Film diaries: thoughts on the viability of film in the digital age

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Closet abstractions. Hasselblad 501C, 80/2.8 CF T* on Ilford Pan F

I’ve had several experiences with film. In what I consider to be my pre-photographic days, we’d shoot it on occasions for documentary purposes or while on family holidays; I took it a bit more seriously (i.e. shot a bit more) when I purchased my own camera – small was good, so I went for APS – and then discovered how horrendously expensive processing was. During my first trip to Japan in 2001, I shot eight or nine rolls of 40 – which was a huge number of images. I still remember being asked by my family – ‘why are there so many photos without people in them?’ To be honest, the processing cost turned me off just as much as the annoyingly large gap between what I saw in the scene and what came out in the prints – of course at that point I had no idea that the type of film mattered just as much as the chemistry and the printing process.

Skip to 2004, shortly after my first DSLR, I purchased a Nikon FM3A – which I couldn’t really get the hang of, and subsequently traded it in for a 12-24/4 (oh, the regret). 2005 saw another dalliance with an F2A and slide film, whose colours and visual punch I enjoyed, but whose costs I didn’t – I think at one point I was spending nearly $1,000 a month on film and processing. I did learn a lot about nailing exposure, though. Later followed an M6TTL in 2009, which I embarrassingly mis-loaded on the second roll and didn’t produce any images; I cleared the balance of film in my fridge and then gave up shortly thereafter. Here we are now in early 2013, and I’m now regularly shooting most of my personal work in black and white with a Hasselblad 501C, Nikon F2 Titan and Ricoh GR1V.

There are a few things to think about before considering film as a medium: firstly, availability of media and processing; secondly, your output medium; thirdly, your workflow; finally, limitations. I’ll cover these one by one.

Availability of media and processing

Film is very much not dead. Whilst Kodak seems to be disintegrating and continually pruning its offerings, at least its popular Portra and T-MAX are still available in various flavours. Fuji and Ilford have maintained a decent selection. I think Agfa still makes a few types, too. There’s also a lot of cheap film out of China – the infamous ‘Lucky’ brand, whose name perhaps refers to the quality of one’s results – which is good for experimentation and learning. Although it’s not as easy to get film these days – chemists don’t stock it, nor do popular tourist attraction kiosks, or even most camera shops for that matter – it isn’t that hard, either. Here in Kuala Lumpur, I’ve watched as over the last five or six years, I’ve gone from being able to buy Velvia 50 from most mass market camera shops to nearly being unable to find it at all.

Processing is probably more of an issue. There are only a small handful of decent pro labs left in Kuala Lumpur; to be honest, the results from even these places are a pale shadow of their former selves, and they weren’t even the best of the bunch back in the day. Realistically, this means that unless you have access to a decent local lab, or don’t mind mailing your films out for processing – with all of the risks that entails – you’re going to have to do it yourself. For black and white, this isn’t so hard. E6 (slide) and C41 (colour negative) films are going to be a bit more challenging as they’ll require several chemical baths at very specific temperatures.

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Finding balance. Hasselblad 501C, 80/2.8 CF T* on Ilford Pan F

Workflow

Assuming you have some way to convert your exposed film into clean negatives, the next step is output: whilst you can project slides, you certainly can’t do the same with negatives, and thus either printing or scanning is required. Minilab prints these days – assuming you have a local minilab at all – are not optical. The negatives are scanned digitally and printed on your 4×6″ or 5×7″ using a dye-sublimation printer; (this is just one of the reasons why the negatives are often much better than the final prints) those files are available on a CD if you want – but note that even at 300dpi, you only need 1200×1800 pixels to make an excellent 4×6″ – most of the time, it’s going to be even less than this to increase throughput. Getting proper digital scans or optical enlargement prints is certainly an option – but both have been relegated to the realm of the specialist, with the expected accompaniment in pricing. A drum scan – again, if you can find a lab that will do one for you – costs about $40 per roll of 35mm, at least in this part of the world. Even the mail-order scanning businesses that have sprung up in the ‘States mostly use film scanners like the Nikon Coolscan or a dedicated flatbed with a lamp in the cover.

