A return to the reels?
We’ve been witnessing the remarkable resurgence of vinyl over the last decade – amazingly, in 2022 vinyl sold more units than CDs for the first time since 1987.
Now we are seeing the return of analogue film both in photography and in film-making.
Young people are enjoying their new hobby of traditional photography and older people are digging out their long-forgotten cameras from the loft. New film stock has been made available too. Film and TV directors are also choosing film again after 20 years of most studios shooting digitally.
Film cameras have actually stood the test of time and still work after gathering dust for 20 years. Lockdown, when people had more time on their hands, saw people deciding to revisit their old cameras and even start processing their own film after watching tutorials online.
The process of analogue photography and film-making is undoubtedly a craft and takes skill, experience and patience. More and more people are showing an interest in learning this craft.
So why go back to analogue when digital is so easy?
Film lovers agree that analogue film brings richer, deeper images and colour. There is a greater dynamic range that digital fails to master, found in the difference between the shadows and the light.
Film grain happens when chemical particles haven’t obtained enough light. The grainy texture provides film with that warm, authentic look.
Film filters are available for digital images, but many believe they just don’t achieve the same result. Film directors say, “If you want the film look, then just shoot on film!”
Depth of field
Due to the dynamic range there is a greater depth of field to the analogue image, and film captures more subtle details. Film can show much more information in the space between two characters.
Analogue film is aesthetically pleasing – a unique look. Digital tends to look more sharp and clinical. Film is not shaped by filters or effects. One photo is taken, not hundreds in a few seconds, one moment in time. It has mystery and unpredictability – no one result is guaranteed.
The images are recorded onto film and put in a can, an instant record that you can return to later. It doesn’t have to be backed up to a hard drive or memory card.
Through the filming process, film is much more tactile, from loading the film, adjusting the camera settings and developing the images. It can be seen as an art form; hand-crafted work. You have much more control over the settings and have to move mechanical parts of the camera. Younger people have said it has been great for their mental health, just taking time to focus and immerse themselves on one thing.
One of the reasons analogue film became more popular in lockdown is that people had the time to study the new craft. It takes time to learn how to control the settings and it takes time to develop the film. There is no instant gratification with viewing the result. You have to wait – the anticipation is exciting!
You only have so much film, you can’t take snaps of everything. You have to be methodical when you shoot, and think carefully. It is much more challenging and there is so much to learn about photography. You rely less on post production.
There will be mistakes, including ones you’ll want to learn from, but there will also be errors that bring joy. For example, one new photography student loaded the film twice into the camera so the images were double exposed, she was thrilled with the result of the accident. When analogue cameras were the norm, these mistakes and accidents were seen as a problem but now we are embracing the unique results. You couldn’t achieve the exact same image even if you tried!
It is more difficult than digital but there is a great satisfaction when you achieve the desired result and it can be even better than what you expected.
People adore the whole experience as well as the end result.
Digital isn’t going anywhere!
There are many positives with digital. You can take hundreds of pictures within seconds and studios can set up many cameras. All images and footage taken can be viewed instantly, and things can be adjusted immediately if the photographer or cinematographer hasn’t achieved the desired look. There is a much faster learning process.
Digital is also much easier to edit and manipulate. In addition, digital equipment is significantly lighter and you can carry around a fantastic quality camera in your pocket.
How things are changing professionally
Photographers are adding film back into their services – many wedding photographers are charging a premium fee for film images in their wedding packages.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was the first digital film to achieve an Oscar for best cinematography, and indeed since 2012 most films are now shot digitally. Sci-fi and horror are the genres that shoot in digital the most, with drama being the genre most preferring film. However, overall, digital massively outweighs film.
Many directors have never moved from film and some are now moving back from digital to film.
Adam McKay, executive producer for the hugely successful TV series Succession, wanted to shoot on film for a more classical, dirtier look to provide more texture and feeling.
Westworld was also shot on film to achieve the rough Western genre look.
Quentin Tarantino is one director who has never moved from film. He said, “As far as I’m concerned, digital projection is the death of cinema… the fact that most films aren’t presented in 35mm means that the world is lost. Digital projection is just television in cinema.”
Judd Apatow is also an analogue film fan, having moved away from film to digital and then back again. He notes, “There’s a magic to the grain and the colour quality that you get with film.”
Film stock companies are expecting the resurgence of analogue film to continue, with new products planned.
Digital or analogue, or both? Whatever you choose for your artistry is your personal choice.
Images by Denise Jans, Terricks Noah, Becky Sherburn, Krismas, Alex Azabache, Felix Mooneeram and Markus Spiske - Unsplash