From Digital Back to Film

Last modified on June 19th, 2007

Tonight I did something that I’ve been thinking of doing for a few weeks now — I picked up a film SLR body so that I could once again shoot film. And to even write that statement down now seems a bit weird, since I left the world of film years ago, thinking I would never ever shoot a roll of film again in my life.

However, a lot of friends of mine who are into photography have started dabbling once again in the forbidden art, and it has caused me to take it seriously once again. I have no idea if it will last long with me, but it’s definitely cool enough to keep me entertained for a few months I think.

I met a guy down near London drugs today after work and paid him $150 for his film SLR body. This is basically one of the last film SLR bodies that Canon made, so except for not having a CCD or an LCD, it’s pretty similar to the current digital body I use. Immediately after purchasing it, I threw my 17-40mm f/4.0L lens onto it so that I could see what 17mm *really* looks like (since on my digital body, it acts more like a 24mm). It was pretty amazing to see just how distorted everything looked at such a wideangle, and also very exciting since I think it opens up a whole new range of shots I couldn’t take before.

For now, I think I’m going to use this body to play with black and white film mostly. I picked up slide film to do a roll and cross-process it (as my buddy Kris does), but honestly, since I don’t spend a lot of time doing portraits or any fashion work, I’m not sure what I will use it for. But, it will be fun to mess around with at least.

I’m hoping to find a particular type of black and white film that I like before October so that I can leave my wideangle on the film body and shoot that wedding with two cameras instead of one. I’ll probably throw a 24-70 f/2.8L on my digital body and do most of the wedding with that, but it will be cool to have another lens ready to go at a moment’s notice. Maybe I should put the 50mm on it instead? I dunno, I’ll have to think about that a bit more. Maybe even a fish-eye would be cool.

I have to say, shooting with film again is pretty strange. When I went shopping or film today, the first problem I ran into was that Future Shop doesn’t even carry film anymore. So, I made the trek to London Drugs, a store that thankfully still carries a ton of it.

The choices are pretty mind boggling, but I picked up a few different rolls to try out. Black and white film typically needs to be processed differentlly than colour film (which I’ve been told adds extra time to the processing, since not many labs do it and they often have to ship it out somewhere else), so I only picked up one true black and white roll (if anyone knows a good lab that does B & W, let me know). I grabbed two black and white films that actually can be developed in colour-film chemistry (which means you can develop it anywhere you can do colour) — I’m not sure how these will turn out, but most of the reviews are pretty decent for them. And finally, I picked up a roll of slide film, which typically needs E-6 processing, but if you develop it in C-41 (colour-film chemistry), you get some cool cross-processing results.

After taking my first shot my new body, I immediately flipped it over to look at the result, only to remember I had no LCD anymore to view it with. With a digital body, if you don’t have enough light for a shot you can usually crank up the ISO (the gain) of the CCD and trade off increased sensitivity for a bit more digital noise. I’m so used to doing this on the fly now that I don’t even really think of it anymore. Not enough light at ISO 800 for this scene? No prob, I’ll bump it to ISO 3200 for this one shot. But with film, the ISO is determined by the roll, so you’re basically stuck with it for an entire shoot. This is pretty challenging, and it requires a bit more forethought into what you’re going to use each roll for before you actually put the roll in the body and head out to shoot.

In terms of developing, things are actually a bit better than they used to be. Back when I did it, it was basically standard to get a set of 4×6 prints with each roll and stuff them into a box later, never to be looked at again. But lets be honest, now that everyone is shooting digitally for the most part, 4×6’s are pretty dead. I can’t remember the last time I printed any of my own work out at 4×6. If I have a shot worthy of putting on a wall, it’s at the bare minimum a 5×7, and most of the time (for the ones I’ve given to people), 10×14 or something of that size.

Thankfully, several labs in Vancouver will actually develop the negative, and immediately scan it to a CD for your use in the digital world. So in this way, you get the analog characteristics of film, but ultimately get to present them and play with your images in a digital world. So it’s really the best of both.

I’ll post sample images after I develop the first roll. The nice part of digital is you get instant gratification after each and every shot. But to be honest, I’m almost excited knowing I’ll have to wait several hours or days after shooting a roll to see the results again. At the bare minimum, this constraint has already caused me to take more time when composing a shot (since film is expensive, and you want to get it right), which will hopefully automatically translate into helping me in the digital world as well.

2 responses to “From Digital Back to Film”

  1. stephanie says:

    leo’s cameras (on granville), beau photo (just off 4th), and kerrisdale cameras (you’re on your own for this one) all stock a really good selection of film. i’d suggest going to any of those places first because they tend to be the same price as london drugs, but are all local companies that loooove the support of fellow vancouverites.

    the lab (on 2nd, just off main street- turn east and walk 3 blocks) i’ve found does excellent work. make sure you get your proofs printed full border, so that you can see the entire frame you’ve shot. you can always crop it down later digitally, but i’ve found that pretty much every single photo studio will pre-crop your frame even if you request a CD to be made of your work. and frankly that just won’t do!

    there’s a lot of fun to be had with 35mm film. go ham it up~

  2. Keira-Anne says:

    Try Leo’s Camera on Granville. They’ve been in the industry for years, so I’m sure there are lots of goodies there for you to check out. I’m not sure if they do film developing, but I have no doubt they’d be able to recommend a great place for your B & W photos…

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