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Digital Cameras that look like Film

Today I want to talk a little bit about digital camera options that look like film. I’m someone who as you might know loves the look and process of shooting film but it’s not all I shoot. I also do a lot of digital photography, especially for my photography work and for whatever reason it might be. Shooting film all the time might not be affordable or practical for a lot of you guys and that might be due to inherent limitations that come with shooting film or certain requirements for a situation. Whatever that reason is for you if you’re interested in simulating some of that film look with digital photography. 

I’m going to share some tips and cameras, methods and things like that but keep in mind that obviously you’ll never be able to 100% match the look of film. You can get pretty close but you definitely can’t match it perfectly. So with all that in mind let’s get into some of the categories that I’ve got laid out.

Digital Cameras that look like Film

Digital Cameras with Film-Like Capabilities: Which Ones to Choose

The first one and the first group of cameras or methods that I find is a really accessible one for getting the film look and even some of the experience with digital photography. Is the Fujifilm X line of cameras because they’re quite modern cameras. It’s a really accessible and versatile method to get a little bit of that film look with the built-in simulations that they tend to have built into these cameras. But also the way that the cameras operate they tend to have all these manual controls and dials and even the looks and ergonomics of the film cameras of yesterday. So you can get a little bit of that experience and it’s a really easy way to get a bit of that look. If you just for example shoot jpeg or even if you were to shoot raw and apply those simulations in something like lightroom better yet you have the ability to create your own custom film simulations or tweak the existing ones. Or find a huge gallery of film so-called recipes online using websites like fuji x weekly where people have shared a huge amount of great film simulations that try to emulate particular stocks or even just generic film looks. 

So if you want some of the modern conveniences of cameras like the Fujifilm X series and getting a little bit of that film look and experience, that is my first category.

The second tip I have for getting the film look with digital photography is to look for and use cameras with older particularly ccd sensors. Before cmos sensors took over at least 10 years ago ccd sensors were commonplace and these days compared to more modern digital cameras. Older options with ccd sensors give what many people describe as a quote-unquote filmic look and a lot of that is probably due to the fact that these sensors had a more limited dynamic range, more vibrant and perhaps even unrealistic colors. Or maybe just the fact that they came with older hardware such as lenses which lends itself to that older kind of filmic look. Especially when you combine it with the fact that they were lower resolution as well. 

So there are some really popular examples of ccd cameras that people tend to look for because they are known for having a little bit of that sort of film look and some examples of those are the earlier Leica M cameras such as the M8 and M9 and especially the Olympus cameras from before around 2008. Because a lot of these Leica and Olympus cameras actually had sensors which were not only ccd sensors but they were made by Kodak which for whatever reason maybe it’s their particular color science. That look people associated with film but it’s really not limited to those two brands. Any ccd camera that was designed  from some time ago will tend to have more of that compressed dynamic range, vibrant colors  and aspects that you would associate with the film look. Even just straight out of camera shooting jpegs you will get a really nice punchy vibrant look out of some of these cameras. 

Some older cmos sensors, such as the one in the fujifilm x pro 1, are known to have quite a filmic look. You’ve got older slrs perhaps not this one here but something like the Canon 5D Mark 1 is also known to have a little bit of a film look. And then there’s a whole variety of unusual brands and sensors such as the Epson Rd1 and Foveon sensors Sigma cameras. There’s a huge range and you can even go for some mainstream ordinary dslrs that were  commonplace from those early 2000s such as the Nikon D series. I recently dug out some shots that I took on a Nikon D50. The jpegs gave a little bit more of that filmic look. So if you’re in the market to look at this option I would definitely suggest looking at something like dp reviews website where you can search and categorize by the sensor type and you can choose ccd sensor and a whole bunch of other categories. 

Digital Cameras that look like Film

The next category is sort of a subcategory of the one i just talked about but this one is compact digital cameras from a while ago. So smaller compact digital cameras or better known as digicam sometimes with the ccd sensor which was from around 2010 or 11 and it still produces great results. The great thing is a lot of these smaller digicams tend to have that filmic look. Not only because they have the ccd sensor in these older models but also because it’s a smaller sensor. It has a lower resolving lens and the zoom lenses that are built into them often don’t have as much sharpness and resolution. All of that combined tends to give a bit more of a low-fi film-like look and usually at a really affordable price. Olympus XZ1 cost $100 including three batteries, the charger, a couple of different lens caps and such. It still works great and I’ve used it for quite a variety of examples of shots, including some shots on the street and even nature. It renders colors really nicely with a lot more vibrance than you would get from modern digital cameras and it definitely tends to have that sort of slide film look just straight out of the card when I import the photos from this. It can be a lot of fun to shoot these old digicams while also getting that film look without too much extra effort or investment. 

The fourth and next category I want to talk about and suggest to you is the idea of adapting vintage film camera lenses to modern digital cameras. A lot of the time the look that people associate with film photos is actually due to the older lenses that are being used on those cameras. Oftentimes they’re from the 70s and they have less coatings, they have less sharpness, more character and just a different rendering than you get from the more modern clinical lenses that come on modern digital cameras. If you already have a digital camera you can adapt certain lenses from older manufacturers to it such as Pentax m42 lenses, old Nikon F lenses and so on. For example with mirrorless cameras you tend to have more ability to adapt lenses too, including from older slrs and even rangefinders such as this little Leica lens which I could adapt to the Fujifilm X system. The adapters are really cheap and accessible, they don’t cost too much because these older lenses are manual focus. You have to keep that in mind – you won’t have autofocus generally. This can be a great way to get that vintage filmic look on a modern digital camera.

Tip number five i have is to use an outsource editing service that uses professional presets in something like lightroom to actually edit the photos to look more like film. This one is probably the most accessible way in terms of investment. We can replicate any film look.

A really good way is if you actually shoot some film or you take a film example from someone else with a similar situation that you’re shooting in. We’ll get a digital photo that kind of matches and bring it closer to that film shot. 

Those are the five main tips I had for digital cameras and methods and tips to get it to look like film, but I have a sixth one which is actually combining all of those previous five. Diffusion filters such as tiffen’s pro-mist. I would recommend not to go too strong on them but the tiffen pro mist is a really good filter that you can use to get a little bit of that diffusion to give you a softer look that looks a little bit more like film. It doesn’t specifically make your photo look more like film, it’s just that it’s going to soften the highlights and add a bit of blooming. I would generally recommend sticking to the lower strength filters. As I mentioned I like to use 1/8 and not really go above that, because you don’t want it to overtake the look of the photo and just a little bit can go a long way. 

Hopefully some of those tips on methods and tricks you can do to kind of bring you closer to that film look.

Hashem McAdam