Although optically enlarged prints are probably the best way of appreciating your images, it’s simply not practical most of the time unless you plan to do it yourself. I admit that since I started shooting film again in December, I’ve not made a single optical print – firstly, my wife would kill me because of the chemical smell in the house, secondly, I don’t have an enlarger.

There is good news, however. Digital has brought most people DSLRs; couple with a good relay lens – a flat-field, high-resolution short focal length macro is ideal- these are actually ideal copying devices. 35mm film doesn’t have more than the equivalent of about 8-10MP of information; this means that pretty much any DSLR today will out resolve film. (Something like a D800E is positively overkill, but it does do a wonderful job with medium format negatives.) You can either buy a slide copying adaptor that simply screws on to the filter threads of your macro lens – perhaps with an adaptor ring or two in-between – or if you’re industrious, build yourself a stand to hold the camera perfectly perpendicular to the film you’re copying, with a diffuse light source underneath to light it. I use my macrophotography lightbox and a jig made out of Lego that clips on to the end of either the Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar, or the Nikon AFS 60/2.8 G – depending on how lazy I’m feeling on the day.

Converting your DSLR ‘scans’ to output should be relatively easy. A little Photoshop action can be made to convert the negatives into positives, with the right tonal qualities; you’ll still need to do some manual dust spotting, but not much. If you get your action right, the tonal values should look great without too much – if any – extra work on your part. I’ve not done any dodging or burning or local adjustments to my negatives; they go through my action* and out again, otherwise unmolested. If I wanted the tonal qualities of digital, I’d shoot digital. Finally, don’t forget that you need to have a place to store your negatives – sleeves work just fine, though they’re becoming increasingly hard to find. My advice? Buy in bulk online.

*Some of you are probably going to ask if I’m going to make these actions available; the answer is that there’s no point because it will depend heavily on several factors: your input brightness/ contrast, the tonal response of your copying camera, and the film you’re using. The action I’ve got for the D800E and Ilford Delta 100 won’t work for a T-MAX negative copied with a 5DIII.

Your output medium

I’m writing this assuming that like most people, your output medium – i.e. for final viewing of the images – is going to be digital or some variation thereon, whether it’s online social media or on an iPad. You can even make a very nice print from a decent scan, so physical media isn’t out of the question, either. As with all images, unless your viewing medium supports the full tonal range and colour gamut of your capture medium, it’s going to be a poor representation of the original. The minute your output goes digital, just be aware that you’re going to have to deal with the restrictions induced by your monitor, colour spaces, profiling etc.

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Planter boxes. Hasselblad 501C, 80/2.8 CF T* on Ilford Delta 400

Limitations

In my mind, the largest limitations have got to be colour, high ISO and resolution – with the latter two suffering in tandem. I say colour because almost all film these days is daylight balanced; even back when there were a lot of film choices, you got tungsten balanced film, and that was about it – anything else had to be corrected for with gels or filters. Of course, to get accurate colour we need to get our white balance right – and this is nigh on impossible with film. You can get pleasing colour quite easily, but not accurate colour. Anybody who complains about the retina-searing ‘vivid’ modes in camera has obviously not shot with Velvia. It gets worse: finding a good colour lab locally – at least in Malaysia – is nigh on impossible. And DIY colour developing is not something I’d like to entertain due to the complexity of the process; it might be worth doing if you shoot a lot of it, but I can’t see any hobbyist doing it in volumes to make it worthwhile. Stick to digital for colour applications.

Although there are films as fast as 3200 available, and push-processing techniques to take you into the five-digit ISO realm, the results frankly look like crap. Even at 3200, grain is the size of golfballs and you can kiss goodbye to fine detail or smooth tonal transitions; I wouldn’t want to go much higher than 800 on a 6×6 negative, personally. And even then, things get pretty ropey. Let’s be honest: in this arena, digital has long surpassed film; ISO 6400 images from the D800E have more detail and less noise than an ISO 400 medium format negative. This gets even worse when it comes to 35mm, since the negative is smaller. Of course, you could actually like the way the grain looks – I don’t mind it, but I’d rather have as little of it as possible – in which case, push away.

