Film Days, Ep. 1

Like many people of my generation, when I was young I used to shoot film. There was no digital back then, after all. In the last 15 years and more, and especially since I started seriously taking up photography, first as an enthusiastic amateur and then as a professional, I have used digital exclusively.

I don’t think I will ever go back to shooting on 35mm film. I believe digital is vastly superior to film in this compartment, under every conceivable angle: image quality, resolution, sharpness, flexibility, convenience, and possibly cost (depending on how much film you shoot).

I’ve adopted an APS-C (cropped) sensor format because it gives me great portability, while still allowing me to produce images that can be easily printed big. 35mm film is bigger, but hardly better in this respect.

I’ve used digital medium format occasionally and I’ve been absolutely blown away by the resolution and the image quality. Small format film doesn’t even come close.

You have to consider that the 35mm format (more appropriately called 135 film) was not considered suitable for professional use until Oskar Barnack made it popular with his Leica cameras. Even then, 35mm cameras spread amongst professional photographers and became a standard mostly because of their portability. Photographers who pursued fine art still used large format cameras and many still do.

Because of this, I always told myself that, if I wanted to go back to shoot film, I would do it with large formats and not with 35mm. I heard people often say that large format film (4×5″ and above) offers qualities that are unrivaled by anything that is produced digitally and I wanted to test this for myself.

The slow and methodical process of setting up a shot with a view camera, carefully considering all the factors that go into creating a great photo and making sure that every image counts, as opposed to the typical digital bulimy, attracts me as well. The journey is just as important as the destination.

Finally, I’ve also always been fascinated by the romanticized image of the lone photographer in the field, with his large wooden camera perched on a big tripod and his head under the dark cloth.

Large format film photography appears to have had a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with more and more photographers taking it up and new companies sprouting up with offerings in this market. A few years ago, people feared that film would disappear shortly, as no manufacturers would want to keep producing it, but right now there seems to be a lot of demand.

In the end, this seemed to be the perfect time for me to jump into this arena. So, when I saw an old 4×5 Linhof Technika camera on sale in a nearby store, I bought in on impulse and started my journey into the world of large format film photography.

As with all journeys, this one is made of many small steps. I have a lot to grok and the learning curve is pretty steep. Shooting large format film is unlike anything else I’ve done, but I know that the best way to do learn new techniques is to share everything I do. The process forces me to organize the concepts and iron out all the details, in order to make it all suitable for a public presentation.

This is the reason why I decided to start recording a series of videos, tentatively titled Film Days, where I will be talking about equipment, technique, field work, and much else. Below you can watch the first episode of what I hope is going to be a long series.

The videos will be published on YouTube (click here to subscribe to the channel) and on this site. I hope you’ll walk along this path with me and send me your feedback.

Below you can see some of my first results. I’ve limited myself to shooting black and white negatives for now, but while in Japan I bought a box of Velvia, so I hope to experiment with color soon.

If you’d like to keep seeing my large format film work, I suggest you follow my new Instagram account, dedicated to it: @uclargeformat.

Lake Antorno and the Tre Cime / Drei Zinnen
The University of Pavia
The University of Pavia

Comments 1

  1. That’s an interesting series you started there. Although I’m certainly not going to do film photography, I’ll take it as a history lesson about how this stuff used to work before there was electricity and computers and things.

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