In my search, I've seen nothing but amazing results from photographers who still shoot in 100% film. Namely Jose Villa, and Esther and Gabe of Belle Studio. Their work is held in high regards in the photographic community. Rightfully so, if you follow the links you can see why. The reason for their success lies in the Contax 645 medium format film camera with Carl Zeiss 80mm f2.0 lens. This is a small fortune to attain since they stopped making these cameras, but I had to see for my self what the hype was all about.
The look, color, and dynamic tonal range film is absolutely gorgeous. Of course unlike digital the majority of the work is done before you even click the camera. At about $2.13 a click you better be absolutely sure your settings and subject are ready. Take into account in comparison when I shoot a 12 hr wedding I usually come home with roughly 4000 shots to filter through. If we did this with film that works out to be about $8520 in film and developing costs, not including the costs of the camera or labor.
Here's the break down. Each roll of medium format 120 Fuji or Kodak 400h portra film is about $9 + Scanning at Richard Photo Lab in L.A. is $24/roll + Shipping $3. Each roll holds 16 shots. This works out to $2.13 per click. At this rate you start to pay more attention to how many shots you actually take.
You can process locally here in Seattle at Panda labs for a bit cheaper but the result from RPL has proven to be the very best in the world. Which is the reason why they process for some of the very best photographers in the entire world. Leaving nothing to chance I also sent my 2 rolls of film there for processing.
My very 1st run with the Contax 645 film camera turned out about on par with my expectations. I probably should have practiced with it before I took it with me to Jon and Jessica's wedding in Eastern WA but it arrived a couple days before I flew out and I did not have the luxury of getting familiar with the camera.
However the interface compared to using a digital camera was not all too different from my Canon 5D MII. Your ISO is dictated by the ISO in the film itself. Shutter speed can be done manually or automatically in AV. You can even compensate exposure up or down to create the desired look. The main thing missing is the LCD screen to get that instant feedback of whether or not you nailed the shot. Which was a bit nerve racking since I used an untested camera on a live wedding. (of course I had my digital camera to capture 99% of the wedding as my main though)
My usual hit rate for digital using my Canon 5D Mark II us about 20%. However because I slowed down in my photographic process using the Contax, my hit rate was about 20 out of 25 shots. That's about 80%!
Enough with the wordiness, here are my results. Contax 645. Aperture F2, Shot in AV. + 2 stops over exposure, fuji portra 400H film, and developed at Richard Photo Lab 4 days processing.
This lens is equivalent to a 50mm f1.2 wide open and if you don't nail right on the eyes, it's easy to miss your shot.
In lower light I would have switched to a higher ISO film but I had to stick with the 400 since I didn't have any on hand. The shutter speed slowed down to about 1/10. Which resulted in lots of motion blur.
Contax 645 compared to my Canon 5D Mark II. The Digital photo is on the right.
In this image you can see where the film camera does better than Digital. Film manages tonal ranges and highlights so much better than digital. Digital tends to blow out highlights, which can be fixed if you shoot in raw and then blend multiple exposures in photoshop. Which is frankly alot of work. However in film you can nail this tonal range with a single shot.
So whats the conclusion? It's expensive to shoot on film! It's like owning a car, every day you drive it costs you $. However as I look more at the side by side comparison. The pleasing look of film vs digital wins out 9 times out of 10.
- Beautiful Tonal Range
- You never have to touch white balance and it comes out with pleasing skin tones
- Great straight out of the camera, little editing
- 5 days to turn around photos to clients? Who won't love that?
- Cost, cost, cost
- Tight butt syndrome every time you go to the airport and pass through the x ray machine. (If you are unfamiliar, X Rays can destroy your film)
- Changing out film after only 16 shots
- Lack of film,
Kodak has stopped manufacturing film
Ben Nguyen is a Seattle wedding photographer. He recently took his new Contax 645 camera to shoot a couple rolls of film at one of his weddings and did a review along with a side by side comparison to his Canon 5D Mark II. This original article was appeared on his blog here.