There’s one final fly in the ointment (silver?): I’ve been searching for a term to describe it, but the closest I can come is lack of security. There are no do-overs: if you mislead the film, you won’t have any images. If you accidentally expose the film before processing, you’re toast. If you mishandle the film while loading it into your developing tank’s spooler, you might land up with scratches or uneven developing. If your bag or room isn’t totally light-tight, then you’ll have fogging. If you are shooting high-sensitivity film, stay away from X-ray machines. If you mess up the developing, your images might not appear, or be too dark or too light. If your negatives get lost in the mail to or from the lab or scanning house, you’ve got no backup. There’s no dual card slot RAID for film. Basically, until you get the film digitised and stored in a few places, that one set of negatives are the only place your images exist, anywhere. And that makes me very, very nervous when it comes to using film for any mission-critical applications. I suppose it’s a good thing that my light meter also happens to be an RX100.

You’ll note that I haven’t said much about equipment. The reality is that there are very few 35mm film cameras being made today – I think there’s not a lot between Lomo and Leica; the proliferation of high quality compacts and various SLRs are long dead. The majority of new film cameras produced and introduced are medium and large format, where technology hasn’t really changed in the last decade – you can still buy a new Hasselblad 503CW, which for all intents and purposes is the same camera as forty years ago. (I’m quite happy with my 1995-vintage 501C, thanks.) This means that if you want anything else, you’re going to have to look at the second hand market. There’s a proliferation of choices – I’ll cover this more extensively in another article – but a similar number of pitfalls thanks to failing electronics, mechanical issues, limited availability of spares etc – not to mention many of these cameras becoming cult objects in their own right, with commensurately inexplicable prices. The good news of course is that you can get an excellent simple SLR and some lenses – say a Nikon FM2 or Canon AE-1 Program – for not a lot of money at all; less than a midrange point and shoot.

With all of these shortcomings and restrictions, you’re probably wondering why bother with film at all. Hint: it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality and the idea. I’m convinced that having just 12 or 24 or 36 shots available to you makes you both antsy (to finish the roll) and more discerning. This in turn means that you may spend more time per image processing, but you probably have better material to work with. You force yourself to see with a more critical eye, with a higher consciousness of the quality of light. And that in itself will help to make you a better photographer. There is also of course the fringe benefit of getting to play with some beautifully built machinery; I think one shouldn’t underestimate tactile pleasure in the grand scheme of things. After all – commercial work notwithstanding, for which film is not really viable except for fine art – isn’t that what photography is all about?

In short: film isn’t dead. It definitely has some limitations, and I personally wouldn’t use it for critical or demanding applications. I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to get a lot of the time because of the various unpredictabilities in tonal response, processing etc, meaning that there’s both an interesting anticipation and extra satisfaction in the process when it comes out as you envisioned, or sometimes, even better. And that’s the second major strength of shooting film: aside from the fun and satisfaction factor, the tonal map of a good B&W negative is almost impossible to duplicate with digital; one can come very, very close, but it requires a lot of work and the results still aren’t quite perfect.

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Comments

  1. That first picture is very cool. Still figuring out how you took it. :-)

  2. I bought a circa 1953 120 film camera last year and have two MF bodies here. I do use them. While I think everyone who shoots should at least experience film, the best reason to continue with it is because you really want to. I was shooting and developing my own BW when I was 13, and took the MF cameras out of mothballs last year because I missed them.

    That Balance image – I like that a lot.

  3. Great pictures. Show your great talent. Love the first picture

  4. Of course film is not dead; it’s just inconvenient. Between my nex5n and my rb67, I bring my nex everywhere I go. Although the image coming out from the rb67 is simply stunning even with crappy lab (btw do you have any recommended lab in selangor/KL?), but the the weight is.just.dang.too.much. I still actively looking for opportunity to use my rb67 though, probably one day you’ll see a stupid kid doing street shooting with a cannon in downtown KL. *you should do a photo trip with your Hassy to Sekinchan, you can easily make tones of gorgeous lanscape images there.

    Kelvin

  5. since I like color and high ISO I digital is the right choice. However, it would be fun to get a smaller film camera for b&w work.

  6. David Babsky says:

    “..My photographic exhibition ‘Diametric Opposites’ is on at the Leica Store, Starhill Gallery, Kuala Lumpur from 18/1/13-15/1/13..”

    Sorry; when?

