A tribute to analogue film in the Secret Life of Walter Mitty


When James Thurber wrote his story of Walter Mitty, little did he know that Ben Stiller would turn it into a homage of sorts to analogue film. Thurber wrote this short story in 1939 and it was actually made into a film back in the 1947 but this remake with Ben Stiller starring and directing became something of a nostalgic journey for many.

The movie featured Sean Penn as a photographer, who worked exclusively on film but in one scene, a camera seen in the movie was paired wrongly with an AF-S 300mm f/2.8 VR G lens. That's a bit of a misuse of creative license for historical accuracy for that matter.

Nikon F3T paired with an AF lens?
The Nikon F3T was the very last workhorse from the dark ages of film photography. I remember the F3 well, I wanted to own one but never had the chance to. Here's a short quote from Wikipedia on the F3.
A significantly more durable, robust titanium version of the F3HP was also offered, called the "F3/T", initially in a more natural titanium finish or 'champagne' coloring, and later in a less conspicuous black. It weighs 20 grams less than the comparable F3. The champagne offering was introduced in 1982 and was quickly discontinued around 1985, making it the rarer (and costlier on the used market) of the two titanium models. The F3/T featured titanium clad viewfinders (DE-4), titanium back, titanium top and bottom plates. It also benefited from the conformal coating of the internal circuit board. The mechanical specifications between the black finished F3/T and the natural finish F3/T were identical.

Beautiful things don't ask for attention- James Thurber
The camera is manual but to a point. You can only fire it at one speed, 1/80 sec if you don't have any batteries. It uses two LR44 batteries sold at most watch shops. There were several variations of the F3, including the HP (high eyepoint which the FT is based) and the P for Press. This version had a dedicated hotshoe ontop of the petaprism bulkhead. This meant you could use a standard flash with the hotshoe mount as opposed to a dedicated hotshoe mount found on far left of the camera. This was in fact a pain for some to use as the Nikon hotshoe was non-standard.

For those of us old enough to remember, seeing Life magazine featured in the movie brought back many memories. It was the only way to see the best of what photojournalism has to offer.

Life was an American magazine that from 1883 to 1936 was published as a humor and general interest magazine. Time founder Henry Luce bought the magazine in 1936 solely so that he could acquire the rights to its name when it became a weekly news magazine launched by Luce with a strong emphasis on photojournalism. Life was published weekly until 1972; as an intermittent "special" until 1978; and as a monthly from 1978 to 2000.[1] It became a weekly newspaper supplement published by Time Inc. from 2004 to 2007 and was included in some American newspapers. The website, life.com, existed from March 2009 to January 2012, as a joint venture with Getty Images under the name See Your World, LLC,[2] which in January 30, 2012, became a photo channel on Time.com.

Death of Photojournalism?

Life Magazine's final demise was in 2000. It was just after the Dotcom bubble of the 90s. For that, I think the movie had it right as up until then, there were still film photographers but Instagram? That's another creative license which was abused by Hollywood for the sake of entertainment.

Today, real photojournalist are a rare breed. Many who enter the profession now have to spend a big load of cash on equipment alone, and the big payoff is a myth unless you were a paparazzi.

Molhem Barakat, the Reuters freelance photojournalist killed recently while covering the Syrian conflict was paid only a hundred bucks for uploading his pictures. He was 18 years old. His gallery of work can be viewed here.

I don't think Reuters would have paid him pittance if we were all shooting on film. Digital photography has in some way depreciated the value of images regardless of where they come from. There is nothing more rewarding than to see your work pay off in some way and to be able to do what you do best.

Digital photography is not sacred. It can be tampered with, edited and enhanced with a computer. Analogue photos on the other hand exist in celluloid. Shooting a picture is only one part of the equation. You had to find a way to develop the film and send it over to the News agencies. Not easy I tell ya.

I remember working in a darkroom where a photo was developed by hand, the print had to be dried and later line scanned transmitted to the head office. It was fucking hard work compared to what people had to do now. Developing film has two stages, the first is to develop the roll into a negative and the next, using an enlarger, a hardcopy print was made from that frame. This is what you see in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". Digital photographers today have no idea how this was done and couldn't understand the process to appreciate it. In the age of digital, the last thing you needed to do was to create a two step process to sharing your pictures to the world. For this I can proclaim one thing.

Photojournalism is dead. Long live the Selfie. 


  1. Nice article. Just watched the movie. Enjoyed it too.

  2. When the cost of creating an image is perceived to be nothing, you get a lot of garbage.