#810. Is film only for hipster kids?

#810. Is film only for hipster kids?

An odd segmentation appears if you scratch the surface of camera user statistics. It appears that standard digital camera (m43, APS-C, FF) users are mostly amateurs – let’s face it, mostly middle aged blokes – and a large majority of the commercial pros. While younger people, artists and high-end pros very rarely use those, preferring film cameras or larger format digital. (The apparent 90/10 divide between men and women in our hobby is another, but that’s a story for another day).

 
 

Larger format digital makes total sense, if you can afford it. A different look, better glass, better files. In a way (and it’s only logical), the same difference in abilities exists between MF digital cameras and ‘other’ digital cameras as between those ‘other’ digital cameras and smartphones. In difficult light (where, to be honest, a solid majority of interesting photographs exist) MF cameras seem happier to produce more natural-looking images.

 

Film, on the other hand, is more difficult for me to wrap my brain around.

 

It would be easy – and wrong – to pass off film photography as nothing but a fad for kids trying to look cool and avoid direct competition with other photographers by carving a technological niche for themselves. Let’s be honest, film is a major pain in the arse (that’s butt, in the US of A). During my darkest hours of digital ergonomic depression, I fell for film as an antidote. Twice. Without success.

 
 

Don’t judge me. If you’ve never used a Mamiya 7 or any other equally well sorted camera at the very end of the evolution chain of film photography, you don’t know what it’s like. Criticize Leica, their old tech and their stratospheric prices all you want, but they get that. Still, in spite of the magic of using a great camera and the mesmerizing experience of looking at large slides on a light table, the utter pain of living in a rural area and not being able to have your film processed without a trip to the big city and a very long wait, well … it wasn’t for me.

 

So why are so many photographers – damn good photographers, at that – drawn to film, when it so obviously restricts your movements? The following video, rather better put together than your average 10 minutes on YouTube, answers this questions through multiple interviews and facets. I’d like to react to multiple quotes from the video and, while I’m at it, pick your brains about them too.

 


 

“Level of intimacy and craftsmanship that comes into the image. Anything that has to do with the computer actually distances me from the photograph“.

Now, that was a hard one for me to understand. To me, creative post-processing (which excludes sweating over the impossible removal of a colour cast) is 80% of the fun of photography. I loved being in a darkroom before the days of digital. That was where the magic happened. How could anyone not want to edit their photos?

But then it dawned on me that my loathing of the meaningless tech talk that occupies 90% of the photographic Internet has a natural extension in the realm of PP. Not only does PP not have to be done on a computer, but what happens when PP is performed without a computer is that tech nonsense such as histograms and sharpening fly out of the window, leaving only the essentials that actually create a mood (as opposed to replicating a process for identical looking images with “good” black point and highlights that don’t clip). When burnt highlights look good rather than clipping hideously, you don’t bother about keeping them in check so much. In many, many ways, digital has spent decades finding solutions to problems it introduced in the first place. So, yeah, maybe staying away from the computer can make sense!

OK, I’m not 100% convinced, but definitely get what the person’s saying here.

 

 

“I love the tactility, the medium being so physical“. Well, having finally realised (’bout time) that printing was necessary to fill a very real void in my hobby, one that was making me resent digital more than it deserved, I totally understand the desire for tactility.

At least for prints. For negatives? Emmm … really? Negatives are huge pain in the arse/butt. Then again, so are disk drives, partition thingies, RAID whatever, boring cloud storage …

So, here again, I understand, without agreeing entirely. I don’t backup my stuff, because life is short and laziness strong. But, if I was going to obsess about backup, I probably would enjoy negatives equally not as drives. YMMV.

 
 

“The negative is a physical object as opposed to a file”. A very similar argument to the previous ones. And, to me, one that doesn’t hold up in 24×36. The resolution from most 24×36 film simply isn’t great. Yes, you can choose a superb Leica lens and microfilm to record 60Mpx of data or more but, even then, the tactile experience of a small negative eludes me. Get into Medium Format however (preferably 6×6 or larger), and things begin to change. With Large Format (4×5 inches and above), the tactile experience is very, very real. And I can only imagine what a 14 inch glass plate must be like to behold.

Ultimately, though, I think this is more about control over the complete process. It’s about photography as a craft rather than photography as a productivity-driven hobby. It is grounding. Just like people stay in retreats with no WiFi or phone coverage just to unplug from a harmful way of life, that way of thinking about the complete imaging process is probably aslo a form of slow-photography detox.

