Large Format Diaries #18

The Costs and Success Rates of Shooting Film and Digital

I’ve some interesting findings (to me at any rate!) after shooing film for over 20 months, in all three formats.  I’ve populated this post throughout with a selection of my best images across all formats in the period.

Porth Ysgaden Shack and Sea

Porth Ysgaden Shack and Sea

Here are my stats for film shots taken and uploaded to flickr in this time (a self-aware yardstick of whether I consider a shot remotely successful). Here I haven’t included the cost of the film in the first place. Processing prices are Peak Imaging:


Edited and uploaded:                                                           104

Not uploaded:                                                                        84

of which,

Useable Doubles:                                                                  32

Failures/Mistakes:                                                                52

Total sheets exposed:                                                          188

% Uploads:                                                                            55%

% Useable Images:                                                               72%

% Failures/Mistakes:                                                           28%

Cost of processing per shot:                                               £3.20

Total processing cost of failures/mistakes:                     £166.40

Broughton Church Door Detail

Broughton Church Door Detail


% Uploads:                                                                              21%

Cost of processing of non-uploads:                                    £26.40


35mm film:

% Uploads                                                                               11.1%

Cost of processing non-uploads:                                         £42.47


Comparison with Digital (D800E), since 17/1/2016, date of first film shot uploaded:

% Uploads                                                                               9.47%

Cost:                                                                                         nothing 😉

Backlit Botanicals

Backlit Botanicals

There are a few observations to make about these figures.

The costs of shooting large format are obvious. 52 wasted sheets is quite a lot. Nonetheless, that still makes for over 70% of shots where things worked out as I planned, and when they do this on 5×4 the results tend to be pretty great to amazing.  While 28% wastage is at least twice as high as I would like, the figure has been dropping, especially since I spent last year teaching myself how to figure everything out (the wasteage figure for 2016 was 34%, and so far for 2017 it’s 20%, so I’m getting rather better at not making as many mistakes).

Even though this is expensive, and even more expensive when you make mistakes, it’s been more rewarding for me in the long run than shooting either of the other film formats or digital.  The fact that I’m still doing it should make this clear I suppose!

I still haven’t shot very many rolls of 120 yet, but I’ve got 100% more usable images from it per shots taken than I have from digital or 35mm film over the period. This is undoubtedly because the shooting style is more deliberate than digital or 35mm film, but still some way off the concentration I find is required for shooting 5×4.  Nonetheless, I haven’t used the 35mm Canon A-1 or my Mamiya RZ as much as I might have – partly perhaps because my technique for digitizing film on a light panel is easier and less fiddly with the 5×4 sheets than it is with strips.

(NB the majority of shots on 5×4 have been on colour slide film, requiring careful spot-metering – this is one obvious area where errors can creep in; for the smaller formats I’m beginning to appreciate the benefits of shooting faster B&W and colour neg film, where metering tends to be a lot less particular).

In the same period I seem to have shot over 2000 frames on digital to achieve just over 200 images I wanted to process and upload. These are cost-free, but nowhere near as satisfying to produce.  Though I had earlier thought that care taken when shooting 5×4 would rub off on my digital photography, it hasn’t really worked out that way – I’ve still ended up taking far more frames on digital than I thought.  It seems there isn’t really any way of replicating the experience of using a view camera in the field.  Yes, there have been a few occasions where I have entirely missed a shot because I chose not to shoot or didn’t bring the Nikon with me, but not all that many; in any case, shooting large format has certainly attuned me better to conditions when a shot – on any camera – might or might not work.

Final stats: personal favourites in this same period (my Flickr ‘Test of Time’ Album):

Digital (D800E/iPhone):      47

35mm:                                    5

120:                                       2 (since May 2017 only)

5×4:                                        37

Over 2000 frames to achieve 47 best shots sits against 187 exposed sheets of 5×4 to achieve 37 stand-outs.  So it’s almost 10 times easier with large format!!  😉


PS: In case you were wondering, in order of sequence, the images are as follows: Velvia 50 5×4, Provia 100F 5×4, Delta 400 120, Velvia 50 35mm, Digital (Nikon D800E).  I think you’ll agree that in this company, the digital image seems slightly lifeless/less luminous, even though it’s still one of my favourites.


Happy shooting!





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