of the advantages to film photography (and there are several advantages).  This is where Blue Moon Camera comes in.

A composite image made from 11 Holga exposures


The worlds of film and digital photography has come to be seen by many as an “either or” approach.  This is a very limited fashion in which to approach photography.  Over a century has been spent tinkering and perfecting the art of the film camera, and that progression is still continuing.  Over that span of time an amazing number of incredibly well-designed, well-built, film cameras have been made.  Think of the Leica M series or the Hasselblad.  Don’t forget the Speed Graphic, Noblex, Nikon F, F2, F3, F4, F5,  and F6.  Heck, even throw in the Pentax K1000 or the Contax AX.  The Kodak Retina IIIC? A Deardorf 8×10? Fuji G617?  The list goes on and on… and on.  Chances are some out there know some of these names.  They are all incredible cameras, capable of producing incredible images in many cases at much higher resolution images than even the top DSLRs.  Yet so many of these cameras have been forgotten, left behind, discarded.  Blue Moon Camera therefore makes it a point to remind photographers, to educate our customers – not to convert them per se – to show them the range of options available.  And many of our customers do embrace aspects of both film and digital, as it should be.  Not an either or, but a choosing of the best tool for the job at hand.

Personally, I have begun to tell people that I change cameras for the same reasons many photographers change lenses.  Want a sweeping, epic landscape?  You grab that wide angle lens, right?.  Making a portrait of a friend?  That mild telephoto is the likely choice.  And so on.  I have something like nine different film cameras that rotate through my daily use.  Do I want square images with a bit of a primitive feel or dreamier look?  I grab my Holga.  Do I want to work with long exposures and more impressionistic images?  The pinhole camera comes out of the bag.  Do I want super sharp, high resolution images where the eye can feast on all the little details?  I go with the Pentax 6×7, my Hasselblad or even a Graflex Speed Graphic 4×5.  I think you see where I am going with this.  It is about having options.    Give a skilled carpenter only a hammer to work with and he can still do an awful lot of work, but give him a screwdriver, a drill, a ruler, a level and an adze (why not an adze, after all) and he can do far, far more.

I’ll give you one last thing to ponder.  In a world where every DSLR is a miniature technical marvel, and most photographers are using one,  it has suddenly become incredibly easy to make technically well-executed images.  So easy in fact you generally just have to know how to turn the camera on and it’s on-board computer will do the rest of the work.  And since most photographers are using the same type of equipment and are producing images of equal technical achievement, unless a photographer is particularly crafty or imaginative, they are going to produce images that look much like everyone else’s images.  Here is where film cameras come in.  Imagine you have spent your whole photographic life on a DSLR and then someone hands you a Yashica TLR.  Your approach to photography is going to be revolutionized.  Suddenly, instead of thinking composition in terms of a rectangle, you are working with a square.  Instead of operating with an eye-level prism, you have a waist-level finder.  You can no longer change ISO on the fly, so you have to plan ahead.  Nor do you get to check a histogram to see if you exposed correctly, you have to learn to trust your own experience and intuition.  Additionally, film looks different than digital; the color palette is different from that which you were accustomed.  In light of all these differences, you learn and grow as a photographer – and what you learn even can be applied back to your DSLR, changing how you go about using that camera too.

Film is readily available.  A quick spin around the internet will demonstrate that.  There are dozens of different types of film out there, from subminiature to ultra large format, color negative to black and white infrared.  Even more importantly, not only is film still available, there are very important reasons to grab a film camera off the shelf instead of the digital.  Ultimately though, it is not an either or decision, and neither does Blue Moon Camera take that approach.  We are more interested in putting tools into your toolbox, not in taking them out.

An image from a homemade omniscope pinhole camera.