A Film Shooter’s Intro To Film Part One: Buy A Film Camera by Cosh

JCH has a new guest writer. Cosh is a photographer and a writer and he has very kindly agreed to share some of his musings with us on JCH. I hope to have regular features from Cosh. So let’s get to it, over to you Cosh.

Buy a film camera. Buy ten. Then sell those ten and buy ten others.

I work with a lot of people outside of the photographic industry – and some who work in it – who ask me “Why buy a film camera?” They don’t come up with the same boring platitudes espoused by the dilettantes of the world such as “film is dead”: they express genuine bewilderment as to why I would prefer a camera that shoots digital over a camera that shoots film.

The answer is simple: nobody takes risks anymore.

Film was King during a time of great experimentation. There is no digital equivalent to many of the uniquely interesting film cameras which emerged during the 20th century. There really isn’t a proper competitor to a camera such as the Ricoh GR1 series. There isn’t a digital Technorama, nor is there a Rolleiflex. There is a digital Pentax 645, but it isn’t actually a 645. There’s also a digital M6 but it costs more than a car. In 2012 the avant garde of digital technological evolution isn’t even scratching at what film was doing in the 90s; it’s really just designing new sensors to put into DSLRs.

Film is still evolving in 2012. It’s actually doing more interesting things than digital seems to be. While Sony is putting out a small ‘full frame’ digital fixed lens point and shoot for ten times what my small ‘full frame’ fixed lens point and shoot cost, Lomo put out the 6*12 Bel Air. Digital is still being reactive, while film is still being proactive. Digital is all about mimicry; film is innovative. Regardless of any advantage in image quality it makes sense to invest in film companies in 2012: they’re more likely to bring you cameras that take risks.

So my mindset is that you should just be done with digital and invest in interesting film cameras. These days I still keep my 5DII for some work, but my go to camera is my Konica Hexar. It’s small and quiet and beautiful and infuriating to use due to its awful ergonomics but it’s unique. It’s quieter than any other camera I’ve ever used, and it even has a pop-out hood. It’s a simple camera and it cost me about $350. There is no digital equivalent to this camera and the only thing which has come close in recent years – Fuji’s X100 – is a poor copycat.

I’ve got medium format covered with my Pentax 67. It’s got a few unique design features including a gorgeous wood handle that allows me to fight off robbers. There’s no digital competitor for this camera. There is a camera with a significantly smaller frame that sells for about $10k that I could buy, but it’s really not much chop. Then there’s the Rolleiflex TLR, the Mamiya 6, or the Fuji GWS690, whose designs are all boundary pushing and which lack any sort of peer in the digital realm.

I’ve got an SLR that will stop an AK-47 round and has a waist-level finder for shooting on the street. The F3 is, in my extremely valuable but also humble opinion, the only Nikon worth buying. It might not be as innovative as other cameras out there, but it’s solid and absolutely gorgeous. Its ergonomics and aesthetics are rarely encountered in today’s digital camera market.

As I expressed earlier, the most exciting and innovative cameras available to us today are either digital versions of classic film cameras (such as the new M Leicas), bubblegum-machine imitations of excellent film cameras (Olympus OM-D, Fuji X100), or just heavily styled upon cameras that actually had more to offer than style (Fuji X-Pro 1). At the end of the day, regardless of where you sit in the film vs digital debate, there really isn’t any competition when it comes to finding interesting cameras. As a street photographer I know that the most important thing is for a photograph to be interesting and engaging. It needs to communicate a story or evoke an emotion. Why settle for a camera that can’t do the same?

Of course, you might be apprehensive about buying a forty year old camera to do serious work with. I wouldn’t buy a forty year old car to drive cross country with unless I know the providence and knew it worked.


I’m Cosh and I’m an enthusiast street photographer. I am also a writer and a critic. I am always looking for interesting subjects, collections, exhibitions, and fellow photographers to write about. Feel free to keep in touch with me at the following places:

Tumblr: blog.cosh.net.au
Facebook: www.facebook.com/therealcosh

Thanks for your thoughts Cosh. I am looking forward to the coming articles. Please feel free to come and comment. Chip in with your thoughts, we would love to hear them.