Any working pro's who used to shoot film?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by RaymondC, Nov 28, 2017.

  1. Just a curious post. I have been watching some videos about the past etc.

    Those of you who shot professionally with film how did it unfold? If you were a PJ were you suddenly just offered a digital camera and this is what you use now kinda thing. If you were a commercial guy did you have your film camera still stashed aside for the maybe, did your film usage first with less important jobs drop by 20% increments over the year to the point that you stopped using it as the technology improved?

  2. I'm probably the wrong guy to ask. - I started photography as a highschool kid with own darkroom etc. shot for student magazines and suddenly I was offered a job to shoot products for a catalogs producing printshop, back in the 90s. - They upgraded through 3 awful prosumer P&S digicams and I stuck to my film gear. Later when (even) Pentax released their 1st DSLR, I got one and shot it along with my Leicas, since it wrote only 5 or less frames per minute. <- Not really much or enough for 1st 3 songs press pit access.
    I guess early digital was implemented where it did fit. - I saw a newspaper writer /one man team carrying a 1.3MP Powershot 70 Pro with speedlite, when the real photographers still stuck to their 35mm stuff.
    6MP were fine for 4x6"prints of a family gathering, but for formals or group shots, there was no way around MF. - Folks specialized on high res product shots switched to hotlights and scanner backs or used triple shot backs with their strobes but that technology wasn't usable for people photography and early prosumer digital was much slower than film too.
    Giving up film worked probably as soon as it was possible, for each genre. - Keep in mind that early digital was horribly expensive, so it wasn't really easy to get hold of enough cameras to start out with big scale. - EOS 10D was US$1500. How to get hold of 3 of those, when you previously considered yourself well equipped with a $60 K1000 as your 3rd body? - Sorry about mixing brands here, but you get the picture.
    From a business POV I assume people used digital as exclusively as possible, as soon as it was good enough. Film burned on today's assignment equals tomorrow's lunch. Lugging film beaters along until you 'll get an alternative backup made of course sense.
    I guess more professional folks can provide further details. - I never had a real film job.
  3. The digital revolution took root in about 2001 and was going full steam by 2003. Does that seems like a long time ago to you?

    I bought my first DSLR in 2003 - a Nikon D1X, which I used with lenses purchased for a series of Nikon SLRs (adding more along the way). I never used 35 mm film again, except recently, to see if I were missing something (I was not). I continued to use film with a Hasselblad system, purchased used in 2001, until going MF digital in 2007.

    Film is bulky, expensive and slow (ISO 800 is the highest speed with decent quality). It takes a day or so to process, and 2-4 hours to scan each roll before you have a product to deliver. It took a week to have deliverables for an event. In the early millennium, most wet labs, other than mini-labs, sold their equipment and either scanned film or sent completely digital. The Great Lakes Navel Base in North Chicago, IL, sold all of their darkroom equipment at ridiculous prices - $100 for an Omega D2 (my personal favorite) enlarger with carriers and lenses. that's before I had the plumbing skills to set up a real darkroom, or the place to do so. In retrospect, it would not have been a good decision anyway.

    There are too many reasons to count for the demise of film as a major player. You may harbor fantasies about the "good old days", but fantasies they remain.
  4. The digital revolution has pretty much killed off photojournalism as a viable career. Why pay someone to photograph an event when "good enough" generic photos are available from stock agencies for next to nothing.
    Thomas J., wogears and Vincent Peri like this.
  5. AJG


    I'm in a small market, and shot film in 35 mm, 120 and 4x5 for different commercial needs. I didn't buy my first DSLR until 2004 when the cost began to come down and the quality began to get better. I haven't shot film for a client in 10 years and I don't expect I ever will again--everything commercial that I do winds up on a website or in print where it needs to be digital anyway for prepress, so film just doesn't make any sense from an economic standpoint. I still miss 4x5 in particular for some things but can't justify the expense or difficulty of a scanning back ( I went to a demonstration of an early scanning back with a 7-10 minute exposure time and couldn't resist asking the presenter what happens when a heavy truck goes by outside your studio; he didn't appreciate the question and didn't have an answer...)
  6. I'm a part time professional wedding and event photographer in NYC and I can't imagine doing what I do with 35mm film. I've shot lots of film "back in the day" when I was learning the craft until DSLR's made the scene. However, my photography mentor was a professional wedding photographer in the 80's and 90's before going digital in the mid-2000's until retiring 5 years ago. How did it unfold for him going digital? He bought a Canon 1D, slapped his lenses on, started shooting digital, and never shot another wedding (or anything else) with 35mm film ever again.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2017
  7. I was never a "professional photographer" but I was a professional who used cameras for recording data.
    Sometimes, even, I was the designated "photographer" for a given task or season.

