How to shoot film… without using film

afterwork chat
In 2011, I shot nearly 70 rolls of film. I love film. And I really love my Olympus OM-cameras and their fine ZUIKO primes.

I also love the unique look of film and the classic DOF-control of the 135-format (with those great fast lenses from the film era). But I don’t love the amount of time, film-photography eats up. Actually, I just don’t have enough spare time anymore to shoot film on a daily basis. Unfortunately 😦

Of course, I could just grab my Fujifilm X-Pro1 and enjoy the benefits of digital photography – but in spite of the Fuji’s serious retro-feeling, there’s always something missing for me. So I was looking for something between the ultrahigh-resolution-EverythingByWire-digital-world, and the charming slow, manual, organic and often imperfect world of film-photography.

And since there isn’t a digital back for my OM-cameras, here’s the compromise I found for me…


I traded my Nikon Coolscan V ED film scanner for a different kind of “scanner”. A portable 21,1 MegaPixel FullFrame CMOS-Scanner made by Canon (aka EOS 5D Mk2), which can “scan” the images straight from the back of the attached lens 🙂

Honestly, my goal was to reduce the amount of time I had to invest into 35mm film-photography, while maintaining the “ZUIKO-experience”. The best way to do so, was to replace the actual film with a digital sensor (which has to be FullFrame to capture the entire “virtual negative” and all those great vignettes and other flaws/effects old lenses often unveil), and cut down the whole processing-, waiting- and scanning-time. Old glass gives interesting results when used on a 36x24mm Sensor, the images look really nice so far, but still way too “digital”.

So step 2 is the “filmifizing” of the 5D Mk2’s RAWs…sorry…negatives. There are dozens of “film emulators” matching various post processing workflows out there. I went with the very advanced and well made VSCO film-presets for Lightroom4, by Visual Supply Company.

To make a long story short: I got myself a Canon EOS 5D Mk2, added an OM-to-EOS AF-confirm adapter and an EG-S focussing screen to it, and can now shoot all my ZUIKO primes on the Canon. Don’t own a native EF-lens (so far), and I’m very happy with just some basic features of the 5D2. The output of this combo is then pumped through Lightroom, where the VSCO magic happens to the files. What comes out is some kind of “film-tofu”, but that’s actually the “filmiest” way of photography I can afford (time-wise) at the moment.

Have a look and judge for yourself, how tasty my film-tofu is. So far I only tried some scattered colour-emulsions of the whole set, but more to come:

HeadUpDisplayHeadUp Display

Hello Kitty bikeHello Kitty bike

last days on the old rimslast days on the old rims

cuddling the pugcuddling the pug


public kitchenpublic kitchen


that Passat CC againPassat CC

Siesta @34°CSiesta

finally, some rain over Frankfurt/Mainfinally, some rain

the driver...driver on duty

beach(-club) buggybeach(-club) Buggy

eye contacteye contact

14 Comments on “How to shoot film… without using film

  1. 🙂
    THe amount of times I hear people having the exact same issue. “I want the look and feel of film but with the easy and economy of digital” The number of preset / add-on / filter programs seems to confirm this too.
    I’ll admit having the same dilemma a little while back, digital is great but it just looks, digital. Film is great but it just isn’t digital. Polaroid is a great in-between but it costs a stack and is really really low resolution.
    So what’s the answer? I think the preset software is probably as close as it’s going to get. For me after trying the lot, I’ve gone with nik colour efex & silver efex. Plus my own little lightroom preset concoctions. It’s taken me some time but slowly I’m making my work feel less and less digital.
    Enjoy the 5D, lovely camera, pretty much set with mine for the long term future, having said that you’d better get ready to invest in a couple more terrabytes of storage for those files.
    I almost want to ship you my M8.2 to play with, as I feel it’s getting me closer to a natural film look than my other digitals, especially the sharpness which still bites out when you add some grain.

    Liking the shot of the Passat, those reflections are so nice.

    • thanks mark, nice to see we’re sharing the same goal – to appear less digital 🙂

      you’re right regarding the “digital sharpness” killing some of the potential flair of film emulations. I think that’s one of the reasons I am so happy with my combination of the 5D and old ZUIKO lenses. those shards add a huge amount of charm to the images by not rendering so clinically sharp. they unveil some interesting flaws here and there, this brings me almost half the way to my desired analogue-look.

      the other 50% are left to the post processing, where I also agree with you: NIKs SilverEfexPro is an awesome app! I love the rich selection of classic emulsions implemented, and the option to tweak and save my favourites. love it for B/W! but for colour, I really prefer the VSCO presets over ColorEfexPro. CEP has a great range of emulsions too, but I find most of them to appear a little synthetic and “poppy” compared to the (few) VSCO films. I guess that may be due to the special camera profiles for the 5D2 (and other pro bodies) integrated in VSCO. it just looks almost perfect right from the start.

      ps: good advice, I’m going to archive my scanned files on some external storage to free up the first terrabyte for the “negatives” of my hybrid 5D2.