Not only that, but a way of focusing on a single process. When you’re coating your own plates, you have to experiment with recipes. In the beginning, you’re probably happy that a picture comes out of it at all. It’s really hard (having failed more often at 4×5 than I care to admit, my mind boggles at the thought of hand-coated 14 inch plates). And over the years, you fine tune your recipe to your liking, you create a style for yourself. Not two, just one. And that can lead to extraordinary results, as evidenced by Sally Mann, one of the greatest photographers alive, who follows that approach.

 
(c) Sally Mann
 

It just takes a lot more commitment, introspection and courage. And that aspect really speaks very deeply to me.

 
 

“Cameras built to last a lifetime”. Oh my … the concept … But how can we waste our money and rare earth, if our cameras last forever ???

 

The Mamiya 7 exists. Yup. That’s reason enough for anything. Just look at his photographs. “It still works for me”. You bet it does … When I rule the world, the Mamiya 7 will rise from the ashes.

 

“The film has characteristics, a certain palette“. Who cares, now that we have presets, right? Well, no. It matters, a lot. I’ll get back to that one further down. [Thread 1] (or “Hold that thought”, whatever rocks your boat 😉 )

 

“I find it problematic that a file has no characteristics and that you have to introduce them”. He wishes! I find it problematic that my files have so much of a colour bias and that I have to correct them. What was cool with film was that you knew what to expect (if the film was not too old, well preserved, if you didn’t wait for ages to process it or mess up processing, etc, that is). Rendering was quite predictable, not a crapshoot based on light quality. But, getting back to the point being made, it is true that digital files often look too clean and lifeless. Check out the motorbike above and compare it to the night shots in the video. Emotionally, night and day, right? I guess that’s why Fuji cameras and their in camera emulations are so popular.

 
 

“A camera that matches the story”. A really interesting point. We’re entering the realm of philosophy and art. But isn’t that the point of being a photographer??? It would probably be unfair to say that sort of approach is totally impossible with digital, since it’s possible to adapt old lenses onto modern bodies, and it’s possible to emulate the look of an old film in PP. But I get why someone would want to do it more “organically” (btw, what a stunning portrait from that Brownie. I doubt you could replicate this exactly, whatever the preset. And that photo alone is proof that specs are utterly meaningless. A Brownie has the worst specs this side of a politician’s brain, but the look of that photograph is incredible).

 

“Film makes you slow down and notice things you wouldn’t otherwise”. A double edged sword, I guess. Many digital photographers specialise and thrive in a discipline that requires fast AF and fast burst rates. Our contributors Adrian and Bob are two such examples of how technological advances can be put to great use to make images that would be near impossible otherwise. For other types, it’s true that slowing down can be very beneficial. Again, that takes commitment, a real desire to improve rather than to cling to your belief system. Most people refuse to acknowledge that, in order to improve, you need to change. It’s not easy.

 
 

“With film, you worry about your shot and get a big surprise when you collect your prints”. OK, to me, this is the most important and complex point in the video. This is where I’d like to pick up [Thread 1].

 

Why, oh why would you want your prints to be a surprise and not a deterministic process? That completely baffled rationalist yours truly. But maybe the question should be rephrased differently. And perhaps there are really two questions/answers.

 

First, the element of surprise is what makes this art and not science. As long as there is this element of uncertainty, there is anticipation. We live in a world of instant feedback. Corporate efficiency is largely equivalent to the efficiency of the feedback process. Instant Feedback is what made Amazon and Facebook. It’s only logical that human beings who feel stifled by that would want to stay well away from the instant feedback of digital photography.

 

Secondly, even more important in my mind, is the fact that – in a way – digital is bottom up, film is top down. With some variation, digital files are clean, objective and neutral files, which you build from the ground up, and via post-processing, into a final print. Film, in many ways, works in the opposite direction. The medium begets the look. You have little control over the fact that a film is very cold and low contrast or very warm and high contrast. You can, however, create your photograph in such a way that it works great with a given film. The same photograph (framing, settings) would look terrible using a different one. In stead of the largely divergent thinking of digital, film adds a little bit of convergent that helps you narrow down your vision and style.

 
 

This speaks to me on two levels. First, the case for digital is often about control, film’s about creativity. Digital gave birth to a whole debacle of technical recipes such as ETTR that are meant to keep the photograph “perfect”, where in fact so many interesting and beautiful things happen as you leave the technically perfect and enter the world of subjective bending (ask Man Ray and Andre Kertesz). You could point out the irony of these words, coming from a worshiper of Ansel Adams and his Zone System. But Adams didn’t create the ZS so we would all shoot boringly technically perfect photographs over and over again. He created the ZS so we could knowingly place zones wherever we wanted them to fall, in order to fullfil a vision! Two very different things, and digital’s obsession with technical standardisation has largely eluded the most interesting one.

