#1352. Copying a camera that copies film?

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Mar 20

The convenience of digital with the looks of film?

 

Obviously, the benefits of film photography shouldn’t be limited to looks alone. The palpable experience of rolls and prints probably overshadow any aesthetic benefits, as does the chimp-free process for those receptive to it. I knew that, of course, but had lived for years in the hope of combining convenience and prettiness as a personal Grail of my photographic life, leaving aside the other two thirds of analog’s value proposition.

But even my remaining third had proved difficult to make good, the old analog look being a combination of filmstock, lens drawing and camera format that my fixed system had no chance of emulating.

That was until the Hassy 907x 100c.

 

Is Hasselblad’s Natural Colour Solution more mature than when the X2D was released? Whatever the case, initial photographs from the X2D, in the hands of the usual influencers, looked like they’d been made with a modern smartphone. Insipid. But, for some reason, those from the latest iteration of the 907 have come closer to looking like film than anything I’ve seen before with a digital heart.

And, for some reason that no amount of colour science or psychology can explain, it has been easier to imitate the 907 look with the X1D than to imitate film. Analog by proxy?

Now, my lenses hail from the original XCD range, boasting stratospheric MTF charts but a slightly clinical look, whereas the 907 bodies placed in the hands of reviewers benefit from later designs that trade a minute amount of resolution for copious dollops of organic goodness. So my photos won’t easily match the amount of leaning towards analog that people like Kyle McDougall have been able to coax from their review cameras, let alone when those were grafted to the rear of venerable 500 series bodies and matching lenses. Still, the tone curves seem to match and that’s plenty enough for me, allowing me to produce watchable images even in light that has most definitely switched to the hard side of the spectrum (not quite Mediterranean Summer setting, but getting there).

 

The irony behind the latest offerings from Hasselblad is that, although they have dropped video altogether (a shame, as the low res output from my X1D was beautiful beyond words) their aesthetics has never been more cinematic, to use a hackneyed term. I can only imagine how wonderful footage from the X2D / 907 would look using Zeiss lenses from the film-era Hassy bodies! Slap on a tiny amount of grain and you’d be all set for a lot of filmmaking fun.

Staying in the realm of photography, I can only reiterate my wish – nay, my dream – of seeing Hasselblad release more LUTs for its Natural Colour Solution.

The real beauty behind film, one of the reasons that has led to the huge film resurgence, is that filmstock development involved inordinate amounts of qualitative research. At least one DS reader was commissioned by Fuji to shoot Tokyo on filmstock under development in all manner of lighting and atmospheric conditions, to finely tune and balance its colour response to create the desired mood.

 

That was the beauty of film. It yielded interpretations of reality, sometimes with extreme colour casts, that remained balanced and believable thanks to the immense efforts of the development teams. Digital sensors, for all their convenience, are optimised for performance : sensitivity, S/N ratio, dynamic range. And that’s great, but it leaves the small matter of aesthetics to the user and their editing software. And most of us aren’t as good at it as the large teams of engineers and colourists which crafted the aesthetics of film.

Note that the N in Hasselblad’s NCS stands for Natural. Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution. Natural, not neutral. There’s a difference between optimizing for a chart and optimizing for a mood. And while Hassy’s current HNCS very much favours neutralitรฉ, different LUTs could give us more interpretive aesthetic, as in many presets, but with the balance and believability of ancient filmstocks. If any brand can do that, it’s Hassy. Besides, filmmakers have been doing it for years/decades.

 

So; here’s hoping digital can come full circle by not only allowing 100 Mp backs to be used behind venerable glass, but by also giving us the choice of looks and ambiance, in camera, that we used to have in the days of celluloid and toxic fumes.

Fuji users, shush ๐Ÿ˜‰

(unrelated, but: the theme of those photographs is … water. After two years of severe drought, it has rained. A lot! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ )

 

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  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    I shall just sit here sip my fine Argentinian Malbec and smile inwardly to myself ๐Ÿ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      I said Shush! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      That said, Hassy could design something new, and leave the whole film emulation landscape to Fuji. Good for both brands, I think.

