My First Time Shooting Film For Street Photography

I didn’t start dabbling in photography, via my marketing job, until 2010—well past the technological shift from film to digital that occurred in the early to mid aughts. A half a decade later, the summer of 2015 was when I began focusing on street photography. So, needless to say, I’m a “born digital” shooter who’s only known capturing 1s and 0s to CF and SD memory cards.

If you’re a digital-only shooter too, then maybe like me, you’ve heard a steadily growing chorus of fellow street photographers touting film (that supposedly antiquated medium from the dust bin of photographic history) for its “purity,” its “look,” its “process,” etc. Of course, all I could think about was the expense, the waiting, and the learning curve. Plus, don’t we have VSCO filters that create that filmic look? Pssh.

Well, I finally caved in. And I was wrong. (Not completely, but we’ll get to that later.)

My Camera & Equipment

For digital, I’m already someone who doesn’t shoot manually: I mostly rely on auto white balance, priority mode for shutter and aperture, and auto focus (while keeping my ISO at either 800 or 1600 to ensure higher shutter speed and deeper depth of field). All to keep my concern relegated to two decisions: what to frame and when to click the shutter.

Given that I wasn’t looking for a manual experience (which, granted, is part of the allure for some digital converts), it seemed an automatic point-and-shoot film camera would be a great entry option. Luckily, my film-shooting buddy had such a camera in his collection, with which he very generously gifted me: a 35mm Olympus Mju II (also known as Stylus Epic) with a f/2.8 lens, housed in a very compact, all-weather plastic body—like, fits-in-your-front-pocket compact.

Big things come in small packages

For film, I headed to my local Walgreen’s drug store hoping to find something I could purchase immediately and load. The only option was Kodak UltraMax 400 color film (reviewed well enough online), the convenience and expediency for which I definitely paid a premium. The same box of three rolls is 40% cheaper with free shipping via Amazon—lesson learned.

Shooting with the Olympus Mju II / Stylus Epic

Locked and loaded, me and my Mju II hit the streets on a very sunny and summery Memorial Day here in Chicago. Especially compared to my Canon DSLR, and even my Panasonic Micro Four Thirds, the Olympus is wonderfully light and compact. It’s very nimble: as soon as you unsheathe the lens, it’s ready to fire, and the auto focus (signaled by a green dot in the viewfinder) locks on quickly, albeit always center of frame. In less than 90 minutes, I worked my way through the roll’s 24 exposures, a smile on my face as I finished.

The Photos

I dropped off my first two rolls at a local camera shop for processing and digital scans, to be delivered back on a compact disc. Wow, the wait was excruciating! I’m so used to shooting during the day, then coming home at night to upload my photos and immediately review them. Obviously, that’s not the possible with film; just the rewound roll in its canister sitting idly on the shelf, keeping its secrets, quietly taunting me.

It felt like Christmas morning when I got my scans back.@cpplunkett

Boy, did this newfound waiting period create an emotional buildup. I had gone on shooting digital and more film in my normal routine over the next few days, but held this tension in the back of my head wondering how the photos had turned out. I am not ashamed to admit it felt like grade-school me on Christmas morning when I finally got my discs back.

Sure, for a digital-bred shooter, the wait sucks. But it pays off with an emotionally heightened reveal. Not sure if that will last, but I ultimately appreciated the new experience.

First Impressions

The Look

For whatever reason, it hadn’t landed on me before when looking at work from shooters I knew used film versus those who shot digital and edited to approximate its aesthetic (part of the reason, I’ve noticed since, is that the difference is more pronounced at a larger size, like my 24-inch desktop screen). Film does have a unique look. And, no, digital emulation doesn’t recreate it. Not even close.

A simple concept, but worth putting to words: the easiest way to get the film look is … to shoot film.

With digital, pressing the shutter is just the start line. For film, it’s the finish.@cpplunkett

The Expense

“But it’s so expensive!” Not so fast. No denying it, when accounting for strictly the camera plus exposures, film is much more expensive (given you take more than, say, a 1000 photos with your digital camera, a very small threshold). But that’s hard costs. Think about how much time you spend taking that RAW or JPEG file and editing it, to give it that film look or otherwise. For me, it’s a lot of time. Hours and hours per week. Nowadays with digital, pressing the shutter is just the start line. For film, it’s the finish.

What is your time worth? What if instead of spending all that time editing, you invested it in other areas, like more shooting? Or more Netflix-ing? Playing softball with your friends? Playing with yourself? Shoot film and you could be a better photographer, friend, be caught up on House of Cards, and be a better (self) lover. That might be worth $18 a roll, no? 😉

The Wait

I’ve already covered that the wait to see the results created a delayed gratification. There’s another angle, though: because a film camera doesn’t have an LCD screen to preview the image just taken, there’s no way to “chimp.” Chimping hurts me in two ways: I’ve missed more shots than I care to calculate because I’ve been too busy looking to see if I got the last one; and when I do confirm that I “got” the shot, it mitigates my gusto to keep pressing for the next one.

With film, as soon as you click the shutter, you’re forced to move on to the next shot. It very much has kept me in the present, always ready for the next shot.

Moving Forward

My prior objections to shooting film turned out to be misguided or outright wrongheaded. Obviously, I’m just getting started—and I expect the honeymoon-esque novelty to wear off—but I anticipate, moving forward, to continue shooting film alongside my current digital practice, the mix thereof most likely an evolution. I might just be caught up on House of Cards in the near future. Or slamming ice-cold Lights on Tuesday nights with my softball team. Batter up!

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