Film – The Misunderstood Medium

Previously I’ve written an article “Film or Digital?”. I wrote about the differences between Analogue Film and Digital, more importantly how the film medium might just be the thing for you. Since then, I’ve had a number of questions and misconceptions about film. Some assumptions made about film are not quite true. So, in this article, I’m gonna attempt to debunk some of the misconceptions about film photography.

Film is Inferior to Digital

Jonathan & Joyce / FujiFilm Superia 800

Most photographers who dabble with film today would somehow want them in digital scans (this is after all the digital world). One of the most important thing that many photographers neglect is on the film scanning process and end up with digital scans that are inferior in quality.

Many don’t realise the importance of a good film scanner. Not all scanners are made the same, the same way how cameras are and why there’s a difference between consumer-grade films and professional-grade films.

Getting inferior quality scans with a pro-grade film on a sub-par scanner is akin to playing high res audiophile records on a cheap hifi system. You’re not getting the best from what the film has to offer.

With good film scanning equipment and an acute knowledge of the film, the film digital scans are every bit as good as what digital has to offer and in a lot of cases, even more.

Film is Very Risky

Deon & Sheila / Kodak Portra 160

Yes, it is somewhat riskier than digital but experience does mitigate a lot of risk.

Also, with professional-grade film cameras, you’ll see obvious telltale signs that the camera is not working the way it should either from a malfunction or incorrect camera settings. Again, experience will help you to identify the problem from very early on.

Have I ever shot a roll of film that came out blank? Honestly no. Have it came out less than satisfactory? Yes but after having dabbled with this medium for more than 10 years, I know what makes my film click and what doesn’t. Again, experience matters as with most things.

Films Can Only be Edited in Darkroom

Jeremy & Elizabeth's Pre Wedding at Wessex & Tiong Bahru / Wedding Photography by thegaleria
Jeremy & Elizabeth / Double-exposure on LCA-120 / Kodak TRI-X 400

Not if you have digital scans. You can edit and share them on social media the same convenient way you would with your digital images. The fact you’re seeing my film works on this page and on my social media channels is a true testament to that.

Why Bother with Film? Digital can create the “Film Look”

Hong Kong Pre Wedding by Film Wedding Photographer Brian Ho / thegaleria // Kodak TRI-X 400
Felix & Joyce / Kodak TRI-X 400

With enough effort and good post-editing skills, yes you probably create that much fabled “film look”.

But to describe film photography purely in terms of the “film look” is an over-simplistic view.

What is less understood is the visual experience of the photographer and how he or she interacts and responds to it. In my experience, that is what truly differentiates the discipline and patience of film photography from the immediacy of the digital world.

In the film world, you learn to trust your visual experience without the immediately knowing for certain that what you see and think visually is really what you’re getting. It’s really one of those things that makes film photography exciting.

Film is Passe

Adriel & Winnie / Paris Pre Wedding / Film Wedding Photographer / thegaleria
Adriel & Winnie / Kodak TRI-X 400

So are things like vintage cars, vinyl records and vintage watches. Yet, they command a premium. A lot of this misconception about film is mostly due lack of real-life appreciation and experience especially when they are not that common these days.

One thing you need to understand is that film is not digital. It will never be and was never mean’t to be.

The film medium needs to be appreciated on its own merit pretty much like you don’t ask why vintage cars don’t have built-in Spotify. There’s a certain charm in driving around in a vintage car, some would even say exhilarating. Film is exactly the same, minus the price tag.

Film Will Eventually Cease to Exist

Ronald & Lai Shan's wedding at Flutes National Museum Singapore. Wedding photography by Brian Ho / thegaleria
Ronald & Lai Shan / Kodak TRI-X 400

Just the other day, I was packing my films on a wedding assignment and I didn’t realise that was a crowd of little kids surrounding me gazing at what I was doing in bewilderment. “Why do you have so many batteries?” , one of them mustered enough courage to ask. “Oh, these are not batteries my dear. These are films”, I answered them thinking I’m actually giving them an education. They stared at me in confusion.

It was then that I realised there is a new generation that is completely unaware of what film is and what it is used for.

So, by that account, film might just cease to exist in the near future. Oddly enough, that has been said of film 10 years ago and the same thing is still being said now.

So long film is still alive and kicking, I’m off to the photo studio to get more films. It’s after all wedding season again!