 

It’s actually pretty ironic that, because of ugly shadow noise (now largely a thing of the past) and horrible highlight clipping, digital has made proper exposure more important than in the days of film (at least negative film).

 
 

Secondly, probably the most important point here is that creativity is always at its best when constrained. Give someone a white page and the struggle to create something is immense. Impose a subject, a very narrow vertical frame and thick coal crayons (for example) and, suddenly, a spark can be seen in the artist’s eye.

 

Shooting with film is probably a tremendous way of training your creativity. In stead of fantasizing over 15 bits of dynamic range (which by the way, do not make digital indispensable, just look at how much better film handles highlights in this video, at about 5′, or check out this Mamiya 7 photo on Flickr and weep) you learn how your film renders shadows and highlights, just like a painter learns how his pigments render the sky and the sea and you learn how to create a photograph that suits the film. Ever wonder why some photographers never changed from their old Tri-X when so many other films had been invented? They’d honed their look to perfection with that film and knew their photographs wouldn’t be anywhere near as nice using an other.

 
 

“It’s not about arriving at the destination, it’s about driving the car” Amen, brother! A camera where the photographer can actually enjoy the experience”. Are somebody else’s knees trembling at the sight of that camera at 8’15”? Just look at the little print at 8’38” and tell me you don’t want that! I won’t believe you. I want that. In fact, I’ve written to Mint (because the camera no longer is on their website) and here’s what they told me:

Thank you for your interest in InstantKon RF70. Due to overwhelming demand, RF70 won’t be available to the public until (march – mid 2019) . If you want one, this is the right place:

  • InstantKon RF70 – USD$899
  • InstantKon RF70 Lens Set –  US$78 (FREE)
  • InstantKon RF70 + Neckstrap +  A pack of Instax WIDE color film – USD$949
 

That camera looks so much like my folding Fujica 645 and the Voigtlander Bassa and other more recent 6×7 or 6×9 beauties …

 
 

In other words, go film. Petapixel sure seem to agree (better looks, better DR, more fun …) As do Time, who also recommend these cameras. In fact B&H recommend quite a few themselves (what, no Mamiya 7???) And it appears that film production is going up, not down, not bad in a troubled industry!

Now, though, time for a bit of real life honesty. Am I going to go back to film? NO WAYYYYYY ! Been there, twice. It’s not for me. Let’s put it this way. I’d love to. I really would. And if you haven’t been tainted by decades of lazy-arse digital photography yourself, I definitely think you should give it a try. But I’m not ready for that. My life isn’t geared that way.

 

However, film photography for digital dummies can probably be broken down into easier steps. Instant film, as offered by Mint, is one solution. Digital Fuji owners can challenge themselves to a complete week or month of using one film emulation for every single one of their photographs. We can all set our ISO to 160 for 3 weeks. Me, I’m going to challenge myself to that “surprise” thing that my rational brain recoiled from so vehemently. So, this evening, I’m putting tape over my rear screen and will not chimp or review any of my photographs for one week. Let’s see how many turn out to be keepers when I’m not able to delete bad ones on the spot … should be plenty of humiliating fun to look forward to 😉

 

As a closing thought, if you wonder where all the women have gone in our hobby, the answer is simple: they’re using film, and rather brilliantly. How about you? Tempted by the sirens of a vibrant film world, or are you as pathetically scared of the process as I am? 😉

 
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31 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Dave Jenkins January 18, 2019

    “Forcing yourself to use restricted means is the sort of restraint that liberates invention. It obliges you to make a kind of progress that you can’t even imagine in advance.”
    — Picasso

    “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”
    — Orson Welles

    “…seeing pictures is always tied up with technique…it is important to decide things like sharpness or unsharpness and not let them happen accidentally. It is equally important to command the techniques that get the effects you want.”
    — Fritz Henle

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 18, 2019

      Thanks Dave, all 3 say it far better than me, but I’m glad to see this backed up by such prestigious artists 🙂

  2. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron January 18, 2019

    Well – yes – all of that.

    And the article is brilliant! Thanks for being such a good writer, Pascal, and sharing this with us. FYI – I formed the opinion that it’s brilliant first, and only THEN did I go back to the start and read who wrote it -my reaction was completely spontaneous and impartial. 🙂 Take a bow!

    Thing is, though, that I did all that – from 1952 when I got my first camera, till a few years back when I decided to junk everything and plunge into the world of digital photography, to see what it was like and what it could do. And it wasn’t a decision about which was better, which was more creative, which was more this, or more that. It was simply “time” to do it – while I still can – because nobody lives forever, and the clock was ticking loudly.