  7. I still enjoy shooting film though I do it less often than I used to. This is not from a lack of good labs because there are several here, but rather because of the availability of digital. If I want to photograph Dahlia blooms on a Sunday morning I am more likely to take a digital rather than a film camera perhaps because I can just grab it and go. Maybe what I should load one of the rolls of Velvia currently in the fridge into the F90X and take it with me next time I go out to the Botanical Gardens. That being said I am more likely to load Ilford 100 or 400 for a walk around the city. It would provide me with far more options for photographing a variety of subjects. Perhaps we should be encouraging emerging photographers to see if their parents have a film camera in the cupboard somewhere and go out and shoot b&w. It really makes you focus on the subject rather than the scene. Congratulations on your exhibition. Sorry I can’t make this one.

    • Thanks Paul. I think flexibility is one huge advantage of digital: we can now change ISO for each frame. Sure, you could push film in processing (whole roll only) or single files (while scanning or printing) but it didn’t have the latitude. Perhaps some of the benefit is in the discipline of knowing what you can get and what you can’t because of workable shutter speeds etc – ultimately it boils down to awareness of light again…

  8. … once you get an optical black-and-white print though, I’d say there is nothing like it. I just love the quality, and so do the few people who contemplate / buy my pictures. This is not say film is the only way to achieve a high quality b/w print, but I think it is well worth considering.

    I much enjoy you essays, Ming, and the pictures that come with them. Thanks for the untiring effort!

  9. Linden Wilkie says:

    I have been thinking about photography a lot lately. I have read about one third of your entire archive since Friday! In your ‘four stages’ of the photographer I am somewhere around low “2″, but with ideas forming around and aspirations for “3A”. I am not currently shooting with film, but here are the reasons I am considering it:
    * I love the idea of the analogue. Like vinyl records through a valve amp. The quality of the sound – and in this case, the quality of the image, needn’t enter in to it (frustrations at the limitations aside). It’s the tactile, timeless nature of something analogue. With photography you can push even further – no electronics at all. Why buy an M7 when you can buy an M6… and if you are buying an M6, why not an M3? 100% mechanical. (Oh, and the thing-of-beauty, the F2 Titan you bought!) For that reason, I would also consider analogue for the whole workflow (okay – maybe a scan for selecting), but enlarger and optical based printing. It’s not to say better, it is to say different.
    * the output – particularly for black and white – is likely to put a good template into the brain for how digital B&W might look. Likewise with colour, the output presents how film and emulsion interprets light and colour – creating a reference at least for post-processing in digital.
    * the process is likely to push my development as a photographer – the fundamentals of aperture, shutter speed, within the constraint of a fixed medium (B&W, chrome, etc), and fixed ISO. (Add to this a prime lens, and I am left to focus on composition, etc). Of course you can imitate this on a digital, but with film, some of the rules have been fixed.
    * social – I’m not relegating this one either. Using film puts you in circles of older hands and potential mentors. People with 30, 40+ years of experience in photography.

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the whys and why nots of film, and – as usual – your very thorough analysis from a workflow point of view. Luckily in Hong Kong there are some good film processing specialists still in business. It’s expensive (although your M3 / F2 isn’t depreciating by US$1000 a year like your high end DSLR bodies!), but for me the plusses are enough for it to be something I want to include in the fun of photography.

    On final minor point on practicalities – some cities still have photography clubs that have their own dark rooms, enlargers, and so on, so it needn’t be a choice between stinking the bathroom, or handing the film over to a third party. Just a thought.

    • I think you must not have gotten much sleep!

      The appeal of the look of film lies in the fact that it’s a continuous medium rather than a discrete one – both in terms of the size of details it can reproduce, as well as the tonal range it can hold.