      • Ian Varkevisser says:

        I am smiling because I can afford the finest imported wines – having not bankrupted myself on gas – just saying – LOL

        • pascaljappy says:

          Hmmm, that’s an interesting reframing of the debate ๐Ÿ˜‰ In vino veritas ? ๐Ÿ˜‰

          • Ian Varkevisser says:

            truth can be found in a good bottle ? ๐Ÿ˜‰

            • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

              How much you pay depends as much on where you buy it, as it does on the quality of what’s in the bottle. Growing up with a wine maker as a father, I learned to select what I do or don’t appreciate, from a very early age. And one rather extreme example of “price” was a french wine I bought here in Western Australia – and, a week later in London. Here, the price was about$18-$19. In London, it was 57 pounds sterling, at the time equivalent to around $135! Thankfully I wasn’t paying, when we bought the one in London.

              • Ian Varkevisser says:

                truth in a bottle comes at a different price depending on whose truth it is – sounds sounds familiar in the modern world – the following springs to mind – but let us not dwell on politics.

                “We will continue to be your single source of truth,” and that, “Unless you hear it from us, it is not the truth.”

  • I enjoy reading your thoughts and musings. We seem to be traveling somewhat similar paths these days, though with rather different tool sets. I’m strictly Open Source (RawTherapee, Gimp) and have been for a very long time.

    My current process involves RawTherapee’s .dcp-based Color Management module that allows me to select an embedded tone curve, a base color that matches standardized colors, and a “look” that can be a beautiful kind of color grade (I know, we’re talking stills, not video). This is something that RentWare doesn’t give users access to, so there can be a maddeningly complex level of control that I find myself confronted with.

    Once the dust settles on a base image, I’ve found is that adding one of the G’Mic film simulations that mimic film (to some degree) can alter color yet again. The effect is sometimes gorgeous and I can set the filter strength to as subtle or strong as I want (another level of maddeningly complex control).

    Relatedly, I’ve been digitizing a few film projects from back in the Dinosaur Days. What I see are two things about film that impact my perceptions when viewing that kind of output. The first is the way that film makes “sharpness.” It’s different from digital and is easy to see under extreme magnification.

    The second is something you mentioned above and that’s film grain. What I see with grain is that it separates me, a viewer, ever so slightly from the things photographed. The things themselves are turned into objects that my mind interprets as more “art-like.”

    Which makes me remember why I’ve said that using a full frame camera at low ISO “feels” to me very much like using an 8×10 film camera. That is, there is no (or extremely little) grain and the things themselves are revealed in all their clarity. There is no separation between me and “it” and that last little step into the “artistic” sense of film is lost. Though most of the sense (perhaps 90 percent?) can be retained through careful color management.

    Now, where did I rest that glass of vin nature from the Auvergne (and who would be crazy enough to grow grapes there?)? There’s an honesty and integrity to that wine that’s difficult for me to find elsewhere.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Christopher,

      We might be converging on more topics than one, if you are drinking natural wine ๐Ÿ˜‰ Those used to be “odd”, to put it kindly, but winemakers have persisted and are now making different wines that do warrant our full tastebud attention. I hope you are enjoying yours. With weather heating up, I guess Auvergne is now a suitable place for grapes? The soil must be very different from what we get elsewhere, as the area is very volcanic. But since the water is so good there, the wine might be great!

      As for your process, I find it both brave and fascinating.

      To me, film shines because of its tonal curve, which makes it both more contrasty (that depends on filmstock, I suppose) but with broader shoulders that slip more gently into black and into white. It feels so much more natural than digital clipping that you can tolerate any colour shifts and it sill looks fairly natural. Also, grain acts as a kind of “information bookend”. When we enlarge a digital file, it becomes mushy, whereas film remains “sharp” (but mainly shows grain). I believe the mind sees the blown up digital file as a break in information, whereas the film feels like it’s still providing information (even though it no longer has anything to do with the image). And, as you say, sharpness feels different. There is less accutance, but more organic definition. It’s probably less resolved in terms of pure information but doesn’t feel it.

