Shooting film again for the last time

It’s been several years since I last shot a roll of film. I can’t tell you how long its actually been since I honestly don’t remember if it was 3-4 years ago or only seems like 3-4 years ago. Time has been flying by.

Either way, I do remember quite clearly that around 2003-2006 I was still shooting rolls of film. This was  before I got my first Canon DSLR. A used 300D. That was around 2006.

Back then I had discovered that Walmart did cheap film processing and scanning. I was taking advantage of that. Why I never dug up my old unprocessed rolls of film and took them in back then, I have no idea.

Since that period, I’ve been shooting with Canon or Nikon DSLRs or mirrorless Panasonic cameras. I haven’t had much need to shoot film. But after moving a couple years ago, I downsized the amount of stuff in my life. This meant that all those old unprocessed rolls of film got put into a single box during the packing/organizing/downsizing process. After moving, it was just a matter of time before I found that box and decide to take them in for processing.

Before taking them in for processing though, I decided to buy more film and shoot a roll on July 12th, 2014 at the beach with a group of friends.

After shooting that roll, I quickly realized how much the film landscape has changed. Nobody processes film in-store anymore. No more Walmart, CVS, Costco or Walgreens processing on the cheap. In fact after calling them, many of these places don’t even seem to rememeber what film is, even if they still sell a few dusty boxes on the lower shelf. Most wanted to refer me to their digital kiosks for making prints from memory cards. “no, no, no,” I said “I’m looking for film processing.”

Even if they offered a send-out service for processing, they seemed so unfamiliar with it that I didn’t trust giving them my film. So… like all my other unprocessed rolls of film from years past, this one also sat for a couple months. Mostly out of laziness on my part to find a decent lab.

After a while, I did some research and discovered a handful of online labs where I could send my film for processing and scanning. But between the cost and hassle of getting envelops, money orders (why they don’t accept credit cards I have no idea) and the process of waiting two to three weeks to get the film back, I just grew depressed about the situation and sat on it.

A little while later, my buddy Josh started taking a film photography class at school. He was looking around for cheaper places than the school store to buy rolls of black and white film. He ended up at Woodward Camera. I had forgotten they where still around. So many camera stores have closed in the last fifteen years. I had gotten used to buying everything online or though Craigslist meetups.

Josh mentioned that Woodward camera had a lab and I got excited and looked them up. Sure enough they do and their prices are really decent to boot. Better still, I trust them. They are a camera store and not a drug store. Plus I can get my film and scans back the next day. No waiting two or three weeks.

So the other day I took in a few older rolls of film, as well as the one I shot in July of this year. Process and Super Res scan to CD, no prints. One of the rolls was a cheap 35mm canister of Rite Aid drug store film at 100ISO speed that was of my sister’s 30th birthday party.  That was 16 years ago.  I would have been 19 years old at the time I took it. I’m now 35.

I’m happy this film came out at all. Though it is extremely faded and blotchy. But there are a still a few good shots that I’m happy to have. Especially the one of my two nieces.  The older of which is now a mother herself and in her early thirties. The other of which recently graduated college.

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Rite Aid 100 ISO 35mm film shot in 1998. Devleoped and Scanned on September 18th, 2014. Photoshopped to bring back the blacks and contrast.

I had to photoshop the image quite a bit to bring back the blacks/contrast. Which ultimately brought out the blotchiness. But I’m still happier to have the image than not have it. So it was money well spent. I just wish I had done it 10+ years ago so the images would have come out better.

I jumped from camera to camera so much back then that it’s hard to say which camera this was shot on. Either my old Minotla X-something or my Canon Elan II or Contax 167MT. I’d have to do some detective work to find out which.

The second roll of film I had processed was shot somewhere between the fall of 2005 and February of 2006. I know the Superbowl took place in Detroit around then. This was Kodak 100UC (Ultra Color) film. It faired a lot better when it came to processing. To my eye, it looks no different than the roll I shot in July of this year. So with that said, I know now that Kodak 100UC can be processed 8 years after the fact and still look like new. Not like that is really information I’ll need in the future. But maybe someone else has a roll sitting unprocessed they shot 8 years ago. In which case, go develop it now! lol

Kodak 100UC 35mm film shot in the fall of 2005. Probably on my Nikon FE but I don't know which lens.  Developed and scanned on September 18, 2014.

