Create: Thoughts on Film Photography, Episode 001

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For anyone my age, the current excitement level in regard to film photography is both hysterical and very, very welcome. I love film, always have and always will. Logistically, for the kind of work I am currently doing, film does not apply that well, but for the kind of work I most love to do, long-form documentary, there is nothing better and nothing I would rather use.

Like all things modern photography, there is quite a buzz around the film subculture. Frankly, much of this conversation is somewhat bizarre and seems to have skipped over decades of history and data. but any conversation that contributes to keeping film alive is worth having.

I have been extremely fortunate to wear many different hats over the course of my career allowing for a unique perspective on the end of film, the beginning of digital, and now the rebirth of film, at least in a small but potent way. Photographer, assistant, tech rep, Evangelist, and even seven years as a “Photographer at Large,” each role allowing for more inspection of what makes film so dear and not just to me.

These years in the field have also allowed me to take my time to learn the role film has played in the lives of some of the most remarkable photographers of the modern era, something I am eternally thankful for.

Hobbyist to hipster, low-level pro to high-level pro makes no difference. Film is divisive, imperfect in all the right ways, and capable of so, so much. Film makes us think in peculiar ways and the perceived weaknesses are what actually make film so strong. I came up during the final years of film as medium of choice, at least in the professional fields, something I am eternally grateful for. I loved it then left it only to return with even more appreciation for this legendary process.

TRI-X, Plus X, Panatomic X, EPP, PKR, PKL, Ektar, Agfapan, Fujichrome 100 (The original, not Provia, Velvia or Astia.) and a host of other emulsions are forever etched in my mind and my experience. Long live film.

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  1. Excellent video. They just keep getting better. Your sudden “oh crap is this recording” pause had me laughing. I’ve got some more homework to do with film speeds. I’ve been shooting with the sunny 16 rule, a mix of TriX, HP5, and Cinestill 250XX. I’ve developed a few of the rolls with Cinestill’s monobath. I’ll take a look at the actual film speeds to figure out if I need to adjust anything. So far the results have been ok for me. It’s not like the NYT is calling me for any of my work.

    I enjoy processing at home, but I’ll admit sometimes I want to throw everything out the window. I’m not great at loading film onto the reels. Sitting on the floor of my bathroom, late at night for total darkness (cannot use those loading bags), fumbling with the reel, cursing up a storm. Dust is the bane of my existence. I do not know how people maintain dust free environments.

    I’m not sure what you meant by dry flat. I hang mine in the bathroom with a clip at the bottom for weight. Do you use one of those squeegees to remove the water? The film/darkroom guy at my Seattle camera shop said he just slides his fingers down the film, and that’s what I’ve been doing.

    There’s another cost with digital. The archive management stresses me the hell out. Obviously negatives have their…negatives. But I’ll be honest – I’m pretty good about cataloging digitally, but I have never ruthlessly set on one file management system. I cull images in Photo Mechanic, and there are days that I worry I’ve made a huge mistake doing that. I find it not that easy always to go back and find images, especially if I have left the Import to Lightroom for later. I’m just rambling now, but I know I’ve lost images to the digital abyss.

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      GREAT point. Everyone who lives in the digital world, for the most part, denies the cost of archiving. You hear all kinds of craziness about “Just put it in the cloud.” Archiving is expensive, and you need multiple systems to be safe. So many added costs. I used my fingers most of the time. I found other methods led to scratches. I use the clips to hang as well. Not bad but film in the open is a dust magnet. And hey, if the NYT called you they would pay you rates from the 1970s. Why bother?

  2. That was well worth the time watching. Plenty of good stuff in there. Personally I like switching between both digital and film depending on my mood. But you’re right, it just doesn’t matter.

    Every time I think about buying a full frame digital camera again I pull out a calculator to see how many rolls of film it would be equivalent to shot on my M6 and that always puts an end to the idea.

    I’ve stuck to Provia mostly but Fujifilm Japan have just increased the developing costs which is a bummer so I might go back to negative film. And by the way, they don’t make Fujichrome 100 even in Japan anymore. Provia or Velvia only as far as I know.

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      I would love a full frame Leica. But there is no way with my other expenses in life I could drop that kind of money on a body. One Leica is more than my entire Fuji system. I go back and forth between film and digital. My ongoing project started with film but on the first shoot I realized it was the wrong tool.

  3. Loved this, Dan, especially the industry insights. I’ve processed and printed film in the past and would love to do so again but the one BIG problem is that no-one is making film cameras anymore (except Leica: wonderful cameras, if you don’t wear spectacles or expect to see more than the 50mm frame-lines (speaking from repeated experience)).
    Yes, I can buy a decades-old camera that has been who-knows-where but not a new one. It would be interesting to see what would happen if someone introduced a new film camera. Nikon FM or F3 size, doesn’t need a charger or firmware update….

    Damn, why did I listen to this? or to you? I hear the siren call of film… Must resist, must resist.

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      I got my FM2T for not a lot of money. And a Zeiss 50mm. That will last you the rest of your life. KEH in Atlanta is good. Even their “bargain” equipment is solid.

