For a couple of years, like everyone else, I’ve watched film come back with vengeance and reclaim its stake in the world of photography. I’ve melted at the dreamy bokeh and softness of grain. I’ve actually owned two different film cameras with the intention of getting back to the basics of film – where photography all began for me. The first was a large format camera – the brand and specs of which I, sadly, don’t even remember. I bought it five years ago, right after starting my business. Having photographed on one in college (more than once, including my senior project below), I wanted one for myself. So I found one on ebay, purchased it, and it promptly sat on a bookshelf downstairs, gathering dust as a conversation piece.
The second was a medium format Mamiya RB67. This time I went into Blue Moon Camera where a beautiful collection of vintage cameras awaited me. I went in having done my research. I knew exactly what I wanted and, unfortunately, somehow left with something completely different. Maybe it was the bellows on the RB67 that got me. Or the pushy salesperson that convinced me of the selling points of the waist level viewfinder and a larger negative. Either way, I left with it. And I truly was thrilled.
And then I used it for the first time. It was big. And bulky. And heavy. And not the easiest to maneuver without a tripod (I have an aversion to tripods). So the few shots I did get were just out of focus enough to be disappointing.
I used the camera exactly twice before it, too, took its place on the bookshelf. Gathering dust and becoming a conversation piece.
And then I came across a Mamiya 645 for sale – the camera I originally intended to purchase a year ago. I bought it without hesitation, threw in a pro pack of Fuji 400H, and got a personal session lined up with a good friend. I’ve had a vision forming for their family for months. And they have an incredible story to tell. It was the perfect opportunity to really try photographing an entire session on film. If it turned out as I had hoped, I knew it would be a game changer.
So I drove around town and picked an entirely new location to photograph. We met at the magic hour, and I got to work. I may or may not have looked at the back of the Mamiya to proof the photograph (more than once). As a safeguard, I photographed both film and digital. But something happened almost immediately during the session. Just looking through the viewfinder of the Mamiya was completely different than looking through the viewfinder of my digital SLR. Everything about photographing film is different and rich and wonderful. I had to do a side-by-side comparison of film vs. digital just because the difference is so drastic.
Film vs. Digital – Straight out of Camera:
Film vs. Digital – Edited:
Kind of amazing, right? The other thing I noticed while photographing film is how much I slowed down in the process.
Between purchasing the film, development and scans, and shipping on all of it, you’re looking at about $3 of hard costs per shutter release. And with only ten images on a roll of 120 film, you want to make every shot count.
I confess – I’m guilty of rapid fire shooting. It has worked well for me photographing little ones because I do end up with the money shot. I just might have to do a little bit of head-swapping, combining multiple exposures to get one good photograph. For the last family group photograph, I took it both on film and digitally. On the Mamiya, I took four shots. I slowed down. Looked at every single face, placement, pose, and expression. All eyes were always open. I planned ahead in-camera and had to do zero work in post production. On my 5D, I took twelve. Twelve! And I’m not kidding when I tell you that Titus had his eyes closed in every single image.
The proof is in the pudding: all straight-out-of-camera exposures on both film and digital. I photographed 75% LESS on film, and nailed the shot perfectly in-camera.
The edited digital image – when Titus had his eyes closed:
The final digital image, with a quick head-swap to open his eyes:
The final film image:
I’ll be posting the full session (both film and digital) over the next two days, along with the story of this incredible family. Check back tomorrow.
In the meantime, I’m off to buy more film.
If you want to see more side-by-side film vs. digital comparisons, head over to my friend Marina Koslow’s blog here.