9 reasons Why Film Photography Is Coming Back

Have you ever wondered about any of the following regarding film photography?

  • Is film still used in photography?
  • Do they still make 35mm films, or have 35mm films been discontinued? What about 120 or Medium Format (MF) Films? How about a Large Format or 4×5 Sheet Film?
  • Is film photography just a fad? What about Lomography? Is Instax considered film photography?
  • Who makes film cameras now? Where can I buy a film camera?

    See also "How Do I Get Started In Film Photography?"

    Film photography is gaining popularity once again, and it's not just among nostalgic hobbyists. Today, the old film cameras of yesteryear are often more expensive than some full-frame DSLR cameras. As more people buy up available cameras, the prices for some camera models have steadily increased by 25-50% year-over-year. And while hobbyists have been the primary enthusiasts of film photography, more portrait and wedding photographers are now offering film photography as part of their packages.

    Despite the growing interest in film photography, some remain skeptical about the medium, just as some were skeptical about vinyl records making a comeback (pre-iTunes era) until vinyl sales surpassed CD sales.

    Film photography is enjoying a resurgence, and one clear sign of this is the introduction of new film stocks and the revival of discontinued films by manufacturers. For example, Kodak discontinued its Ektachrome film in 2013, but reintroduced it in late 2017. CineStill 400D film was introduced in 2022 in both 35mm and 120 medium format. Kodak also introduced the Kodak Gold 200 in 120 format. Ilford, after years of success with its Kentmere 100 and 400 films in 35mm, introduced these films in 120 format as well. ORWO Wolfen, on the other hand, surprised the world by announcing its first Color C41 film in 50 years, the NC500, and also introducing the NC400 in 35mm.

    The revival of discontinued films and the introduction of new film stocks are a testament to the growing demand for film photography. These films provide photographers with new creative opportunities to experiment with new looks and textures. Moreover, the fact that manufacturers are investing in film stocks and introducing new products suggests that they are optimistic about the future of film photography.

    Film photography is on the rise, and recent developments from camera manufacturers suggest that it's not just a passing trend. Leica, for example, has started re-manufacturing its flagship M6 35mm film camera for ongoing sales. This isn't a limited edition run, either. However, the price tag for the body alone is around $5,900, with the lens costing another $2,000-4,000. On a more recent note, the head of Ricoh announced  in December 2022 the potential re-introduction of Pentax-branded (Ricoh had acquired Pentax) film cameras. His video message is interesting.

    The growing interest in film photography is reflected in the steady growth of membership in Facebook groups and YouTube channels dedicated to the medium over the last five years. It's clear that film photography is not just a temporary fad, but a growing trend that is here to stay.

    EXAMPLES OF FILM PHOTOGRAPHY 

    WHAT IS FILM PHOTOGRAPHY?

    We're not referring to modern instant picture formats like Instax by Fujifilm or Polaroids when discussing film photography. Instead, we're talking about 35mm film, 120 medium format, or large format (4×5”, 5×7”, 8×10”, and larger) film that is used with analog film cameras. Lomography is a famous film photography style explained quite well by Adorama here.

    Film photography requires developing or processing the film after it's been used. Once upon a time, stores like Walmart, Target, CVS, and Walgreens offered 1-hour film development. However, with the rise of digital cameras, film development became less common. Prints were made from the film roll once processed, and you could decide if you wanted enlargements. It could take as little as one hour to get the photos back with the 1-hour photo developing service or a few days with regular service. Notably, there was no immediate preview of the shot you just took, adding an element of surprise and anticipation to the process.

    Large format film photography is becoming increasingly popular, as evidenced by the rising prices of cameras such as Graflex Press Cameras, Toyo Field & View Cameras, SINAR Cameras, Wista Cameras, and numerous other brands. With film photography, photographers can achieve a distinctive, authentic look that is difficult to replicate with digital cameras.

