Everything old is new again.
In the same way that you can buy a vinyl record at your local department store, film cameras of old have begun to gain popularity.
Vintage cameras have fallen into the hands of the younger crowd, but they are not just collecting dust on a shelf.
The digital camera revolutionized society in the mid-2000’s. Photographs could be taken quickly and easily through electronic cameras capable of taking more photos at a time than an advanced 35mm film camera ever could.
No longer would people have to retreat to a dimly lit room to bathe their photos in foul-smelling chemicals to see a photo they had taken. For professionals and amateurs, the digital camera was a welcomed technology.
However, in recent years, the vintage analogue camera has found a new generation of fans. Aluminum-bodied Pentax SLRs have returned to camera bags. The heavy Minolta SRT series can be heard clicking its loud shutter on city streets. Film photography is growing once again.
This growth isn’t just limited to the traditional camera. Polaroid-style instant cameras are gaining popularity as well, dominated by the modern Fujifilm Instax line of cameras. Old technologies are seen in a new light today, despite the capabilities of the latest camera technology.
Ilford Photo, a film company, ran a survey in 2015 to learn more about their customer base. The survey revealed that more than half of their customers had begun to use film in the past five years, showing the new growth of film users.
This growth is similar to the way vinyl records have become mainstream again. While the modern MP3 file saved to a phone can be played through high quality speakers, giving the listener a seemingly perfect audio experience, many would still purchase a vinyl record of the same album for their turntable. Why?
For one, the digital age lacks a physical connection. A song is purchased through an online store, stored on a hard drive, and played through a device. There is no physical object that comes with the song.
A vinyl record is something that the buyer owns. Dust and static create a unique listening experience each time as the needle makes its way around the record. No two experiences are the same, as the record, while playing the same tune, will always have a subtly different experience each time.
The same can be said for film photography. No two rolls of film are the same. Shooting with a fully analogue camera allows the photographer to create images in ways that simply cannot be done with a digital camera.
Unlike a digital camera, the photographer will not see what they take instantly. The film must be developed, and developing creates a physical image, something that someone can hold, pin to their wall, and scan. The physical images become a reward to the photographer, showing that there is something real that they can hold and display.
Different types of film create vastly different results. Portra 160 will never look the same as Superia 400. Each type of film can create a new type of image with vastly different coloring.
With a digital camera, such as a DSLR or a cell phone, there is no physical image. There is no long-lasting collection of photographs, just endless folders and file names. A set of negatives can last forever, being constantly developed and processed time and again.
Another reason for this new growth is the aesthetic look of an image taken on film. Film has a specific grain that digital cameras will try to smooth out naturally through increasingly larger megapixel structures.
Like many forms of art, a photo taken on 35mm looks very different than a perfectly crisp digital still. Film has a distinctive look that cannot be perfectly recreated through digital manipulation. Younger people are attracted to the timeless look of film.
A film camera still has challenges though. Managing a light sensitive camera comes with many inconveniences that a digital camera does not have, most notably the delay in receiving images. With film, you must wait until the film is developed, but that only adds to the experience.
Flipping through a set of fresh stills reveals the photos in a new light. Stunning images that the photographer could not expect come out in new ways. Since you cannot see the photo as you shot it, picking up film or developing it allows you to see it just as it really is, often surprising a photographer with the reveal.
Film photography is gaining popularity with the younger crowd because many younger film shooters have never been exposed to cameras that shot with film. Handling an older camera brings a new experience and nostalgia.
Like vinyl records stacked on a table, film reminds us of the past. Like coffee rings left behind on an album cover, the gradual wear of time on a film image will remain part of the personality of the medium, always changing with time, but still, at its core, familiar.
Brian Barisa is a professional photographer from Frisco, Texas. He started his career as a car photographer, and now professionally photographs landscapes, portraits and events. Barisa works in digital and film photography and live and post video production. He has worked in sports entertainment production with the Allen Americans Hockey Club and live show production for churches.