Kodak 100UC 35mm film shot in the fall of 2005. Probably on my Nikon FE but I don’t know which lens. Developed and scanned on September 18, 2014.

The third roll was Kodak 160NC in 120 medium format. I used to own a couple Yashica twin lens medium format cameras but I never shot a lot of film through them. Medium format was harder to get processed back then because you needed to send it to a pro lab. It was more expensive as a result. So I was excited to see what was on this roll. Sadly only one picture came out and it was of someone I’ve never seen in my life. Not to mention very faded and damaged. Glad I didn’t get that roll scanned. I probably aquired this roll with some used camera I bought back then. Hence the reason I never developed it back then. I’m a little disappointed it wasn’t my roll, but also happy it wasn’t my roll since only one picture came out.

Last but not least was the roll of Fuji 200 I shot in July. This year. I used my Nikon FE with 50mm f1.8 lens. Which is likely the camera I  used to shoot that roll of 100UC back in 2005-2006. I’ve owned that camera since the early 2000’s. At this point it’s not worth selling. It’s more valuable to me as a keepsake.

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Fuji 200 shot on a Nikon FE and 50mm f1.8 lens on July 12th, 2014. Developed and scanned on September 18th, 2014

This roll came out fine, as did the scans. They are good pictures of my friends and my son. I have no complaints on exposure, framing, color, etc.  But I’m not blown away by the pictures, like I was hoping to be.

In my mind I’m shooting film, which has awesome color and what would today be considered a full frame image compared to my smaller framed APS-C Canon sensor or my previous Micro Four Thirds cameras with even smaller sensors.
That alone had me excited to shoot a roll of film again. A cheap way to get a full frame look. It is indeed a full frame look, but I had it in my mind that it would be a more drastic difference than it was.

As for color, it’s definitely film color. But the only thing it proved to me is that we have some awesome digital tools and presets these days that can mimic that film color very convincingly, with the added benefit of being able to take out the grain if we don’t want it. These shot-on-film images are plagued with grain, even though it’s only a 200 speed film. The same speed in a digital camera would result in a crystal clear image. Luckily I don’t dislike the grain in these images, I’m just not used to having this baked in look anymore. If anything, this proved to me that a digital negative (shooting raw format) is a more flexible negative than a real negative.

Conclusion
Shooting film isn’t worth it anymore. Some people like myself (until this experience) have had this romantic idea of what film is.  It’s one of those things where you look at the past with rose colored glasses on. I remember the fun I had shooting film in the past when it was my only option. But the reality is, film today is only good for one or two things. The first of which is having a real physical negative that acts as a backup archive of the image you have scanned on your computer. It proves the image is a real camera original and not some digitally manipulated copy. Not that this a big deal unless you’re trying to sell it as art to high end bidders that want the original and proof of it. Other than that, the only real benefit is that these older cameras are cheap and less electronic. I had no fear of taking it in the lake with me to get some cool looking water shots. Something I would not do with an expensive DSLR. But a small waterproof digital camera could have achieved the same thing if I owned one.

Other than those two things, which are not that important, I really see no point in shooting film anymore. The process is expensive and timely and you’re putting a lot of faith in other people to develop your negatives and scan them right. Even then, my “Super Res” scans were only 8.8 megapixels. About the same resolution as the camera on my iPhone 5C. Yet still they come out much grainier than what my iPhone shoots, even though the size of the 35mm film is way bigger.

I also discovered that one of the biggest detractors for shooting film (at least for me), is the lack of the EXIF data. I guess I never realized how much I used this data in digital photography today. This is the data that gets recorded onto every digital picture you take. It includes things like shutter speed used, aperture used, ISO used, focal length used, lens and camera model used to take the picture, even GPS location coordinates if your camera has a built in GPS. All smartphones have them these days. My Canon 60D even records my name in the copyright field of every photograph I take. All of this information is super handy when it comes to organizing your pictures on your computer.

I have a couple rolls of film being developed and scanned right now and about 10 more rolls I still need to take in. These are all older rolls dating back before 2006. Whether they come out or not (and how well) is still up in the air. But I’m going to take them all in to see what I get back. I also have three more brand new rolls of Fuji 200 from the four-pack I bought in July. I may or may not shoot those, just to use them up. After that I’m going to retire my Nikon FE to my shelf as a decoration piece. A reminder of why fim used to be fun and beautiful, but is now impractical and stressful compared to the amazing digital cameras and capabilities we have today.

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