The film community is a pretty friendly place. I’ve made a lot of good mates all over the world since launching my film photography podcast, “Matt Loves Cameras,” three years ago.
When a photographer joins (or rejoins) the film family, they often remark about how supportive everyone is. This is true: so many people in the community offer help and advice and share their knowledge.
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Underneath the surface, there is a degree of subtle and not-so-subtle snobbery. There are also misconceptions and more than a few clichés.
Film photographers all over the world continue to delight and inspire me, but I must admit there are five things I wish film photographers would stop saying. Look out for another five things coming soon.
The ‘One Stop Per Decade’ Rule for Expired Film
Often in Facebook Groups, someone will ask for advice on how to shoot a roll of expired film. Regardless of whether it’s color negative, color positive, or black and white film, the old “one stop per decade” rule gets wheeled out.
The idea behind this concept is simple. Over time, film degrades and loses light sensitivity if it isn’t stored well. The rule says that for every 10 years the film has been expired, add one stop of light to compensate for this loss of sensitivity, except that this “rule” is not actually a rule at all and has been debunked several times, including by Emulsive.
I’ll fess up and admit that I’ve been guilty of saying this one, but bear with me. I live in subtropical Brisbane, where it’s hot and humid for at least half the year. If I was given a roll of color negative film and I didn’t know where it had been for the last 30 years, adding one stop per decade is probably a safer bet than shooting it at box speed. Color negative film has wide latitude, so even if the film has been stored well, adding two or three stops of light is within tolerance.
Unfortunately, people also apply the “rule” to black and white film, slide film, and film that has been stored in cool conditions. Need a refresher on shooting expired films? Check out this article on the Silvergrain Classics website.
‘Film Soup? Just Don’t.’
Earlier this year, a photographer asked for advice and inspiration about film soup recipes in a Facebook group. It wasn’t long before the first know-it-all piped up: “I think it sucks. Just don’t.” Another killjoy suggested it was a “crutch for poor vision”.
You know that old saying if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything at all? Yeah, that. The poster was looking for inspiration and advice, not negativity. It’s not just film soup that suffers this fate, but many other experimental and smaller format types of photography. I’ve seen so many unhelpful comments about LomoChrome Purple, half-frame cameras, toy cameras, and of course, point and shoots.
It constantly amazes me that people take themselves so seriously, believing that only high-end gear and the purest methods are true film photography. Film soup not your jam? That’s cool, keep scrolling and keep your mouth shut.
‘Don’t Buy an Electronic Camera, You Can’t Get Them Repaired.’
Cameras that rely on electronics to function don’t have the best reputation, I’ll give you that. We all know someone who has had a Contax T2 brick on them. Many of these cameras cannot be repaired cost effectively, or at all.
In recent months, there’s been a growing trend for film photographers saying that they will only ever buy a fully mechanical camera so they can continue to have it repaired in the future. Many of the people who hold this opinion are friends of mine, and this is not an attack on them, rather an alternative viewpoint.
To suggest that all electronic cameras are not worth buying because they might fail is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Sure, your camera might brick one day, but that could be 20 years away. In the meantime, you might get struck by lightning, hit by a bus, or abducted by aliens. Why worry about something that may never happen? Get out there and enjoy shooting with your electronic cameras.
There are also many more plausible things that might happen in the next 20 years: what if we’re in the last heyday of the film right now? In the last 18 months, we’ve seen the impact of the pandemic on film supply chains, and this could continue into the future. It’s entirely possible the cost of producing film in 10 years will get so expensive that it’s no longer viable for many of us. If that does happen, it won’t really matter if you’re shooting with a manual or electronic camera.
With regards to repairing cameras, this is dependent on the knowledge of a relatively small number of people worldwide. What happens when they retire or head up to the great camera shop in the sky? I’ve heard the waiting time to get a Leica serviced with some specialists is several months; this could blow out to years in the future with fewer people around to repair them.
‘Don’t Bother Shooting 645, It’s Not Much Bigger Than 35mm.’
I’ve seen this comment so many times in Facebook Groups. An excited photographer will share their plans to start shooting medium format with a 645 camera. The “bigger is better” crowd will then pipe up telling them not to bother with 645 because “it’s not much bigger than 35mm”.
Have you ever heard anyone from Wyoming say that Texas “wasn’t much bigger” than their state? Yeah, didn’t think so. There’s a reason for that. Texas is about 2.7 times the size of Wyoming. That’s about the same difference in size between 645 and 35mm.
The logical conclusion of this argument is that no format is good enough because there is always something bigger. Why shoot 645 when you can shoot 6×7? Why shoot 6×7 when you can shoot 6×9? Why shoot 6×9 when you can shoot 4×5? Why shoot 4×5 when you can shoot 8×10?
The truth is that all formats have their pros and cons; find the one that’s right for you.
‘Film Slows Me Down.’
If I set up a film photography dial-a-cliché hotline, this phrase would be on repeat.
Every time I hear someone say it, I picture the following scene. A photographer is running around with their DSLR, finger stuck down on the shutter button as they gleefully fill up a 128 GB memory card in 60 seconds. They load another and another and take several terabytes of images. Then, they spend the best part of a week sifting through the thousands of images they’ve taken for a handful of good shots.
Then, a miracle occurs: they pick up a film camera and instantly transcend to a Zen-like state. They become one with the camera, carefully composing every frame like it’s a masterpiece. “Film slows me down,” they proclaim.
This whole concept is rather odd and actually says a lot more about digital photography than film. With seemingly endless storage in the digital age, photographers have never been able to take so many images for such little cost. It’s given rise to a boom of “spray and pray” photographers who don’t care how many images they take, as eventually, they will get some good ones. Perhaps the catch cry should be “digital makes me lazy” rather than “film slows me down”.
Of course, film does not have to be slow at all. In the early 1970s, cameras with motor drives could shoot up to 9 frames per second. As technology improved through the 1980s, 1990s, and into the 21st century, film cameras got better and faster.
On the other side of things, shooting digital does not have to be lazy. I know many photographers who compose just as carefully with their digital kit as they do with the film.
What do you wish film photographers would stop saying? Tell us in the comments below. Look out for part two of this article coming soon.