Why Film Never Died - Featuring the Hasselblad XPan + Pakon F135 Scanner
It's not because photographers have stopped using film that has led to the mainstream demise of analog photography. It's because average people documenting their lives have stopped capturing their lives on film, given the ease of digital capture. Without the mass market buying film, it is no longer feasible for large companies to produce film variety at pre-digital levels.
Blame it on an ever changing world.
But, has the world really changed? Those who used film for the sake of documenting their lives never really cared about film. They could have just as well documented their lives with a stone tablet and chisel if it were easier. The only reason they documented with film in the first place is because it's easier than the stone tablet or paint on canvas. So when digital technology began to popularize, the exodus from film was a foregone conclusion.
Good riddance to non believers - although we miss your numbers in making film variety more diverse.
Photographers never abandoned film. Perhaps for a while it may have appeared that we had forsaken it. But could you blame us? We were distracted by the novelty of what digital photography promised. The sky's the limit with what you could achieve from it. But now, with the dust settled on its present 24 megapixel industry norm, photographers have made a startling realization. The sky is only the limit with digital photography, because of what you can do in post, and not because of the actual process of image capture.
It is for this reason an image capture (raw or compressed) from a Canon 5D Mark IV or even my beloved Leica M10 isn't that different from an iPhone 7, if properly shot under ideal lighting.
Unconvinced? Or just unwilling to accept what appears to be an absurd assertion?
Think about the intent of any digital sensor? They all do more or less the same thing. Once you strip away their differences in resolution, sensor size, and sensitivity to light, their objective is identical. Digital sensor are made to document reality as true-to-life as possible. That means the image capture is informational by design. In doing so, the documentation provides a workable starting point where an image file can begin its editing process - with the sky being the limit.
Therein lies the fundamental flaw with digital capture. It is incomplete, in needing to be edited. But then again, what should one really expect? In clicking the shutter, all that’s being accomplished is the digital sensor saving a weighted average of the color spectrum collected from the incident light. Consequently, what is captured will noticeably be sterile. And it doesn't try to be more than what it is - a series of ones and zeroes written verbatim ready to be edited on a computer.
Mind you, this is not to say that film cannot be manipulated. It most certainly can. Film can look raw and film can look unfinished. As such, film can definitely benefit from some extra attention in post. However, where the sky's the limit with digital image capture, there is a limit with what one can do with film. Essentially, what you can do with film capture is dictated by the inherent characteristic specific to the film emulsion.
In other words, you can't do whatever you want with film in post, since film capture isn't as ready-made for editing as digital capture. Unlike digital, film has too much “handling characteristics” to render reality faithfully, tainted by its uniqueness in grain, bias in color balance, and concentration of contrast. As such, film cannot document reality in the same sterile true-to-life way as digital, for the sake of increased workability in editing. Instead, what film does is portray a version of reality shaped by the way it looks. And as a result, any subsequent editing is more a matter of enhancement than an extreme makeover.
Because of that, the look of film capture is noticeably more complete than digital capture. In that way, the need to edit is significantly less with film. But more importantly, what this also means is how much more satisfying film capture is. From my perspective, it looks almost unreal how much better film portrays its version of reality than the ubiquitous capture documented by digital sensors - even after extensive editing in post.
Clearly, it is easy to see why real photographers never fully abandoned film, despite the world migrating to a more convenient digital workflow. Nevertheless, film is more pleasing in portraying reality than digital capture. It's really why film never died despite losing an arm and both leg in variety. That said, film is not as true-to-life as a strictly informative 24 megapixel image capture. But then again, why should it be? If in the end film capture is more satisfying, does it really matter if the documentation isn't more real? That is the beauty of film capture.
Reality isn't the measure of good image capture.
Still, good image capture takes a backseat to convenience in the real world... and it's doubtful that the masses would ever shoot film again. Nevertheless, it doesn't mean the appeal of film capture was ever lost on them. If the popularization of film inspired filters is any indication, it demonstrates how appealing film is - albeit simulated on a digital capture.
Seriously, reality is overrated. Still, it is unfortunate how the present economies of scale in film manufacturing will no longer support the depth of film variety enjoyed in the past.
So on that note, you should really do yourself a favor giving by film a chance, if you haven't already picked up an analog camera. As much of a pain the analog workflow is, the inconvenience you experience may very well be worth it, the moment you discover how much more pleasing film capture is compared to digital capture.
Frankly, film is just more satisfying.
All images shot on a Hasselblad XPan II + 45mm f/4 lens. All images scanned on a Pakon F135 film scanner. All images have been tweaked minimally in Lightroom (except for the image set from Bali which suffered from possible light leak). Images have been cropped as close to the frame lines as possible.