      As for film cameras…the F2T and Hasselblad will likely last the rest of my photographic career. I can’t say the same for anything else I own that has batteries. And yes, I don’t think either is going to depreciate – probably the opposite, if anything. DIY is even cheaper – I remember paying around US$30 per roll for film, development and scanning when I was shooting E6; it would have been about the same for B&W, I believe. Now my cost is about $6-7, which is actually fairly okay considering the hit rate and the pleasure I get out of it. DIY developing is fine with daylight tanks and modern chemicals – doesn’t stink unless you accidentally mix and spill the two…

  10. George Swann says:

    As usual Ming, an excellent and interesting article. I used to shoot film back in the 70′s, did the usual route of turning the bathroom into a darkroom to develop and print the film, it was great fun for a few years. I still have a few film cameras, in fact I shot a roll of XP1 just before Christmas, it was a very satisfying experience. Last week here in the UK the major national photography chain went bust with all 170 stores closing, but I am very lucky in the the area that I live, which is a mid sized town in Norfolk. We have two excellent shops in the town, both print and develop B&W film, and will print to your requirements, in fact I have just had a panorama printed. What is amazing is that a hobby photographer in the town, a couple of weeks ago opened a shop called Black and White Studio. There is a small studio for hire, plus he has a couple of dark rooms setup for public use, he has already had a fabric company use the studio for a shoot, and a couple of camera clubs have expressed an interest in using the darkroom. His aim is also to attract the local schools and college to use the facilities, this is a small ray of sunshine in a deep economic recession.

    • Thanks George. I heard about that – Jessops kinda had it coming for some time as their prices were poor and their service even worse. I wonder what’s going to happen to photographic retail in the UK after this though – not as though they had much competition. Amazing that Norfolk has such a happening film scene! Here the relentless onslaught of digital has resulted in closure after closure.

  11. Jaime Ramirez says:

    Hello! Really enjoy reading your blog, Ming. I like shooting both digital and film. My film cameras are the Nikon F100 and Nikon FM3A. Curious as to why you didn’t get along with the FM3A. It’s a fine camera, although I do enjoy more and more the F100.
    Stay Hard!

    J

    • Thanks Jaime. I put it down more to my own stage of development at the time – fairly early on in my photographic days – rather than anything to do with the camera itself.

  12. Another very resonant topic – that’s why I check your blog all the time! :)

    For converting my old slides and negatives, I was lucky enough to be able to use a Nikon 35mm film scanner. I was quite pleased with the results. I’ve thought about getting one of my own and adopting a “hybrid” work flow for some personal stuff – maybe even splurge on the top-of-the-line medium format model! Thus far of course I’ve been too lazy. And now I have some good short macros and a slide copying attachment which should suffice for the quantities of film captures I am likely to be doing…

    I find it interesting how most major motion pictures are still shot with film. If you want that real big-time cinematic feel, I guess there’s still no substitute for shooting film with all its hassles (and hiring a full symphony for the score). There are notable exceptions – some heroes of mine like Danny Boyle and the late Sidney Lumet have done some nice work with digital. On the other hand, I caught a glimpse of the most recent Star Wars film on a friend’s Blu-Ray and thought it really looked like crap – all the A-list actors and the John Williams score couldn’t take my mind off how cheesy the visual medium seemed to me.

    • Thanks Jeff! I’ve got to find one of those slide copy adaptors Nikon made to screw in the end of the 55 and 60mm macro lenses. Can’t help but feel that would probably be a lot faster than what I’m doing now.

      I honestly can’t tell which movies are shot on film and which on digital – I think it’s all pretty good now. However, the cheesiness of the earlier sci-fi movies (I went to see a Star Trek exhibition recently and thought exactly the same thing) was probably due to the primitive VFX and models rather than the recording medium…

  13. I am 55 years old and grew up in the analog age of photography. First Rollei R35 than Olympus OM1, OM2 and finally Hasselblad 500CM with a 150mm and a 80mm lens.
    When I was 4 years old I helped my father to develop b&w films in a Jobo Can and later, when I had my own lab with a Durst and Schneider lenses I spent days and nights there and developed films in b&W, and slides E6.
    What a mess to dodge and burn :-)
    I have learnt a lot with the Hasselblad while I walked around with my Linhoff tripod.
    Especially about the basics, exposure and the simplicity to compose a picture
    This year I finally get the Hasselblad quality with my Nikon D800E and sold my analog staff plus the lab.
    It is so much easier to go digital and edit the pics on a 27 inch iMac.
    When I look at you younger folks now I am smiling that you get back the way and enjoy it.
    For me there is only the way forward and I do not miss the analog staff any more.
    Isn´t that funny?