      All of this is why film format matters more than digital format. There’s far more difference between 6×9 cm (let alone 8×10 inches) and 35mm than between the digital formats. And each increasing size lowers the impact of grain, increases apparent smoothness, changes DoF … so anyone can choose the format that look best to their eyes. Whereas there are very little aesthetic differences between M43 and “medium format” digital other than the colour science of each manufacturer.

      I think that film had to be right in camera.At least in colour, there is very little that can be done in post to change the appearance of a shot. So filmstocks were heavily researched and honed over long periods of time. Whereas digital sensors and just quantitative things that spit out data with very little regard for balanced aesthetics. It’s becoming better now, but some digital photographs – even properly exposed – still look vile out of camera. The aesthetic process has shifted to post. Which is freeing for some, but a pain for others ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Cheers

      • Want to really freak-out? Add a grain layer over a digital image and use “Soft Light” as the blend mode. Not that one would ever really want to do that to a nice ‘blad file in real life.

        What you say about digital is true iff you stay within each manufacturer’s eco-system. Once you cross over to LR/PS and use Adobe camera profiles, manufacturer specific “color science” is lost and you’re completely dependent on what Adobe’s color scientists can gin up. Though, in fact, Adobe can and often does come really close to a manufacturers original color style from what I’ve seen.

        Robert Parker-ized/University of California, Davis tastes seem to have narrowed the wine experience dramatically. Mais, les vins natures used to be the only way wine was ever made. So it’s kind of like “going back” and trying to find something tasty. Vin nature is still particularly hit/miss and takes a bit of tasting (*hic*) to find something reasonable. But once I found something decent (several vineyards here in France, actually) I can really taste the difference. Le terroir, cรฉpages, and local airborne yeast flavors can come to the fore. Or so I’ve found for myself.

        • pascaljappy says:

          Agreed on both counts.

          Strangely enough, in LR, the Adobe Colour profile is more accurate than the Hassy one. Scary …

          You know my passion for terroir. Globalization is one of the great evils of our time, levelling cultures everywhere for the financial benefit of a tiny few. Terroir is the exact opposite. As you say, it can be hit or miss, because nature is not as predictable as a set of chemicals, but terroir elevates humans, their know-how, their bonds, their culture. I a strong advocate of terroir and a lover of small producer wines. That just, I’ve just polished a bottle of an Aussie Chardonnay that really appeals to me (Shaw + Smit M3) ๐Ÿ˜‰ Don’t tell my friends in Burgundy.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        If by “natural wine” you mean the splendid ones you find all over the place in continental Europe, locally made and not filled with the chemicals the larger wineries shove in the bottle, for cellaring and exporting – these wines can be every bit as good as the best of bottled vintages. But you need to drink them soon, not keep them till next year.

        • Exactly this! Imagine my surprise to learn what you say is true.

          One of the best things I learned is that vin de garde means nothing because wine is meant to be enjoyed, not cellared to increase the market value of ones holdings.

          • pascaljappy says:

            Some wines do change over time and taste different after a few years or even decades. When vinified with strong tannins, they tend to be hard to palate if too young and to mellow out after that. But those are the exception more than the norm, and there can be some snobbishness about aging sometimes ๐Ÿ˜‰

            • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

              Soooooooooo true! I’ve actually had wines aged 30 – 40 – even about 90! – years. But what you are saying won’t be detected by the “raw recruits”, the amateur drinkers. They won’t appreciate the subtleties you’re talking about. Handing them a glass of a wine like that is likely to end up as “pearls before swine”. Like people who think the diamond they gave their wife is “better”, simply because it’s “bigger” – a 10 carat stone! WOW! OK – but it’s only an “I” grade stone!

              The night when I opened the last of my father’s collection – a shiraz made in Victoria in 1952, which I opened in about 1986. There were 6 of us in my apartment – 4 refused to sample it, one tried it and didn’t finish his glass. And when I tasted it, I nearly went into orbit! I couldn’t get rid of them all, fast enough. And spent the rest of the evening – from around 5:30 till well after 10:00 – returning to it, and having another taste. It was too good to “drink” – it had to be “revered”!