    9 REASONS WHY FILM PHOTOGRAPHY IS REVIVING

    1. Authenticity & Credibility: Think of something handmade versus machine-made. You know that the person that handmade it put thought and effort into it; there is a certain amount of craftsmanship for which you are willing to pay a premium price. Taking pictures with a film camera is similar. For one, not everyone can do it well. It takes much practice and experience to produce stellar film images that only come with shooting rolls and rolls of film using different films and cameras. Each film type has its personality – a unique look. If you give a monkey a DSLR and it takes 1,000 images in an hour, a handful is bound to be great images. The film reveals a photographer’s true depth of knowledge, experience, and creativity, with only 24-36 frames available to shoot on a film roll. That number further reduces if they are shooting 6×6 medium format – it goes down to 12 images. If they are shooting a large format, now it is down to 2 images.

      Given the cost of each frame or shot ($0.xx to $x.xx), a photographer must be decisive and conversant with photography to produce a pleasing image. The learning curve with the film is much steeper. Unless one thoroughly understands the Exposure or Photography Triangle, one is unlikely to get far in film photography. The yearning to be a real photographer contributes to film photography’s revival—authenticity and credibility as a photographer that results in a more rewarding experience.

      While buying fully automatic film cameras is possible, folks who shoot with film do it for pleasure, the reward of controlling all aspects of creating an image. One has to evaluate the light quality, the angle, the film type (color or black & white, ISO), the lens, the aperture, and the shutter speed. Folks realize a difference between applying a filter on an app to a digital image versus shooting the real thing – on film. It takes creativity at a higher level than a digital filter applied to an image on a DSLR.

    2. Richer Images: The film captures a dynamic range (the difference between lighting and shadows) that digital struggles to render. Theoretically, the digital sensor is better at capturing the dynamic range than a film camera (9-12 stops of light versus six stops on film). To get the same effect on digital, one has to shoot multiple shots at varying exposures using exposure compensation or bracketing. Then, you merge the images in the digital darkroom (Photoshop or Lightroom). This way, you have different exposures of the same scene that record the different light levels preserved upon the merged image and look equivalent to film but not quite. There is a certain depth in film images you don’t see in digital photos. If you learn to set your exposure right on film, you can capture that dynamic range in one shot. The images are classy.

    3. Unmatched Aesthetics: The film’s look is unique and imperfect – an unmatched aestheticDigital gives a clinical look to picturesCrisp, sharp, vivid, and, yes, entirely predictable. Another way to think about this – listening to Bob Marley or UB40 on Vinyl versus a CD. There is a richness or warmth that you experience listening to a Vinyl record. Few photographers stand out with digital photography as the technology is within the masses’ reach. HDR had its time of glory. As did the bright, airy, and rustic presets. In digital, such looks start with one photographer, and the crowd immediately imitates it. With film, not quite the same. Not easy for the masses to recreate the unique look that a photographer gives to their imagesIt helps establish a unique style attributed to the photographer leaving her or his signature on every film image. In the film, the color saturation, depth, the grain adds flair to the photos. Each film stock has its unique flair. Yes, there are presets that one can use in digital to give it a film look. But then, presets can never replicate the entire film shooting experience. Only the most trained eye could discern between an image shot on film versus a digital image expertly manipulated with film-look presets on smaller screens. We sell 65+ varieties of films with free shipping whether you buy one roll or more.

    4. Therapeutic: Shooting with film is. One has to concentrate on a deeper level than taking a picture with a DSLR and considering various factors. A film photographer strives to get the image right in the camera and relies less on post-production. Adding to the therapeutic value is the lack of instant gratification, waiting for the film’s results. We ask our Customers – 90% of those in the 18-25 age group – what attracted them to film photography. Typically, the number one response is ‘the look’ followed by delayed gratification, the mystery of not knowing the result.