    I started off with a Pentax H-2, but also shot whatever was in the equipment locker - Such as Leica IIIs, Marine Combat Graphic 4x5, Graflexes, Minolta SLRs and such. (My strong aversion to the Signet 35 dates to a season where that was the camera for 35mm color.)

    Most color photography was done in 35mm on Kodachrome from the old ASA 10 to the last releases. 35mm B&W on Panatomic-X and Plus-X. Large format was shot on 4x5 film pack (earlier Plus-X, then Tri-X) and on Polaroid Type 52 as a test for exposure and a guarantee that there was at least one image that would come out.
    The professional practicing his profession on the first terrace of the Missouri River​
  8. I shot everything from 16mm up through 8X10, learned through technical school & apprenticeship back in the 60's in the U.K.
    When I retired I looked to downsize the enormous amount of equipment & realized a high end bridge camera fitted all my needs.
    I bought the oddball Ricoh Mirai 135 & absolutely fell in love with it! It was such a change from the 40+Lb bags I'd been carrying.
    When digital was really established I decided to look at something similar, but digital, I'd been having all my 35mm film digitized onto CDs anyway so it seemed a logical step.
    I still have the Mirai & the original digital although neither get used much nowadays.

    Digital, to me had the instant convenience of Polaroid for checking things together with the image quality of regular film so I was hooked.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2017
  9. I'm probably the oddball here but I'm used to it. I started in the newspaper business my senior year in high school with a motor driven F2 and used lenses from a small 28mm to big overgrown 1000mm mirror and large zooms. Heavy was something I just didn't notice and still don't. I went digital with a D1-X and later tried the early D1 from Nikon and can say if that had ben my first digital experience I'd have walked away and never looked back. It was awful. So was the D2H. I still have that D1-X and plan to take it out today. I'm upgrading my dslr gear adding a D800 to my D200's and may get a D4 next year. I have to agree that digital killed off most of photojournalism, large papers laying off entire staffs and I don't think Sports Illustrated has anyone on staff or under contract any longer. I'm really going back to film for a lot of work though if it is a wedding or other paying gig it is digital. After all of this I like film more than digital.

    Rick H.
  10. A lot of PJ's used DSLRs. However the trend is for the writer to go the event armed with a digital camera and capture scenes which support the article. Of course stock photos are added if the actual participants are secondary to the content. The suburban newspaper, a subsidiary of the Chicago Sun-Times, laid off all of their staff photographers for this reason. There are plenty of ringers at their beck and call of more thorough coverage is needed.

    Even DSLRs are passe'. I can carry a Sony A9, three zoom lenses and a flash in a small shoulder bag, with a net weight of 8.5 pounds. Add a second body, the to total rises to a little over 10 pounds.
  11. Although I started out primarily as a photographer, I "temporarily" got involved in large-scale lab work as a means to learn about the "black art" of color processing. But I was able to get involved in so many challenging aspects of photography and production that I kept postponing my return to pure shooting; it was just too interesting to leave.

    Our operation eventually had a couple thousand portraits studios (mass market), and our main processing lab put out well over a million 8x10 inch (equivalent) units per week. So we were well-connected inside of the industry because of our buying power as a customer.

    Anyway, the first "serious" foray of electronic photography into this sort of thing was late 1980s (?) when Kodak introduced their Prism system, an electronic "proofing" system that could take a "video grab" simultaneously with a film exposure under flash. We didn't use that system, but did make use of their special CCD camera to allow simultaneous grabs with our studio film camera. We equipped all of our studios with computer systems and pro dye sub printers (either Kodak or Sony) to print out proof sheets on the spot.

    From there, the holy grail for us was an electronic camera that could produce a high-quality 8x10" print and be piggybacked onto our film camera. Digital would be a higher cost item for impatient customers, as film prints were much cheaper to produce. Then, in 1995, Sony produced for us the first real digital studio camera, the DKC-ST5. We ran several dozen experimental full-digital studios with these cameras, but at 25-30 thousand dollars each and selling only expensive dye sub prints, it was hard to be profitable. It goes without saying that some sort of "color management" solution also had to be in place - I'm not even sure that the sRGB color space was established by then.

