A film based workflow has been the foundation of my photography for over the last half decade. My journey of discovery through learning about, shooting, and experimenting with film and chemicals is what has made photography exciting to me. This journey has been a path ladened with enigmas and mysteries that I’ve sought out to solve by exploring every facet imaginable, and possible.
Pentax-FA 35mm f3.5
Throughout high school when I was working hard to solve each mystery I experimented with nearly every type, format, and process easily available to a socially awkward 16 year old. This included the usual b/w and color negative processing but also included hand RA-4 printing and shooting a single roll of Kodachrome. My enthusiasm was easily visible to my photography teachers and upon graduation I was gifted with a donated Pentax 6x7 kit which has been my camera of choice since.
While I have had a digital SLR throughout this process I have defined my photography on what I could capture on film. As the years have gone by I have refined my processes from shutter click to scanning and digital editing. So much so have I stuck to this practice that lately my dSLR has been only used for the occasional video project and I can’t even remember the last time I truly used it for stills.
Yet last week I traversed back into the world of digital photography with the purchase of a Pentax 645Z medium format camera kit. Not intending to displace my affection and passion for film that has been a cornerstone of my photography I have become simply ready for both a change and re-evaluation of my methods.
Of the several factors that drove this decision the main is really the maturation of the digital medium itself. Having had the a brief opportunity to use a few of the newer Sony A7 cameras last fall I realized that many of my original reasons to sticking purely film based did not make as much sense. One reason was simply the image quality and resolution but the second was just the ease of use and speed of process.
I simply love how shooting film requires me to be patient and selective. When describing why I shoot film to others this is usually my main defense. Slowing down is vital to achieving images of merit. When you have only ten shots on a roll of film you are more likely to seek strong compositions. Conversely, there is also that gut wrenching feeling when you mis-load a roll or fudge the development process. Perhaps akin to accidentally formatting a full memory card the feeling never loses it’s sting.
Even with that logic I have grown tired over the last year in the delay it takes between shutter click and editing on screen. With color film that delay is at best about two weeks, but often more. I often talk about the suspense and joy the anticipation in waiting to see your images produces, and there is definitely something to be said about it, but that suspense has stretched thin for me. Recently I have even decided to not bother going on shoots knowing I wont see the pictures for weeks.
The other argument I have used when defending my film based workflow is that I am actually producing photos of higher fidelity. Arguably true in certain circumstances, specifically in regards to 4x5 work, this reasoning has become weaker over the last few years to the point of being irrelevant. Going back to my earlier point that digital has matured, it has matured. Sure I scan my 6x7 film to around forty megapixels but megapixels aren’t everything. I can talk comparisons on every level but my point here is that, again, it’s moot. What it really comes down to is that I shoot film for the intangible qualities, i.e. the unique look each film stock has.
As I have been shooting with the new (to me) Pentax 645Z this past weekend I’ve been mulling all these points over in my head. Part of me even feels as if I am betraying some purist inner photographer. But as I have began familiarizing myself with the more complex interface (menus and buttons galore!) I think I’ve come to a conclusion.
As a good photographer friend of my father told me as a young teenager, “Camera’s don’t take pictures, people do”. And that is it. I have many cameras as one would expect a cabinet maker to have many tools but unlike a cabinet maker I enjoy using the tool as much as producing a product with it. Photography is my hobby and passion because it makes me happy, plain and simple. If it is not providing me joy then it is time to move on or mix things up.
I don’t see the 645Z replacing any camera in my collection, save maybe my old Canon dSLR. When I want to really slow down or the utmost in image quality I will use my 4x5 system. If I want that near indescribable film look I will reach for the Pentax 6x7. Finally, when I don’t feel the need to wait on a lab or have tired of mixing chemicals the Pentax 645Z will be there. I am more than blessed to be able to have such tools in my box and look forward to sharing some of my joy they yield.