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Are Film Cameras Still A Good Investment?

Okay, what about film cameras anyway? Well, up until the last couple of years or so, photographic images have been recorded with film cameras, cameras using both negative and transparency (slide) film. People like Ansel Adams have devoted their entire careers to successfully recording the greatest of God’s natural creations on film.

There’s no question that even though digital technology is quickly overtaking the more familiar film-based units as a means of recording photographic images, there are distinct advantages to using the older older technology.

New SLR’s are still state-of-the-art technology and will remain so for the foreseeable future. There is no valid reason in my opinion for abandoning film just because digital is the current ‘rage’ in photography.

Even with the latest 12mp cameras, I really think that digital technology still has some distance to go before it completely overtakes film cameras.

Now, having said that, it’s pretty common knowledge that computer (or digital) technology makes a radical advance about every six months so who really knows what the future holds for digital photos.

Okay, let’s get off the soap box and back to the reason I started to write this piece in the first place.

Traditional film cameras come in two basic styles, SLR (single lens reflex) and viewfinder models. The main difference is the fact that the SLR gives you a true ‘wysiwyg’ (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) view of what you’re taking.

There is a third option that I don’t plan to discuss in any great detail, disposable cameras. As far as I’m concerned these are simply throw-away toys. Most of them are stuffed with either ASA/DIN 400 or ASA/DIN 800 film and wide-angle klenses which makes them of very limited use for casual photography in my view. I plan to limit my discussion to 35mm. I won’t be talking much about the larger formats because I didn’t create this website for professional photographers.

Are Film Cameras Still A Good Investment?

Suffice to say that properly exposed and processed 35mm negs will blow up to a reasonably acceptable 11X14 print. If you want decent results for anything bigger than this you’ll need a medium-format camera, something that shoots a 2 1/4 square negative or a 2 1/4 X 2/3/4 so-called “professional” format.

One of the very distinct advantages of the SLR is the instantaneous action of the mechanical shutter. In other words, as soon as you press the shutter, you have an exposure unlike its digital cousin.

I still haven’t reconciled myself to the delay between the time I press the shutter release until the time the digital camera reacts and takes a picture. Quite frankly, I really don’t like it. In my opinion, it sucks…big-time! (If I ever get the time I’ll tell you what I really think!)

The fact also that digital camera manufacturers downplay the deleterious (now where’d I dredge this word up from – guess I’m showing my age) effect a low resolution rating has on the finished photograph.

Customers show up at the photo counter every day complaining about the poor quality of their prints, especially 5X7 and 8X10 enlargements. After all, they just got a brand new digital camera didn’t they?

Unfortunately, most people don’t take time to do their homework. Tons of folks have sort of follow the leader attitude. They either fall for a slick advertisement or commercial of some kind or they listen to a friend or neighbor who has an equally uneducated opinion.

With film you have less concern about this kind of thing. The main worry you will have is film speed and, with a little practice, you can lick this one quite easily.

Rule of thumb – if the natural or ‘ambient’ light you’re using to shoot with is bright, you need a low film speed or a low ASA/DIN number. ASA/DIN 100 is the best all around film for general photography.

However, it’s not always readily available any more so ASA/DIN 200 is your next best bet. Anything faster than that should be used with considerable care and some education and practice.

If you plan to take pictures around the campfire, or in a low-light situation with no flash, ASA/DIN 800 can work well. Where you’ll run into trouble is when you get too close to the light from the flames, the film will always ‘burn’ out the in the highlights. 800 doesn’t work well on sun-drenched ski slopes or on the beach on a sunny day either.

One tip I want to pass on – snow is deadly to shoot around. Standard SLR light meters work okay but I have found that I get better color and contrast results by taking a light measurement and then underexposing by one stop.

If you’re not too sure what this means, let me explain. If your camera light meter calls for a setting of f8.0 for instance, a one-stop underexposure would be f11.

Similarly with shutter speed…1/60th of a second would translate to 1/100th of a second underexposure.

Now, having said that, you have to know that my wife and I are using SLR’s that were made 20 years ago. We’ve seen no reason to upgrade. They’re completely manual, have great glass and, unlike my digital camera, we don’t have to fuss around trying to disable or work around any automatic features we don’t like.

What I’m really trying to tell you I guess is that you should experiment, experiment, experiment to determine what works best for you. You need to know the limitations of your particular camera. Bracket your shots, that is, shoot one which is ‘right on the button’, one that’s a stop underexposed and one that’s one stop overexposed to find the kind of exposure that gives you the results you like best.

Hey, it’s your camera. Play with it!