  2. Patrick, I too use a 5DII as a digital back for my Zuiko and m42 glass. It doesn’t replace the experience of using my OM-1, but indeed it is less time consuming that shooting, processing and then scanning film. I’ll have to check out the Lightroom film emulations you mentioned.

    • thanks velovita.
      you’re right, a big bad 5D Mk2 can’t really match the feeling of shooting a sexy film SLR like the OM-1 or something similar. even if nice OM glass is mounted, the 5D is still a modern 810g professional digital camera. but that’s the compromise most of us will accept to save time, while also getting as close to the classic look as possible…

      you should definitely have a look at the VSCO film presets. they’re not cheap, but absolutely well developed with very precisely adapted film types and great customizing options.

      ps: on FlickR too?

      • Patrick,

        Yes, I’m on Flickr as ericarthur, I have you listed as a contact which is how I found your site. I also shoot m43, which is how I originally found your photos on Flickr. Initially I purchased an E-PL1 to be able to use my legacy lenses on a digital back with live view exposure simulation, after becoming a bit frustrated with metering inaccuracies and the small viewfinder encountered when using them on a Canon 350D (I’ve yet to find a camera that I enjoy looking through as much as my OM-1). I still use them on the E-PL1, but I do really enjoy putting them in front of the full-frame sensor of the 5DII. I really should pick up an e-gs screen though as, while live view can ensure accurate focus, it completely ruins the quasi-analog experience of using the lenses.

      • damn yes, Eric, sorry! I know you 😉

        sounds like we’re having a similar history of dealing with legacy glass on digital bodies. I started using OM- and Leica M-lenses on my PEN E-P2 years ago, but was very unhappy with the 2x crop factor. when a classic 50mm/F1.8 becomes a virtual 100mm/F3.6, and the sexy 35mm/F2.0 behaves like a 70mm/F4.0 (AOF- and DOF-wise), most of the ZUIKO-magic disappears. as to me, there is no substitute for a FullFrame sensor when adapting legacy lenses designed for 35mm film to digital cameras. at least if the goal is to maintain the original character the lens showed on film (which is the reason most of us bought those shards).

        +1 for the Eg-S screen! a magic must-have accessoire when using legacy lenses on the 5D Mk2. I was having hard times metering correctly with the standard Eg-A screen mounted, especially if the aperture was set to anything but wide open. the Eg-S solves this problem almost 100% (as far as I can tell from 2 days of using it) as soon as it is fitted to the camera and activated in the custom menu.

  3. Thanks for the cool article Patrick. And as always, I love the photos!

  4. Hallo Patrick,
    funktionieren denn mit dem Eg-S die roten Autofokus-Quadrate noch, wenn du ein EF-Objektiv verwendest?
    Und: gute Bilder in dem Post …


    • Hallo Martin,

      vielen Dank für Deinen Kommentar und das Lob. Freut mich immer wenn noch jemandem außer mir das Zeug gefällt das in meinem Kopf bzw. vor meinem Auge entstanden ist…

      Selbstverständlich funktionieren die AF-Felder weiterhin (blinken rot wenn sie fokussiert sind), egal ob ein EF- oder Fremd-/Altobjektiv verwendet wird. Soweit ich weis liegen diese Indikatoren auch auf einer separaten Scheibe bzw. direkt unten am Prisma. Auf der Einstellscheibe (weder Eg-S noch dem Standard-Screen) sind sie jedenfalls gar nicht “eingezeichnet”. Die Eg-S beeinträchtigt die Funktion der AF-Sensoren (und deren Indikatoren im Sucher) also in keinster Weise…

      Hoffe geholfen zu haben, auch wenn meine Antwort (umzugsbedingt) etwas spät kommt.



  5. I do agree that scanning film can be a bit of a time consuming process, but with all of the beautiful films currently available I know I am going to continue shooting them. Even though film has experienced a resurgence in the last several years it is not as popular with photographers as digital seems to be and may not be around forever. There will be plenty of time to shoot digital.

    Your results, while nice, certainly aren’t enough for my to put down my rangefinder. I am also sure that I would rather spend time scanning negatives than editing digital files.

    You touched on it and I think there is something to be said about the simplicity of a mechanical film camera. There are no batteries to charge, no sensors to clean, no menus to navigate, no firmware to update, no cords to get tangled, no memory card formats to worry about, no expensive software to buy, no lust for the latest camera body to satisfy, no chimping to distract you, and many more things.

    I enjoyed your post and wish you luck with your photography in the future. Take care.

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