Film diaries: Nine months on

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It’s now been a healthy chunk of time since I started shooting film again; enough to have a baby. What kind of child 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 think I’ve figured out where it fits in the grand scheme of things creatively for me. All I’m going to say is that the point I’m at now is very much not what I expected when I bought the F2 Titan in October last year.

The first surprise for me was that I really, really liked medium format; I acquired the 501C on a whim from a site reader as it was a good deal, and I was curious. Squares had never really been my thing, until now; those enormous, simply gorgeously rich negatives made me both addicted and a little frustrated with the ‘smallness’ of 35mm. I can now see why nobody really took 35mm seriously for commercial work in the pre-digital days; good negatives will go as far as 13×19″ or so before starting to visibly fall apart. That’s just not suitable for large posters or billboards etc. In comparison, the 24″ square prints I’ve made from the Hasselblad’s negatives have been utterly stunning, even when compared to a good digital file. There’s a tonal richness and texture there in the quarter tones which is nearly impossible to obtain from digital; with the right film, resolution is on par with state of the art 35mm, too – I think the Hasselblad matches or even slightly exceeds the D800E on resolving power.

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Using film was never a question about resolution, however. It’s always been about creative control: firstly, are the results to my liking? Secondly, do I have enough control given the relatively fixed chemical parameters? Thirdly, where do I go from here – especially given that color processing isn’t really an option*?

*There are precious few labs left in Kuala Lumpur, and frankly, I haven’t been happy with the results from any of them of late. Self-developing is significantly more complicated than B&W – for those unfamiliar, several chemical baths are required, at very precise temperatures. For color negative film, correction/ white balance is an issue – you’ve got to do tonal corrections across three channels, not just luminance – and critical accuracy a must for product photography. I suppose I could always shoot slide, but then we run into a different set of problems – cost and availability of film. As it is, I have to order my Acros 100 120 in bulk from Japan to ensure a constant and fresh supply (I get Japan-only stuff from Bellamy Hunt at Japan Camera Hunter – lenses, cameras, film, etc.). 

I might be imagining things, but tonally, digital still struggles to match B&W film – though there are a few exceptions that come close (the Leica M Monochrom, and most of the medium format digital backs). I’ve spent a lot of time trying to replicate the look and feel via Photoshop – I’m no amateur here, and it’s extremely challenging even for me. It’s easier with a multispectral camera, and adding grain isn’t a problem, but there’s no way I can replicate film’s nonlinear ability to simultaneously hold shallows and never quite clip in the highlights. If I had to categorize the visual difference, a lot of it is down to the way the highlights roll off. Bottom line: yes, I like the results; scratch that, I love them. To the point that I’m not really shooting digital B&W much anymore.

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In parallel, I’ve been working hard on the workflow part: I think I’m now consistently producing what I want, and in an efficient manner, too. I don’t know how much quality there is left to extract, but most of the gains have been minimal. Next up is to figure out a stand development recipe for Acros in DDX. The digitization portion is locked down, I think; I scan whole uncut rolls with a custom alignment jig, a D800E, 60/2.8 macro and flash; there are a set of presets I’ve got for ACR, and actions for different film types in PS which get me very close to the output I want – all I have to do most of the time is remove dust, if any. Sometimes, no further work is required at all.

Here’s where it gets interesting for all the film shooters out there: I’ve been asked countless times about my scanning method, and with enough interest that I’ve decided to commercially produce a small run of the rigs for sale. It’s proven tricky to get the tolerances and build quality right, and let’s not even talk about the costs of small-volume precision manufacturing. In any case, I’m currently awaiting delivery of the final prototypes, and all being well, I should be able to start taking orders within the next month or so. The rig is a precise alignment jig designed to a) feed roll film, keeping it flat and tensioned; b) illuminate it evenly with a speedlight or other bright continuous source; c) hold a DSLR and macro lens in the right position to let you copy 135 with DX, or 135/6×6/6×7 with full frame. I’m currently finalizing secondary items like the accompany scanning and conversion workflow video tutorial, packaging and postage costs – of course with the aim of making it as affordable as possible.

Interestingly, it seems that a number of my clients love the results, too; I’m still too risk-averse and nervous to shoot entirely film for a job – plus color is often required – though I will bring one of the ‘Blads along to add some B-roll; once I mix in the files with the D800E’s, a healthy chunk of the final selection lands up coming from the ‘Blad. It’s happened several times now, so it can’t be a fluke. I’m not complaining, I very much enjoy shooting film anyway. Perhaps there’s a commercial niche here to explore…

Notice I said ‘Blads, plural. My film camera stable has expanded, contracted, and expanded again; the F2 Titan was joined by first the 501C, then an F3/T, Ricoh GR1v, spare 500C/M, Olympus Mju:II, another 501CM very generously gifted by a fan (thank you again!); I simply had too many cameras at this point. Film was sitting in them for months, and I was forgetting what I’d shot previously. The F3/T and GR1v left – the latter replaced with a more flexible GR (Digital V); I got a great deal on an F6 (I actually tested one of these for Nikon – prototype #6, ironically – several years ago) so I bit; the last addition was a 903 SWC. I’m now left with three Hasselblads, two Nikons, and the Mju. I know what you’re thinking: this is almost a who’s-who of film cameras; the only conspicuous absences are the Leicas (I nearly bought an MP Hammertone too; but that one was far too rich for my blood). I admit, part of the acquisition spree was because these were the cameras I’d always wanted to own but couldn’t afford at the time; part of it is also knowing that their value has dropped significantly from new; you can still buy the F6 new at B&H for about US$2,800; I paid a hair over $1,000 for mine – mint, boxed, virtually unused and still new-looking. Since none of these are manufactured anymore**, they actually hold value quite well: if you get bored, sell it and try something else. Whatever small losses – if any – are like rental fees (if anything, the really rare stuff appreciates – look at recent Leica auctions). A very reasonable price to pay for creativity, I think.

**Correction/ clarification: as several readers have pointed out, the F6 is still available new, a poor choice of phrasing on my part.

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I haven’t put much effort into the 35mm collection: mainly because I find the negatives just too small and not very satisfying compared to medium format. It sounds odd, but 36 shots on a roll is actually too many; I have to force myself to finish the film, as opposed to seeing naturally in sets of 10-12 or so – perfect for a roll of 120. (It is much easier to load into the daylight tank reels, you can develop multiple rolls simultaneously and it’s faster to ‘scan’, too.) Most of my film work has been focused around the Hasselblad V system; the cameras are a pleasure to use, and the complete lack of automation of any sort forces you to slow down and think, which in turn helps the strength of one’s compositions.

Here we come to the problem, though: I could continue to shoot B&W film for personal work and the occasional client; this would mean an increasing divergence between my creative direction and my professional direction. Whilst some difference is healthy, I think there still has to be some commonality otherwise it’s going to start feeling like work. I firmly believe that creative ‘work’ has to be enjoyed in order to produce the best output. This meant that a month or so ago, I was seriously considering a move to medium format for all of my work. I came to a couple of very problematic conclusions: at the moment, none of the systems would fit my needs perfectly; the closest would be Hasselblad H, but even then there’d be issues. Most of the compromises would come with a) flash triggering and b) macro work; since this is a large staple portion of what I do, it wouldn’t make sense to plow that much money into a compromised system – I’m better off sticking to the D800E for now. The commercial, architecture and to a lesser extent, documentary, portions, however, are quite well served by medium format.

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But yes, they require color. I went the cheap route: a second hand, earlier-generation digital back for the V-series bodies. I got a very good deal on an ex-demo CFV-39, which now enables me to have color output from almost the same workflow and system, and B&W simply by switching backs. The only problem is the 1.1x, 645-aspect crop factor (0r 1.5x square), which leaves me without anything wider than about 28mm equivalent – and even that requires an SWC to achieve. Still, stitching is always an option. So far, this has proven to be both a noticeable step up in quality over the D800E, but also one very punishing mistress: get exposure or focus even slightly wrong, and you have to delete the frame. But if you get everything right – almost no work is required at all; the CFV produces wonderfully natural-looking images, with good color accuracy and significant dynamic range.

I’m going to conclude by saying that these days, the vast majority of my personal work is done on film these days; I’m shooting a lot less in absolute quantity, but I’m also far happier with the results. My keeper rate is up to about 80% – compare this with a measly 2-5% for digital. I don’t think it’s because I’m accepting more errors/ lowering standards; I think it’s simply because  I’m really forced to think before I shoot. Most of the cameras I shoot are meterless, too – cue a heightened awareness for the quality of light, and anticipation of the way shadows will render. It sharpens my vision. And for that reason, I highly recommend giving it a go – or breaking out your old cameras…MT


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  1. For me the key here is your scanning rig workflow. This sounds like it makes all the difference.
    Until now we’ve been labouring with drum or CCD (Nikon 5000/9000 or Flextight) scans — both of which take forever to scan and have the difficulties that come with a narrow depth of focus (the centre may be in focus but not the edges).

    Recently I’ve been working to print scanned b&w negatives with Paul Roake’s carbon inks. I was never able to get such prints in the wet darkroom. Also it works out to be very cost efficient way to print.
    You might want to read some of the articles on this subject:

    I used to shoot b&w on a Leica film camera. In the digital age I’ve moved to the digital Leica Ms. However…..
    I’m seriously considering leaving (shock, horror!) the Leica at home and taking my Rolleiflex 2.8f (with a 400 speed b&w film) and perhaps a smaller digital (Fuji x100s?) for color.
    Actually I had the Rolleiflex with me when I was in KL for 6 weeks last fall and got a few “keepers”.

