Revisiting Film Photography


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Fujichrome Velvia 100F

It’s been more than ten years since I last loaded a roll of film into a camera and made some pictures. Last week, I found two reasons to try it again. The first reason? I rediscovered my father’s Nikon FM:


Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G

It’s the original Nikon FM, made in the late 1970s (production ended in the early 80s). All mechanical, all manual, with a center weighted meter and shutter speeds up to 1/1000. Beautifully made.

This classic camera was around for my entire childhood. I used to covet it as a kid, but I couldn’t use it. I was restricted to my own SLR, a cheap little Vivitar with a bad focusing screen and inferior build. My Dad’s shutter would make this great “k-clack” sound, while mine went “ka-chAWNNNNNNNNGGGGGGG.” Took me a few decades, but I guess I’m allowed to use the FM now. =)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D | Fujichrome Velvia 100F


Nikon FM + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D | Fujichrome Velvia 100F (overexposed…oops)

Ok, second reason? I found an old roll of film among my wife’s things. She used to plop a roll of Kodak black and white into her little automatic film camera when she was a teenager, and I guess a roll made it into our house.

I loaded it up and spent a view days snapping away. The weird thing about shooting digital all this time is that you get used to instant results on the back of your camera. Take a shot. Check it out. Don’t like it. Take another shot. Perfect. Not so with film, though by force of habit I kept looking at the back of my FM almost every time I took a shot, at least for the first roll.  Shooting with an all manual, all mechanical camera is also a much slower process, not the speed of light stuff I’ve come to expect from my DSLR.

So, how did my first roll in a decade turn out? It didn’t! I went to pick up the roll at the lab and:

“Sorry sir, this roll is blank.”

Aaaaagh! Ok, give me a roll of Ektachrome. Let’s try this again:


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)

Ok, at least the photos came out this time. They look funky, faded, and noisy, but they came out! Weird results without even having to use Instagram. How about that??? 😉


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)

There’s something about shooting film….the anticipation of how each frame will turn out, the small and unassuming, lightweight camera body, and that gargantuan, bright viewfinder that shames even my D700… the experience of shooting itself was more fun than getting to see the results!

Being limited to 36 frames (for this particular roll) also made me think twice before pushing down on that shutter release. I’d frame up a shot and ask myself, “is this really interesting?” Lost track of how many times I decided “no, not interesting enough,” and moved on. I don’t tend to think with quite as much care with digital, where I can fit 700 or so raw frames on a single card. But, shouldn’t I?


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D  | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)


Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Kodak Ektachrome 160T (expired)

I had the film developed and scanned at Photoworks in San Francisco. It was a fun, though expensive, photographic experiment shooting these rolls. I still feel like I need to get a better feel for the FM’s metering, so more rolls are in the works. Hope this doesn’t get addicting 🙂

133 thoughts on “Revisiting Film Photography

  1. Hey, Jonathan!!! All the photos are really wonderful, I love them all!
    (Especially those of Suki-chan and the one of a cat;))
    Awwww, you made me love film even more!! I got very very inspired!
    I am a bit surprised with the result of Kodachorome. I had an impression Kodak films make photos with a bit red tone. Yours are of beautiful blue tone. Just lovely. Keep on shooting with your wonderful Nikon FM:))
    I guess now you find shooting more fun;D

    1. Thank you Akane! Yes, I’ve spent so much time watching you shoot film, I figured it was my turn to give it a try =)

      It looks like the expired Ektachrome I purchased is balanced to reproduce accurate colors under tungsten light. Using the film under cooler daylight therefore gives that blue cast.

      Shooting film is definitely a fun, inspiring way to mix up my photography. I’m sure I’ll do it more, as long as the budget allows! =P

    2. Seeing this truly has me wondering about the bag of roll film that has been in the refrigerator for close to a decade. Will have to clip the rolls that’s for sure.
      Will try it out when the right shoot comes along.

  2. You did good. I like the little Nash Metropolitan. I personally have no more film equipment. I saved mine for about a year thinking I would shoot film every so often. Not SO! Then it all hit ebay and is now history. But I am glad you had fun and you are correct, you thought before you pulled the trigger a lot more with film.

    1. Thanks Jim! All of my father’s professional film equipment was sold on eBay too. This little FM was all I could salvage from his stash! I think shooting a couple rolls was a great exercise for me, though its probably a little too pricey to do on a regular basis.