  4. It was the difficulty of keeping film out of airport scanners that killed film for me. Maybe that “scanners will kill your film” thing was a fallacy but I would get into arguments with airport personel when I requested a hand inspection. A trip to Turkey in the mid to late 2000’s saw me having to go through scanners everywhere (or so it seemed) and the film was being hit by scanners in shopping plazas, hotel lobbies, and airports while moving around in-country. And we pulled it out of the boxes and kept the rolls in zip lock bags so they could see what it was (to help them see the light – “it’s film”). I ended up using a small canon G9 (ugh) to take photos because I started to worry about the film being pooched by the scanners that were everywhere (or so it seemed). An argument with an airport person in Zurich on the way home was the straw. And the higher ASA on film meant it was more vulnerable to airport scanners (or so the story went). The worrying about my photos being damaged by scanners became too much. I imagined getting home with a brick of images that had been killed by scanners. Maybe I was just naive or looking for a reason to try the new cool stuff?

    It may have all been a false belief on my part but the fear of dealing with repeated airport scanners while out shooting was a big part of adoption of digital for me. Was that a fallacy? Do you worry about film being scanned by security folks at airports nowadays (I hear the scanners are even stronger now)?

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      Depends on the scanner type, film speed, etc. and I’ve had some of the same experiences as you. Zurich was full-blown anti-American rant by airport officials saying that all flights to the US are high-risk and Americans were root cause of all evil in the world. They went out of their way to try to ruin my film, gear, etc. Latin America also has the “Do you have more than 12 rolls of film with you,” customs sheet. This is beyond ridiculous. What percentage of pros are coming to Peru with film? But, typically film is okay with several passes. Over time and repeated exposure you will see base fog which I have seen with TMAX 3200. TSA also lied about doing all kinds of film studies. I asked around at Kodak during that time and nobody had any idea what they were talking about. I think Salgado quit film for same reason.

  5. Hey Dan
    I’m setting up my own darkroom (spare bathroom) and wondered about dust elimination strategies. I bought an air purifier with a true HEPA filter. I figured I’d run it plus run a hot shower to suck the dust out of the room. What do you think? Also looking at ionizing dust removal brush.

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      Any and all options are worth the try. Filter is good. Brush as well. Vaccum before. Dust before.

  6. Ah the siren song of film, I remember it well. I’m in my mid-40’s and have fond memories of my mother documenting our childhood with her 110 camera capturing all the “Kodak Moments” one family could churn out. I’ve never left analog photography, that’s how I was introduced to photography as a hobbyist in my early teens. Analog is like an old friend that gives me a swift kick in the ass when I need it. I’d love to document my own kids on black and white film, but right now it just doesn’t fit my lifestyle. Processing, scanning is time consuming and right now I just don’t have the time to give. I do feel guilty seeing my Leica M6 and Rolleiflex on the shelf, and bring them out on occasion or if a project suits analog. At the end of the day, I’m still printing and making books of my digital files for my family and they could give two sh!ts if it was made on Kodak Tri-X with my Leica M6 or my Fuji XPro-3. I tell myself to “stay shootin, and shoot what you love.”

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      Same for me. Although I use the lab and they do the scanning so it’s far more efficient. Every frame scanned at high resolution and put on FTP. But, it’s the shipping, burning of auto fuel, jet fuel, etc. It’s entirely wasteful.

  7. A great video and worthwhile viewing for everyone.

    #7 – During the current lockdown I did develop my first ever B&W film at home and wondered why I had never done it years ago. The main reason was to develop some panoramic images that I’m working on ( and a test book is being printed 🙂

    I’ve heard you mention “I hope this is recording” a few times. I had to check and it seems on the X-T2 an Indicator Lamp lights up whilst recording but this is on the back of the camera on the top-right. Can you not swing out the LCD monitor so it’s visible from your point of view so you can at least see the time increasing to indicate it’s recording?

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      The screen doesn’t flip that way on the XT2….probably does on the newer bodies.

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  9. Hi Daniel,

    Really enjoyed this video and what you expressed, which, I tend to agree with on many points raised. I now have returned to film and only used my digi cam as a scanner. I have Minoltas, Bronicas and Toyo 4×5 and develop at home, but have no room for a darkroom. In regards to cost, I feel the ‘use by date’ on digital equipment and the associated replacement costs as being a rip off. My analogue kits are nearly 40 years old and built like a tank and still going strong. I am a Tmax and Tri X shooter as well as having a freezer full of Kodak chrome VS out dated. Use to love the Ektar 25 for enlargements but now that I dont work commercially any longer, I plan to use the 3000 rolls and sheets that have been asleep, 0in my retirement. Look forward to more of your work.

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      The man with a plan. I like it. Way to go. Analog is unique and such a hands on way of operating. I miss not being able to do it more.

  10. Daniel,

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on film photography! I really enjoyed this episode, and also all of your other great content.

    I returned to film for close to a year now (after having learned photography on film as a teenager, on a Yashica SLR!). And I absolutely love it, with all its flaws and beauty.

    I am trying to follow your advice and focus on one black and white film only. Also because I am interested in simplicity/minimalism (while notoriously loving to experiment). At the moment, it is a close race between TriX 400 and Delta 400 😉 (I do a lot of 135, but also more and more 120 with my 500cm).

    Are you planning to release a possible Episode 002 of the thoughts on film photography?



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      Yes, eventually. I am so busy with other tasks my YouTube life is going to suffer but no complaints. I’ll get there, eventually.

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