Anyone bothering to teach 35mm photography classes anymore?

Anyone bothering to teach 35mm photography classes anymore?

Summary: I just bought my wife a new point and shoot digital camera. The trusty Kodak 3 megapixel was getting a bit long in the tooth and more often she was lugging her 35mm SLR to take high quality shots.


I just bought my wife a new point and shoot digital camera. The trusty Kodak 3 megapixel was getting a bit long in the tooth and more often she was lugging her 35mm SLR to take high quality shots. Since it's summertime, the Olympus Stylus 850SW seems like a nice, affordable choice. It's shock, water, and freeze resistant, so you can actually shoot stills and video with it to a depth of about 3m. Pretty slick for trips to the beach. A bit of shock resistance with 4 boys running amuck isn't a bad idea either.

Here's my real point, though. As I noted, my shutterbug wife still loves her single lens reflex and I haven't been able to get her to make the fully digital jump. She's invested a decent amount of money in lenses and still prefers to break out the SLR for family portraits, pictures of the various critters that make their way into our yard, school events, and the like. I think this will change a bit now that we have a better point and shoot, but the SLR isn't going anywhere anytime soon (unless I just happen to drop it around Christmas time and just happen to pick up the the new compact Olympus digital SLR that just happened to be displayed next to the 850 yesterday at the store).

OK, so the last paragraph wasn't really my point. This is really my point. Is 35mm really dead? Photography used to be the junior or senior elective of choice, along with pottery (or journalism for the really studious). Yet the darkroom even at little old Athol High School now holds the popcorn machine and coolers for sporting events. I stumbled across a few boxes last year of aging, but very usable Pentax SLRs.

Lots of people still use film, whether because they're stubborn, cheap, and technophobic like my wife (she really has a lot of redeaming qualities, but her love of technology is not among them) or because they value the organic quality of film. So is there any value in teaching 35mm photography in schools?

I'm inclined to say no. I'd rather see kids learning the ins and outs of photography from shutter speeds to white balance, but using digital tools to enhance, present, and share what they do. There's no nostalgia here and I can live with my kids never setting foot in a darkroom if they can use the GIMP. But that's me. I'm sure you'd have a very different conversation with my wife or with our old photography club adviser.

What do you think?

[poll id=69]

Topic: ZDNetLive

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Disposal of Units

    My wife asked me last nite to dispose of two film cameras - a
    Minolta and a Cannon. What is the safest way of disposing of
    these units since we haven't used them in two years. Thank
    • Disposal

      If you can bear the grief of selling a camera that cost you $500 for $10, eBay may be the way to go. The market for 35mm equipment has essentially imploded (too many sellers). Still, the best recycling is putting it into the hands of someone who will make good use of it.
  • RE: Anyone bothering to teach 35mm photography classes anymore?

    Hi there,
    I am writing this form the UK! so what do I have to influence the question about teaching 35mm to kids today, I like the reporters wife still have my 35 mm Nikon F70, I also have a Nikon D80, why because all the lenses from the Nikon range work well with my D80 too. But Without the knowledge imparted and learnt with a 35mm I would be just another snapshot shooter. A good diigital replacement for a film camer is a great idea, but to rely understand shooting a great picture the dark room experience realy pays off in the digital world. I just wish that english schools taught Photography to English kids. It might give them something else to do with their free time other than hanging around on street corners. Photgraphy is a great hobby and with the advent of digital photgraphy is available to EVERYONE at lets face it NO further cost in development work,BUT without that darkroom work and learning about exposure and its effects then many users of digital are missing out on getting a great shot over a snap shot.
    ian staley
    • Overall Cost and Value

      In my experience, digital photography was not vastly less money outlay than 35mm. I paid enough up front to amount to what I would have paid for 35mm including processing in the next 10 years. However, once I had made that investment, I was able to take 10 times as many photographs (or more, if I like to) for no extra cost (which is exactly what I did).
  • Why didn't you buy her a digital camera

    that takes 35 mm attachments?
    • Agreed

      I would tend to agree. Most major dSLR brands have attachments that will allow 35mm lenses. I believe some will even take 35mm lenses directly (from the same brand).