    • I think there are reasons for both. I wouldn’t shoot film for work – digital is both faster and offers more control – but I do enjoy the process of shooting film, and the satisfaction of getting the results you aimed for…

  14. “The tonal map of a good B&W negative is almost impossible to replicate with digital”. Negative or print? Because if you get to a lovingly beautiful negative, but then put it through the paces of a D800, the almost impossible replication problem is back through the rear door, isn’t it.
    If I occasionally go back to film (with a 1978 Nikon FM or a 1994 Leica M6) it’s rather to enjoy the minset of scarcity and the pleasure of not-instant feedback, a rebellion against the instant gratification, limitless quantity world we live in and got addicted to. But confessions are due: digital is ‘easier’, RAW developing a pleasure in its own right, and chemicals a hassle! Plus, the access to other photographers’ work that blogs (this one being one of my top three favs!) and flickr allow, a priceless learning opportunity.

    • Either. Don’t confuse dynamic range and tonal response – the D800E has equal or more dynamic range than B&W negative film; however, its tonal response is linear, as opposed to film. By using it to copy, you’re doing no more than replicating what’s already there; if you run completely neutral settings for your RAW development then you can avoid ‘tainting’ the negative with the digital process to some degree. All I know is that if I photograph the same scene with film and then scan it, the results look different to the scene photographed directly with the same camera.

      • Interesting. I never tried the twin shoot & compare test! I suppose you are pointing to the concept behind the ‘film presets’ that try to replicate -yep- the tomal response and grain charchteristics of individual film brands and types. I use them at times, subtle but clear differences among them….
        You remind me that I still have tons of old film strips to scan. Nikon, too, but a NikonScan V. A bit cumbersome, but good for a rainy winter day….
        Thanks for the thoughts, always stimulating….

        • I dot think the film presets can ever quite get it right for two reasons – they start off with different source info from different cameras (you can apply the same preset to an iPhone shot and a D800e shot, but dynamic range is clearly different) and the outcome very much depends on developing technique…witness the megagrain of my amateurish technique.

  15. Carlo Santin says:

    I love your results with film and I hope you continue to shoot with it on a regular basis. I’m not sure I agree with your assertion that ISO 6400 on a D800E has less noise than MF ISO 400. For one, digital noise and film grain are not the same thing. I understand the point you are trying to make though…but the whole point of film is to have that grain, either extremely fine and almost indiscernible (Ektar 100 for example) or noticeable (say Tri X pushed to 1600). I don’t know of anyone though who would want to purposely shoot digital at high ISO because the noise adds character or texture to the image. Digital high ISO simply degrades image quality, but film grain is absolutely part of the reason to shoot film in the first place. If your goal is crystal clear, razor sharp photos then digital is the way to go for sure.

    I’ve been on a big film kick lately, to the point that I’m considering abandoning digital altogether. I shoot only for my own pleasure, I have no commitments to anyone else. If I were a working photographer I would absolutely shoot digital for my clients, but for myself, my own digital files often leave me feeling cold and disconnected from my images, a feeling I’ve not had shooting film-even the bad shots, and there are lots of those :)

    • Thanks Carlos. I have a feeling that there’s something awry in my development/ scanning process leading to unusually grainy images; that said, the D800E is pretty darn clean, and for a given enlargement size, will hold a massive advantage.

      Somehow, near misses with film still look okay. I’d chuck them out with digital. Maybe the grain does make all the difference…

  16. “35mm film doesn’t have more than the equivalent of about 8-10MP of information”

    I know this is not really significant in the grand scheme of things but my experiments with finely grained, modern colour films (Ektar 100, new Portra 160, Vevia 50) suggest that these emulsions capture about 14-18 megapixels of information in 35mm format. Certain specialised black-and-white films – typically orthochromatic emulsions that started their career as microfilms – apparently hold even more (I have not shot any of those but I remember seeing an experiment where one such film out-resolved the 18-megapixel Leica M9 by a rather wide margin).

    That of course is beside the point – few people would shoot 35mm film for resolution these days, except for those who own older, lower-resolution digital cameras with no plans of upgrading to a newer model. To me, shooting film is more about producing pictures that I can watch in their original form without the need for an electronic display (traditional transparency films), capturing high-contrast scenes in colour with no major DR constraints (colour negatives) and tonality (BW emulsions). They also enable me to use interesting cameras that have no digital equivalents (talk about enjoying the journey!).