    So what I read in between the lines is perfectly simple. Young people who have been immersed in digital are experimenting, just as I have – and for similar reasons – but in the opposite direction. They are experimenting – just as two of my great great uncles, did, long before I was born – making their own collodion wet plate negatives, in the field – and capturing the most amazing scenes. In short, they are doing “something new” – something exciting – something everyone else isn’t.

    While I am rapt – in the other direction – wrapped in the wonderful new world that I – me, personally – have never had. A world in which I can create images I could never have dreamed of in film. A world in which I can grab hold of equipment that simply never existed in my world of film photography, create images I could never have created in my world of photography. In short, more on – to something new and exciting – for me, at least.

    The new addicts of film are doing precisely the same thing. It’s just in the opposite direction. It’s like “you say ‘tomarto’, I say ‘tomayto'”. There’s no right or wrong. They are just different.

    And where can creativity or art go, without difference?

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 19, 2019

      Yes, there’s definitely room for both. Digital has expanded the envelope and the possibilities tremendously, while film retains that “dolce vita”.

      Interesting point, that swing between the two techniques, each becoming old news or hip, depending on the generation 😉 It just all proves that human beings don’t want to be standardised, they want to push in all directions. And that’s just the way it ought to be!

  3. Avatar
    Johannes Hüttner January 18, 2019

    I’ve started with film photography as I guess most of you did as well. My first camera was a Minox 35 GT that my father gave to me when I was 10 years old. I was very proud to own a camera and carried it everywhere snapping shots here and there. a few years later I inherited a Ricoh SLR kit. At that time I got a little more serious about the technical aspects of photography. The time I used it and shot film was on a trip to Nepal in 2007. I didn’t want to trust a digital camera because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to charge batteries (I was right) and the batteries for the meter in my Ricoh lasted for about 6 months with normal use (score film).
    The trip gave me beautiful memories and some quite good photos considering I didn’t bring a tripod and only ISO 200 and 400 film. Starting in 2008 I more or less only shot digital and enjoyed it until my uncle gave me a mint condition Nikon F3 with 50/1.4 last year. I decided to give film a whirl again during our family holidays in Tuscany and boy what a joyful experience.
    I bought some rolls of Fuji Acres 100 and Ilford delta 400 so I could process at home and went for it. Seeing the pictures on the drying rolls of developed film was an experience I enjoyed a lot. I’ve always had a soft spot for chemistry (I´m a trained pharmacist) and the time in the lab mixing the chemicals and owing through the development process and experimenting with times, temperatures, pushing and pulling the film are extremely relaxing.
    Since then I dug up all the old cameras my family owns in various attics and cellars (my favourite been a Zeiss Ikon from 1954) cleaned them and tried to et the cameras into working order. I also bought a second hand Bronica SQ and the 6×6 format is just awesome. I still shoot my digital camera but I pick up one of the film cameras every now and then. A good BW film on a 6×6 MF camera ives a look that is very hard to achieve with digital.
    I´m convinced that film is more than just a hipster thing after seeing the quality of prints that I can et from the Bronica after scanning the negatives.

    Regards

    Johannes

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 19, 2019

      Hi Johannes, that’s a very interesting history. And I share your enjoyment of developping film and your love of a large negative. People who have never handled those simply cannot relate. Scanning is the most boring part, but that can be dealt with professionally, when needed, I suppose. What your comment conveys to me is that I could pick up a film camera very occasionally, just to relax and enjoy the process, while still using digital for everyday purposes. That actually makes a lot of sense. Thanks. Pascal

      • Avatar
        Johannes Hüttner January 19, 2019

        Hi Pascal, shooting film to mix it up every now and then is a nice change of pace for me. Knowing I have only 12 shots on a roll of 120 film instead of several thousand on a late SD card makes me more deliberate in choosing my subject. This in turn benefits my digital photography because I think more about what I do/capture. I´ll continue shooting both and enjoy it as much as I can.
        Btw. if you still own your Mamiya 7 I´m envious as hell. Its one beautiful piece of kit, but hard to get in good condition for a decent price. At the moment im tempted to pick up a Fuji GSW690. I can’t justify the price they’re going for on eBay at the moment.

        If you decide to pick up an analog camera again just remember to enjoy the experience ;).

        • Avatar
          pascaljappy January 19, 2019

          Hmm, my reply got lost, somehow. Apologies if you get it twice.

          The key point is that the two are complementary, mutually beneficial, and place you in a virtuous spiral. That’s very cool.

