Five years ago I wanted to get into analog photography. Sadly, my parents had already sold their Minolta film SLRs and so I went on the hunt for a new old camera. I roamed the streets of my hometown peeking through shop windows and rummaging through shelves until I finally spotted my prey. Hidden behind Polaroids and point-and-shoots, I could just make out the silver tip of an SLRs pentaprism. I asked the saleswoman whether she would be kind enough to open the display case for me. Sensing a paying customer, she agreed.
“I don’t know much about cameras but I tested this one with film and it seemed to work fine,” she said.
That was all I needed to hear.
The camera came with a 50mm f/1.8 lens and had an internal light meter that seemed to work just fine. I took it everywhere and burned through countless rolls without ever encountering any issues. To this day it’s probably the most intuitive, comfortable and well-built camera I’ve ever used. I dare to say it is flawless.
There are countless articles online praising this beauty – there’s a really good one here on Casual Photophile, too – but when I got it, I didn’t know or care about the reviews, the opinions or the value of this particular camera. I had an analog camera that allowed me to do everything I wanted without making it any harder than it needed to be.
I approached my analog camera like I approached its modern, digital counterpart in my toolbox: I put it through its paces without being cautious or shy. It was a tool and it was put to good use.
It has been five years now and to be honest, I miss those days. Things have changed for me. I still own that camera, and still occasionally use it. But something has gone missing.
Sometimes when I’m at home I pick it up and marvel at its beauty. I wish I could just shoot with it. The clicking of the shutter dial, the sound of that mirror slap, the way the film squeaks when I advance it… I miss it.
Don’t get me wrong, I could totally head out and shoot a roll of film. It works fine! But there’s something else keeping me from doing so.
When I started out, I just photographed for myself, for pleasure and because I genuinely liked the intricate process. I didn’t have a style or any real photographic preferences. I didn’t know much about the benefits of film, I rarely retouched anything and wasn’t the technical guy I am nowadays. Back then, film was a somewhat experimental quest. I would buy a role of Kodak Gold 200, which is the only film I could get in retail stores nearby, and bring it in for developing on my way to work. A friend of mine would do the scans and I’d post a couple of my favorites to Instagram. Nothing fancy, just the usual, mundane scenery, some sunsets, my friends and family.
I still shoot those things. But with a dedicated compact camera, for nostalgia’s sake. Compact cameras from the Espio, Prego or Mju line are a lot of fun to use. I don’t need to be able to choose my settings. Therefore the SLR sits inside a display case waiting for its big moment, together with the rest of the film bodies I’ve acquired over the last few years.
These days I own way more gear than I ever have, and I take way more photos, but use way less film. There’s a simple explanation for that- it’s not the film photograph that I like, it’s the machinery I like.
Let me explain.
When I go on a walk, I need to make a very difficult decision: which camera should I bring? In most cases it ends up being a digital one. I like to go out just before sunset, when the light starts to dwindle. I like neon signs and street posts, semi-long exposures and in-body image stabilization. I hate calculating reciprocity and will most definitely forget my cable release. I’ve shot some of my favorite photographs during blue hour and pushed the RAW files to their limits to achieve them. I am just not an analog shooter. But I like the tools, the bodies and lenses.
Analog cameras are art pieces. They work like a Rolex, look like a Rolls Royce and can be as expensive as real estate. They can even be a status symbol or part of a historical collection. The workflow, the design, the sounds… I’ll always have a couple on display, occasionally crank the shutter and take one out to shoot with. The flares, the softness, the out-of-focus parts… I will also adapt old lenses to my digital camera. But due to practicality, my personal preferences and my approach to photography, I will never be the great analog shooter I once contemplated becoming. I think film will always be a “special occasion” thing for me. It’s simply not suitable for more.
I’ve also built up this pressure that prohibits me from just shooting without worry. All those videos and articles telling me how analog photography will teach me to seize every frame – all too often I wonder if a photo is really going to pan out and then resist snapping it. Some principles the community teaches should really be thrown overboard, in my opinion.
I simulate film stocks digitally from time to time. I enjoy certain film looks, at least occasionally. The great thing about simulating is that I don’t have to panic over my favorite film stock being discontinued. Which brings me to another argument in the case of choosing digital over film: money.
I know, coming from someone who keeps buying cameras and lenses, this might sound ridiculous, but I do feel like the price of film is pretty hefty nowadays. And the price attached to each frame I shoot has made me paranoid to the point where I need months to fill a role. As if seizing every frame wasn’t stressful enough. I shoot a lot of political turmoil. Waiting this long to see the results is not an option. Some analog cameras are really the new Nespresso coffeemakers: It’s not the cost of the device – they’ll get you on the capsules.
But maybe, though I own several cameras, I simply haven’t found the one that’ll forever change me and make me turn my back on digital photography. If I do, this article needs to be taken down, obviously. But that might also just be another excuse for my relentless desire to buy more gear. I have a pretty extensive bucket list – mostly made up of lenses, though.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: don’t let the tool, the expectations, the culture pressure you. Analog photography is fun but it’s also just another way to express yourself. You’re the one putting in the work. And if digital suits you more, then screw film! I can’t go back to when photography meant less for me. I work part-time in a studio, I document demonstrations and rallies for journalistic work and I make sure my girlfriend doesn’t run out of portraits to post to her social media. I live off of photography, it is an integral part of my daily life. But film as a medium doesn’t play the role I once expected it to. And that’s okay.
We sometimes dive headfirst into new hobbies and expect them to be some sort of revelation. And when they aren’t we think we did something wrong along the way. It’s fair to say that film isn’t for everyone. Try it, but do not unnecessarily hang on to it.
And if you constantly crave more gear like I do, learn to live with that too. As long as your purchases fill you with joy, and you’re not just jumping from one shopper’s high to the next, there’s nothing wrong with hoarding a few mechanical masterpieces. These cameras were designed to excite you – one way or another. However, make sure to use them from time to time. One might be the gamechanger, after all!
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