  3. i LOVED reading this. as soon as i saw the title in my google reader, i got super excited and dropped what i was doing. it was so entertaining as i read going ‘yup, yup’ nodding my head along with all the things you said. that top one came out superb and those suki shots are lovely. the rest have so much added character from the expired film and just from the film itself. Now i’m itching to take my F100 out for a walk tonight!

    1. Thank you so much Cara. I know you’re very aware of the joys and frustrations that come with shooting film. Thanks for pushing me to try it! I had a blast =)

  4. I am about to borrow one of friend’s yashica fx-3 tomorrow. I haven’t shot film in all my life! I’m itching to try it out tomorrow, more so now that I saw your post. So, it’s true, Film Is Not Dead. (from the other Jonathan) lol! More rolls please??

    1. Never in your life?! You’re in for an interesting experience my friend. Let us know how it goes! Film is no more dead than photography is. I love to shoot with any format really. Digital, film, camera phones, funsavers…if it can make a picture, I’ll try to shoot with it =)

      1. Not anymore.. Haha! Just got to shoot last weekend. And photos are up. And it was awesome! I think it will be much more fun with my second roll.

  5. I regret selling my film cameras so much now. It really will slow us down and make us think about what exactly attracted us enough to shoot that shot. I also love the picture of the funny cat and the head shot of Suki head on the ground. Super nice.

  6. luv the vintage flavor of film and you did an excellent job with your 1st (2nd) roll of film!! my FE is in the basement collecting dust – makes me want to roll it out 😉

  7. Hi Jonathan –

    I bet even though you felt rusty at first, I’m guessing the manual technique kept you on your toes. You had to consider each shot more carefully, making adjustments along the way…unlike the digital age of photo-shooting we’ve been pampered with the past decade. Nice pics!

  8. There’s just something about an old film camera that makes you think, “I wonder what happens if…”

    Did you find that after shooting with your Nikon that you approached your digital work any differently?

    I collect old rangefinders, and while I am strictly, strictly amateur as a photographer, I find that alternating between my digicam and my rangefinders helps me learn a great deal about making good photographs.

    1. To answer your question, yes, it has definitely had a positive impact on my digital photography. And you’re right, there seems to be a whole lot more to wonder about when you don’t have instant results! Thanks for the comment!

      And thanks everyone for your kind words!

  9. Too bad about the first roll! But this is a nice collection nonetheless. Such a beautiful, organic feel to these pics, which can’t really be replicated digitally. Nice job! I wouldn’t mind putting film and developing as a line item in our budget, hahah!

  10. Cool post, great photos… Makeks me miss my (dad’s) minolta 707 si film SLR… Man it was expensive to shoot with that thing, all the film, the developing, and moments lost for ever because that awsome moment did not come out the way you thought it would, and you didn’t know until the next week… aaahh… nostalgia…

  11. I am not a big fan of digital photography. Anyone can take a great photograph with a digital camera. It takes someone with talent to shoot film and have a beautiful end result. Great post and congrats on FP

  12. I regret selling my film cameras. Film really slow you down and make you work at finding the perfect shot. Love the picture with the funny cat and the one with Suki head on the floor

  13. nice photos! i love the masks one. someone told me last week how a friend of his spends his time making his digital photography look like film when he should’ve just bought film. 🙂

  14. ¿Did you go to Tijuana or some mexican neighborhood and take some pictures?

    I’m not an expert about cameras and pictures, but I liked the granulated effect in this images.

    Nice work

      1. I was also wondering where these were taken, and the mystery of not knowing allowed me to paint a picture in my mind of the possibilities. I like the softness that the old film lent to the images, and I loved how you used a shallow depth of field in some of these. Very nice.

  15. Very cool. Those cameras and lenses surely are bulletproof by comparison to today’s standards. As I’m about to acquire my father’s old Nikkor 50mm, this has me amply excited, thanks for sharing!

  16. I know exactly how you feel about rediscovering film. My mom finally gave me her old Canon AE1 this past Christmas after I’ve offered to buy it from her for years. It was the first SLR I ever picked up over ten years ago, and I was so excited when she finally let me use it for my first photo class. Up until that time I had been using a 110mm Kodak point & shoot with the disposable flash unit. I just got my last five rolls back from the lab from picking up the Canon AE1 again, and can honestly say I miss the darkroom.

  17. these are an amazing bunch of photos, jonathan, really inspiring! digital is great, but there’s always something about film that is able to maintain its hold on us.

    keep up the good work!

