I think film photography is better than digital photography — I’ll share with you my opinion.
Of course, don’t listen to me. This is just my opinion.
I. Slowing down.
In today’s world, things keep getting faster and faster. Shooting film has helped me slow down in life.
For me, I treat film photography like zen meditation.
Film is slow. It takes a long time to get your film processed. I still have rolls of film I’ve shot 2 years ago I haven’t got processed yet. But I’m not in a rush.
In today’s fast-food culture, ‘slow food’ is catching on.
In today’s fast digital photography and Instagram culture, ‘slow photography’ is catching on.
I think myself and a lot of people are fed up with the insane rate of the world— expecting you to respond to What’s App messages in seconds, emails in minutes, and to make big life decisions in just days.
Anything that slows me down is good. Like writing a hand-written letter, instead of shooting off a text message. Like enjoying a relaxing 3 hour dinner with my two moms and Cindy— rather than just grabbing McDonalds.
Let’s slow down.
II. Film photos look better than digital photos.
Film photography will always look better than digital photography, period.
The best digital photos are the ones that simulate the look of film. Fujifilm is making their JPEG images look like their old film images. VSCO is making presets to make clinical and soulless digital photos have life— by adding grain, randomness, and softer colors.
Even with digital music— they often add a ‘warming filter’ which adds random ‘stochastic’ noise, to add warmth, and soul to the music. Kind of like the hissing and popping of an old vinyl record.
I am a big fan of shooting on smartphones and iPhones in general. But to be frank, all the photos I’ve shot on Kodak Portra 400 totally shits on any photo I’ve shot on my smartphone and processed in VSCO.
Everything I’ve shot on my film Leica and Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed to 1600 looks sublime. Every digital black and white photo that I process in my Ricoh GR II (with the ERIC KIM MONOCHROME 1600 PRESET), pales in comparison. The hope is to try to make my digital photos to look like my film photos.
III. Film photography is a better ‘investment’
Rather than dropping $10,000 on a digital Leica or Medium-format digital Hasselblad, just buy a cheap 35mm film camera, and make photos that look a million times better.
The best bang for the buck film Leica is the Leica M6 (get a good one from Bellamy Hunt at JapanCameraHunter.com)— usually is ~$1600 USD, and the 35mm f/2.5 Voigtlander lens (~$500 USD).
Or the best bang-for-the-buck film compact camera is the Contax T2, with the 38mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens, which is ~$600 USD.
The best film Leica money can buy is a Leica MP (black paint) and Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH lens (what I own). I got my MP used from Bellamy, for 3500 USD (instead of the new 5000 USD). I got the Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH lens from my buddy Todd Hata for $2500 USD used.
Moral of the story: film photography is a lot more affordable than digital photography. And always buy your stuff used— even if you don’t like film photography, you can re-sell your stuff for about 90% of what you bought it for. Or sometimes sell it for a profit.
Also with digital photography, you usually upgrade your camera every 4-5 years or so. With film photography, you will in theory never need to ‘upgrade’ your camera.
My film Leica MP (with beautiful patina/golden braising on the edges) will outlive me. Any digital Leica I buy today will be outdated in about 3 years.
So in some way, buying a film camera is a good way to cure ‘gas’ (gear acquisition syndrome). You end up settling with your ‘Camera Zen’ — just the 1 camera, 1 lens that you will shoot with forever. For me, my camera zen is the Film Leica MP + 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH.
IV. Why I will never buy a new digital Leica
I love Leica, their products, their design, and the folks who work there. Very good people.
But, I will never buy a new digital Leica ever again.
Okay, let’s say I buy a new digital Leica for $7000 USD. Within 6 months, that camera is probably going to lose $1000 USD of value (I might resell it for $6000 USD). It is like buying a new car (horrible ‘investment’) — you lose 20% of value instantly when you drive it off the lot.
This is why I never buy cars new, or will never buy an expensive new digital camera.
The only good digital camera on the market is the digital Ricoh GR II — costs around $600 USD, has good design, fits in your front pocket, is all matted-out black (murdered out, would look great with the ERIC KIM STRAP), has menus that were actually designed for photographers by photographers, is simple yet elegant, has no AA (anti-alias) filter — which means the photos are sharp as fuck, and it has a DSLR-APSC sensor. Perfect.
I am not saying only shoot film. No. Shoot both film and digital. Film is still always going to be better than digital, in terms of aesthetics, the timelessness, and the slower process.
V. Looking at photo albums with my grandma.
I was in Seoul a few months ago, visiting my grandma. I looked at old photo albums of her (she’s in her 80’s now), when she was a kid.
The photos had life and soul. The prints were wrinkled on the edges, and turning slightly sepia. The memories were fading— but it was beautiful decay.
Can you imagine 60 years from now, sitting down with your future grandkids, and showing them your photos on Instagram or Facebook? No. Who knows if 60 years from now, we can even read the RAW photos of your camera. I have old files on CD’s which are a pain to recover— (no new laptops really have CD rom drives), and I still remember submitting school papers on a floppy-disk.
This will happen with digital storage— 3.5’’ hard drives were replaced with flash storage, which has been replaced by the cloud. And after the cloud we will have something else.
In theory, 300 years from now, anyone can hold up your physical film negatives to the sun, and see the images. It is indefinitely more ‘archival’ than any digital photos— that are stored as 1’s and 0’s in a computer, that will soon evaporate into the digital ether.
I think film photography is better than digital photography. Yet, I still shoot both.
I think writing letters by hand is better for my mom’s birthday, instead of sending her a text message.
I think sitting with Cindy, and holding her hand, is superior to Skyping her via video.
I think hiking in nature, breathing in the crisp air, and feeling the pine needles under my shoes is superior to looking at digital landscapes on my MacBook laptop wallpaper.
Once again guys, this is just my opinion. Please don’t listen to me.
But if you’re curious of shooting film photography, please try it out. It will actually bring you more appreciation of digital photography.
To be frank, if I only had one camera, it would just be the digital Ricoh GR II — because ultimately, I am a slave to comfort. And film photography is expensive, takes up a lot of space, is heavy, and cumbersome.
But then again— isn’t it cumbersome to spend time with your mom? To call her to see how she is doing? Isn’t it cumbersome to raise children? Isn’t it cumbersome to live?
To learn more about film photography, buy FILM NOTES (and perhaps buy a couple to give to your photography friends or partners).
Re-live the joy of film with FILM NOTES.
Film Photography 101 >
If you’re interested in learning how to shoot film, start with this guide:
- Film Street Photography Manual
- Introduction to Shooting Film in Street Photography
- What I Learned Shooting 100 Rolls of Black and White Film
- What I Learned Processing 164 Rolls of Film After Waiting a Year
- My Experiences Shooting Medium-Format Film in Street Photography
- A Guide on How to Shoot Street Photography on a Film Leica (or Rangefinder)
- Why Digital Is Dead For Me In Street Photography
- Video: Why I’m Switching Back to Black and White Film for Street Photography