      When I took photography in college, the focus was on digital. However technique was still the same as would be used for film (shutter speed, aperture, etc.) and was explained in that context.
      • Sounds like she used Olympus

        Olympus, sadly, did not provide a path to use their own lenses in their digital SLR models. I would love to be able to use the lenses from my OM1, OM2, and OM4 on an Olympus digital SLR.
  • vote = 103%??

    just a off topic but did the vote today and got a total result of 53% yes and 50% no( as you can see below) thats a little bit odd

    Should we teach 35mm film photography anymore?

    * Yes, there is still value in 35mm from a photography teaching perspective; at least teach it alongside digital tools. (53%)
    * Nope - film is dead. It is 2008, isn't it? (50%)

    Total Votes: 30
  • Manipulation is still an issue, too

    Photography as a hobby aside, the ease with which digital images can be manipulated is a legal issue. Anyone remember the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with the shot of the Miami Vice actors back in the 80s? Somebody is going to have to know how to use film, and I can see a lucrative job market opening up soon.

    Maybe I better not sell my enlarger yet...
    • Does not need to be an issue

      Canon's top cameras (and maybe others) can add digital signatures to their files that are recognized by the courts to prove authenticity. Anyone can view the signature, but no-one can change it. If you modify the photo in any way the signature disappears.

      Film based images have been modified for artistic purposes for years as well. Anyone remember the whiskey ads with [i]alleged[/i] phallic symbols embedded in the ice cubes?
  • Teach the Craft, Not the Technology

    You shouldn't teach either 35mm or digital, you should teach photography. Understanding the darkroom is actually extremely useful to make sense of what you can afterwards do in Lightroom or Photoshop for digital. However, what matters is to know how to do great photography, which includes a thorough understanding of light, technique, and post-processing, among others. Whether you use a 35mm camera or a quality digital camera (speak, larger sensor than point-and-shoots other than the Sigma DP1) doesn't matter squat.

    And Zeiss, who clearly make superb lenses, firmly believe that film continues to beat even the best digital (you have to be really good to tell the difference, though, assuming there is one).
  • Seems to me what you're reall asking is:

    Should schools be teaching film photography and not so much 35mm photography. Today dSLRs, even if not full frame, are typically equated with 35mm film cameras of yesterday.
    • Teach photography, period

      I think schools should teach photography, period, regardless of the medium of choice. There's something almost spiritual about knowing you were responsible for the creation of something from start to finish, even if it's just a picture of Grandma on her birthday. Whether it's done in a darkroom or on a computer is irrelevant.

      Digital is great, and I'm planning to switch over to it very soon, but I'll always keep a film camera around. Sooner or later, there will be something that only film can do, such as guaranteeing that no (or a minimal amount of) manipulation was done to an image, say for a lawsuit or a criminal trial.

      Plus, experimenting with different kinds of film, developer, etc. is just plain fun.
  • RE: Anyone bothering to teach 35mm photography classes anymore?

    I, too, learned using the 35mm old technology -way back before SLR - when you had to know your F-stops and manually focus the camera! While digital photography, with its ease of sharing and transferring directly to the computer can't be beat, I still hate that little delay between when I press the shutter button and it takes the actual shot. Action pictures are nearly impossible, and getting anything to hold still while there is that delay still is something I find very frustrating!

    There is still a place for film photography in fine art photography as well. Digital is all very well for general use - and I have made the transition for the most part.
  • RE: Anyone bothering to teach 35mm photography classes anymore?