      In the case of black and white film, deciding what chemistry to use as different chemistry allows different results from the same kind of film; it is almost meditative to shoot with film. With digital, while one has to evaluate some of the same variables, a burst mode of shots is possible or relatively affordable and move on to the next. It is not as deliberate of a process as it is with the film. With film, it is like the old saying, “measure twice (or thrice) and cut once.” Even if an app or film preset on digital emulates, the look of the film, where it fails, is in the inability to recreate the process of shooting film photographs. The entire ritual of thinking about what film to use – color or black & white? Then, decide what ISO film to use. Opting for black & white decides what chemistry you will use to develop the film after shooting. Each chemistry combination with film stock gives it a different look—a hands-on affair to get that unique photograph. Check out our bi-monthly film subscription service - new films are delivered to your mailbox every other month—no repetition in 12 months.

    5. Making a print from the film is remarkably different from printing a digital image—such prints stand out. You have probably seen them in museums that display old photographic prints. It is not an image printed on a printer like digital images. But, to experience the sheer majesty of a film image, a picture is made from the negative by hand. It is a different kind of craftsmanship dwindling in the digital age. It takes an extensive setup to create a print from a negative. Outside of academic institutions offering film photography courses, few commercial outlets provide it. Yes, smaller-scale darkroom printing can be set up at home using an area with water access nearby, ideally, the bathroom. An enlarger is needed to create prints. The black and white photos are known as ‘true’ black and white prints as they use silver gelatin to create the picture. 

    6. Simplicity: Once upon a time, you needed a proper darkroom setup to develop or process film. That was a luxury for someone pursuing film photography as a passion or a hobby. For one, having space and for another, the required array of equipment and plumbing added to the cost. Those days are gone unless you intend to make analog prints at home. If you are taking the hybrid approach as mentioned below, for about $200, you can put together the necessary equipment and supplies necessary to develop or process 35mm and 120 medium format films. Furthermore, companies like CineStill Film have simplified developing chemistry using chemical resources that were not in existence when film-developing processes were first invented. This has had multiple advantages – simplicity, lower cost, and, perhaps, the biggest advantage being safety (read more about safety on the CineStill Film site).

    7. Longevity and cost of film as a medium: Interestingly, film photographers buy older cameras, some over 50 years old. Once such cameras are overhauled (lubricants dry out, and if you don’t get them cleaned, lubricated, and adjusted, it is a matter of time before a mechanical spring breaks), they will last another generation. Consider the longevity of the digital format, where photographers update their cameras every 2-5 years. Another consideration – look at the cost of medium-format digital cameras compared to shooting medium-format film that is scanned. The MF film costs are much lower.

      Also, film images are captured on a negative. Something tangible. Compare that to the horror stories of someone who had lost all their digital image files due to a hard drive crash. You get the point.

    8. Exclusivity: Well-known photographers in the US are beginning to include film shots as part of their wedding packages. Why? They are exclusive and not within everyone’s reach due to the costs associated with the cost of the film, the shooting, development, digitization (converting the analog image to digital), and printing or having prints made from negatives. So, for Clients wanting the best of everything in life, it is an allure to capture their special moments on film.

    9. Authentic Look: We are still determining if Covid-19 has had anything to do with this, but the trend is to capture folks as their true selves, which means no airbrushing and no photoshopping, but creating images of folks in genuine form. Folks want the real thing. Not a fantasy or make-believe image. They desire to be captured in a picture of their real persona. The film does this very well in a flattering way. Use a film such as Ilford FP4 Plus 125, Kodak TRI-X 400, or Ilford HP5 Plus 400 for a portrait shoot, and you will see what we mean. Be sure to get the roll developed at a professional lab for the best results. Why a professional lab instead of a low-cost option offered by someone down the street? A controlled developing process and better scanning from the pro lab.

    8 Things to Consider When Buying A Film Camera

    Film Cameras With a 30-day warranty and 1 hour of coaching to show you how to use the camera

    While film photography is making a comeback, it does not mean digital photography has no value. It is recommended to take a hybrid approach where significant photographs are captured on film and later digitized. This way, you get the best of both worlds. To preserve the negatives, store them in high-quality archival sleeves. Interestingly, film negatives have a longer lifespan than digital formats. Over time, digital formats have changed from 5 1/4” to 3 1/2” disks, CD-ROMS, DVDs, and flash drives, making them susceptible to data loss. With the hybrid approach, you can protect your images from potential loss. Getting your negatives back from whoever develops your films is always a good idea. At ArtByPino, we always return your negatives when processing your film.

    eBay and Etsy are good sources of used film cameras. Buy only from sellers with a 99% or higher rating on eBay and a 5-star rating on Etsy. 