    Keep us up to date on your “rig” — this is the real story here, i.e. game changer.

    • Thanks for the info on the carbon inks, I’ll check it out (and give my printer a subtle poke, too).

      The scanning rig makes a huge difference for me – I can be finished (to the same point I’m done with digital files) with a roll of film in about an hour, which includes development, digitization and conversion. Drying time is extra, but you can always do something else during that time. That’s pretty similar to if I had to go through 200 RAW files to pick and work on 20 keepers…

      Rig is in progress. We’ve sent off the plans for what should be the final prototype yesterday, hopefully I can sign off on it later this week. I want it to be near as perfect as possible before it goes out.

  2. Oskar O says:

    You have pretty nice equipment, I use a 500C only 😉
    But I’ve used Hasselblad long enough to know what I want in terms of lenses, so my setup is pretty much stable. Still, a 200-series body wth a 110/2 would be nice, but costs too much for occasional use. It will be fun to see how long you can resist a superachromat, I can tell you that the chromatic correction really is superior to most lenses 😉

    As for film, I can say that once I got over 10 megapixels in my DSLR, my use of 35 mm film plummeted. It just doesn’t offer much over what digital does and comes with a lot more hassle. But medium format gets rid of the grain, has better tonality and DOF control is different. Plus the Zeiss lenses are really something, I even mounted a 180/4 on my D800 and while hard to use, the look was very nice. Still, I’m interested in getting a Leica M6 for the experience (and digital Leica has very bad value).

    In shooting film along digital, BW naturally offers most benefits, but I would urge you to consider slide film too. Sure color negative is more accurate, but digital is even more accurate and the look of slide is more distinct and harder to replicate in digital. Of course you might not like the look of slide film, but that’s another matter 😉

    I used to have an SWC 903 and just walking around with that in interesting light with a few rolls of slide film produced surprisingly many keepers. It’s a very different kind of photography compared to DSLR, large zoom, snap away at everything. A light meter is pretty cool man jewelry 😉

    • Glad somebody agrees on the resolving threshold for 35mm. And I think I need a cooler light meter…

      As for colour film – considered, not practical because of the lab situation and lack of control I get with B&W. Plus digital is just more accurate for that – I’d use the CFV.

      • Iskabibble says:

        Have you ever seen a medium format Provia slide? Wow! Once you see a 6 x 6 or 6 x 9 piece of slide film, you will order up a box. Shoot some Provia with your Hassy next time you are in Japan. Seriously, it is incredible film. This goes way beyond technical descriptions like IQ, resolution or whatever. It strikes much deeper, on an emotional level.

      • Oskar O. says:

        The question of resolution is tricky, since the MTF of a sensor is far more predictable and easier to understand than that of film. But it’s not really much of an issue; the real MTF and resolution that one can produce in actual photographic situations is far better with digital than film and digital is far more convenient, so I consider the discussion whether a 35 mm frame of film is more like 10 mpix or 20 mpix totally moot in practice. (if I would grossly simplify and pick one number out of those two, I would pick 10 mpix, but don’t quote me out of context…)

        Slide film is nowadays interesting only for its look which is distinct, but the lab situation is of course a big issue. Still, it’s much easier to develop at home than E6…

        • I agree there’s no direct comparison – one medium is linear/ discrete, and the other one isn’t. All we can do is make a guess based on what our eyes are telling us.

          I’m not so much into the distinct look of film as how it actually comes reasonably close to what I want to do with digital, but takes it further…

  3. Hi Ming, love your blog! I’ve also recently started trying out a film camera (used M6) and it’s great to read your experiences as a lot of things you blog about are similar to my experiences, especially the part about taking the time to think and compose resulting in a lot more keepers.

    I’m definitely interested in seeing more details on the film scanning rig you’re working on. I wanted to inquire, will this rig be able to support other cameras besides DSLRs? I don’t currently own a DSLR (trying to stay small form factor these days) so I was wondering if your prototypes support putting on other cameras such as the DP3 Merrill. I was thinking that would be a solid compact macro solution that could yield very good scanning results and I could still feel comfortable bringing along on trips.

    • Thanks Andy. It’ll work with mirrorless cameras and 50-100mm equivalent macros. Don’t think the DP3 would work because it doesn’t focus close enough.

  4. Stephen Scharf says:

    Interesting to read your experiences with of “going back” with film. For me, my film days are over; while I agree that silver hailde should be able to potentially hold more detail in the quarter tones that digital (simply because of how we both know how the math breaks out with respect to where the data goes in a 12- or 14-bit digital file), I don’t agree that that’s not possible to produce prints from digital that match or exceed those from film. For me, personally, digital provides much more control over the tonal range in post than film does, once the processing is done to the latent image in film, the tone curve is pretty much set. So, from my perspective, it’s a question of trade-offs at the end of the day. Clearly, the total workflow of loading, processing, scanning, and post with film is quite a bit more work than starting with a digital file right off the bat. For me, for the majority of my prints (prints with a full range, Zone 0 to Zone 10, of tones), could one really tell the difference in the print from one or the other? In the majority of cases, likely not.

    • Trade offs and whether you like the tonal range of film or not – if you do, then it’s actually still faster (for me, anyway) to shoot film. For the same say 10 keepers at the end of the day, I spend the same or less time in post. And yes, I can certainly see the difference in print – but what surprised me was that a lot of non-photographers can also, even if they didn’t know it was shot with film. Or maybe it’s all psychological – who knows? 🙂

    • I couldn’t agree more Stephen. Whatever work flow and technique that’s fun, and yields images that are pleasing to you, is the correct technique for your purposes.


  5. I’ve been enjoying the workflow portion a lot more since I made the transition to Photoshop a few weeks ago (Lightroom isn’t really suited to doing film, for obvious reasons). I’ve got it down to inversion/desaturation, Levels (to set the white/black point, and overall brightness via the midtone slider) followed by Curves (something S-shaped for contrast), which I’m pretty happy with. Are you doing something similar with your Actions? Interested to know as there are always 10 different ways to accomplish things in Photoshop 🙂

  6. Test. I’ve been attempting to reply all afternoon, but WordPress is either not receiving them or not displaying them!

  7. Really love your photography!

  8. I’ve been enjoying the back end a lot more since making the jump from Lightroom (which I found to be too limited for dealing with film, for obvious reasons) a few weeks ago. Broadly speaking, what are you doing in ACR/Photoshop now that your workflow has matured? I’ve got it down to inversion/desaturation, Levels (to set the white/black points and overall brightness via the midtone slider) followed by a final Curves (something S-shaped for contrast), and I’m happy with that. Interested to hear if you’re doing something different, though, since there are 10 ways to do everything in Photoshop 🙂

  9. Sure, just email me if you feel like dipping your toes into large format & darkroom printing (: As for the lab, here’s the contact number & address:
    Jalan SS 21/37 Damansara Utama, , Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
    Phone: 03 – 7724 2528

  10. Large format film is impractical? Of course it us. But then again, who said that shooting film is practical anyway? You have to shoot, develop & then scan. Even then it’s a hybrid workflow. You said that you have to source your Acros from Japan, that is already impractical. I bulk order my LF film from B&H, I’m sure that’s not too rich for your blood. Bottom line: shooting film is not about being practical, we have to live with it. If we wanted practicality, then by all means shoot digital. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re impressed by MF, then you should give LF a shot. Try 4×5, it’s the most ‘practical’. Trust me, it will blow your socks off. If you’re really interested, I can let you try my Horseman monorail. The thing has been dormant long enough since I got my first child.

    Then, if you wanna go a step further, try wet printing your images. I’m sure you’ve done so in the past. While I have no doubt that your scanning methodology is great & efficient now, a wet printed image made on real photographic paper from a negative using an enlarger is truly something else. You get tones that you never even knew existed. You can dodge & burn by friggin hand. There’s lots more creative control in it, also a lot more tactility. If you love shooting 12 frames only for MF, then when you start wet printing, you’d think even 12 frames is way too much. the focus shifts to a single image. One. I’ve spent 3 hours wet printing a single frame. It has made me focus more. After all, I have time to (maybe) print just one frame from an entire roll of 36,24 or 12 exposures. part of the reason why I appreciate 4×5 more nowadays. i have a makeshift darkroom in my study, let me know if you’re interested in giving it a go.

    I know of a color lab in Damansara Uprown which does an excellent job of developing my color rolls. Way better than E6 at Pudu. So much so that I’m starting to think that color is starting to be a viable option for me again. Email me if you want their contact number.

    Whoo, went on a bit of a rant there. Sorry Ming. And thanks for the post.

    • I might take you up on that offer once I have some time to shoot for myself again. Sure, send along the lab contact…always useful to have. Thanks!

    • Hi Dani: Wow…I think I should send your reply to all who ask why I continue to shoot 8×10 and contact print…

      The best part of using the 8×10 is the number of “keepers” that one gets per YEAR :}…to take just a bit of liberty with history, as Saint Ansel noted: IF one gets 10-12 really good images A YEAR then break out the champagne :}….not talking about 10-12 images per ROLL of 35mm film. One really does get much more critical when using film, and I am not completely sure why Dani.

