Why Film

Film has lasted over a century and a half as the world's most popular medium for capturing and preserving visual memories for lots of compelling reasons:

■ It's cheap—A film cassette or roll costs only a few bucks.

■ It's ubiquitous—You usually can buy film at any convenience store, drugstore, or even newsstand anywhere in the world. And you can get it processed within an hour at almost any mall or drugstore.

■ It's portable—Film is small, light, and travels well in a pocket or purse. 3

It stores well—Negatives and transparencies fit very nicely in folders, sleeves, loose-leaf binders, shoeboxes, drawers, and so on.

It's instantly viewable—All you have to do is hold a developed negative or transparency up to a light, and you can see the image. You don't need special equipment to view what you have.

It's easy—Single-use cameras (SUC) (also called film-in-a-box) are instantly ready to shoot and require no learning or shooting skills. Just advance the film and press the shutter. No wonder 60 billion SUCs were sold last year.

It lasts—If stored properly, that black-and-white negative shot by your great-greatgrandfather will probably yield a print almost as good as when it was originally taken.

It's versatile—There's an emulsion for just about any need or preference—color, black and white, fine grain, high speed, infrared, and so on.

It's good—35mm fine-grain film can be blown up to poster size and maintain great color, razor sharpness, beautiful tonality, and image fidelity.

Film photography is a mature technology that has been giving us satisfaction and pleasure for generations. Is there anything more wondrous and representative of our culture than a shoebox of old fading and foxed photos of family memories? And the quality of film photos can't be beat. But film does have its disadvantages:

■ Though it has fairly wide temperature latitude, film degrades quickly in extreme heat (as in a car's glove compartment in summer) and loses sensitivity in extreme cold.

■ Undeveloped film must be kept in lightproof boxes or containers before and after shooting—one brief accidental exposure to the sun, and it's toast.

■ Unexposed film has a practical life expectancy of 2-4 years, depending upon the emulsion and how well or badly it had been stored. Outdated or short-dated film gradually loses both sensitivity and color fidelity.

■ It must be processed with environmentally hostile chemicals in a darkroom or by a photo lab, a precise, time-consuming, and costly procedure. If the temperature is too warm or too cold, the chemicals are not mixed in the correct manner, or the film is immersed for too short or too long a time, the film can be irreparably damaged, and the photos on it can be permanently lost.

■ Developed color film degrades and deteriorates over time, to the point where it may be almost unusable after only a few years.

■ If not handled and stored properly, film is prone to scratches, gouges, and dust, all of which adversely affect image quality.

Is Film Dead?

It was the end of the world as they knew it. This new-fangled invention, called photography, would put landscape and portrait painters out of business. Oils were obsolete and pastels passe, because almost any yahoo with the right equipment and some basic skills could produce photographs that were more realistic-looking than the best painters could put on canvas.

Of course, they were wrong: the invention of photography in the 1830s did not make fine art painting obsolete. To the contrary: it produced a veritable renaissance and resurgence of painters and paintings. Now that they were no longer expected to paint primarily in a realistic style, artists were free to experiment with a wide variety of creative expressions, which led to innovative and free-spirited art movements such as Impressionism and Cubism.

Similarly, motion pictures didn't kill live theater, and television hasn't made the movies go away. More to the point, the advent of color film didn't knock black-and-white film from the shelves. Although the general public embraced color photography wholeheartedly, photojournalists, architectural photographers, and fine artists continue to use black-and-white film for its ability to express certain moods or impressions much better than color.

It is likely that film will probably survive against the digital tsunami for decades to come, albeit in a different and diminished capacity. Fine art photographers will sing praises to film's presumed greater tonality, grain, and other technical and aesthetic virtues and values. And until cheap disposable digital cameras become readily available (yes, they've been around since lastyear in some parts of the world), there's nothing in the digital world that comes close in quality and convenience to the ubiquitous single-use, film-in-a-box cameras you can buy at any minimart or corner newsstand.

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