    My impression (and I cannot speak with authority here) is that the wet chemical process is dead - as far as the University/College programs are concerned. It's much too expensive and is being seen as environmentally backwards. My brother took full advantage of the darkroom in his later years of University, but that lab is gone and equipment given away. He has some of it.
    While it is important to learn about the photographic process, much of what we know in digital photography is a throwback to the wet chemical process, and needs to be re-examined. I have Photoshop actions that are designed specifically to mimic Fuji Velvia, or Fuji Provia, or C-41, or Cross-Processing, or Selenium Print... these terms mean nothing to the young masses. We should be teaching Digital Photography, and invent brand new terms for our effects, not holding on to our primitave past.
    That being said, just as there are owners of classic cars, and players of classical instruments, we should have the freedom to express ourselves in any way we wish. Too bad that the raw materials - film and polaroid packs are so dang hard to make at home.
  • Lack of Respect for the Old Ways, Dawson?

    It's palatable. If a student wants to go through the extra effort of learning an Art Form I think your prejudice and vested interest in all things digital should not be allowed to get in the way. Next thing we know you'll want to do away with painting and drawing can be done on a frigging idiot box your paid to maintain.

    That said, the bad graphics and simple questions posted to flicker by those untutored in the operation of a DigiCam is mind numbing. It's painful to look at and read. Please give them at least the basics.

    If there is enough student interest to support maintaining at least a small lab and the students supply the consumables what could be the problem?
    • Why not meet the digital age halfway?

      I would love to get back into a darkroom. But space time and financial resources are not there. Add to that the no room for error aspect of the dark room and our general impatience, and the dark room just doesn't make sense when there are viable alternatives.
      The question should not really be about Digital vs Film, it should really be about photo printers vs the darkroom. What we need is a way put a digital enlarger in our darkrooms so we can make our own poster sized prints! I might be tempted to buy into that.
  • The past is the past for all its glory...

    I taught conventional silver based photography for 35 years including
    negative color printing. The downside today is the cost of chemistry and
    papers as well as the toxic addition of developers and fixers flushed into
    the sewer system. I am a convert to digital and would love to try teaching
    an all digital/computer based photography course with little else for
    software than Photoshop elements, at least for beginners. The one
    introduction to photography project I prized would be lost however and that
    is making a pinhole camera and taking pictures with it. As a final parting
    shot... thank goodness I will never again have to carry around a 4X5 Speed
    Graphic with 24 film holders, 2 graphmatics, and a big bag of #5 flashbulbs
    as I did in the late 50's shooting B&W weddings. Digital is a godsend in
  • Love them both

    What I hated about film photography was missing the "magic" moments with my kids. I got better, took multiple shots, but still it was always a gamble. With my 10MP Canon, not so much. I know what I have.
    What I miss about film photography is accounting for the reciprocity factor and getting a really beautiful long exposure image. It was art and science blended together. Also, one of my prints that got displayed at the State Fair photography competition was made better by a darkroom "experiment" gone wrong in the best way. It's still in a frame - and that kind of thing just doesn't happen digitally.
  • Should we teach kids how to drive a horse and buggy?

    Should we teach kids how to drive a horse and buggy? In a classroom environment????

    Should we teach kids how too cook on a woodstove? In a classroom environment????

    Should we teach kids how too thresh wheat by hand? In a classroom environment????

    No.. 35mm has gone the way off all things from the past that are obsolete.

    The classroom environment is mainly about preparing kids for the future. Sure there are art classes and music classes, and perhaps 35mm film might be considered a future art elective providing you can find enough interested students... But then again, you are as likely to find kids interested in taking classes on how to drive a horse and buggy or thresh wheat by hand.

    The new darkroom is Aperture, Photoshop, etc. It's as green as a darkroom can get and it is far more powerful than the darkrooms of yesterday.

    Teach them digital photography and all the techniques associated with light and perspective and let Photoshop be the darkroom... Free from chemicals and waste.

    It does not matter that some will be click happy hoping for something great... Those that learn and understand the core fundamentals of photography will still be able to take it to the next level on a consistant basis... Art? Instead of a darkroom and a microwave oven (Ansel Adams)... They will need to learn the subtleties of photo editing/manipulation software... aka pushing pixels.

    Prepare them for the here and now... Prepare them for the future.