      FWIW, I spoke with the proprietor of a successful professional lab in the Northeastern USA yesterday. He noted that the use of film appears to be increasing, especially black and white. Also, when ordering chemicals for the wet darkroom I take the opportunity to spend a bit of time speaking with the proprietor of the company…and yes, the purchase of chemicals used in the black and white photographic darkroom is also increasing, especially amongst younger photographers.


      • “He noted that the use of film appears to be increasing, especially black and white. Also, when ordering chemicals for the wet darkroom I take the opportunity to spend a bit of time speaking with the proprietor of the company…and yes, the purchase of chemicals used in the black and white photographic darkroom is also increasing, especially amongst younger photographers.”

        I have heard this as well. I was in Freestyle in LA last week, and they said the same thing. I also know Ilford is doing more business than last year. This all reminds me of the years after the introduction of the CD; the turntable/vinyl business tanked, and then slowly recovered as listeners started enjoying the sound of vinyl and digital’s strengths and weaknesses became more balanced. I just wish that certain films weren’t going away, but that’s to be expected, I guess.

        • It’s much better than film going the other way…we make do with the emulsions we have.

        • Yes, the advantage in film capture is available even to non-photographers…when one really reflects on the simple statement you made, some speculation about the future is possible Chris.

          As one who is advancing in age at an uncomfortably rapid pace, please allow me to speculate a bit on the work flow that photographers will be following much sooner than most imagine. I am one who actually started photographing with a Brownie camera, processed film in an attic bathroom just after the end of World War Two, witnessed the first Polaroid images in the late 1940’s, was given presents of old Argus and similar camera by doting parents, advanced to Leica cameras, and has used some of the first digital cameras….I am still blessed with an agile mind and the ability to carry an 8×10 camera into the field, and develop the images in my own small darkroom… Please bear with me just a bit. Ming has opened the figurative Pandora’s Box, and I am afraid that once opened the box will reveal many opinions….:}

          What has not been considered yet here is the change that is coming because of the incredible advances in the technology of the iPhone and clones. Most of us have read that the newer phones are capable of capturing 41 MP of data…higher than the best Nikon or Canon DSLRs. Indeed, the CEO of Nikon has stated that Nikon’s business model will have to change…digital capture has reached the END of what such digital technology is able to record. Even if a minute amount of more data can be recorded, the differences in the final image will not be significant. ,how much more data can really be captured in the digital format, and if more is able to be captured, what difference will such make? Of course, lenses might be tweaked a bit, as can software ( both in and out of the camera ). Nevertheless, the end of expanding digital SLR camera technology as reflected in new cameras is coming to a close. The sales of high end digital SLR cameras are falling for a reason….the reason is that the limit of digital capture has been reached…no amount of tweaking will likely increase the amount of data that can be captured. For a time mirror less cameras will pick up the slack, and lenses will not doubt be improved on such cameras. However, such lenses will likely never surpass the results obtainable with Leica and Zeiss glass because.the laws of physics cannot be changed..and such laws currently indicate that film capture is still the benchmark. I am NOT alluding to the gross megapixels that one might be able to record on a given frame. I am alluding to the DETAILS that such megapixels can record….please note the discordance between total megapixels, and the DETAIL that such megapixels can record. There is a difference… is a rather gross number, the other much more nuanced….those who shoot and print film are well aware of the differences; Those who use digital capture are apt to dwell on the gross number as being determinant, and to ignore the referenced nuances in tone. However, such photographers are not to be pilloried as being uninformed or to be responsible for recording “bad images”.. Such digital photographers do fine work, and are to be admired. However, amongst film photographers, such work will never rise to the standards that many of us have set for ourselves. Our benchmarks are the silver prints of the luminaries who might be traced from Edward Weston and those of his era through Winograd,Cartier Bresson, and others too numerous to mention

          IMO, the quixotic pursuit of better digital cameras is destined to change very suddenly…the trend is already apparent.
          Those who can successfully integrate film capture with hybrid recording ( i.e., film capture and perhaps digital printing ) will be able to survive. IMO, those manufacturers who continue to market “new cameras” that can record a few more megapixels will be perceived as clinging to out -dated and meretricious technology. Digital capture has gone about as far as it can….certainly for the advanced amateur and professionals..and even for most amateur amateurs ( sic! .\) Heck…the unbelievably expensive Leica Monochrome is being extolled because it can MIMIC THE FIDELITY AND NUANCES OF FILM CAPTURE….please tell me….can the Leica Monochrome capture more information than a Nikon film camera that is thousands of dollars less? Most would answer with a determined “No”, and even if the answer is “yes” the differences might be very hard to see.

          The iPhone and clones will have lenses that can be added, and software programs that will equal the capture and fidelity of the finest current SLR cameras…all in a small package that can be easily tucked into the pocket. There is, IMO, absolutely no way that the high priced Canon, Nikon, and other branded SLR cameras will survive except amongst the few “pros” who have to be seen with such cameras in order to validate their status as “photographers”..

          So, what will be left…..well, film capture has not been surpassed….when the work flow that combines film capture with digital recording ( i.e., a hybrid work flow ) becomes better defined and more accessible, “pros” and “advanced amateurs” will be carrying film cameras and displaying their results using hybrid technology..

          I could no doubt continue…however, most film users will understand the gist of my points whilst most digital photographers will no doubt shrug their shoulders and head to the computer….:this guy is nuts, a victim of advancing years and computer illiteracy….well, absolutely and emphatically this person is hardly in his dottage!!!:} The advanced iPhone cameras will do more to bring film back to the main stream than any other recent technological advance….the newer iPhone camera will make the expensive DSLR cameras unnecessary AND irrelevant….next year Ming will be writing about the newest “iPhone camera” and processing features, and not about the newest Nikon or Canon SLR or mirror less camera.

          Millions of digital photographs will be produced within the next week…less and less will be on high end digital SLR cameras…”photographers” seeking the “best” results will be returning to film..MIng already has….the companies that make hybrid technologyaffordable, relatively easy, and relevant will survive…

          Soap box collapsed, ready for flack…thanks for reading…


          • The iPhone and clones will have lenses that can be added, and software programs that will equal the capture and fidelity of the finest current SLR cameras…all in a small package that can be easily tucked into the pocket. There is, IMO, absolutely no way that the high priced Canon, Nikon, and other branded SLR cameras will survive except amongst the few “pros” who have to be seen with such cameras in order to validate their status as “photographers”..

            Physically impossible to get a big enough sensor in the iphone to replicate the same DOF rendering as a larger format, so the first bit is unlikely. As for us needing to carry big DSLRs – so long as clients continue to expect it and be ignorant that it really has nothing to do with the end result, we’ll have to do it if we continue to expect to make a living out of photography. Otherwise, I’ll carry whatever does the job.

            In the meantime, I’m going to finish burning this roll of Acros in my F6 as I run my errands today.

            • As I stated…I agree that professional photographers will need to carry the best professional equipment in order to maintain their bona fides.

              As to the interesting points that you make concerning the iPhone cameras….I believe that there will most certainly be add on lenses that can and will be manufactured to fit such cameras. Indeed, such lenses will be the way in which Nikon and others will take part in the iPhone’s evolution/revolution. Simply think about the small diopter correction lenses made by Leica and others. I am of course not expert in lens design and manufacturing. However, one might be forgiven for believing that the technology for the manufacture of small lenses is available, and can be refined.

              Physics being physics makes it impossible to refute your point about the sensor….however, as we all know, the micro 4/3 system is on the ascendancy. Ming’s review of the new Olympus P5 makes a very convincing case for such cameras. Indeed, unless I have misread some of his comments, he is now comfortable carrying the P5 as a backup on his projects, and as a primary camera on other occasions.

              Thanks for your interesting points!

              • Actually the E-P5 was on loan. I own an OM-D, which is usually for travel and teaching. I try to carry bodies from the same system to minimize weight on assignment. But the current generation of M4/3 is more than sufficient for 99% of uses.

                • Thanks for the clarification.

                  For those who wondered about additional lenses for the iPhone…B&H has, in stock, 3 Schneider lenses for the iPhone 5. Obviously there will be lenses for the new “iPhone cameras” ….the one that records 41 pixels.


                  • Doesn’t this somewhat defeat the point of the phone being pocketable though?

                    • Not at all…one has a very small 41 MP camera that can use very small screw in lenses…rather ideal for the travel photographer who wants to up the ante a bit. Those who still want to simply point and shoot have, I believe, soft ware on the camera that can do some pseudo zoom features.

                      All know that the magnificent Nikon and Canon SLR cameras and lenses will likely not be surpassed by the new camera phones. However, the images will be absolutely perfect for 95% of the needs of the bulk of amateur photographers….such photographers will no longer need the SLR cameras for excellent images that can be spread about the internet….and additional software programs will allow one to make fine prints of images taken with such phone cameras. The software will “catch up” with the cameras…and these first cameras are simply the first in a generation of such camera phones. The CEO of Nikon would not have made public statements about changing the approach without careful thought and analysis of sales trends. Nikon MUST turn its attention to making the best phone cameras available. A betting man or woman would opine that Nikon and the rest will develop various models of camera phones so as to place their products before consumers who want to spend various amounts of money…and so the cycle goes on and on for a few more years….:}….and of course there will be emerging competition concerning who makes the best lenses for the camera phones…

                    • You know, I’ve got an article coming up in a month or so that you might find very interesting…;)

  11. Wei Chong says:

    Many of us who have APC DSLR sensors already have setup a “slide” copying setup with the Nikon ES-1 and some extension rings. What would really interest me is an adapter to your “rig” so that us cropped sensor owners can easily take camera “scans” of medium format. I have shot 2 1/4″ B&W and would like to get the tonality and dynamic range that is better than my Epson v700 flatbed. I don’t want to spend money for a dedicated med-format film scanner.