  18. These are some really nice photos, I like the one with the cars in. cool shot. I have a film camera but its half broken I may invest in a new one. Plus I want a polaroid camera. 🙂
    Jessie

  19. This brings back memories as I also had the Nikon FM many years ago, in fact I still have an FE. These cameras took many wonderful family photographs.

  20. These shots are really beautiful. I bought a film camera last week (a fisheye) and I can’t wait to use it. Nothing beats the excitement, anticipation and feel of film photos.

    Thanks for inspiring me to buy some film pronto and start snapping.

  21. Oh my god, I love you! Everyone here have a big smile when I show them my camera and tell them it’s NOT a Canon EOS/NikonD90/Sony Alpha…

    I always shooted with my Dad’s cameras. He’s a photographer who hates digital photography… I love film cameras, and there are too many reasons I love them… OK, I’m going to blog something about it: “10 reasons to use film cameras”

    Thank you so much! I thought a majority of bloggers here prefered digital!!!

    Your pictures are really beautiful… I love the colors! And great shiba inu!!

  22. Wow… I love these pictures. They are gorgeous and classy I think because, like you said, you really did have to think about whether or not the picture was worth taking. I love the colors too. I think it is funny how much digital photography has changed us. I am pretty sure I would be checking the back of my camera if I started using a film SLR too… ha! Also, I think film is fun because of the non-instantaneous results. I always used to forget what I took pictures of! This post makes me want to get a film SLR to tag along with my DSLR… 🙂

  23. Hi Jonathan, just stumbled upon your blog and it’s amazing!!
    Absolutely loving the pictures you’ve taken with this lens; I also notice that your negatives were expired. May I ask when did they expire? I have a few rolls that expired in 2005 and I am not really sure if they are still good for anything…

    1. Thank you Jules! I’m actually not sure how long the Ektachrome was expired for. I actually bought it from the lab as expired film! I say go a head and shoot the rolls you have. You never know what you’re going to get =)

  24. Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

    Like another commenter earlier, I’m absolutely an amateur and have shot almost exclusively film my entire life. I’ve also recently taken a shine to range finders and and even bigger shine to twin-lens reflex cameras. My first camera, which remains my primary camera, is the Ol’ Faithful Pentax K1000. I didn’t get a digital until about 2-3 years ago and it’s a little entry-level point-and-shoot GE.

    I love the experiments with expired film and have been wanting to do some of it myself. I also want to try shooting redscale film. Your shots are beautiful.

    Digital photography can be truly stunning and inspiring, but I think I’ll always have the feeling that there’s more ‘soul’ in film.

    (asaphotog.wordpress.com)

  25. Nice post and nice work with the camera. I like the effect of the expired film.

    Wish I had that camera. I use a D200 now but I kept my F100 and use it occasionally.

  26. Your pictures are great. And liked to read about your experience with with since I see it from the other angle: I mainly rely on film, using a FE2 and a FE. Scanning is not always fun, though… Great job! tms

  27. Glad you got to play with film. When I was a working photog that was the only choice available, sometimes the waiting for results was like sitting on pins and needles – some jobs were ‘one’ shot only times.
    Maybe I’ll give it a try w/ some expired film in my bag.

  28. I was just discussing this with a co-worker. There’s something about the entire process: shooting, anticipation, and for me, the b/w developing process (changing bag, tanks, reels, chemicals, agitation) that makes it all magical.

    I recently acquired a Pentax K-1000 and shot a roll in L.A. My 7-year-old son kept asking to see how the picture turned out after I shot it. I had to explain that that wasn’t how this one worked 🙂

    Great shots! I have a few digital ones here: http://bit.ly/lIzokW

  29. I must say, when I read the title the idea of “film” being a part of a still-life camera did not even occur to me. I simply assumed you were taking photos of a movie or something. After reading, I can laugh at my original thoughts, but it’s amazing how we really have quit using film. It’s amazing to me how something that used to be one of my favorite parts of life could simply cease to be on my radar screen. Thanks for the unexpected reminder!

  30. These photos are fantastic! I just love film so much. There is something to it that digital cant replicate. I think Im going to let the roll of film I have expire and shoot with it! The colors are fantastic and really interesting.
    Congrats on being freshly pressed as well!

    Matt 😀

  31. Beautiful textures and colors. I dig what you captured. 🙂 Film sure does have a classic and crisp look. There are just a whole lotta somethings about it!

