Shelving 35mm film for a while

20171229 35mm film camera shelf

I’m taking a hiatus from shooting 35mm film, so I thought I’d share some notes about why.

My use of 35mm film has been driven more by my love of the cameras than by the results I’m getting.

I’m indoors most of the time and even though many film photographers seem to make wonderful photos with the slower speed of film, mine just end up badly-exposed or motion-blurred. I can pretend they’re “art” but if I’m honest they’re just crappy images.

I’ve been carrying the Fuji X-Pro2 or X–100T instead of the Leicas and the results are simply better. This doesn’t mean I won’t allow myself to put a roll through the Leica now and then, but I’m not going to be carrying one regularly.

Shooting, processing, and scanning 36 exposures on the off chance there’s a usable image or two in there has become less interesting. I enjoy the process, but the results have been meh. I tend to give film images the benefit of the doubt simply because they’re film images and that’s not the proper way to judge them.

With medium format, I still love the cameras and, more importantly, the results are better. I often like every image on a roll of 12 6×6 photos from the Hasselblad. This is probably because with medium format I’m deliberately trying to create an image rather than just snapping stuff at random and hoping for the best.

The larger negatives are easier to scan, easier to enlarge in the darkroom, easier to handle, and easier to view. I love that a contact sheet of 6×6 negatives works standalone as something that can be hung and appreciated as-is. I also like making contact prints from 4×5 negatives on 5×7 paper.

And of course the resolution is much greater, if you’re into that sort of thing.

So, this coming year I’ll shoot digital for every day snapshots and reserve medium and large format film for when I want to “make photographs”. I’d like to take lots of portraits using the larger formats. Maybe I’ll get ambitious and actually ask people to sit for me.

It’s an experiment.

Ron (2017)

Ron (2017). Leica M6. 50mm Summicron. Tri-X @1250 in Diafine.


From a recent roll, here's my dad sitting in a chair listening to my mom and sister talking. Developing with Diafine is so easy and being able to shoot at 1200+ ISO indoors is so handy that I've convinced myself that the contrasty, grainy look is what I was going for in the first place.

Now, about that 35mm film…

My recent foray into large format has made me consider abandoning 35mm film. This started years ago when I began shooting medium format, but I’ve never really come close to giving up on the smaller format until recently.

The idea is that for “real” photography I’d use medium or large format film and for everyday snapshots I would use the X100 or even the iPhone. Both of them make perfectly fine images. I’ll just sell the film SLRs, of which I have very nice copies from Nikon, Canon, and Olympus. The little point-and-shoot Ricoh GR and Stylus Epic won’t be necessary in this scenario so those can go too. No more tiny little negatives to curse when they curl up like a spring. What a relief!

This is a perfect plan, but it falls apart as soon as I pick up one of the old Leicas.

Leica has developed a reputation in recent years of selling over-priced neck jewelry to dentists. This may not be entirely unwarranted, but if you’ve ever shot with something like an M3 you’ll understand why there’s more to it. A Leica film camera is a wonderful tool to use. I could give up even the Leicas, especially since I find it increasingly difficult to carry a camera everywhere. The iPhone is always handy so it’s convenient just to use that. On the other hand, I find that every time I do carry either the M3 or the little IIIf, I’m glad I did. The reason I’m glad is that I end up with something the iPhone or Fuji can’t give me, and that’s a black and white negative I can process and print in the darkroom. Turns out that’s rather important to me.

So, although it makes complete practical sense to abandon 35mm film, I can’t do it. I’ll have to just deal with those fiddly little negatives a while longer.