          I owned and sold two Mamiya 7 cameras with 43,65 and 80mm lenses (10 years apart). Thinking back always brings nostalgia, but since the cameras weren’t being used in the end, it made more sense to sell them and let someone else enjoy. I sold the first to finance a move to digital (big heavy Canon DSLR, two white monster zooms, I hated that). The second was an attempt to recapture the joy of shooting, after getting annoyed over digital cameras but the pain of waiting for 10 days to see my film just was too much.

          The GSW is an incredible camera. It is quite loud (shutter mechanism) and some have a bad reputation for film flatness, but a good one is stellar. The way I’m planning my future is to buy a new 4×5 camera (my previous Lihnof was beautiful) and use it with a digital back and film and polaroid. We’ll see if that comes to fruition 🙂

          • Avatar
            Johannes Hüttner January 19, 2019

            4×5 or larger is something i would love to try, but with my lack of experience I am afraid it would just be a money sink for me. I’m looking forward to your results though.

            • Avatar
              pascaljappy January 19, 2019

              Honestly, it’s not more difficult but requires a very methodical approach (a checklist) because it’s very easy to forget something if you’re absent minded like me 😉 Use any modern camera as a light meter, set shutter, remove the slide, click, put the slide back, done 🙂 Loading the holders is a bit of a pfaf, but not difficult either. This video explains it all : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbST9NFR7SU.

              The main “issue” with 4×5 is that it’s really not spontaneous. It’s great to be forced to focus on what you really want, knowing you can only take one or two photographs, but it’s easy to fall in a style that’s a bit stale if you’re not careful. But when all works well, oh my 😉

        • Avatar
          jean pierre (pete) guaron January 20, 2019

          Johannes, I can understand your love affair with the Bronica – I had one for quite a while, with various lenses, and different backs (for different films). Do you have access to a decent enlarger? – the feeling you get in a darkroom, watching your images appear, in the developer tray, is like some kind of miracle happening.

          • Avatar
            Johannes Hüttner January 20, 2019

            I´ve actually never printed in a darkroom myself. Photographs that is, as a silver gelatine protein electrophoresis comes close i guess. Finding a darkroom and printing myself is up there on my list of things to do.
            Unfortunately i can´t find my fathers old equipment. I´ll have to look for a public darkroom or any other way to get access to an enlarger. There are some cheap options i could buy but i don´t think they´re worth their asking price.

        • Avatar
          jean pierre (pete) guaron January 23, 2019

          I can’t tell you what ANY of the current enlargers for B&W film work are like, Johannes – I haven’t had one for decades. And of course there are the trays for the various chemical baths, too. Basics are developer and fixer – but a wetting agent before the developer is a good idea, unless you want to spend endless hours spotting tiny white spots (representing air bubbles that blocked the developer from reaching the emulsion on the paper). And rinsing all these chemicals out of the paper is essential, for the longevity of the print.
          If you can dictate which chemicals you decide to use, in conjunction with some public lab, it might work for you. It’d make a lot more sense than buying your own enlarger – defer that till you really know hw serious you are, and what you need. A cheap enlarger wouldn’t be much fun and a good enlarger will cost heaps, I imagine, gauged on what I went through when I was printing my own film.

    • Avatar
      Johannes Hüttner January 19, 2019

      edit: “The time I used it and shot film was on a trip to Nepal in 2007” was supposed to be “The last time I …”

      something is off with my keyboard…

  4. Avatar
    Michael Demeyer January 19, 2019

    “So, this evening, I’m putting tape over my rear screen and will not chimp or review any of my photographs for one week. Let’s see how many turn out to be keepers when I’m not able to delete bad ones on the spot … should be plenty of humiliating fun to look forward to”

    Or get a Leica M10-D. 😉

    It has caused some flutter (positive and negative) in the Leica M community by ‘going back’ and removing the display (among other things).

    I’m preparing to get a scanner to scan my collection of 4×5 B&W negs and it has really motivated me to try shooting 4×5 film again. I don’t have a place for the darkroom at the moment (although the gear is all in the storage room) but it doesn’t take much space to process sheets of film. And I do miss the process of shooting with the large format camera.

    We’ll see how the next year evolves…

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 19, 2019

      Oh *please* keep us posted on that. Is there any way I can twist your arm for an article on those 4×5 scans? That’s the dream.
      I’m mulling changes in my gear and have thought about the M10-D. The little experiment will tell me whether it’s for me or not 😉

      Best of luck in your return to 4×5. I admire that.

  5. Avatar
    Dave Hollis January 19, 2019

    In the last five years or so I have rediscovered film and not looked back. Not that I don’t like and do shoot digital, I am increasingly enjoying shooting film, mostly 35mm.