  32. LOVE this… I must admit – I miss the days of film… the suspense waiting til it developed in your dark room, burning it in… things are so much easier now, but it sort of takes the value of the skill away from it a bit too. Loved the photos. Thanks.

  33. Thanks for all the wonderful comments everyone!

    I know I haven’t had a chance to respond to each of you personally, but I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments and your own personal experiences that you’ve left for me here. Thanks a ton!

  34. Really cool stuff here, Jonathan! That’s awesome you got a chance to shoot with film and with a vintage camera that still works! I remember shooting with film with just a point and shoot and I’d always be careful to not waste the film, haha. You got some great shots!

  35. Great post! I like the fact that based on the comments, you are inspiring a number of people to either revisit film photography, or (even more exciting) try it for the first time.

    I shoot both digital and film, but the entire experience / process of film has a magic that digital doesn’t match. (Plus I can shoot medium format film for a lot less money than medium format digital!!)

  36. Those shots of yours definitely deserve some credits! I’m not sure about your expertise as a photographer, but you’re sure to be on the peak of professional hierarchy. By any chance, did you use a filter for those photographs? I notice the graininess of it.

      1. Splendid! Because of those photos and clarifications, I can now appreciate how great some of my low quality photography shots. I’ll put emphasis on the grainy feel onto it 😀

  37. I have a film camera, a Minolta I picked up for cheap on eBay, and it is an entirely different experience from digital – especially cost-wise and, as you said, not getting that immediate look at your photos after you take them. But God, the satisfaction that travels from your finger all the way up to your brain when you press the shutter release – you can’t beat it!!! Your post makes me want to break it out and give it another go… Thank you for that! 🙂

  38. You make me want to go out immediately and buy a camera. I have wanted one for so long- I mean a good one- and I don’t have the money for it now. But you have inspired me with those fabulous pictures. Keep on snapping. If I took pictures like that, I would have no white space on my walls. Congrats on FP.

  39. ‘Way back when I shot, processed, and printed B&W. I no longer have a darkroom and sometimes think longingly of what I might be able to do with a pic if I did. With color, I don’t care that much whether I shoot film or digital. I still keep a film SLR, tho.

  40. I cannot believe I just found this article!! I JUST found my grandmother’s old Nikon FM while going through her things for an estate sale a few weeks ago. I am new to photography, and will be out in LA for a photography internship this summer. I am very excited to test out the camera, and your article made it so that I have no choice! THANK YOU

  41. Ooooh man, I just love these vintage tones. Nothing really beats film. Just wish it wasn’t so expensive. I love how you told a story through all of these shots. (And I passed by the some of the same exact places when I was in Mission last weekend!) Nicely done, sir.

  42. I have a Nikon FM10 and love it. Film photography is a much more sensual process than digital–there’s the satisfying click when you take a photo and when you advance the film. Loading and rewinding the film and being able to hold 24 or 36 shots in your hand is so satisfying. And while developing and printing photos on your own can be incredibly frustrating and time/money consuming, there’s nothing like watching images slowly appear on paper.

    Anyway. Great post and photos and glad you enjoyed it too.

  43. You must understand Jonathan that once you touched your father’s Nikon, once you saw the first images, you were doomed to the delightful addiction of film.

    Nice series of images. I rarely shoot color because of the expense and uncertainty of allowing the labs to process my work. I prefer B&W because I develop and scan all my film and I love the look of B&W without the distractions of color.

    Oh yes… you are an addict now. Enjoy it.

  44. Really like these photos man, you have some awesome skills. I’d be keen to see some more 🙂 keep up the good work!

  45. “Hope this doesn’t get addicting :)”

    It will. =) Really like the shots you posted from this roll. I shoot mostly film myself right now and I think you’re right-on about how it changes the way you shoot.

    Congrats on making freshly pressed today!

  46. Jonahan,

    You tell an interesting tale about re-visiting film… I am one who never stopped shooting film, which I still do so today, but considering that it is an expensive exercise, I don’t do it nearly as much as I wish I could.

    The most time consuming part is planning… I plan every image that I take these days (I took break from all photography for the last 4 years, and only recently got back into shooting — still had film rolls in the freezer) on Nikon N80. Not the complete manual camera as the FM, but never use the camera to help me shoot.

