Is there a place for film photography in the digital darkroom?

In 2007, we may have been mourning the loss of film photography as a mass media and accepting its inevitable demise, thanks to digital imagery. Adding a roll of Ilford XP2 or Kodachrome to your trusty SLR was to go the way of the dinosaurs. Even so, this didn’t deter a group of Austrian mavericks who formed Lomography in 1991. Taking pride in the imperfections of toy cameras like the Diana and Holga (then charging handsome prices for new models), it was an underground cult that thrived on serendipitous photography. This is epitomised by their ‘don’t think, just shoot’ philosophy.

Ten years on, digital photography has played a part in the revival of film photography. Hipstamatic and Instagram would be gateway drugs to the real deal. A real deal which has seen a revival of fortunes for instant photography, with Polaroid and Fuji cameras being ‘must have’ items. Also a stable aftermarket where Mamiyas, Hasselblads, Leicas, and Rolleis attract wallet pummelling prices even now.

What draws us to film photography? At one end, nostalgia; a hankering for simple times where your holiday snaps were processed in the chemist. Another is the character of film: for example, Fuji’s film has slightly subdued colours compared with the bold shades of Kodak’s Ektra 100. The kind of glass is another: for example, the obvious differences in quality with a Tesser lens compared with a plastic meniscus lens on a Kodak Brownie 127.

The limitations of film photography enables us to slow down. To think more. To go for quality over quantity. To make every picture matter.

Where digital meets analogue

After you have sorted your darkroom out (and once your negatives have dried), use a dedicated film scanner or the film scanning tray of your flatbed scanner to convert your negatives to digital files. Go for at least 300 dpi resolution (suitable for print media). One advantage with 35mm or medium format film is the fact your negatives could outlast digital files if stored properly.

Today, it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Whereas digital photography offers the Subway option of consistency and convenience, film photography is akin to a Cumberland sausage sandwich at a farmers’ market. What’s better is the fact you can use a 70-year-old camera (so long as it takes 35mm or 120 medium format film) and still get great results, often equal to younger digital whippersnappers. Charity shops may be a good source for used cameras and, if you look carefully, some branches of Poundland sell 35mm film.