    • The problem with the ES-1 and similar tube-based things is they’re good for single frames, but not entire rolls; it’s not efficient and they scratch the negatives. My setup is designed for people who develop their own and land up with negatives in a strip – you can copy a whole roll of 35mm in a few minutes. The setup will work with 50-60mm equiv. macros and 6×6/6×7.

  12. Hi Ming,

    Great article! I am currently experimenting with a roll of Acros 100 myself (have been a Tri-X person since I started with film), shooting varying scenarios/instances to get a feel of what the emulsion is capable of. Good thing there is still a professional lab existing here in Manila. From what I’ve heard and read, they are very good though I am not sure yet if they can stack up against the labs in Hong Kong (for me, those processed films are one of the best I had). I’ll know soon enough as I will be getting my developed rolls of Tri-X 400 and Pro 160C this week.

    I have a couple of questions though:

    1. Is there an inherent loss in resolution and particularly in tonal response in your digital scanning process? How does it compare to a dedicated pro-level film scanner?
    2. How do you print your 6×6 negatives? Is it via the traditional optical printing process or scan to digital then print digitally? I am not sure of what kind of services you have there. 🙂

    Looking forward to your answers and thoughts.

    (Sorry if this is a double post, wasn’t sure if my first attempt was successful).


  13. Great article Ming!

    I am currently experimenting with Acros 100 myself and trying to finish the roll. I am trying to use it in varying instances of light to get a feel of what the emulsion is capable of. Good thing there is a professional lab exisiting still here in Manila and from what I heard and read, their reputation is very good and they are considered to be the best here (hopefully as good as the ones I had in Hong Kong). I’ll get to know soon enough.

    A couple of questions though:

    1. Isn’t there an inherent loss in tonal response and resolution with your current scanning process comapres to a dedicated pro-level folm scanner?
    2. How do you print your MF negatives? Via the traditional optical process or the current digital conversion then print? Not sure what printing services you have there.

    Looking forward for your answers and thoughts.


    • 1. No, I was surprised. Together with my printmaster, we compared a good 6×6 neg scanned with the D800E against an Imacon Flextight and Epson V700; the D800E won by a handy margin on tonality and matched the others on detail. The other two took as long to scan a single image as the D800E method does to do three rolls…

      2. Digital conversion then print; I have an excellent printmaster here who takes care of it for me.

  14. HA ! Ha ! All the photo sites we can read on internet are said to be run by pro photographers. I would correct this with “supposed” pro photographers. So comparing your site with the rest, Ming, you have proved many times over through your reflections, your professionnalism if I dare.
    This thread is one these “times”, you see, you analyse without bias what and how to get the best results for your clients. I really appreciate this. But it happens also that your conclusions fall right on par with mine.
    I am still with film only for many reasons, I had many different cameras up to 4×5, but my preference goes to square 6×6 format. It is the best compromise between simplicity and IQ, 12 exposures is just perfect because when you think before taking you eliminate so many what would have been rubbish shots and with film you pay for it.
    With 36 exp I need three sessions to finish the film and that’s bad for two reasons :
    – A) the film need to be developped at the earliest after exposition
    – B) you may have exposed the film for a certain type of light therefore for a certain type of treatment, you next session would inexorably be different and you can’t treat it the same way.
    Medium format also offer big bright VF and the very challenging and so rewarding square format as I shoot full frame and seldom crop.
    I part with my Hassy system not long ago because age going I couldn’t bare the weight any more. I still have the 180mm CFI as new for sale.
    So I am left with the M6 who could complain about it ?
    Now for scanning I bought long ago a film scanner and things turn out OK, except that the software isn’t updated and do not work with the latest computers OS.

    Thanks for this refreshing article.

    • My pleasure. You bring up a good point about film scanning compatibility: nobody has bother to update the software because that market is tiny. But if you use a DSLR…hello ACR. 🙂

    • Check for scanning software. They do not cover every scanner, but they do fit a wide range. The giant flatbed I use runs off SilverFast. In many ways this is better scanning software than most OEM software.

  15. Thank you for a most welcome topic. How do CFV-39 images converted to B&W compare with their B&W film equivalents?

    • Of all the digital options for B&W…this is one of the best. They far exceed film on detail, nearly match it on dynamic range, and come pretty close on tonality. But, if I’m going to shoot B&W on a ‘Blad – I’d still rather use film since it’s just a matter of swapping the backs 🙂

  16. This is a very thought-provoking post, Ming. Thank you.

    I was a dedicated large format/medium format/darkroom worker for decades, but I rarely miss it. I do spend as much time on digital processing and printing as I used to when I was developing film and enlarging, however.

    It took me a long time to get black and white results that I like from digital files, but I’m now convinced it is possible. (I always thought it SHOULD be possible, logically.) I think of my D800 files as nice meaty scans, which then have to be given the character I want. Sort of the inverse of what you’re doing (using the D800 to scan negatives). I have to do lots of work with curves and control of midtone contrast, sometimes working on selected areas of the image (sky almost always). It’s gotten easier as my chops and software get better, bit it’s still time-intensive.

    I’m not convinced about the technical value of Salgado’s method (if it is as reported). My uninformed guess is that he’s probably unwilling to sit in front of a monitor and do (or even learn to do) what needs to be done for a purely digital work flow. He has other uses for his time. And he’s found a work-around that does the trick for him. More power to him.

    I know your digital skills are superb. So I wonder if your preference for film has more to do with the different experience of shooting with film cameras and the workflow you like best rather than with the final result. Which would be very understandable. I have yet to find a digital camera that I love using as much as my favorite film gear. As you and others have emphasized, it’s often a very good idea to slow down and get things right in the camera. And there’s something special about a beautiful negative or chrome as an object and an artifact.

    By the way, I’m quite interested in your film scanning rig. I have a lot of film to scan, going back to the 1960’s…..

    • My pleasure, David.

      I find you can get to say 80% quite easily; 90% takes perhaps half an hour an image; 99%…half a day, easily. For me, throughput and workflow matters; I can’t justify spending that long on each image. Film gives me 100% in the same time as the 80% result with digital, faster if I’m working in batches.

      You might well be right about Salgado; I’m sure he’d rather spend time shooting, and we do know he has an army of assistants taking care of the back end for him – so who knows how much of his style is really even under his own direct control?

      My personal preference for film is partially down to the experience, but partially still because of the look. Those cameras which have near digital analogs – the GR1v/GR, F6/D700/D800, Hasselblad 501CM/CFV-39 – most of the time, I still prefer the film versions. On technical image quality, digital undoubtedly wins; but the interesting thing is I get more responses from the film prints than the digital ones by both laypeople and photographically savvy ones. And I don’t think it’s because I’m putting any less effort into the processing for digital work; if anything, the opposite. (Compositionally it’s all the same, of course).

      Lots of interest in the film rig. Now I’ve got to chase the manufacturer this week for my prototypes!

  17. Ming,

    I hate this post 😉 !…………………….We sold our 500C/M about 15 years ago to fund a computer (remember how much a decent computer ws then?). A horrible mistake and we’ve been pining for it ever since.

    While I love my D700, B&W has always been my forte and I’ve never been satisfied with my digital workflow for that purpose. You have seriously tempted me to dump the D700 in favor of an OM-D (for color and my product photography work) and pick up a 501 for B&W.

    My concern is workflow again. Can you go into a little more detail? I think it sounds like you are processing your own film but still going to Wesley for prints? Or are you printing your own proofs? What about digitizing the negs if I don’t have a D800? What film are you using?

    Just trying to see if this is nothing but a pipe dream or reality for me.

    • The good news is older V series ‘Blads are pretty cheap now…the bad news is that it is quite a lot of effort, and above that, addictive!

      Yes, I’m developing my own B&W film (Ilford Delta 100/400/Pan F, Fuji Acros 100) in daylight tanks, then scanning with a D800E on a custom rig. You could easily use another camera for that part so long as it has a macro lens.

      • Would the OM-D work well for this and what would I be sacrificing?

        I’d love more info on the rig you’re prototyping.

        • Should work fine, but you’ll need a short macro in order to have enough working distance with my scanning rig design – the Panasonic 45 is about the limit, and it will only cover 35mm format. You’d give up resolution, of course…

          • It’s starting to sound like it’s a no go for me. Just can’t justify a D800 and don’t see the point of going back to film if I’m going to lose resolution. Dang.

            • Hold up a minute: 35mm film tops out at about 10MP of equivalent resolution on digital, so you’d still be up with the OM-D’s 15. A good 6×6 runs 30-35MP I think; I’ve seen cases where it outresolves the 24MP square of the D800E. That said, I can still make fantastic 30×30 prints from it.

              • HI Ming, I was under the impression that fine grained films like Acros and Velvia, which have similar RMS values, had a digital equivalent of ~24MP, always assuming best shot technique etc. Can you elaborate on the 10MP ?

                • I’m just going by my eyeballs and the D800E scans: you get more grain increase the resolution past 10-12MP, but not more detail.