    You images are compelling, and most interesting is the vivid, yet muted blue sky. A sky that a digital camera would need photoshopping to produce. And that was most

    Film, as a photographic medium, IS decidedly unique compared to digital image capture, and that in itself adds to the artistry of what’s going on inside the light-proof box.

    The Ecktachrome is a dying format, but it’s glorious as is any of the newer stocks from Kodak, Fuji and Ilford (try the SFX 200 B&W stock next time you get a chance; it reads just into the infrared spectrum).

    Best of luck with your continued unique craft…

    “How many hours, minutes, seconds do you have left in your life to change your life… find out in CLEAN — THE SERIALIZED NOVEL only at http://www.whoisjonasmagnum.com

  47. So, it was Fun and Expensive…..Yes, I get the “Fun” bit, but was it really expensive.

    You have just used a camera that is over 30 years old. Yes, it would have been an expensive camera all those years ago, but guess what, it’s still rattling of frames not much different to when it was new.

    Contrast this to your D700. How do you think this camera will go in 30 years time? How many times do you think you will upgrade your $3000 D700 in 30 years? Once every 3 years maybe?

    Now, tell me again if you think your film shooting exploits was expensive….

    (PS, nice shots! Film is great and gives you something that digital never will. The joy of taking a shot and not knowing exactly how it will come out….it’s kinda like Christmas each time you get a roll processed!)

    1. Thanks for the comment! I’ll will indeed tell you again though, for me and my photography, shooting film is definitely expensive.

      Consider this: I have 8 catalogs of digital frames stored in my archive right now, all taken within the last three or four years. Just ONE of my recent catalogs has 21,491 images in it. That’s equivalent to nearly 300 rolls of 36 exposure film. How much do you think it would have cost to have a lab develop and scan (at high resolution!) 300 rolls? And that’s ONE catalog.

      It’s true that the FM is still kicking after 30 years, but my D700’s value far exceeds it for what I do. If I need to upgrade the D700, I can sell it to someone else, so even if I did upgrade every three years (what if I didn’t?) I wouldn’t be spending $3k each time. The bigger point, however, is that the FM couldn’t make me money today. The D700, on the other hand, paid for itself shooting just one hired event.

      The occasional roll of film doesn’t feel expensive, but when I say “expensive” in this post, I mean that if I had to replace all that I do digitally with film, I’d be broke!

  48. Film still beats digital. My first SLR was a second-hand Canon AE1. I bought it with my tax refund while attending community college. I fell in love immediately. The act of loading the film, the sound of the shutter. The weight of the camera with the flash attachment. Manually rewinding the film. Switching to the tele-photo lens. Ahh, memories! Took great pictures. When film cameras were losing their popularity, I picked up a new D series Nikkon. Was going to use it forever, but I can’t find a good film processor in Central NY. I caved to digital, but I miss film. I have a roll of B&W that I shot about 3 years ago with the Canon. I want to get the roll developed, when I locate a B&W processor. I think I know what is on the roll. I took pictures after an ice storm. I’m not giving up my film cameras! Congrats on the FP!

  49. I really appreciated your pictures. I learned on a N80 back in 2002 and soon turned to digital. Now I shoot with a D200, but still love film. The pictures you posted are beautiful. The blues are surprising. For no post production work (or minimal), there is a certain gritty feeling to them. I’m not sure if this is because the film is expired, or the urban setting. The grain helps as well, of course, I’ve always been a sucker for grain in pictures. Nice job.

  50. “I’d frame up a shot and ask myself, “is this really interesting?” Lost track of how many times I decided “no, not interesting enough,” and moved on.” – I had the exact feeling when shooting with my Praktica MTL-50 last weekend. Great shots, anyway. Nice job.

  51. Thanks for your article, Jonathan. I’d looked at this article since the first day you uploaded it! Did u scan the film or the print to digital file ? ( pardon me, i didnt find your explanation about that….) But the main thing, i clean up my Nikon F90X ( bought in 98 ) and ready to load it with Velvia. I never regret keep this old beast for 13 years.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I actually had the lab produce the scans for me for this roll, so they scanned the negatives directly to digital files. I now have a scanner myself for print/negative scanning, however.

  52. man, loving the feel of the ektachrome and velvia. ive been shooting exclusively film for the past year and a half and havent ponied up the money for some good proper film. time to start tomorrow

  53. Nice shots! I love film cameras. They are fun to shoot with and a bit of a challenge. Taking film photos is a game. A test. It’s also more involving that digital photography. Fun!

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