              It’s like the difference between “any old painting” and a “masterpiece”. An amateur’s photo, taken on a cellphone and one of Cartier-Bresson’s. The animals I used to fashion out of plasticine, as a kid, and the sculptures by Michelangelo or Rodin.

              • Kristian Wannebo says:

                A wonderful experience, Pete!
                I’ve only occasionally had the chance to try wine a few years old.
                Very nice!

                Here in Sweden our wines long grew under earth…
                I.e. potatoes to make alcohol of.
                We have a good tradition of spiced schnapps from both potatoes and grains. And that also matures bottled – opposed to what the selling monopoly used to maintain.

                When our favourite went out of production my father bought a couple of boxes. After 5 years we opened the first at Christmas. And then one every Christmas. Aah!
                ( But you have to be careful to invite Swedes to taste schnapps, here there is the habit of swallowing a small glass in one go!)

                I visited eastern Australia in the 1980s with a friend (we visited friends that had emigrated and bought a farm).
                I liked that restaurants without wines allowed you to bring your own bottle – and if you came unprepared they kindly advised you of the next wine shop!

                But the best food we had was at a youth hostel close to the coast some 100 km north of Cairns. And the young cook wasn’t even aware that her food was as good as in very good restaurants!
                And, of course, there was no wine…

        • pascaljappy says:

          Hear Hear. Hips Hips Hurray.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    As usual, I’m lost. I spent from 1952 until around 2006, shooting film. Then I decided “enough’s enough” and started shooting digital – because most of the time, film meant B&W (I could scarcely set up my own lab to do my own colour printing, at home!). I HAD made occasional excursions into colour, because my film cameras generally had magazine backs, so I could change film in seconds.

    But then I decided to take the plunge and experiment with digi. Tried a couple, settled with Nikon. And then started doing my own colour processing, for the first time in my life. Knowing that this time, this would see me out. I have absolutely no desire to go backwards, and restarted using film. Its limitations would nowadays freak me out.

    Yet I seem to be surrounded by people heading in the opposite direction. Why? Are humans always dissatisfied with what they have, always wanting something else, something they DON’T have? Dunno. But I’m going to sit this dance out.

    Fuji yes – tick – of all the colour films I did try, I liked Fuji the best. Your choice to suggest it was “natural” – I don’t think ANY of these “colour photography” systems are “natural” – they all rely on RGB and CMY, with varying levels of grey or black chucked in. In nature, there are ZILLIONS of different colours, not three. So “natural colours” in photography is no more than a pipe dream – we end up choosing what we like, and try to capture enough information to make that possible.

    I can see why you favour Fuji and Hassy, though. Even if I’m not pursuing you across the paddock. That of course merely means I am doing MY thing, not copying yours.

    In due course I’ll horrify everyone else by FINALLY getting hold of a SIGMA with a full frame Foveon sensor, and that will look different again. In the meantime, I think my wife is beginning to relent, and I may shortly be allowed to get a DJI Mavic drone, to chase kite surfers, wind surfers et al, from the comfort of a bench beside the carpark, on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Should be able to get some really startling photos with that!

    Your photography takes you into the countryside – mine is sometimes restricted to MACRO, or people’s pets – or panoramas, just to go to the opposite extreme. Interlaced with local “features of interest”, historic buildings, street, etc. Eclectic – and really not suited to Hassy’s or Fuji’s, regardless of their image quality. This year should see an attempt at a telescope (not telephoto) attempt at another panoramic shot of Rottnest, 20 km off the coast – this time, in the blue hour, with the lights from the buildings on the island and the buoys in the channel marking the route the ferries must take. Attempting that with your gear would create insurmountable problems.

    In short – my choices restrict me to choosing different gear, different media – and I have the added advantage of being able to enjoy yours, as well.