  18. NeutraL-GreY says:

    Its very exciting to hear how much you love film and I absolutely agree with everything that you stated but I do have some comments on what you said about color negative processing. I have been developing my own color negative film (135 and 120) for a year and a half now and if you can develop B/W I promise you that you can do C-41 (with the same equipment). In some regards its simpler because the developing times are the same for every film and ISO and there isn’t endless amounts of developers to choose from. The #1 reason people never try to develop there own color film is because they are nervous about getting the temperature absolutely spot on which is a reasonable concern if your making prints directly from the negative but today with scanning or in your case photographing the negative it simply is not an issue if you are off 1 degree. Give it a try for your personal work and I am confident that you will be just as happy with it as you are with your B/W film work.

    Based on the type of photos that you post I would recommend Kodak Portra 160 and/or Kodak Ektar 100. I find The Tetenal C-41 press kit can consistently develop 15 rolls of film (all at once unfortunately). I know BH Photo will ship internationally unless you have another local source. I know it will cost you time and money but the output is well worth the challenge. If your interested and have any questions along the way feel free to email me.

    • Are you using a Jobo?


      • NeutraL-GreY says:

        No. I am just using a simple hand inversion tank, a peterson I believe. Although the chemicals are cooling while in the tank opposed to the Jobo, I have not realized any ill effect.

    • Thanks for the suggestion – I do have a couple of questions, actually:
      1. Is there any way to balance the color for non-daylight sources by altering development times/ temperatures, or is all film pretty much color-neutral at 5000K only?
      2. What happens if your temperatures are off? 🙂

      To be honest, I doubt I’ll shoot color film simply because I think the digital results are superior in terms of tonality and control…

      • NeutraL-GreY says:

        1.Unfortunately the only way to physically change the color balance is with filters which is a bit of pain. Although pretty much every film is color-neutral at around 5000ish, you will be surprised at how much control you have manipulating colors and white balance since you have complete control when reversing the negative. It is a bit difficult to compare to digital because cameras do this by extrapolating the sensor data before it is even written to the card. With film you can setup your own conversion parameters.
        2. Ha I suppose I already answered this.

        I admit it is a lot of work but I simply cannot get the same results with digital. I love the color from digital cameras (especially the Sigma Foveon stuff) and film, It’s just another tool in the bag. Good luck!

  19. MIng

    Great article, as usual. I was reading your review of the D600 over the weekend and somewhere in there you allude to snapping off two-three frames of every shot (I am assuming as coverage) and then picking the best of those as a select. I am also assuming that this is a purely digital artifact, because there is no cost per frame except storage, and if you are throwing 95% of digital frames away (you mention your keeper rate is 3%-5%) even storage isn’t an issue. Did you shoot that way with your F6?

    Film slows you down in lots of ways (winding film is just one) and I think that is always a good thing, but on the street, that isn’t always possible. Especially with a ‘blad, the physical nature of the camera means you have to find a particular location (background) that is interesting and set camp and pre-focus, waiting for the right combination of people/events.

    Love your blog.

    • Yes, it’s partially a digital artefact, and partially because my hands aren’t that steady; shooting bursts is a good way to get one sharp frame as your finger doesn’t move between shots 1-2 and 2-3. I shoot single shot with the F6; the mirror and shutter on that seem far less prone to vibration than the digital bodies. Perhaps it’s the lower resolving power of film, but I also remember Nikon making a big deal of the mirror balancing mechanism in that camera.

      • Well, for me the artifact is NOT taking multiple shots when I shoot digital. In facf, I think I rarely enabled the multi-shot option. One of the many items about your blog which has me riveted is the thorough way you explain your process, and it always makes me think about my own workflow, shooting method, etc.

  20. Kristian Wannebo says:

    As to ‘blad vs larger format:
    There is perhaps a middle way.
    Rollei SL66 and follow up models have a built in +/- 8° tilt function.

    Reading these articles and comments on film…
    I do feel like taking my folding Super Ikonta III with Tessar 3.5/75 out of the cupboard again, only I have no space to unpack my darkroom and no scanning device yet…

  21. stephan kleiser says:

    This may be a silly question. But once you ‘scan’ your medium format film with the D800E (or whatever camera), don’t your end results then take on all the qualities (and limitations and rendering) of that scanning camera? And then, what’s the point?


    • Not a silly question at all. Curiously, precisely because of the linearity of the D800E, I find that the tonal signature of film is preserved. I did a number of side by side tests of the same scene and subject with digitally-scanned film and digital; the film still looks better. I can’t really explain it other than the digital camera being able to linearly reproduce the film’s tones in their entirety. There’s obviously something to it, because Salgado uses a similar process in reverse (digital capture, project that to film, print from film) to get the tonal response of film…

      • stephan kleiser says:

        Thank you Ming, for your insight. I will have to try it myself. All the best.


      • Michael Matthews says:

        I’m glad somebody else asked the question first.

        Still having a problem with the idea that film can recognize and record subtleties not possible with digital — and that scanning the negative with a digital camera makes the digital camera somehow capable of seeing and recording those same subtle tonalities.

        Isn’t the film negative simply acting as a filter?

        I realize that originating the image on film may require technique different from making the same shot digitally. The decisions required to accommodate the more rigid parameters of the film stock thus contribute to the filtering process.

        It just seems unnecessarily complex. Couldn’t Singh-Ray come up with something to achieve the same result in one pass?

        • Effectively, yes. I can’t explain it properly, but I can see the difference. So, we persevere.

          The filtration is nonlinear and has to do with how the medium records deep shadows and extreme highlights; it wouldn’t be possible to make a physical filter that replicates this.

          • It’s the toe and the shoulder of film response, for most films. Digital sensors are more linear. Of course one can push the curves around, but I have yet to find a way to consistently match film results. It gets even worse trying to match medium format. I’ve tried some film-look software, and that speeds up the editing, but to me the results of scanned film still appear different. You really see all this in printed images, and almost not at all on computer monitors.

            • Thank you – I’m glad another photographer agrees and I’m not going mad!

              • Two photographers agree…there is nothing wrong with digital…..UNLESS one has seen the tonal range and gradation available with film capture. Two different techniques with two different results…is one better, and one worse? I believe not…it is completely a matter of choice. However, there are those who have never seen what film is capable of recording, and who cling to the belief that digital capture is the best of all worlds….advantages and disadvantages, trade offs, etc….there is no “right” answer.

                However…digital capture MIGHT has gone as far as “it can go”? Seriously…the sensors, the in camera processing, the computer processing…all are designed to MIMIC FILM CAPTURE. The immutable laws of physics cannot be changed IMO, the use of film is destined to stage an unexpected and well deserved renaissance amongst those who demand the very best from their images. The coming trend is to hybrid processing…film to capture the “data”, perhaps digital to “record” the data…all we are capturing is “data”…..don’t sell your developing tanks, and hold on to your old glass….the change is coming..

      • Quote: “because Salgado uses a similar process in reverse (digital capture, project that to film, print from film) to get the tonal response of film…” Wow. I never heard that. Is his process described online somewhere? I’d love to hear his thoughts about that. I mean, I do understand why you’d want to print on silver gelatin paper as an artistic preference.

  22. John weeks says:

    Beautiful work…as always Ming.
    After seeing you shoot so much square lately I have transformed my little X10 into B&W square format to give it a try, as it’s always with me. Harder for me to see but I’m trying. Sold my film cameras a few years ago…mint condition. I need to get one back!!

    • Thank you, John. I find that the ‘Blad has influenced my smaller formats too – my GR spends most of its time in 1:1 aspect ratio, sometimes with the GW-3 – turning it into a kind of mini-SWC.

  23. Tom Liles says:

    Paternity Diaries: Five Days In

    I got an “eye-level” Nikon F2 (hereafter: Cromagnon) six days ago. I got Ektar 100; I got Gold 400; I got Acros 100; I got Fuji Superia 400. And I can’t shoot any of it because Cromagnon swings like a wrecking ball and is liable to inflict serious head trauma on my kids if I take it out with us. Though unable to enjoy Cromagnon, I did take my first two color rolls shot with it to develop at a high street chemist and they were HIDEOUS and they were amazing and FILM IS IT!

    In lieu of Cromagnon, and instead of my digital cameras [which are expensive or fragile or both; and I LOVE them], I’ve been snapping with a Kodak disposable film camera. 10 more shots and it, too, goes to the chemist’s.

    I read a line on someone’s blog, somewhere — it was probably one of our community here — to paraphrase:

    …the photos from disposables feel closer to my actual memories of the event and always look more in the moment…

    I read it and nodded. Can’t wait to see if it’s true.

    [If the pictures turn out OK, I think I’ve just found my ultimate pocket camera]

    • Haha – that’s awesome. What you really need is a Titan and the 45/2.8P (at least you have half of it already). That’s noticeably lighter, still gives you the full-fat F2 experience, and as a bonus won’t do your kids as much injury as the Cromagnon.

      I’m going to try color film on the ‘blad when I’m in Japan next. The dearth of emulsion and lab options here makes it impractical, sadly.

      How’s fatherhood treating you?

      • Tom Liles says:

        Father-as-Mother-hood is KICKING SEVEN SHADES OF something out of me Ming. But I’d still take temporary this over being born a woman and having to give birth to the little angels. Crikey. I’m tough, but NO THANK YOU! And then have do this looking after the kids thing seven days a week 365 a year, for 18 years, at least, but realistically until the day you die => HARD WORK. Everyone, this is what Mother’s Day is about => tries it himself, GETS IT. I seriously consider time at the company as being my holiday in comparison.

