Point and Shoot: Advantage Film.

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From my sitting drafts, no images but some opinions. Sorry for the absence.

A Film Advantage…

Point and Shoot cameras. Now days we consider any pocket sized digital camera to be a point and shoot, but the origin of the term started in the film days, when fixed focus, single aperture cameras with usually only one shutter speed were introduced. Quite simply you pointed the camera at what you wanted to take a picture of and took a picture, not thinking required.

Modern digital point and shoots are much more sophisticated than these simple affairs, with auto focus, auto exposure and zoom. They are an example in convenience, ready to go and take that picture when you need it to. However, modern digital point and shoots have their downfalls.

First, their image quality is generally poor in comparison to modern DSLRs. A select few models can compete in the image quality game with the big cameras, such as the Canon G-Series. Over 90% of the point and shoot digitals shoot noisy, over compressed JPEG images that are usually only suitable for 4 inch by 6 inch prints.

Another downfall is their shutter lag. Have you ever used an digital point and shoot, find that decisive moment and push the shutter, only to find that the image you wished to capture was over before your digicam got around to taking the picture? If you have ever used a consumer grade digicam I know you understand what I am talking about.

To make a long story short, there is a huge trade off in image quality and performance when switching from a Digital SLR and a digital Point and Shoot. Personally, aside from a Canon G10 I occasionally use, I cannot stand shooting the pocket digital cameras. If I cannot have the speed of a DSLR with a reasonably close image quality, I feel I am wasting my time. To me, small, pocket digital cameras are a fantasy I am not to realize.

Now let’s step back into the world of film for a minute. You know, film point and shoots did not start and end with the fixed focus, toy style cameras. There are true Point and Shoots with all the Auto Focus and Auto Exposure features of modern digicams. Some even have zoom lenses, nice long ones at that. The best feature of these film Point and Shoots? There is no shutter lag and the image sensor is a full frame 24mm x 36mm.

Aside from that, some of the top of the line pocket cameras have some excellent optics. I recently picked up a Canon Sure Shot Z90W at the Goodwill for my son to have a new camera. Guess what? Good glass lens, with multiple elements and a decent lens coating. Hell, it even has an 18-90mm zoom lens at that. The camera comes loaded with Auto Focus, Auto Exposure, ISO capability from 25 to 3200 requiring DX coding and a crappy pop-up flash. Everything a digicam offers except for the convenience of digital images. The best part? The camera cost me five bucks.

While there is the ever present inconvenience of having to develop the film, not to mention the scanning or enlarging process, you garner much better images than most mid range digicams. Even Walgreens scans will normally be superior to digicam results.

And then the complete lack of shutter lag makes a huge difference. Most digicams use a form of contrast, generated from the image sensor itself. This takes time. Albeit, focusing methods in film point and shoots differ in technique and speed, on whole they are faster and more reliable, especially if you take time to locate a manual to learn about the method of focusing utilized.

Another advantage for film cameras is that they all use a viewfinder. Optical viewfinders are becoming increasingly rare in the digital market. Electronic viewfinders are an acceptable compromise, but those have been relegated to the higher end now days. Most digicams use the display for composition, requiring you to hold the camera away from the body, decreasing stability whilst shooting. This is a great way to lose a shot.

I’m starting to ramble a bit, so I will get to the gist of what I am getting at. In my opinion and experience, a film point and shoot is much more reliable than a digicam at successfully capturing a desired image. My backup camera is an Olympus Infinity Stylus Epic Limited, with a fixed 35mm lens rocking a f/2.8 aperture. I carry this beauty when I’m shooting digital, 35mm or medium format. It is reliable, fast and compact. I could carry the Canon I mention before if I know I need a longer lens, but rarely do I find the need. Loaded up with Portra 400, it produces great images that I can then scan and use, with great print quality at 11×14 and very usable well beyond. I can’t do that with most digicams or my beloved iPhone 4.

My Stylus slides easily into any pocket, and if needed I can spool up some Tri-X into a 1600 speed cartridge and get a great low light performer. At 1600 with an f/2.8 optic, I can capture images in low light with the beauty of pushed Tri-X. The noise generated by the small sensors of most all digicams make them useless to me by that point.

Really, it’s a personal thing, but I get better results day in and day out using a film point and shoot. Sure, I only get 36 shots, but I know those a quality chances… My experience with digicams tells me that they are not going to give me the same opportunity generally.

In short, give a film point and shoot a chance. You can find them at goodwill, yardsales, second hand stores or your parents basement. Generally you will never have to spend more than five bucks. You will have to pay for film and developing, but for the images you get it may well be worth it to you.

Back sometime,
Michael W. Gray

  1. Michael, this is a great post, and I couldn’t agree with you more. While I did pay more than five bucks for my Contax T2 it is hands down the best point and shoot I own.

    I think most people will be really surprised by what the right film in the right camera will do.

  2. Exactly. I admit, shooting weddings and portraits I rely a lot on my digital gear, but rarely do I find a situation that I find digital superior to the right film and the right lens.

    When it comes to point and shoots I never find a time when digital is superior. But that’s just me.

  3. I laughed a lot with this article as it reminded me so much so of when the lighting bolt that struck me…about 5 years ago. I also started in film with Tir-X and felt the same way that you felt when you were struck. I am all digital and still shot in “M”….it’s the only way I know how to stay involved. Plus it helps me when I do film so I don’t feel that bad.

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