Today I read a rather sad op/ed piece about the soon-to-be new Yashica Y35. It’s a throwback to the Yashica Electro 35. I have an old Yashica Electro 35 GT. It isn’t a “poor man’s Leica” like they claim. It’s a large, clunky piece of electronic crap that has a defective rubber bumper inside that fails regularly. There’s even a term for it in analog circles, the “pad of death“. So when I read this op/ed out of a magazine I hold a print sub to, I immediately got indignant…before I realized I’m damn near as snobbish as the article’s author, so I have very little room to talk. The Yashica Y35 hits all the right buttons for me. It has a film advance lever (which actually just actuates the shutter for the next shot), actual digital dummy film cartridges that tell the camera what to do with the digital image, and no rear screen to chimp on. It’s kinda cool.
But I digress. This isn’t about digital, it’s about film. But it raises a good question: Why does anybody _want_ film ? Why, in this world of truly amazing digital cameras (looking at you, Sony, Fujifilm, and Leica) would anyone want to shoot analog film ? Well, let me enlighten you.
Film, like oil on canvas, lithograph, carving marble statues with chisels, and working with chalks, is a medium; a damn fine medium for some and tedium for others. Did you know the most expensive card in Magic the Gathering was originally oil on canvas? Some of the most beautiful cutaways of your favorite supercars were done in oil paints or even multiple mediums ? I have a good friend who can sketch with pencil and make you believe it was a black and white photograph! Could he have made that same picture in ten seconds with a digital camera ? Probably. Would it be the same ? Perhaps, if his heart was really in it, but realistically no.
I’m not kidding anybody here. Film died a long time ago in mainstream photography. I once had a professional photographer insult another photog for adding a lens flare and some grain to a digital photo. “Why the hell would anyone want to make a digital photo look like film ? Why would anyone shoot film anymore ? I did it professionally for X years and it’s miserable stuff.” Yes, for production shoots where your ass is on the line and you do it for money, film probably sucks. I’ve asked motorcycle police if they ride for pleasure and their response is “Hell no. We ride all week. We’re not doing this for pleasure when we’re off work.” Does that make motorcycling pointless ? No, but it certainly makes it unreasonable for a particular crowd. Film is essentially the same; if it was truly useless and dead, so would Kodak be and they’re still making film.
I said it earlier, we live in an Insta-world. Everything is gotta-have-it-now, and that’s just sad. We’re so used to getting everything immediately it’s a miracle that companies like Amazon are able to stay afloat when our have-it-now mentality could be more readily satiated by peeling our collective asses from their chairs and driving down to the local stores. My word, we are an odd animal. But it makes sense, really. We get some weird thrill out of checking our tracking online and waiting for the brown or white truck to pull up with our goodies, and we even pay for free expedited shipping! Yet we forgot that the same feeling is had when we shoot film! 36 shots and a few days (or an hour) later, and we’ve got some tangible proof that we actually did visit those parks and we did take those photos and we want to hand the thick stack of prints to our friends to thumb through. It’s that feel of those glossy (or matte) 4×6 prints in that big envelope with the drugstore logo, remember ? It’s the small disappointment when we see our thumb in front of the lens mixed with the joy of finding that perfect shot of our kids laughing with a mouth full of strawberry Jell-o, that makes film such a fantastic thing.
It’s more than nostalgia. It’s more than technology. It defies logical explanation, really, why anyone would want to shoot film…or emulate it… or reproduce it… or be a liaison for those wishing to purchase amazing quality vintage film cameras. It is real. Will it last ? Who knows. It doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. Kosmo Photo has a couple of fine articles on the plethora of current film stock out there. I know of at least two new films on the market this year alone, with at least 20 more available for purchase. These aren’t old stock, they have expiration dates in the future! Nikon still makes an F10 film camera, and Leica has never stopped, either.
People are strange, no doubt. For every latte-sipping left-coaster pushing the shutter-release on a Polaroid land camera, there are a million others shooting selfies with their phones. Photography has become this fast-food fad of what’s the best filter for the most likes, but I think it’s coming out of this funk. People are starting to snatch up cameras from thrift stores, Kodak is producing current stocks of film –even bringing back the 8 mm — and those hipsters are using their coffee to develop black-and-white film, so there’s got to be some value to film.
All of the above and more is why film is still a thing, and here’s a bonus: you don’t need a film camera to get that film bug again. Go take 36 shots with whatever camera you have in your hand, upload those un-edited photos to your favorite photo store, and have them ship you the prints. No post-production tweaking in a photo editor, no insta-filters, just a raw photo like in the old days. Now sit back and keep an eye on that tracking number and watch out for the delivery truck. Then you’ll see why film is still a thing. There is a lot more to photography than instant gratification.