        Oh Cromagnon just gets better and better, Ming. In a year, this might be my main camera [said out of earshot of the D3]. You said it’d make me more aware of light and I see why you said it. Todd said, ages ago now, he just keeps walking out the door with the film camera while the digitals collect dust—get that too. What I don’t get and didn’t bargain for was the completely different algorithms for making an exposure [that is within the envelope of “properly done”]. Nevermind the feel of it. It really is starting over [or everyone knows something I don’t]. Everything I knew from digital? Not super useful, I have to say. I’m metering from a free iPhone app that I think Stefan [Stefan, was it you?] recommended. About half my pics didn’t look quite right [aside from color balances all being mental; that’s OK, I half wanted it that way and knew it’d be what I’d get developing at a Chemist’s and not a proper place. Though with C41, is it possible to get decent results anywhere? I read somewhere that C41 was great because almost any lab anywhere can do it and get it right? Hmm..] But no, a lot of the first two rolls looked kinda washed out, I asked a friend [still shoots film exclusively] and he said “you’re underexposing, I can see there’s no density in the negative.” Density? Oh, aha, oh yes—density. So the third roll I added a stop onto whatever the iPhone meter told me and hey presto. Definitely better [it was different film tho’ –> Ektar 100, which has a pretty good rep, so that bump may have been thanks to the film and not me and my new algorithm].

        You got it MT: the 45/2.8P sits on Cromagnon, the main lens. Didn’t need the P bit, did I? Ha. I have two other MF Ai lenses but they just seem big on the F2. Strange, because that’s the last thing they seemed on the digital bodies, even on my wife’s D60 [which in turn feels tiny now I wield a D3]. I do like the 35mm FOV so might consider selling something to get a Cosina-Voigtlander 35mm, manual focus f-mount jobbie. A Color Skopar? I don’t have time to check now, but I think that was it. I know you’ve reviewed one, but it wasn’t the 35mm, I don’t think. Would be interesting to see how it does on the D3 too; though I really wanted to shift toward AF a bit more with the D3 [all those beautiful AF functions and the dedicated AF-ON, etc. Be a waste not to exercise them]. Any suggestions from the gallery are welcome, if there is anyone out there still.

        Yeah, as mentioned on the Fukuoka street shots with the ‘Blad, I would LOVE to see what happens when you do the same thing but put color film in. Not the digital back. Color film. My friend, the Japanese pro, he recommended the following place to me for processing here: Horiuchi Color. I know we have Japan-resident photogs [but not necessarily Japanese] here, maybe they can confirm, deny, or recommend other places too? I’m going to try Horiuchi when I get back to work in August. My man tells me they are good; but you have to account for the fact he gets a dedicated member of staff for his negs, and in his case, it’s a bit like the thing you have going with Mr Wesley Wong for your prints [WOW again for Verticality], i.e., a relationship. I really think this is a factor in imaging; like your ditty about light and interesting subjects [good light can make a boring subject…] , a similar thing perhaps goes for negs and labs: a good lab may make mezzo-mezzo negs sing, but a bad one could can make great ones clang, etc.

        I’m sticking to my station and with the Chemist’s for now 🙂

        Post Script:
        That Japanese photog was over the moon to hear I had an F2. He started [seriously] on one. We’d had a chat months ago when he was at our office—he’d pushed film to me then [another voice adding to the crescendo] and had said “you go out, you get a MF back, 120 film, you get 10 or 12 shots, SO YOU MAKE DAMN WELL SURE THEY MEAN SOMETHING, you take them, develop, print, do it again…” That’s how I started. I’d laughed in his face at the time about medium format. And still do. MedF is a bit too presumptuous for me, yet. But I can already see that once I’ve got a grip on 35mm film, I’m going to want to go there. In color. The MENTAL thing is the prices [excluding premier marques like Hasselblad, etc] are so stupidly reasonable. You can get a Zenza Bronica Sq/Ai, in Tokyo, used, 28,000 JPY. Lens, grip, finder, all working order, spotless, 28,000 JPY. Not 280,000 JPY but 28,000 JPY. Mamiya 645E [? I think that’s the model name, I’m going from 2 week old memory here] for only 10,000 JPY more => WOW.

        I’ve never yet seen in the flesh one of Gordon’s Bronica 645 RFs though. And believe me, Gordon, I was looking 🙂

        • Holy cow. That’s no recommendation for paternity at all!

          It’s definitely possible to get good color out of a C41 neg – try Portra. Color neg film to me was always ‘light’ and ‘clear’ as opposed to being ‘punchy’ and/or ‘dense’, like slide.

          If you like the 35mm FOV…try the Zeiss ZF 2/35 Distagon. That would be my recommendation for F mount. It’s one hell of a lens.

          Your Japanese photog friend is right on the ball with MF: you damn well make sure every shot counts. And it shows – my hit rate with the ‘Blad is about 80-90%, which is unheard of for digital. Even with the digital back it’s at best 40%; the OM-D drops to 2-5%. Even ‘Blads are cheap if you know where to look…I paid less for my body, prism, four lenses – all in mint condition – and several film magazines – than I paid for my D800E.

          Color film? Definitely. Next time I’m in Tokyo.

          Incidentally, I just started a roll of Acros 100 in my F6 today…

          • Tom Liles says:

            As JFK pronounced: we don’t do it because it’s easy… 😉

            [though that can still be read as only ambiguously good. Anyway, here’s the Tom version: it is what it is]

            Zeiss? Love to.
            [Could I resist choosing the 28 instead? Tough…]
            [[And for the D3 I really did want to see what I could do with the 28G too 😮 ]]
            [[[I remember you kept both!]]]

            • Well, since you prefer 35, the 2/35 Distagon is an easy choice, and not so expensive used. Once you start getting into 28s…there’s no end to it. 🙂

              • Tom Liles says:

                I honestly feel like I was walking along in life, money in my pocket, happy, whistling, watching the scenery go by, waved a hand at passerby, and suddenly feel through a trapdoor and was instantly sunk under a 1000 feet of water. I feel sorry for my wife, but I feel more excited for my D3 at the new goodies its going to get in the coming months 🙂

                Zeiss 35!
                AF-S 28G!
                New computer to process its data!
                New monitor to look at its files!
                Prints at the print shop—go large!

                You’re living the dream MT—these are business expenses for you.
                [Though you have to make them make your living; I don’t. So, mmm, not sure actually, who is living the dream?]

                • I don’t know. They may be business expenses, but I need to ensure continuing business justification in the first place…then they become tools rather than things you lust after. Perhaps there is no dream. Just reality. Oh boy, that’s depressing.

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    No there is a dream:

                    you were in it…
                    and you were in it…
                    and you were in it…
                    and I was in it with you…

                    Name that tune. Where’s Ian when you need him?

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      No takers—the italics were the looped sample from the song “Dream” by Rob Swift on his album “War Games.” Not a great album but this track stood out, especially for the vocals from Breez Evaflowin’ [yes, that’s really his name] on the song. Can’t remember what the sample was, but it was an old one. Prolly an old R&B or soul track vocal…

                      [And the “you” references were to different members of an imaginary audience. Not the same person. Just putting that in there incase it came off in Todd’s *creepy voice* in everyone’s heads. OK]

                    • Too old for me mate.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      /ouch 😀

        • Tom, you need a Texas Leica AKA Fuji GW690: only 8 shots per 120 roll, but they’re beautiful 6×9 (6.25x the area of 135) and the cameras are widely available and relatively cheap on the Japanese used market. All manual, no meter, fixed lens.

          • Tom Liles says:

            Thanks Andre! I’m sorry I haven’t been able to respond quicker. Juggling two kids and a wife’s schedule over here 😉 Fun times. Fast Times. Not Ridgemont High. More like Tokyo Elementary –> the Mums at pick up for my daughter’s school are an excellent topic: has anyone ever done this? It’s like a mini geo-political arena, complete with arms races [prams/fashions] and politics [this mum avoids that one, etc] all watched over by machines of loving grace [the teachers].

            Yes, thanks for this suggestion. You do see an awful lot of those Fuji GW690s knocking around here. In camera camera shops. Not knowing anything about them, I confess I’d always thought they must be like giant toy cameras—they look so comical. But not what comes out the other end of them. Just done a cursory google look-see and WOW to the Texas Leica. One for the memory banks…

            The more I investigate these medium format cameras though [just looking, honest!] I do notice the ratio of B&W to color samples is astoundingly in favor of B&W. They look beautiful; but I do think I have a scratch that needs to be itched in color. I’ve never minded being in a minority — or just pretending to be or thinking that I’m in one — but it’ll be interesting to see [someday!] what it’s like trying this.

            • You can always shoot medium format in color, you know.

              • Tom Liles says:

                Fully intend to Ming 🙂 But I feel like I’ll be in the minority [of a minority, at that!] and judging by my experiences with a minority digital camera — the Sigma DPM — help will be pretty thin on the ground, and friendly help better not bargained for. That’s fine, but all I’m saying is a degree of confidence and control [photographic chops, in other words] will be necessary. Most of all some resolve.

                I really can’t wait till you get out here, get yourself to a film shop, and let loose on the streets of Tokyo with some color emulsion. The shame about it is that Tokyo in winter can be quite dull—grey skies, everyone in black, cold weather… You’ve been enough times, I’m sure you’re familiar… But that’s the challenge, if anyone could see — and get — something in such circumstances, I think it’s one Mr Ming Thein. Truly.