    Let’s get one thing out of the way. I am no young hipster, I will be retiring later this year. To me shooting film is nothing new. I grew up with it and I still use some of the cameras I used in my youth.

    Although I have a few medium format cameras, 35mm is the format I choose most of the time. Well scanned, I use a Nikon D800 for that, the resulting resolution is good enough for decent sized prints. That said, the Nuremberg council here in Germany does have a well fitted out darkroom and it has many good enlargers. The biggest problem is finding one free because of the number of young people who have rediscovered film photography …

    So what do I like? I think that is a difficult question to answer as a film photographer is spoil for choice. At the moment I enjoy using Tri-X for portraits and intend to use it for a large project that hopefully will be agreed upon at the end of the month.

    I can’t say why but I just like the results. Not that other black and white films have produced good photos – the last time I brought my daughter portraits of her and the family, they were torn out of my hand never to be seen again. They just have something that digital photos don’t have.

    To me it is about the results I get and less the process of getting there. Not that this isn’t an aspect. Film photography forces you to think a little more about the composition, the shadows and highlights, especially when making portraits. You can rely on the light meter in the camera, but measuring incident light is to me the way to go. In contrast to digital photography, there is no instantly reviewing your photos on the back of the camera. Given the latitude of many films, this may not matter much but it certainly is nice to get things right first go.

    Otherwise, the process of shooting on film is not so different from shooting on digital. There is one caveat: On analogue film you shoot for the shadows, on digital the highlights. I shoot a little less when shooting film than I do on digital. the former costs money. However, it is not that much of a constraint. In both cases I am looking for a good motif and in both cases I like to get the photo right first time round.

    If I use a C41 film, I can get the results back in an hour from a shop in Nuremberg and either scan the negatives or have photos made and scan them. So speed is not an enormous problem.

    One aspect has not been covered in the article that I think is really important: longevity.

    I recently prepared a photo book on my deceased mother. Starting with a school class photo going back to round about 1933 – an amazing photo obviously done on a large format camera – right up to recent digital and analogue photos. I am of the opinion that the younger generation is going to be without a past. Even if there is the possibility of using instant film. In the photo book I could cover the various stages of her life because there were photos around I could scan. That is different these days. When I use film, I know that my grandchildren will have something to look back on.

    To summarise: You can live in both worlds. At the end of the day we photograph for the results. There are different ways of getting there.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 19, 2019

      “On analogue film you shoot for the shadows, on digital the highlights.” Very true. In fact, I think digital copes less easily with blown highlights than film with burried shadows.

      “The biggest problem is finding one free because of the number of young people who have rediscovered film photography …” The digital incumbents must find that terrifying but, to me, that is wonderful news.

      Longevity … regular readers know I don’t backup a lot. The reason for this is that I trusted my photos to CD-ROMs when my kids were growing. I doubled or tripled copies. Now, we know these “safe forever” disks were utter rubbish and I don’t have a single photo left from my children’s youth. Unless some relative shot a few … on film. I’ve learned to live with that and it doesn’t worry my so much, but it was a bad loss. As you say, film lasts. My grandmother died at 96 18 months ago. On her wall were photographs of her own grandparents. Those are still great today.

      Film is amazing technology. Thanks for the great comment.

      • Avatar
        jean pierre (pete) guaron January 20, 2019

        Film does deteriorate – digital recordings of our photos deteriorate – our old B&W prints deteriorate (very quickly, if not properly processed AND WASHED) – our old colour prints do, because of the use of vegetable dies – and digital prints do too, depending on the paper (acid free?) and inks used.
        It’s mostly the time frame that you need to consider. Some modern paper & die combinations are virtually archivally permanent – others are very disappointing. Ask Hollywood – they have a terrible time with preservation of images!
        Personally, I’m giving up on digital storage – I use it for post processing, then print the shots I want to keep. Any further copies required later will depend on how well digital’s storage performs – but at least I’m less vulnerable to losing my photos. (And yes I know hard copy prints can be damaged too).
        If you’re using film for B&W, your main preservation issue is the final rinse of your films & prints, to clear the development chemicals completely out. Any failure to do so will eventually lead to the silver halide reverting and the image fading. Too long since I did it, for me to remember – but best practice used to be some kind of chemical added to the last wash, and then – for prints – a good long bath in running water, before drying the prints.
        As for film for colour, have fun preserving the film – remember Hollywood? – and print your photos as soon as you can on a modern printer – which I imagine involves making a conversion to digital first? – leaving me wondering what is the point of film. Of course you can always try to find a traditional colour lab – have fun with that one, too! – but you’ll end up with prints with the vegetable dies in them, that fade rapidly on exposure to sunlight.
        All of which most of you probably already know.
        For me, one of the great attractions of digital is the ease of making prints, and the permanence of them.