    We actually built (in partnership with a specialist company) our own ground-up digital camera. But it wasn't too much longer before the high DSLR camera prices collapsed and we could buy off the shelf cheaper than building. Still, the early DSLRs were plagued with dirt problems - we couldn't make the jump until that was under control. As soon as a pro-grade camera that did handle sensor debris came out we made our conversion.

    Initially the big problems for mass market digital photography were the difficulty of transmitting digital files and actually printing them. Until technology dealt with these there was little point to having digital cameras unless you were a time-sensitive operation, like news reporting. (Jpeg had been in place since the early '90s, I think, but even so, some of our studios had to mail in CDs - fast enough connections were simply not available.) Gradually high-speed data transmission became affordable to regular people, computers got fast enough to deal with images, and photo manufacturers designed digital paper that could be exposed in a reasonable time with laser or LED printers.

    Once all this stuff came together there was a reason to mass produce digital cameras, and the prices became affordable for regular people. It wasn't too much longer before cell phones became the preferred way to show family photos to friends. So hard-copy prints, especially wallet-size photos, fell out of favor, and digital photo sharing became the normal thing to do.

    I think that a lot of the "real history" is lost and is perhaps replaced by the "historical records" of photography enthusiast magazines. As an example of this, consider one of the biggest baddest paper processing machines ever, Pako's CP-6000. We configured (most of) ours to run 3 lanes of 10" wide paper at 28 ft/min. That's loosely a stack of 8x10s taller than a person every hour. These were industry workhorses for many years. But they are virtually unknown on the internet, and were equally unknown to pure shooters - hobbyist or pros. (I was initially astounded at the lack of info, but now I realize how it works.) So in the historical record, these things may disappear - only industry insiders will remember them, at least for a while.
    marc_bergman|1 likes this.
  12. Not at all :)

    As a family we had used film point and shoots and a basic Canon film SLR we got duty free in Singapore airport in 2000 which was not long before digital kicked off. I got into this hobby with a dSLR NIkon D70 in 2004 which was our first digital camera also (we didn't even have a compact digicam before), and only ever got second hand film SLRs to try out film which I found slide film but more recently I am pulling out and maybe doing the odd roll with b/w film. Main reason to me is the ease of use with my hobby subjects and that with a lack of a good and affordable scanner and the lack of dynamic range for nights that I enjoy.

    From some graphs it showed in 2008 the film activity really plummeted prob when the 8MP and 12MP were out and Nikon had their D3 full frame.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2017
  13. I've never been a full-time pro or even close to it, but when I was in college I did a decent amount for money on the side.

    I first took a serious interest in photography in 2005. I was in high school, and $1K for a Digital Rebel or Nikon D70 with a slow kit lens was too much to fathom. $150 for a Canon A-1 and 50mm 1.8(plus some other odds and ends) served me. I could go into Wal-Mart and get 5 rolls of Fuji Superia for $8, then send them off and get 3x5s for $3/roll.

    By the time I moved into doing paid work, I had a built up my equipment collection a fair bit including a few Rolleiflexes and also moved up to more expensive pro films. Although I still shot a lot of cheap color negative film for snapshots, I used transparencies for my own work(mostly Velvia-when it was still called just Velvia-and sometimes Kodachrome for a certain look, although I tried most available) when I was in more serious mode and Kodak Portra films for other times(there was also a lot of Plus-X and Tri-X in there).

    At the time, there were real, practical work-flows in place to make things possible. I could walk into the local camera store and buy just about anything I wanted out of the refrigerator, although I still preferred to order from B&H since their prices were a lot better(Velvia was about $6 a roll from them, and I was outraged at the local shop charging $10). As a side note, that same local shop ditched their refrigerators and for a while quit selling film completely, but now keeps most Kodak and Ilford products in 35mm and 120 in stock.