    If you come across a film camera for a bargain price at a garage sale or thrift store, you might be tempted to purchase it. However, remember that repairing film cameras can be costly, as only a few repair experts and limited parts are available. Repair costs can range from $60 to $120 per hour, and some may have to cannibalize another camera to get the necessary parts. So, that $5 purchase could quickly become a more expensive investment than buying a fully serviced camera with a 30-day warranty. 

    As a Full-Service Professional Film Photography Lab in McAllen, we offer various film services and products. We sell 65+ varieties of film for 35mm and 120 Medium Formats. We process or develop film, scan, and print negatives. We also offer one on one coaching for both DSLR and film photography.

    For reliable support and answers to any questions about your film camera purchase from us, you can speak to a live person Monday through Friday between 11 am and 7 pm CT. Text Pino for a callback at (956) 492-7140. Rest assured that our commitment to Customer service extends long after your purchase, for as long as you own your camera. Contact us today for any assistance you need.

     

    Back to blog

    14 comments

    As an old guy, it’s somewhat shocking to read an article about film cameras that includes the words “once upon a time…” Seriously, though, as a life-long camera collector and photographer who was slow to fully accept the transformation from film to digital, I can’t see why anyone would want to deal with the process and cost of shooting film now that digital is mainstream. Vinyl records regained popularity due to some strong aesthetic benefits they give the listener. But, I’m hard-pressed to see any benefit in shooting film vs. digital, especially considering the cost of film, processing, etc. I do still have a closet full of film Nikons and Pentaxes, but never shoot with any of them.

    Dave Myers

    I’ve heard it before but really how many film photos have survived to this day? People throw away negatives because they don’t know what to do with them and photos get lost or damaged. Even if only 1% of digital photos survive from the number of photos taken I think it will be more than film photos. Really with proper backup, cloud storage, and the internet never forgetting there’s no reason for good photos to ever get lost. If you really want longevity then laser print your photos or if you’re nostalgic store them on CDs. Even if it gets damaged in fire it’s still theoretically possible to retrieve data from undamaged parts.

    Except for perhaps technicolor there’s probably not a single film effect that can’t be achieved with digital and you can experiment more to get the desired effect. I don’t think any of the arguments hold any water. Photography, whether it’s digital or film, only gives you an approximation of the world and there’s never any correct photo so one thing I’ve learned it that there’s never a “better” photo and only one you like or don’t like.

    Andrew Nish

    Film, digital, it doesn’t matter. It is like painting with oil or acrylic paint, they are different mediums that produce the same end result. An artist will use that medium to create art not compare them against each other. On the other hand tech types, engineers and non artistic people are caught up in specs, numbers etc. I grew up with film and now take photos with a Ricoh GR3. To me it is just the same as shooting with film, the end result is a print. Neither is better than the other. Stop with this nonsense.

    Phil

    Interesting, although I see few people out and about with cameras these days. Prior to the digital upswing amateur photographers were everywhere but I only see the odd one or two now. I still have loads of fim gear, I did manage to offload most of what I had including medium format equipment by 2010 and I’m glad I did because not being very affluent, digital is more affordable. Can’t see me going back to film for any reason but my HND in Photography was attained using film and darkroom processing.

    Jim McDonald

    Film offers some technical qualities that cannot be achieved with a digital sensor (but can be cancelled if prints are digitally printed)

    -Alias isn’t present as the medium is analog
    -Moire is generally not present in film
    -Resolution can be equivalent to high end digital
    -No legacy issues with storage format/hardware
    -Image capture can be done without batteries

    Etc.

    Dave

    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.