  6. Avatar
    Cliff Whittaker January 20, 2019

    Don’t know when I’ve enjoyed an issue of Dear Susan more. The article is great and so are the replies. It brought back so much from my past when I shot film for 46 years (and now digital for 13 more). There were so many facets I could comment on, but I’m only going to say that there is only one camera anywhere in the world today that I lust for, and it’s not digital.
    Every time I see an ad for a Horseman VR-2 my palms get sweaty and I start flinching toward my checkbook. Thinking of the “masterpiece” images I could get with that medium format technical camera starts my blood to racing. It is such a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. And, if I had three roll film backs for it I could shoot for the zone system simply by changing backs like I used to do with film holders (I only visualize b&w film for it).
    And then I start thinking about the drawbacks of processing. I still have my tanks, etc., but I just don’t want to do that anymore. But, if I could get commercial processing and reasonable cost high res scanning it might be worth the effort. But, if I could do that I might as well use one of my 4×5 field cameras that I already own and get the best image quality possible. But, have you ever looked at the price of having a 4×5 negative roll scanned at 300 dpi? Astronomical. And so is the price of the best quality 4×5 scanners.
    At this point my mind gets tired of processing all the “what ifs” and “buts” and I usually go take a nap. By the time I wake up my sweaty palms have dried, my blood is no longer racing with thoughts of masterpiece film images and my “film withdrawal” symptoms have passed. I can settle down and be happy with my D850 until Pascal or someone else fires me up again with an article like this one.
    But, darn, I’d still like to have one.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 20, 2019

      Thank you Cliff 🙂 🙂

      Since you’ve shown me yours
      Horseman lust

      I’ll show you mine 😀

      Linhof lust

      Oh, my goodness, aren’t those beautiful cameras. I’d love to buy one right now, and pass it on from generation to generation.

      Yes, cost of scanning is a big barrier to entry. My guess is that it might make more sense to splurge for an even larger camera (say 8×10) and stick to contact prints. For that one in a hundred stellar shot, have it scanned and printed. But the beauty of a large format contact print is so incredible that I think I’d be happy just doing that. My apologies for bankrupting you but consider this : platinum/palladium contact prints!

      Here’s to sweaty hands!

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    NMc January 20, 2019

    Pascal, nice thoughtful article to read, thanks.
    You can get yourself into a big stew with this topic, and I do wonder if the digital realm (socially and physically) is somewhat binary (OK, yes that was intended). The process and thinking there is only one answer/ result is more the problem than the mediums.
    I think that there is just that little bit of interpretation and/or engagement required when viewing “non-perfect” images, and analogue will give this in a more subtle or natural way than digital. With digital any imperfections are either obvious, or the prescribed “imperfections” are somewhat perfectly presented. All this is obviously not true literally, however I think that there may be a little bit of truth somewhere in what I wrote. At most this could perhaps describe 5% of what is going on here.

    I also think that Digital makes it easier to do more complex images compared to film, at least with much less experience and equipment. I often feel that film photography is likely to be engaging through simplicity (conceptually, compositionally) getting more right in camera and less post processing trickery perhaps. Maybe analogue photography is judged on what has survived, most is more than two decades old with the best remaining by editing through survival of the most engaging.
    Regards Noel

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 20, 2019

      Hi Noel, I think that’s exactly it! We tolerate imperfections far more from film and even welcome theme, whereas we’re very intolerant of digital imperfections. And yes, digital has dramatically pushed the envelope of what we can do. I’m not bashing digital. Only recognising that more and more people, particularly artists and younger people are returning to film. My daughter (art schoolà wouldn’t be caught dead with a digital camera 😀 She has her phone for that.

      All the best,
      Pascal

  8. Avatar
    PaulB January 20, 2019

    Pascal, all

    This string shows that great minds do think alike. Or that they may suffer from a similar affliction. 😉

    I have also thought about returning to large format film as a way to get images with that WOW factor. I still have 3 large format camera kits to put into use. Somewhere In storage I have the things needed to develop B&W film. Otherwise the question of processing comes up. Seattle and Portland have custom labs that will process B&W sheets, but to the best of my knowledge color will need to be sent to Los Angeles or San Francisco. So several days are needed for that. I miss the days when I could make a day of it, go to the lab in Seattle, and have my processed sheets 3 hours later.

    I have a question for all of you that are thinking of adding digital to the camera. What are you considering for a digital back? A true digital back or a camera on an adapter?