                Silly question: have you ever considered living here? And your wife’s skill set would be in demand too—massive healthcare business ecosystem in Japan. I suppose it’s about clients for you… you’d have to go right back to square one and rebuild the pipeline? We’re just figuring out a way here to put you as close to an unending supply of Acros 100 and Pugnecy as is possible 🙂

                • Tom Liles says:

                  That’s Pungency, of course… not a new breed of French Bulldog

                • Well, I find that those very pale scenes work better with color than B&W because you actually need a little color to help with tonal separation and object distinction – think watercolor.

                  I don’t think I could live in Japan, but I did think about it seriously for a while – at least a reasonably long stint. Firstly there’d be the whole starting from scratch again problem, and the language barrier – especially for the wife – and hideous costs of living to make things worse…

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Yeah, you’re right not to underestimate your better half’s experience of it: we moved all the way back to the UK [from Japan] as my wife and I really did want to try life over there [my homeland]… I had great, rewarding job [not just money] with prospects and security, we had a house, in a very scenic area of the UK, with a lovely garden, a car, great neighbors, family close by, you just couldn’t ask for better. After 20 months we were back in Tokyo. Why?


                    You can have all the money and status and things in the World. If you can’t speak the lingo it gets lonely very quick. If you can’t speak the lingo and you have a child [who needs to do things like go see a doctor] it gets very stressful very quick. Both happened to my wife and I wasn’t having another minute of it => so back to Tokyo we went. Moral of the story: language plays a much much bigger role in our professional, private and psychological lives than we give it credence for. This is why solitary confinement is the punishment cons fear more than plain physical abuse.
                    Anyway, she’s a happy camper now. Mission accomplished. I wasn’t, to be frank. I did love Tokyo in my youth; but am very sour on it now. I don’t rate the Japanese as much as I did back then [though this goes in cycles of love/hate]. So there’s not a lot for me here: I go to work, get money, support my wife and kids—that’s my lot. In part, the photographic hobby was to have something for me so I didn’t feel like an automaton and to cheer me up.

                    Who thought it’d work this well! 🙂

                    • And there we go. But cons need the social structure inside prisons to let them retain some of their cred/ status/ etc. For some of us who’ve never really related to the rest of the world – me, for instance – it doesn’t really make a lot of difference. Being completely anonymous isn’t a bad thing; you do your own thing and people leave you alone. Unless you need some degree of notoriety, in which case it isn’t good. And there’s the internet. 🙂

            • No problem Tom. I hear you’ve got your hands full at the moment. 😉

              Velvia 50 looks gorgeous on 6×9, but B&W tones are gorgeous on MF as well. I can see B&W being more popular due to the DIY factor as well.

              It is kind of a clown camera. I always feel like my shoes should be a few sizes larger when I use it! There are smaller versions, and remarkably Fuji still makes MF rangefinders today. The GF670 twins (one is a wide angle version) shoot either 6×7 or 6×6.

              • Tom Liles says:

                Yes mate: soiled nappy in this one; ringing phone in the other… with two little people running rings around me all the while. Bloody madness. I’m a man, a hunter-gatherer, I see wild boar I chase wild boar, I no know about do two things at once.

                Seriously though, it’s going OK. I’m probably not in Jeff’s [C’s] league, but watch your six Jeff—I’m coming for the title. Christ, I even washed the floors today! Four days ago we were walking around the apartment topless and eating meat off the bone. Showers definitely optional. It was like Marlon Brando’s little hamlet in APOCALYPSE NOW.

                Thanks again for all this info on the Fuji. I’ll have a looksee when I get back to the World in August. I’m also interested in a used Zenza Bronica Sq-Ai I saw, complete with a Zenzanon S 105 f/3.5 and grip and prism, in perfect working order, spotless, only 28,000 JPY. That’s just insane. It seems like an easy purchase and should provide some fun—to put that price in perspective, a new pair of leather shoes, modest shoes, in Japan would set me back about the same amount of money. A pair of shoes or a Zenza Bronica? Readers of this site all know what they’d do 🙂

                For now what I’ve been doing is snapping with a Kodak disposable. Developed the first one today and it came out OK. Just OK. Not as good as I’m used to. But not disagreeable, either. And the best thing—my kids love them! Especially my daughter. She can frame [what she wants] and press the shutter button. Even wind on a little. My son, he holds it the wrong way around, closes his eyes when he puts them to the [wrong side of the] finder, and then turns it sideways to press the button. But they both love it. And it doesn’t matter if they throw it about or start the obligatory push/pull match over it. I was kinda hoping for some magic million-to-one Winogrand magic from the kids. Like those elephants that can paint, etc. But, alas, we got 8 boring shots that I took and 20 shots of fingers, hands, and the tips of kiddies toes 😀

                I am concerned that everyone says my son takes after me.
                [and I do have a preoccupation with shots of people’s feet 😮 ]

                • Actually…why not buy them one of those cheapie ruggedized digitals? That way you don’t need to worry about developing, running out of film, and later on they can have some record of their earlier years. It’s what I plan to do with my kids (if I have kids). Until they can handle an F2, say.

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    I was talking about this with a friend the other day and he commented that his parents had given him a few photo albums full of his early years, on his 20th birthday (“coming of age” in Japan). But it wasn’t pictures of his young self that made the present so good; it was his parents, in their youth, in the frames with him.

                    A word to wise photogs on this site!

                    [Thanks for the tip MT—I think that’s a good idea. I quite like some of the chunky industrial compacts Ricoh make; not having a rear screen is a plus though, it will get smashed. Also, less buttons the better: really just a shutter is sufficient. If I had money for another camera though, sorry kids, it’s the Bronica 🙂 ]

                    • Try the Nikon S31 or AW100. Both look pretty indestructible.

                      My kids – if I ever have them – won’t know what to do with my digital archives. I’ve only been shooting solidly for 12 years, and I’ve already got half a million images…

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      God bless the souls that will have to pay the leccy bills on those HDs!

                      Still, you never know Ming, the images might be worth a bob or two in a generation or two. Good work always and eventually shines through. To think the lucky buggers will have half a million AT LEAST of them…

                      The G700, that’s what I was thinking of before. Had a look at the Nikon ones too MT, thanks. But I reconsidered while showering the kids tonight and think film disposables are pretty much perfect. The problem’s post really. I just want to do a better job scanning the negs than “Camera no Kitamura” do. Another reason to be looking forward to news of the final scanning rig prototype… and it’ll give me an excuse to save for the AF-S 60 f/2.8 macro, which I have been dying to try for ages. I’ve read your review on that one a few times, to say the least. But am torn over whether to try an Ai 55 f/2.8 micro in the meantime [much cheaper too]… you told me “those things are awesome” and their story is interesting too –> interesting how the need to copy (photo copy) Japanese language documents written in kanji script pushed the need for ever better optics that could resolve the strokes — the tolerances in picking up strokes on the Chinese characters are much tighter than ‘rough and ready’ ones for roman script that German and other lenses were designed to — necessity really is the mother of invention. This was the design brief the optical engineers at Nikon were given; their answer: the Nikkor Ai 55 2.8 micro. Bravo! But I already have a manual focus 50mm f/2 Ai; of course, the 45 f/2.8 P too; another manual focus 50mm, or thereabouts, lens thrown on the pile? hmm… The 60 is pretty specialized kit but I’d have an actual specialized working use for it. Still, either way it or the 55’ll have to get in line, there’s all this other stuff I’d like ahead of it, and I’ve promised myself — save the Bronica — the next thing I buy will be a new computer: really need a new one, and, oh yes, some storage too! 😀

                    • I’d suggest getting the 55/2.8 AI 1:1 purely so you have more money left for film, and also because the modern lenses – including the 60/2.8 AFS – are nowhere near as nicely built as the AI lenses were.

        • I still haven’t replaced the D700 that I sold just over three months ago, and the Coolpix A is collecting so much dust that I’m considering selling it. If getting the shot come what may is the priority, digital is unbeatable; for everything else there’s film, to paraphrase the slogan (you’ll enjoy that, Mr Copywriter :)). Glad you and Cromagnon are getting along!

          • Interesting – why’s the A not doing it for you?

            • Not entirely sure, to be honest. I’ve certainly not got any complaints: build quality’s great, form factor’s great, and image quality exceeds the D700/24 f/1.4 combo most of the time. But it also took me the best part of four months to finish the last roll that went through my GR1v, so I suspect it may be a 28mm thing. It’s a focal length that I find to be ideally suited to town and city life (can happily shoot all day with it in London and Portsmouth, where I spend most weekends), but at home in the country I struggle to fill the frame and find it much easier to see in 50s and 85s. Maybe I need to force myself to use nothing but 28s here for a while to get over it…

              • Sounds like it. Or, like me, you maybe need 28 AND 85…

                • Yes, I think so. 24-85 is what I settled on DSLR-wise for the last couple of years, and that works for 99% of general-purpose stuff; 50’s good too, but I didn’t like the 50 f/1.4G and hadn’t tried the f1.8 until recently (I like that better). I think 28mm is the lesser-used of the two for me personally though. A couple of weeks ago I picked up an 85mm f/2 (AI-S) for the FM3a to round out my 35mm film setup; not the greatest 85 ever, but ~300g is the practical lens weight limit before smaller-bodied film cameras start to feel imbalanced, I think.

