Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why 35mm Film Isn't Dead Yet

I, like many others, thought it no longer made sense to make or use 35mm film.

It still made sense that photographers would buy medium and large format film because--unless you had $20,000-$40,000 for a medium format digital camera--shooting medium and large format film is still a cost effective way to get really rich and detailed images, whether you scan the film or just print it. (I know that some would argue that 35mm full-frame digital SLRs give you as good or better images than medium format film. Maybe. Maybe sometimes. Regardless, you can easily spend thousands of dollars on a good full-frame DSLR setup...).

But why would anyone shoot a 35mm film negative or slide when: 1) you have to keep buying more film, 2) pay to process (and probably ship) that film, 3) wait for it to be processed (and probably shipped back), 4) film scans often need to be "cleaned up" due to dust, scratches, and/or chemical residue, 5) film scans--especially if higher than 100 ISO--often show a lot of graininess..??

I've come to realize the reasons why 35mm film isn't dead yet:
  1. Compact digital cameras with "full" (DSLR) sized sensors have not been perfected yet. Sure, you'll see some offerings from Sigma (DP-1 and DP-2) and Olympus (E-P1) out in the market; but these cameras haven't reached the level of performance (e.g., in terms of auto-focussing and lens quality) achieved by the compact 35mm film cameras of the 1990s--e.g., the Contax Ts, the Leica Minis and Miniluxes, the Ricoh GR1s, the Yashica T4/T5, the Olympus Stylus Epic, and so on.
  2. Compact digital cameras with their typical small sensors have very little pleasing bokeh--which is the thing that provides the selective focus and 3-D "depth" that most people like in a good photo...especially when the subject matter is people.
  3. With all its drawbacks, film can still provide a rich, classic, and artistic "look" that digital photography doesn't have (i.e., it's the difference between a digital and analog aesthetic).
  4. Film cameras allow you to get different types of images by simply changing the film you're using (e.g., black & white versus color; grainier versus finer grain; different grain structures--Kodak Tri-X has a different look than Ilford or Fuji B&W films...or even other Kodak B&W films; smooth versus contrasty; etc...)
  5. Most people now shoot digital due to convenience and price. Want to make your work stand out more as a photographer/photographer-artist? Shoot film...your work will automatically look different than 95% (or more) of the images being produced these days. (I think less than 95% of people own digital versus film cameras; however, it's clear a vast majority of the images produced and displayed on the web came from a digital camera.)
Even though the market for 35mm film has become smaller and smaller, I think it's here to stay a while. There's a certain level of 35mm film user die-hards I don't think are going to go away anytime soon. These die-hards are partially motivated by nostalgia; but it's not all nostalgia. The reasons I listed above are legitimate, "practical" reasons why 35mm film is still around and still fills an important niche.

As long as there are people/consumers out there wanting to use 35mm film, someone is going to make it for them...:-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:


  1. Right answer, wrong blog post! (To be more precise, it was a Ricoh GR1s...)

  2. I still love to shoot at least a couple rolls at each wedding. I shoot almost exclusively black and white when I shoot film. I feel the midtones are better. I had a location wedding in June on a beach in Georgia. I used Pan F 50 film, and it had easily the most depth and detail, and my digital SLR is a 10+ megapixel Nikon. Processing sucks, but is still worth it to me. My pro processor charges about 25 bucks for processing, prints, and scanning to a disk. If I shoot 3 rolls, that's an added 75 bucks to the wedding for the couple, but I still firmly believe it's worth it for b&w. I also shot a roll of Porta 160 color at that same wedding for the posed shots, and it turned out GREAT, though the difference was not as stark as with the B&W. I hope and pray film stays around, so that I can still mix the two mediums.