  • Peter Backhouse says:

    I find it amazing that people invest so much money in gear and so little time and effort in understanding post-processing. Film is just a formula that a manufacturer has decided colour within a certain context of light ‘should look’ like. A RAW file is what manufacturers have decided a base image ‘should look’ like – before the photographer makes their own adjustments.

    Every aspect of a photograph can be adjusted in post-processing.

    Film nostalgics are actually hankering after a look that is under the control of third parties – those that decide what chemical mixes they wish to use and when in their chemical pots.

    Ironically, film nostalgics ( who will be the first to quote Ansell Adams as a benchmark of something) ignore the word of Adams himself in chasing the nostalgia ( laziness?) wasn’t it Adams who said that the negative was just the ‘score’ and that the darkroom ( post processing ) was the performance?

    I highly recommend that people who are interested in creating their own style/look/colour – call it what you may – invest some time in understanding how easy it is to create not only presets which I dont bother with – bit profiles ( LUTS if you like) and then use these a starting point for one’s post processing work.

    It isn’t difficult – in fact it makes the post processing part of photography enjoyable and makes one’s images truly their own.

    For those who are less inclined to learn these things, there are excellent ‘film emulation’ LUTS out there that can be purchased for very little and whose utility and amenity far outweighs the cost of any lens or camera one might wish to add to their gear arsenal.

    atb
    Pete

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Peter, in the wonderful world of photography we seem to have surrounded ourselves with a mob of “purists” who chant that post processing is an invention of the devil. That all images must be SOOC – a term they use for “branding” anything that they suspect has been “fiddled with”. Lord knows how – hardly any images are incapable of a little bit of TLC ,and a bit of touch up here and there.
      So when Princess Kate tried it, she was pilloried by the press.
      Personally I think it’s all nonsense and I can’t remember when I last printed a digital image that I DIDN’T “fiddle with” in post. And in any case, cameras these days have a certain amount of AI built in, so it’s fanciful to imagine how you COULD have an image with NO “post” done on it.
      But some of us can’t hold our tongues, or keep our opinions to ourselves, so there’s a regular tirade & tongue lashing in the photographic press, targetting the evils of post processing our images.
      I don’t take to the idea of profiles or LUTs – I process so many images that I have a fairly standard selection of programs I use, for specific reasons, and a fairly standard processing system. Some might think it takes too long, but I’m happy with it – and I also do it for a couple of other people, since I have dozens of different programs to choose from, on this computer, and they have hardly any (or none at all).

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Pascal, there’s an interesting article in DP Review on the japanese term “kaizen”, and how the meaning of it has been helping Fuji improve its cameras over the years. Here’s the URL for the article:
    https://www.dpreview.com/opinion/7626136405/meaning-of-kaizen-fujfilm-x100vi

    • From wikipedia: “The Japanese word kaizen means ‘improvement’ or ‘change for better’…”

      Having worked in technology I’ve seen this concept applied with or without the application of the word. In some cases it was just the basic mindset for how we worked.

      I’ve seen it work for good, like at Toyota or Fuji. I’ve seen it fail to cover for the asset stripping mistakes at increasing “cash flow” to make stock prices “pop” on Wall Street, such as with Danaher, Cooper and several other companies.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I think it works with Peter’s suggestions on post processing.

        Some see it as a form of “evil” that digi and AI have sprung on us. LIke the vicious attacks by loonies in the press & elsewhere on Princess Kate’s family photos.

        But I used to do stuff 50-60 years ago, post processing (developing & printing). Dodging and burning – spotting (even in colour! – that was a lot harder then, than it is now) – all sorts of “tricks”. With the object of getting the image “right” – not the objective of “altering” it – and there is a difference between the two.

        And I’m afraid most of us simply cannot avoid it. Cameras these days have so much of it “built in”! Cellphones more than DSLRs or mirrorless – but all of them have some of it. Less so perhaps if you shoot RAW. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but if there IS still a camera on the market without it, I’d dismiss it as irrelevant. As the “exception that proves the rule”!

        • Kristian Wannebo says:

          Aye!