    If I was doing an event like a wedding, I'd toss all my film in an envelope at the end of the evening and put it in the night drop at the local pro lab(they were great). I'd then go in and pick up a pile of 4x6s with the negatives already in Printfile pages on Monday afternoon. I'd spend an hour or so sorting through the 4x6s to deliver the "keepers", then hand-write a code on the back indicating the roll and frame number for print ordering. The lab knew my coding system, so when I got print orders I'd just drop off the negatives with a frame, quantity, and size and get then the next day.

    As stupid as this may sound, I did a lot of web work for a local web design company(I go to church with the owner) and did it all on film. Since that was pretty low on importance and ultimate quality requirements, I'd usually go back to my old standby of Superia 400. I'd drop it off at the Wal-Mart 1 hour lab, and sometime later that day I'd have scans from a Fuji Frontier on a CD-ROM for around $5 a roll.

    Again, this was all in the mid-2000s.

    I don't take on any paid jobs anymore, so my transition to digital was more by choice and I still enjoy shooting film.
  14. I started my PJ career in 1976 so was using film for a long time before digital came about. I was working as a photo editor at The Associated Press when digital hit big time. We first used the Kodak NC2000 which had a 160 meg (yes meg, not gig) hard drive which you inserted into the camera (these were converted Nikon slrs), I was editing then so I didn't have to use those terrible things. And they were really expensive, I think the first one I saw at the AP was something like $20,000 or so. The shooters were issued b/w only mac laptops (which had those big slots to ingest the photos from the hard drives) so they would tone the photos by using the white and black setting on levels in Photoshop and then send them into us to fix in house before we transmitted them to the wire. The cameras wouldn't accept intense colors so when our guys were covering wildfires, the flames always came out as purple instead of yellow.

    As time passed and the digital revolution produced better cameras and better computers, I saw film go by the wayside in an incredibly short time, I would say that pretty much all journalistic endeavors were using digital inside of 12-18 months after the Nikon D1 and the Canon equivalent became available. Bear in mind that until about five years ago, digital couldn't compare to film for quality. Now, I can't even imagine film being used except for nostalgia or special projects.

    I once called a friend of mine who I started with in 1976 and said, "wouldn't you love to have the cameras of today with the access we had back then?"
  15. As musician, I play many weddings. It's interesting to see how many wedding photographers these days are sporting (affecting?) medium format cameras along with their digicams. Usually a Pentax 645 or some such on a strap, banging around. Once in a while they take a film shot after they've take 500 digital shots of the same scene. Why they have these is a mystery. Hard to imagine that many customers would know or care enough about a film "look." There's so much software help that any professional should be able to reproduce a film look. Perhaps the photographers are hipsters attempting to be "genuine." Maybe they feel like real photographers with these totems.
    Anyway, I doubt a young couple these days would care. Unless of course they fashion themselves "genuine" hipsters themselves.
  16. I have vague memories of my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary party. I was 3 or 4 years old at the time and wouldn't remember it all except that it was such a big deal. What I do remember more clearly is their wedding picture hanging on their wall for years and years. After they we gone, it was hanging on the wall in our house for another 20 years or so until my mom died. The picture was moved but is still in the same house now that my brother has moved in.

    I'm 53 years old now, so that means that picture is right around 100. Anybody in that picture is long gone. Their kids, - not yet born, are also gone. Yet the picture is still here.

    You can simulate the look of film if you want, but why do that when you can get the real thing? Yes, it's a bit more expensive but insignificant when you consider the potential lifetime of a wedding photo.

    I'm not a wedding photographer and when I was getting married I was too young to appreciate the importance of the photographs. What we ended up with is fine, but I can see why people take them much more seriously than I did.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2017
    Norma Desmond likes this.
  17. OR . . . they might like working with film itself. I play both acoustic and electric pianos. If someone were to go to the trouble of branding me a hipster for paying for the tuning and upkeep of my old Steinway, I’d keep playing and the world would keep spinning. I’m sure most film photographers have the stones to withstand name calling, though I don’t see why they should have to.
  18. . I can carry a Sony A9, three zoom lenses and a flash in a small shoulder bag, with a net weight of 8.5 pounds.

    This is meant to be impressive? My Canon FF DSLR kit with three zooms weighs 6.5Ibs.
    Spearhead likes this.
  19. Been a full time pro for about 30 years. I never stopped shooting film and never will. I don't do a lot of film for commercial clients but I do a fair amount for magazine editorial and a lot for fine art clients who are interior designers, collectors, etc.

    I could not imagine going through this career and not shooting film.

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