Going on vacation with film cameras these days is a pain, at least when it comes to destinations that involve flying. You have to pack your film in your carry-on bags to avoid the reputedly massive doses of X-rays to which checked luggage is subjected. For those who haven’t done it in a while, 25 rolls of film take up a fair bit of space. If you want to try to avoid even the lower doses of radiation from the security checkpoint scanners, you have to ask for a hand inspection, which will often be refused (at least overseas, in my experience). Plus, people will look at you funny when you talk about carrying film.
Then there’s the cameras. Assuming you have a healthy distrust of airport security personnel (if you don’t, I suggest a quick search for recent stories about checked bags being pilfered at any one of a number of major airports), you’ll probably want to have your cameras in the carry-on luggage as well. At this point there isn’t room for much else in there, and old cameras being big hunks of metal, you will also be inviting a mild to moderate shoulder injury.
But it doesn’t end there. Now that you’ve arrived at your destination, you get to lay out your array of equipment and try to figure out what you need to carry with you on a daily basis. If you’ve packed reasonably, this should not take too long, and will spare you the inevitable introspection over why you thought you needed so much stuff. Even in the best case, you have to make sure you have film in your bag, along with whatever lenses, filters, and other things you might conceivably need. Again, depending on how rational you were during the packing process, this can be relatively quick, but there’s still more to it that just grabbing your iPhone and heading out the door.
Once you’re out, of course, it’s all down to your shooting style. If you’re a fast shooter at home, you’ll be a fast shooter on vacation. If you’re a slow shooter at home, you’ll constantly be a block and a half behind the people you’re with on vacation, you will have no say on where you end up eating (as the menu will have already been perused and a decision made before you catch up), and you will miss at least half of all conversations. In any case, you’ll have to stop to reload every now and again, possibly annoying your traveling companions, but this is a minor issue unless your traveling companions are a bunch of tools.
On the plus side, however, one of the more entertaining things about shooting film in a place full of camera-wielding tourists is that it makes you very aware of just how and with what the rest of your fellow travelers are taking pictures. These days there seem to be two major groups: the iPhone crowd and the DSLR crowd. The former are just like they are everywhere, taking pictures of everything without paying the slightest attention to composition, light, or anything else beyond the immediate (and probably boring) subject.
The DSLR people are fascinating, however. There are a few sub-varieties. First are the people who are clearly of the “if I have a good camera then I’ll take good pictures” mindset. These will be seen toting their low- to mid-range camera around with the kit lens and the flash up at all times. They take pictures just like the iPhone people do: indiscriminately and often. Because they almost certainly did not buy a second battery or pack a charger, their camera will be dead by the third day of their trip, at which point they’ll go back to their iPhone and wonder why they spent all that money for a DSLR when their phone pictures are just as good.
The other subgroup, the most intriguing of all, is the wannabe pro. They all seem to be conspicuously carrying massive Nikons with huge pro lenses costing as much as a small car, lifting them up and scanning around every so often like East German border guards looking for potential defectors hiding in the bushes. They are usually stooping slightly under the weight of a black Nikon-branded backpack filled with more expensive gear. They might have a tripod, which will certainly be made of carbon fiber and able to support the weight of an adolescent rhinoceros. When they decide to shoot, they take an enormous amount of time, adjusting things on the screen, pressing buttons and twisting knobs like they were preparing to launch ICBMs. Then, when they finally trip the shutter, they immediately chimp (for those unfamiliar with the term, this is slang for flipping the camera down and looking at the screen to see what you’ve just shot). Why they would need to reminded of their almost assuredly banal (but ultra-high resolution) work so soon is beyond me. These people will spend endless hours in Photoshop once they get home, tweaking and adjusting before they post their photos in forums and on Flickr so that the world can bask in the glow of their over-saturated, high-contrast gigapixel mediocrity.
If all of this makes me sound like a film snob or a Luddite, well so be it. I’m not really – I just posted a bunch of digital photos myself – but these days anyone shooting film is very likely to be at least somewhat serious about photography in the narrow sense of making good, interesting pictures, in stark contrast (sorry, no pun intended) to most of the digital tourist types. There are plenty of good digital photographers, but there are a lot more crappy ones, and technology has made it possible for the number of photos taken and shared to increase exponentially. The ability of people to spend lots of disposable income on equipment has not helped at all, but then it never did.
Even though you know that things are different in other places, foreign travel affords a new perspective on normal day-to-day life by mandating a concentrated, up-close experience with an alternative. Even though we all know intellectually that digital is taking over, and that most people take lousy pictures, carrying film cameras on vacation forces you to see the limitations of your own methods as well as throwing into stark relief just how differently other people do things. But it doesn’t mean you have to change. Or apologize.