It’s been a little while since I posted any images from Kuala Lumpur; the truth is that I don’t actually shoot that much in my home city these days. Partially it’s because I feel I’ve really plumbed the depths of most parts of the city; partially it’s because I try to keep some potential in reserve for when I have to go out and review a camera – finding new material in a city in which you’ve shot close to 200,000 frames is actually quite tough.
Here’s an interesting question: why is one’s yield (or keeper) rate so much higher with film than digital? Let’s take the stats from my excursion to Europe, and keeping in mind I apply the same quality thresholds to both film and digital:
Ricoh GR, single shot: 137/1795, for a 7.6% yield.
Olympus OM-D, mostly single shot, some burst: 54/2370, for a 2.4% yield.
Hasselblad with B&W film (Fuji Acros 100): 76/168 (14 rolls), for a 45% yield.
Hasselblad with slide film (Fuji Provia 100F): 28/60 (5 rolls), for a 47% yield.
Digital overall: 191/4165, for a 4.6% yield.
Film overall: 104/228, for a 46% yield.
That’s ten times higher. What gives?
It’s been a long, long time since I last shot slide film. 2006, to be exact; I stopped for two reasons: one, I was shooting (and developing) through about a third of my pay every month in film; secondly, scanning was beginning to take up all of my spare waking hours. And even then, I was never that happy with the results. But then, every so often – and I was a much, much worse photographer back then (not that I’m that good now, mind you) – you’d get one slide back that was so immersive, so detailed, so crisp that it was like peering into a little world of its own. And then you’d feel the itch to do it all over again. Sometimes this would happen a few times per roll, and then you were well and truly done for.
For serious photographers – the kind that buy cameras to take pictures with, not for bragging rights or spec sheet counts – creative choice is good. And perhaps the largest and most divisionary of all of the creative choices available to a photographer has been whether to go film, digital, or a combination of both. Don’t expect to get a concrete answer one way or the other after this article; rather, I’m going to explore the less obvious rationale and strengths for both options.
There are many reasons to shoot digital. There are many reasons to shoot film, too – beyond the simple ‘I want to’. Though I find that for color work, digital is significantly better than film due to the level of control and accuracy it produces, film remains my medium of choice for monochrome work. The reason has to do with nonlinearity of tonal response, especially in the highlights – film never quite seems to clip under almost all circumstances, and this jives with the way our eyes see the world very nicely indeed. But there are typically two things that stop people from trying film: workflow, and perceived cost.
No words today, just a series of images for you to enjoy. Various architectural details from my last trip to Amsterdam, shot with the Hasselblad 501C, 80/2.8 CF T* on Fuji Acros. Some of you may recognize these images from the November print sale; others may be enjoying a large print on their walls MT
These images were made during the October 2013 Making Outstanding Images Workshop in Amsterdam; I will be holding three more of these in Melbourne, Sydney and London later this year. Click here for more info, and to sign up.
The second part of the monochrome photoessay from Prague was shot on film, with a Hasselblad 501C and my favourite B&W film – Fuji Acros 100. To be honest, given the tight quarters, I’d have preferred to have had something either a little wider or a little longer – preferably both – to give me some additional ability to add context, or compress (especially with buildings clinging to hills in the background). Nevertheless, we make do with what fits inside our camera bags – after making provisions for film, I didn’t have any space left for lenses!
Sometimes, the film photography gods deign to make life easy for you: you happen to be in the right place at the right time, with the right light, interesting subjects, lots of opportunities, carrying the right camera and lens combination, just enough film to get you through a day with a roll left over as insurance, and even airport security guards who’ll hand check your film so they don’t have to make multiple passes through x-ray machines. The last European trip and workshop tour was one of those occasions for me. I went with my usual small digitals (OM-D, Ricoh GR) for teaching, and the Hasselblad 501C with one magazine, a few boxes of Acros 100, and the 80/2.8*. And I came back with a huge number of keepers. It’s interesting to note that despite its size, shutter noise and conspicuity, the Hasselblad never attracted negative attention – usually curiosity or nostalgia. In that sense, it’s actually an excellent street photography tool in the modern age. No more words are required, I think – other than for me to say ‘enjoy!’ MT
*Some of the rolls were pushed to ISO 200 due to lack of light; with Acros this also has the benefit of deepening your shadow tones. There doesn’t seem to be any grain penalty that I can discern, though – anything up to ISO 800 is fine, but the shadows just keep getting denser and denser. Digitized with a D800E, 60/2.8 macro and my custom rig.
One of my favourite buildings in the country is the Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque – also known as the Iron Mosque due to its stainless-steel clad structure. It’s a very modern building located in the administrative capital, Putrajaya, that still manages to integrate traditional culture and religious cues into its design. These, together with its scale, location on the Putrajaya lakefront and sight lines, make it quite a spectacular building.