          (In the more “serious” cameras you can usually reduce them. For the jpg:s I always choose “natural” (or “monochrome”) and reduce sharpening.)

          I In the “old” days some of this (much less, of course) was hidden in the labs (and in some film stocks).
          Most commercial colour copy labs adjusted white balance automatically anew to each foto on a roll.
          ( And probably some of them enhanced colour – like in camera Standard vs. Natural for jpg:s!)

          I once had a hard time in Stockholm finding one that copied all fotos on the roll at the same white balance!
          ( It was a series for choosing the colour of bathroom tiles including nuances of the same colour.)

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            That’s why I am enjoying digi so much – however awful my results are, at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that I did it myself, and someone else (like the commercial labs) didn’t interfere.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    I guess Fujifilm are way ahead of the curve when it comes to film enthusiasts tastes.

    Not only did they invest in in camera film simulations to accurately match their film stocks, but have also invested in the in camera GRAIN EFFECT option which adds a controlled amount of random noise to an image to simulate the grain pattern that photographers using film see in their images.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Aah, a nice glass of wine…

    ( – but not with musically performed music, already half a glass dulls my ears a fraction.
    How’s that about truth?)

    Only, here in Sweden there are no local wines, I mean were: recently a couple of wine yards have started in the south – climate change…
    And no wine shops – except the state monopoly Systembolaget everywhere except in the smallest communities, where some local shop can order for you.

    The monopoly gives the advantage of a huge choice from all over the world.
    Here in “my” small suburb 25km south of Stockholm
    (and 15 km from me) the local shop has a choice of e.g. more than 60* Alsace wines, and if I’m willing to order my wine from their central I can choose from 100* (plus another 200* they can import by order if you’re not in a hurry).
    ( *: including different bottle sizes.)
    Or I can choose from e.g. 140* (300* +200*) Australian wines…

    And although alcohol taxes are higher here decent wines are affordable.
    E.g.: I celebrated New Year with a bottle of simple but good Alsace Riesling:
    Jean Biecher Riesling Rรฉserve, 2022
    for 8.50 โ‚ฌ.
    ( In a simple restaurant or bar that would have bought me a glass.)

    I haven’t looked for terroir wines (I’m pretty sure they have some) – I believe the best are not exported but drunk locally…

    • pascaljappy says:

      Well, monopolies are never a good thing, but that does seem like a sweet deal. There’s little chance I could find a good Alsace wine for 8โ‚ฌ in France. Taxes … Let alone an Aussie one. The Chardonnay mentioned above is much closer to 30โ‚ฌ. Oh well, at least it’s nice ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        P.S.
        I forgot to mention that many of the cheaper wines are imported in bulk and bottled (some filled in cartons) in Sweden.
        ( That Riesling – 75cl w. screw cap. – was bottled in Alsace.)

        Shaw + Smit M3 (75cl)
        is 23โ‚ฌ here.
        Swedish taxes:
        2 โ‚ฌ / bottle + 25% VAT.

        • pascaljappy says:

          So Swedish VAT is more expensive than French VAT and, somehow, you’re still paying a lot less for wine … France has a special way with taxes ๐Ÿ˜‰ Layer upon layer upon layer. Anyway, enjoy!! The 2018 Shaw + Smith M3 is fantastic. If you can grab a bottle, I highly recommend it ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    I guess itโ€™s the size of the Swedish monopoly importer that gives them choice and the ability to keep prices down by larger quantitiesโ€ฆ

  • philberphoto says:

    I am not the least bit surprised by Pascal’s findings of Hassy images getting closer to film. The same has been observed in a similar leasure industry that “went digital” well before photography: audio. Early digital products forsake important analogue virtues in order to enhance the “digitalness” (as a “form of progress”) of the experience, which is key to encouraging customers to change over. Then once the upper, enlightened end of the market realizes fully how much has been lost, and shift back to analogue, which is bad for business as well as embarassingly bad p. r., engineers get back to work, and with the help of rapid progress, deliver digital products that are no longer an encouragement to stick with analogue…

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