Jerome Arfouche lays it down for us
Here is the second installment of ‘The Medium’ by Jerome Arfouche. In this piece Jerome will go over why he chooses film, and how it shapes his work. Don’t forget to comment. Tell us how you feel about this subject.
The Medium Part 2 – Why I prefer film
Last time we left our friends they were still arguing about which medium is better, for this post I’m trying again to diverge from the traditional route. I have my own preference when it comes to medium, but I will try to stay away from technical considerations, which as I pointed last time are really meaningless. The only real difference I can see is financial, if you are a working professional and need your pictures ready within the hour.
To me, in this day and age, the decision to shoot film or digital is merely just a personal choice, a preference. Driving from A to B in a Ferrari or a
Lamborghini will still get you from point A to B, the question is, which is more pleasurable and fun to use, and that is always a subjective notion.
I personally enjoy using film more than digital
One thing I enjoy about film is the sheer diversity of the analog world. There are many more combinations of film camera manufacturers,
models, and variations of lenses than it is humanly possible to sample. Not to mention the incredible variety of film, if you count the different ways of
developing that will give you even more different looks. I’ve seen some quirky cameras, elegant ones, big, small film cameras. There are funky underwater
cameras, panoramic ones, square, compacts, P&S, SLRs, TLRs, pinholes, rangefinders, disposable, odd plastic toy cameras, cheap russian and chinese imitations that have their own dedicated fanbase and many variations in each line. Think of medium format where unlike the unique 35mm factor, there is more than one size, 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×9, 6×17, not forgetting large format. Then there is C41 BW film, traditional panchromatic BW, slide film in color and BW, color negatives, IR film etc . All this diversity is incredibly fascinating and they are catered for by a dedicated and passionate group of people.
Would I be contradicting myself now if I say there are micro 4/3, APS-C and full frame sensors, adapters to a million lenses, plus all the photofinishing apps and photoshoppery possible ? Yes, but look at their design, how they’re made to look and function. Film cameras profoundly differ amongst each other, some feature some truly ingenious technical wonders, like the no battery solar powered meter on the Olympus Trip, in-lens compur shutters or interchangeable Hasselblad film backs.
Some people say film is more organic. For a while I struggled to understand what this means, what is organic anyway, does emulsion grow on trees?
Then I slowly understood. Film technology is based on natural processes, such as chemical reactions to light, solutions, salts, acids. The grain in film is an inherent part of the composition of the material, whereas digital grain is a by product of signal amplification. Digital cameras are small computers, and computers are deterministic machines by design, meaning they will give you the same output for the same input. Film is random, how wonderfully refreshing is that ?
The same light can give you different results, moreover with film accidents can happen, whether deliberate like double exposure or cross processing (which is a random process every time) or truly accidental (light leaks, color shifts, vignetting, overlapping frames).
Even motion blur looks different. All these contribute to giving film not only a sort of uniqueness, but it’s as if it has a character of its own, hence the term organic, as opposed to the artificial or simulated aspect of digital effects. Software is getting very good at this, but film shooters prefer it to be natural rather than added and this brings me to…
I love the film culture itself, the community. As with anything, people like to gather around common habits and shared interests, anything from the regulars at your favorite coffee shop to major political parties, people then identify with this group and the atmosphere. This goes for digital as well, but it is a reason I want to keep using film. Whenever I meet a film fan there is this shared feeling of belonging to the same group, it’s like running into someone from your hometown while on vacation on the other side of the planet. Very often we know and follow the same photographers, we have similar influences, we probably use the same brand camera or own the same photography books, perhaps we even like similar bands, cinema and literature. That’s what I mean by culture. And of course there are still annoying film shooters who insist on uploading all of their terrible vacation pictures to flickr, but those are fewer and fewer relative to digital.
Consider that most remaining film fans are still shooting film because they are attached to it and want to keep using it whereas since the rest of the population shoots digital today, good digital photographers are drowned in the sea of average hobbyists who flood Facebook with pictures of their cats or 365 projects, and that smaller core of analog shooters has a much different culture than the wider digital scene
Another thing I enjoy about film is that it needs almost no post processing. Sure you have to develop it, but once you have your formula, you can develop 10 rolls of film at the same time, it will take you 12 minutes and you will always have the same look you want. After that you’re set. After I scan there is rarely anything I need to do to the files, especially with Fuji films, they look incredible from a raw scan. My day job involves sitting at a computer all day so I like to spend the rest of my time outside and taking pictures rather than looking at another screen. This brings me to the third point.
Simplicity. Or rather, the choice of simplicity. when choosing a film camera, I feel I have the choice to be able to choose a simple but capable camera if I wanted to, like an advanced compact such as a GR1 or a contax. Most of the digital cameras I’ve tried recently seem to resemble each other. In a way that’s good, if you know how to operate one camera, you need less time to learn to use another camera, but I still find the proliferation of buttons, modes, menus and options too confusing, and the digital compacts still too limited. I hope the advent of large sensor compacts will forever get rid of those unnecessarily complicated consumer cameras. One thing I love about my Leica is its usability, in terms of product design. It’s such a simple tool, minimum functions, minimum buttons. It does one thing and one thing only, so well in fact, Leica didn’t think it was necessary to alter the design in nearly a century, there is a million features you can add to it but nothing you can take away from it and that’s the real value. It’s a joy to use, it’s so simple to operate that I love seeing the look on my friends’ faces when I show them how to use it.
I wanted this post to reflect my opinion without looking like some sort of grandpa film terrorist, so for the sake of my objectivity, let me just add this, will film make you a better photographer ? No. Is film better? No. But it’s different.
That’s all, happy shooting ! :)