8 Years Film, 8 Years Digital

I noticed the other day I’ve been shooting digital for about as long as I shot film, this observation prompted this retrospective on my gear history and future.

I started to get “serious” about photography back in 1999, my first camera was a Canon EOS 3, the pro-sumer autofocus technical marvel of the time; it came with eye-tracking 45-point autofocus, just look where you want to focus and boom! A little gimmicky but pretty cool.

After a couple years, I didn’t really want to get into the “red L lens” game and buying really expensive gear; so I switched to an all manual Nikon FE2. I used this Nikon system for years, it fit perfectly for how I wanted to shoot.

With the Nikon and film, I took numerous darkroom classes, built custom lenses, developed my own film and for a short period even had an enlarger and would convert my apartment kitchen to a darkroom for printing.

I resisted digital for a long time. When it first was getting popular, I embraced medium format. I had a Hasselblad 501cm for a bit, best camera ever. Plus a Holga and other toy cameras. My medium format scans blew away the digital, I marveled in my superior megapixels. I had my workflow of film with developing and scanning, I liked getting to know the various labs to get color film developed and prints made.

Hasselblad 501cm, Circa 2004
Hasselblad 501cm, 2004

It wasn’t until 2007 that I got my first digital camera. The startup I worked at got acquired and my one treat for myself was a Leica M8, it was gorgeous. The Leica was the camera that converted me over to digital. Not having to scan, remove dust spots and you got your pictures immediately, I have to admit it’s a pretty nice workflow.

After a year or so, I saw the short comings of the Leica, it was a bit slow, it had color issues which I never had to deal with white-balance before. Plus I wasn’t a fan of its focusing technique, I ended up missing more shots than I should; the camera was just not for me.

Leica M8, Circa 2007
Leica M8, 2007

Thankfully, a Leica is a good investment and I was able to sell for not much less than I paid and was able to get a Nikon D700 and a couple of lenses. The DSLR was fantastic, super fast and responsive, a wonderful camera which I used for years. The timing of getting the camera coincided with getting a dog and starting a family, so the fast action camera was perfect.

However, after several years, the Nikon was beginning to show its age. It was quite a bit bigger, so I would only take it out for birthday parties or very specific photo shooting, like going out for night photography. I rarely carried it around and used a small point-and-shoot digital more often.

Nikon D700, Circa 2011
Nikon D700, 2011

After having two kids and getting into a routine, I wanted to get back to my photography hobby. So I ended up getting a Fuji X100s, which I loved, it was a great walking around camera, compact and super high-quality. However, a bit limited with no interchangeable lenses. So with the advent of the Fuji X-T1, I ended up selling my digital Nikon and lenses, and the X100s for the X-T1 and two lenses.

The X-T1 is fantastic, you can read my review, definitely the digital camera that works best with my manual background and how I enjoy shooting. I even purchased some old lens that I could mount to the Fuji, this rekindled my interest in older film cameras.

Fuji X-T1, 2014
Fuji X-T1, 2014

One of my co-workers shoots a lot of film and seeing a mild resurgence in film photography, I took a couple of the manual camera shelf decorations down and put a couple of rolls through. Most of the labs I used to use are now closed, even Costco stopped processing film, so I’m testing out a few mail-order labs.

I’ve only shot a couple of rolls so far, but I’m enjoying getting back into the film process. It is a different mindset, film slows me down and I shoot far fewer shots, so end up taking my time with each more. Also, I’m trying to focus more on shooting sets or projects, so having a better idea of what I’m going out to shoot.

After 16 years or so of shooting, I still love going out; mixing film back in feels good and I love the old mechanical manual cameras. The gear doesn’t matter too much, but sometimes the change is an impetus enough to get out. I’ll see where it takes me and enjoy shooting as I go.