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Film camera

Film Photography vs Digital Photography

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The film is now an old-school way in photography, but it still offers many benefits.

Often referred to as Analog Photography too, Film photography is taking images using analog processing where chemical processes are used to capture an image. Typically a film camera with a hard plate or film is used to capture such sorts of images.

Film photography has been there for more than a century. Most photographers and hobbyists are not interested in this type of photography because of the ease digital photography offers. But learning about film photography and how it works can polish your skills as a photographer.

Here is your complete mini-guide to film photography!

Difference between Film Photography and Digital Photography

Usually, people assume that because digital photography is the latest form, film photography is almost no longer used. But that’s far away from reality; many professional photographers still use film cameras. A film camera can complement the photographer’s work better in many situations, but whether one is going for a digital camera or film camera, that’s the photographer’s personal choice. Key differences between these two are:

●      Nature of Media

This one is the most obvious difference. A film is inserted in a film camera, and all the media is captured on that. In contrast, digital/electronic sensors inside the digital cameras (also referred to as CCD) capture all the media.

The film is removable, whereas digital sensors are fixed inside the camera.

Using a film camera, all the media is stored on the film, which is later developed into an image using a lengthy post-production process. In digital cameras, media is stored in flash memory and transferred directly to a computer or akin devices.

●      Feedback Time

Another significant difference is time. Digital cameras offer almost instant feedback. Just click the shutter, and results are displayed on LCD merely in seconds.

Shooting with images is time-consuming. First shooting, then film is developed, and then you can get hands-on photographs.

●      Price

This difference is a bit technical; digital cameras are expensive and save you money, but on the other hand, the same is the case with Film cameras.

Digital cameras, especially professional-level cameras, carry hefty price tags. Buying a digital camera is a sort of investment if you are a serious photographer, but once you own it, there is no cost of shooting at all. Comparatively, Film cameras are very reasonably priced, but every click costs you. You have to spend money on film.

●      Photo development/post-production

Post-production of a digital photograph can be done on a single PC, but this phase is expensive with film shooting. Film images can only be developed in darkrooms that require chemicals and tools, costing more money.

Camera film

Advantages of Film Photography

No one can argue on the fact that digital photography literally costs you zero cents to shoot a snap, offers a lot more options, and a digital camera is a lot easier to operate compared to a film. Yet, Film Photography is not totally out of the picture in terms of offering benefits. Here are some advantages of using a Film:

  • Despite all the advancements, a certain type of look, feel, and the color is exclusively associated with Film photography.
  • Film cameras can retain exposure and details, especially shadows and highlights over a wider range of spots.
  • Using film comes in handy when shooting conditions are over-exposed. A digital photograph can be completely ruined with over-exposure. The film is very forgiving in nature in that case. Over-expose a film by several points, and you will end up with beautiful highlights.
  • Even expensive mid-level digital cameras cannot offer a dynamic range similar to a digital camera. Shooting with a digital camera, light is a little harsh; you will end up with a concentrated image despite all other shooting conditions, underexposure, and dark image. Film images are comparatively softer and have many details.
  • Practicing film photography is an opportunity to learn the principles of photography. Being aware of these principles gives a photographer a better grip on photography practices. Photography is a form of art. Different concepts and principles of this art complement each other. Knowing these principles is the first step to creating masterpieces.
  • Film photography is difficult in practice and costs you every time one will press the shutter, but on the brighter side, it makes the photographer more detail-oriented and less sloppy.
  • Minor Focusing issues

Shooting using a Film

Once you understand how a film camera works, it is relatively easy to take photos. Being old school, film cameras are simple, easy to operate, and do not have any complicated settings.

The main thing in film photography is the availability of all the extensive resources to develop a film.

Film for old cameras

Basic required resources

  • Developing Tank: it is a light-tight container so that no light can reach the film during its processing. Camera films are panchromatic in nature, and light can ruin the film. A plastic tank is required for plastic film and a stainless steel one for stainless steel film. If you are a beginner, we recommend you getting Paterson Tank System. This plastic tank comes with all the basic tools required for the development process.
  • Reels: reels hold the film inside the developing tank.
  • Chemistry: These are usually developers, fixers, and water. A chemical solution is added to the developing tank. Films are made of photosensitive elements of silver and halides. When the shutter clicks, the film reacts with the light and creates a latent image. In the darkroom, the alkaline, or basic, developing solution reduces the silver halide molecules to atomic metal silver. This creates the dark areas that constitute the visible image. An acidic stop bath is used to halt the developing process and a fixing solution to preserve the image by dissolving the leftover silver halides that could still react with light.
  • Graduates: these are the vessels to measure the chemistry. Overusing or underusing chemical solutions affects the final images, making graduates an important tool.
  • Film Clips: Used to hang the film out of the reel to dry after developing process
  • Thermometer: Used in chemistry process
  • Stopwatch: to keep track of film chemical bathing and developing times.

Developing a Film

This core step of film photography is lengthy but a fun one. After all, in the end, you get stunning photographs as a result of all your hard work.

Time is the essence of developing a film. Before you start the process, make sure everything, i.e., all the tools, water, place to hang the film to dry, etc., is ready.

1.     Mixing chemical mixture

The procedure of this step depends upon the brand of the chemical. Follow the instructions on the package. Usually, it’s mixing 25% of packaged mixture with 75% water.

As this solution costs you, mix only in the quantity which you are going to use. Also, strictly maintain the temperature instructed. Keep checking water with a thermometer while making a solution.

If starting with a new solution, let it sit for 12-24 hours to let them mix well.

2.     Loading in the changing bag

Suppose you are a beginner. Before actually starting the process, practice loading reels. You can use unused film for this purpose to execute the process perfectly when you load it.

Load church-key, scissors, film tank, and film canister inside the changing bag.

3.     Loading film in reel

Remove the reel from the film tank. Cut off the film leader (first 3-4 inches of the film).

How the film needs to be loaded depends upon the film you are using. Follow the instructions on the film package, so you do not damage it.

Once loaded, place the film back in the tank and close the lid tightly. Once you are sure that light cannot reach the film, open the loading bag and remove all excess tools.

4.     Adding developer in the tank

Before actually adding the developer, you must pre-wash the film. Fill the tank with water, let film stay in that water for a few minutes and then discard that water. This softens the emulsion layer of film and prepares it to receive the developer.

Now add the developer to the tank. How many developers you need to add is usually mentioned on the tank. As soon as the tank is filled with solution, start the timer and start agitating the film. Agitating for 10-15 seconds every 30 seconds is a standard method.

Once development is finished, pour the solution down the drain.

5.     Washing

Add soap bath and shake tank for 15-20 seconds. Afterward, pour it under running water.

Add fixer afterward, repeat the same procedure for 30 seconds and discard the chemical.

Dry photos after developing

6.     Drying

Remove reels from the tank, remove the film from the reels, and use film clips for hanging the film to dry. Please wait for it to dry until all the moisture is gone.

Once dry, cut the film and add these negatives into the storage page of negatives. These negatives are now ready to be developed.


Despite not being a popular niche anymore, Film photography still has a lot to offer. It gives you more control over what you are doing, and getting desired results after following a process is a reward on its own.

If you are a beginner and want to explore this niche, but you think it consists of many steps, try it first. It will connect you with your photographs like you never experienced before!

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