    • It’s tricky to draw the line where information becomes grain, and how the conversion is done – perhaps the ultimate resolving power may be higher with optimal developing and scanning techniques, but I feel that it’s 8-10 clean, real MP – think D800E downsized to 10MP at low ISO – is probably about the equivalency level that’s consistently achievable.

      Tonality is definitely a great reason to shoot film, as are lack of equivalent cameras: I’m sorely missing a digital 6×6, or F2 Titan. Hopefully once the spec sheet race is over, we’ll see some of these niches being populated. The problem is that the entry costs are a lot higher into the digital sensor manufacturing game, so prices are going to be pretty steep…

  17. Please keep your film camera posts coming, Ming! I recently switched to film and dont regret it for a moment. I wholeheartedly agree with the benefits you mention that film brings, and accept its foibles. Before I started photography 4 years ago, I knew I’d prefer the look of film, but chose digital because I predicted an easier learning curve. Now I feel that film is the right choice and direction for me.

  18. I have a question concerning digitization of film. If film has an intrinsic expanded dynamic range when compared to digital capture, wouldn’t digitization of it with a DSLR yield truncated range as well? Barring any HDR and multiple exposure techniques. I also wonder if flatbed scanners produce greater dynamic range due to their different capture technique.

    Anyways I think it would be fantastic to see your scanning contraption. I have struggled with a way of quick-scaning my negatives with my d800, as my attempts to build a scanning rig were met with failure. I currently use a tripod with a light-table, but since I am using extension rings for magnification purposes, I need to maintain an exact distance between my camera and film, which is not easy with my setup. A lego solution sounds brilliant!

    Thanks for exploring the wonderful world of film!

    • Yes, that’s true if the DR exceeds that of digital significantly – I’m not sure it does, with a D800E. I think it’s probably within a stop or two, and the shadow grain – at least with my limited developing technique – probably kills a lot of that in favor of digital.

      I’ll get around to photographing the rig eventually…once I’m happy with it. It’s a living, evolving thing.

  19. D800 is an overkill that makes me lazy using film again. But you remind me about this, so I open my fridge again tomorrow. If you talk about film as fine art medium, I can only agree and that’s why I solely using 120 on a Mamiya 645. (I stil have 80, 150/2.8 and sometimes regreted having sold my 55/2.8. But damaged is done.). I don’t like 135 film anymore though I used a lot of slides before. It lacks on punch and image quality compared to 120.

  20. Yorkshire Mike says:

    There’s a lot to be said for having a film body to use along with your digital body. I bought a Nikon F100 to use in tandem with my D700. Funny thing is that the D700 was sold on two years ago and the F100 still gets used every week.

    It makes more sence if you own a full frame leica. Given the cost of Digital leica M’s and lenses, you’d think that most M9 shooters would have an M6 also. Even if only as a back up.

    My F100 was mint, with warrenty and included a grip that I’ve never taken out of the box for £150 GBP. My M6 was £700GBP. Both a fraction of their digital equivalents.

    Developing at home and access to a good scanner are the keys to enjoying using film. While optical printing my be the the holy grail. Integrating film into your digital workflow is the way to go for most people.

    • Completely agree. The only ‘problem’ is that you might get sucked into the film world, get seduced by the feel of well-made, non-digital equipment that doesn’t have built in obsolescence and before you know it, start looking at F2 Titans and the like…

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] I’ve had several experiences with film. In what I consider to be my pre-photographic days, we’d shoot it on occasions for documentary purposes or while on family holidays; I took it a bit more seriously (i.e. shot a bit more) when I purchased my own camera – small was good, so I went for APS – and then discovered how horrendously expensive processing was. During my first trip to Japan in 2001, I shot eight or nine rolls of 40 – which was a huge number of images. I still remember being asked by my family – ‘why are there so many photos without people in them?’ To be honest, the processing cost turned me off just as much as the annoyingly large gap between what I saw in the scene and what came out in the prints – of course at that point I had no idea that the type of film mattered just as much as the chemistry and the printing process.  [...]

  2. […] has this experiment turned out to be?  Building on an earlier article of random thoughts and also from a digital perspective, I’ve had some more time to reflect on things now that a) my workflow has matured, and b) I […]

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