    PS. If any asks, “Why you would want to go to the trouble of film or large format?” Reply, “If it was easy, it would not be worth doing.” 😉

    PaulB

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 20, 2019

      Hi Paul, my original idea was to buy a Hasselblad X1D to use as a travel camera and a digital back on a large format camera. The short flange makes it OK for that. But the difference in size between 4×5 negatives or larger, and the “small” medium format sensor mean that you need two different sets of lenses. So I’m giving up on that idea and might buy a field Toyo or a second Master Technika with its own lenses and will use the two separately.

      Thanks for the link to Alan’s website, it is mouthwatering !

      Labs are a problem but young people are using film more and more these days so, who knows, maybe we’ll see some reopen closer to home 🙂

      Chhers, Pascal

  9. Avatar
    PaulB January 20, 2019

    Oops! I forgot to add in my message above. If any of you are interested in being immersed in large format, visit the website below.

    https://www.alanrossphotography.com/workshops/

    Alan Ross was the last assistant to work with Ansley Adams and he does lead workshops, including at international locations. So far his website shows workshops in Cuba and Scotland. I have taken a workshop where he was an instructor and I would take another.

    PaulB

  10. Avatar
    pascaljappy January 21, 2019

    Interesting point, Krisitan. I’ve not shot jpeg, even with raw, for the past decade, probably. I can see a fixed-lens Fuji shot in jpeg and printed at home to be quite the relaxing kit for traveling, now that you mention it.

  11. Avatar
    Kristian Wannebo January 21, 2019

    Noel writes in a comment:

    > “I often feel that film photography is likely to be engaging through simplicity (conceptually, compositionally) getting more right in camera and less post processing trickery perhaps.”

    Yes, and I think perhaps an obsession with perfection can lead to a overuse of post processing…

    But nowadays also digital allows for simplicity.
    With my (now dead) Fujifilm XF1 I mostly used SOOC JPGs when highlights made ETTR exposure close to exposure for SOOCs – and they were pretty good (I decided on the XF1 (vs. the Sony RX100) after reading in Ming Thein’s review about its lens and JPG quality.)
    ( With the XF1 I could change some internal parameters to my taste including very simple curve adjustment, also after the exposure.)
    – – –

    I quote from Ming Thein – on using SOOC JPGs:
    https://blog.mingthein.com/2018/06/18/heresy-and-sacrilege-mt-and-sooc-experiments/

    “2. For I keep the raw files and work them later if the shot turns out to be something of merit;
    3. There are compromises here: expose to the right no longer works, because you’re exposing with the JPEG as the final intent. However, specifically with the PEN-F, this can be offset somewhat by the curve applied in camera – it turns out what appears to be ‘correct’ as JPEG is fairly close to ETTR, too.
    4. Not all cameras are created equal in the JPEG department. Whilst Canikon have been steadily improving and no longer produce Barbie-plastic or jellybean noise, and MF is starting to produce JPEGs (though with limited or no adjustability), Olympus and Fuji have been the kings of SOOC for some time now – going from good to truly quite surprising if you bother putting in the time to experiment and set up.”
    – – –

    Also Kirk Tuck finds the Fujifilm X-T3 (and adjusted Panasonic G9) SOOC JPGs very good.
    https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2018/11/my-final-assessment-of-panasonic-g9.html?m=1

    I quote:
    ( Hear, hear! – to his last two sentences.)
    “Do you like Fuji’s Jpegs (SOOC) better than those of the competitors? The Jpegs are very nice. With much effort you can get the G9 Jpegs close but for the rest of us the X-T3 does it effortlessly and that’s a nice thing to have if you are predominantly a Jpeg only shooter. I’ll confess that part of my obsession with getting exposure and white balance as accurate as possible is my desire to use Jpegs for as much of my work as possible. I resist spending too much time fine tuning images. My early experiences with color photography mostly revolved around slide film and medium format transparency film where color accuracy and the exposure were locked in and unchangeable by the photographer once processed. It worked for us then by freeing up our time.
    It can work for us now for the same reasons.”

  12. Avatar
    Dallas Thomas January 27, 2019

    Pascal I did say to you I would reply, again another superb article. Film was something I used but took it down to the local store for processing. I can why people love it, but me I’m firmly a digital man much cleaner no chemicals etc.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 27, 2019

      Hi Dallas. Yes, for me, today, it would be difficult to go back to film as well. However, as a side project, a ritual, as Philippe, puts it, it would make sense. Much as I’m trying to find the space for platinum printing, developing the occasional large format film sheet could be a lot of fun. The look is quite different and very pleasing, so … who knows ?

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