191101 Film - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

There's something to be said for film: its characteristic look, its imperfections, its physical presence as an object that recorded the scene. What you're seeing here is a scan, of course, a digital photo taken with a specialized shoebox-sized camera. But there is a thing that's still sitting on my desk with the original image recorded on it, and it was there at the specific moment to touch the light reflecting off of these autumnal trees.

There's something else to be said for colour film in particular: it's a pain in the ass. When I first started using film, long after I was used to digital, I was so excited. "No more worrying about colour profiles!" I naively thought. "Everything has a preset white balance!"

Wrong. So very wrong.

Digital colour is so much easier. Scanning film for consistent colour takes extra effort; scanning it for accurate colour is witchcraft that I haven't mastered. Kodak Ektar, which is what I prefer, is especially opinionated, but even Portra – the beige of colour – can be tricky.

Still, film does have that particular character to it. So perhaps in Spring, when the greens are emerging and I've forgotten what a hassle it is, I'll load colour film in the old Canon A-1 SLR and take it out again. Maybe I'll break out some of the Fuji 400H that I've had in the freezer for years.

Black and white photography, on the other hand, is much easier. Not only does it not need to be colour balanced, it genuinely looks better than digital does. These are taken with Ilford XP2, which is the most digital-looking of the monochrome films, and it still looks better than digital. These are exposed at iso320, and it's a bit grainier than I expected, but I like that about it. The photo above is with the Zeiss 85/4 lens, and below is the 35/2.

Exploring different Ilford films has been an excellent reason to use my rangefinder this summer. XP2 is the only one I had used before now, with its easy C41 processing, and it's a great start. But I'm gaining familiarity with Delta 100 and 400, FP4 and HP5, and even SFX200.

A sensible approach would be to standardize on one film, which will almost certainly be HP5 for its amazing versatility. It's rated for iso400, but I like it at 800, and can go to 1600 easily enough. But I'll probably still want Delta 400 for photos of the kid, and summer landscapes would be great with Delta 100 – but I actually like the grain of FP4 better, and SFX200 is amazing on a day with puffy clouds and strong sun. And Ortho 80 is coming, which is very exciting.

A sensible approach would be to standardize. And maybe eventually that'll happen.