                  I was happy with the idea of being all-film, at least for the time being, as I don’t do this for a living, but since getting rid of the D700 I’ve been asked to a portrait shoot for a photographer friend, a band shoot, and a wedding (having never had any such requests in three years of having exactly the kind of camera one needs to do them!). Got to figure out if doing these with b&w film only and manual focus only is practical and financially viable, or whether I need to get back on the DSLR bandwagon (or at least use this as an excuse to get an F6, so I can use the autofocus 1.4Gs)…

                  • I don’t really like any of the F mount 50s to be honest – the 58 Noct has charachter, but isn’t super-clinically sharp like I’ve come to like. The 1.8G is probably the best of the bunch. Perhaps the new Zeiss 55/1.4 will fix that…

                    I believe they call that Murphy’s law: and when you have all the gear, you get asked to shoot something else completely different. No worries, use B&W film (warn them first) and call it style – should actually work fine for those three applications. Would be different if it were food or commercial, though.

                    • No, agreed on the 50s. It’s a shame that the classic normal focal length is treated like a second-class citizen these days; the 50 1.4G isn’t even made in Japan (the 24 and 85 1.4Gs are). At least the 1.4G and 1.8G are relatuively new; Canon doesn’t seem to have updated theirs since the 1990s… I’ve got the old 50 f/1.2, but even with a split-screen finder it’s not easy to achieve critical focus wide open and–as we discussed briefly here another time–its general softness doesn’t translate well to digital. (Example wide-open film shot, so I don’t fall into the classic trap of posting about cameras semi-regularly but never actually sharing any of my photos…

                      No commercial stuff in the pipeline; my obligation is moral rather than contractual 🙂 Not sure if my skills are up to using film for (reasonably) critical applications yet though, and then there’s the issue of people wanting colour… If I can’t DIY the whole process, I’d rather shoot digital. Too bad the current gen doesn’t have a direct successor to the D700; having tried all but the D4, I don’t think the D600 or D800 are as good for general purpose stuff.

                    • Well, if it’s not contractual…why not? So long as expectations are clear.

                      Agreed on the D700 successor, too. There’s a hole in my lineup for something like that – oddly filled by the OM-D…

                    • By Jove, you’re right! *buys F6*

                    • That’s not a bad idea. I just started a roll of Acros in mine.

                    • I passed on a mint and boxed example in my local camera shop for £800 last year and have regretted it ever since!

                    • You’ll hate me when I tell you how much I paid for mine 🙂

                    • I hate you at the mere suggestion!

                    • About $1,000 USD. Also mint in box. According to the data, it’s had 40 rolls through it. 🙂

          • Tom Liles says:

            digital is unbeatable; for everything else there’s film



            Pawing: the downside of haptics

            is better and in the hall of fame for all time, no question, never revoked 🙂

            Oh please get an F6 Todd. Then tell us all about it. I picked one up, mooching in the Nikon Salon while waiting for them to clean the sensor and give a D7000 the once over… It didn’t call to me or anything; I’d just thought “what’s this digital body here, oh look there’s an AF-D on it..” Ten seconds later I was over it. Two seconds after that it was in my hands. Take the fastest shutter speed you know and bump it by a factor of ten—and that’s how long later I knew I was IN LOVE. What a camera. And it’s not in-your-face awesomeness, it’s just a creeping goodness that wafts in and STICKS. And no camera ever after ever seems quite up to the mark but you don’t know why because it’s just a modern looking Nikon body nothing to speak of but I know what I know, what’s happening to me I think I’m going insane type feeling.

            Do we know why Nikon doesn’t fill this D700 shaped hole that even numpties like me can see?

            • Also, then you shoot it and realize that the mirror and shutter action is smoother and more silent than any of the current pro digitals – what happened there? My F6 is currently digesting its first roll of Acros.

            • Haha! I’ll see what I can do; there aren’t any on eBay UK at the moment, surprisingly. Definitely a slow burner, it’s not something I was hugely interested in this time a year ago, or I’d have got it when I had the chance. I do like to support my local camera shop, even if it is by far the most expensive way to get film gear…

              Briefly toyed with the idea of going back to Canon, whose 5D3 is more of a D700 update than any of the current Nikon crop, but (putting aside the many subtle differences) I don’t think their selection of primes is as good. The 24-70mm f/2.8 L II (zoom, obvs) looks excellent, but it’s exorbitantly expensive and 70mm is kinda nowhere for me.

              • It does have a lovely shutter action… *creepy face*

                • Tom Liles says:

                  It does have a lovely shutter action… *creepy face*

                  Oh come on, that’s straight into the pantheon! Would you like to swap jobs 🙂
                  [and get me a pay rise, then we can swap back again]

              • They’re still available new 🙂

                Ironically before the new 1.4G and 1.8Gs, I remember being jealous of the Canon prime offerings…

                • Yes, not sure what happened there. Surely the market for primes is comparable across those two brands? Canon seems to be more interested in zooms and slower, image stabilised primes now.

                  Looked at new F6s the other day: they’re only available from a couple of places in this country now (neither of which had them in stock), and they’re the best part of £1,600–I’d think twice before spending that much. Feel slightly better about it since one of your readers sent it that story about them being made by two people at a rate of 50 a month, though 🙂

                  • Incidentally, with Nikon’s cashback offer the D600 has been available for under £1200 from Amazon UK for most of this year, but I couldn’t bring myself to part with the cash for one reason or another.

                    • That’s not too bad, but stiff by Asian pricing. Interestingly that brings it within spitting distance of the D70 at launch – yet I’m not seeing anywhere near the take up rate. Market is slowing indeed.

                      No need to buy one, I can honestly say you’ll enjoy the F6 a lot more. 🙂

                  • Depends on what the market wants, I suppose. What’s more interesting is the number of good fast primes becoming available for the mirrorless systems…

  24. Just curious, why not the Mamiya RZ/RB cameras? They’re dirt cheap the the moment and I think Leaf is producing some excellent digital backs for it. I had an RZ67 briefly… sold it at a great loss because I was getting quite broke as a student then… and I’ve lost 80% of the film I’ve shot with it before they even got developed. What I did develop was quite unlike anything digital has to offer. My favourite film then was the Neopan 400.

    You’re making my hands itch for the D800E and the RZ again…
    Man I need more work to pay for all that 😀

    • Size and weight – not the kind of thing you want to walk around with…

      Too bad Neopan 400 has gone the way of the dodo.

      • I can attest to that having been crazy enough in my youth to bring it around.

        I didn’t realise that :\ time to stockpile some if I can still find them, they used to be common just a couple of years ago…

        • Not common at all. I tried to order some from Japan, but it’s pretty much extinct even there. A single roll or two perhaps hiding in the back of a fridge if you’re lucky; certainly not bricks of it.

  25. David Challenor says:

    Hi Ming,
    Nice article, you are taking me back many years. Although I have a small collection of Nikon and Leica film bodies,they rarely get used.You have hit the nail on the head! Too many exposures, film left for weeks in a body,wet processing and eventually a small image liable to scratching and dust. On the other hand 120 film has that nice “big ” feel and you can see what is on it. I feel a 120 film camera system nicely compliments a digital system as they are technically so different and require a completely different mental approach. I have used quite a few systems and still own a Hasselblad, because its so nice to look at, even though its a bit clunky to use. My preference is the Mamiya 7ii. It makes superb images and is light to carry and is similar to a Leica M being a rangefinder. Have you ever tried one, the 6×7 format is great and can be squared off easily. Keep up the good work promoting the virtues of film.Digital is fine but lacks soul.

    • Not yet – I hardly have enough time to shoot with the cameras I’ve got as it is 🙂

      Completely agree about digital lacking soul, though.

  26. Hello Ming.

    I sure love the shots from you ‘Blad. Very nice.

    I came across this on Flickr:

    The set-up seems to work well for scanning, I plan to copy this method myself and give scanning a shot, at first with negatives from years past.

    Thoughts? Worth trying, right? Ever tried or seen something similar?


    • No reason why it shouldn’t work; it’s maintaining planarity that’s the challenge.

      • That’s a somewhat popular way to scan file, and I use a similar setup, but considerably more ad hoc. For finding planarity, a useful trick is to put a mirror under the camera. Look through the viewfinder, and when the lens is centered on itself in the mirror, you have pretty good planarity (modulo flatness of the mirror and its thickness).

        • That’s an interesting idea…but you’ll still have to set it up every time, which is somewhat time consuming for a single roll of 12. My solution is literally drop in the camera and go.

  27. It has been very interesting following your progress with film. I like the look and feel of the Hasselblad cameras, but when I had a go with one, I found the reversed image a bit disorienting. I guess one gets used to that. Large format seems of interest. I take Gordon Moat’s point – if you are going to have to lug a tripod, might as well put a large format camera on top. I guess we are still a bit spoiled here in Hong Kong – can still buy and process a lot. I took a course earlier this year (Simon Wan, Photocrafters) on B&W film processing and optical printing. It was great to do something ‘analogue’ end to end. Simon pretty much only shoots 8×10″ these days, so at some point I am going to take his LF class.

    But yes, for you, as someone combining personal and professional work, I can see why you are looking for convergence in equipment and approach. But I wouldn’t let that put you off giving LF a go. Your experiences with that would feed back into / inform the work you are doing with other equipment and techniques. I have a feeling you would enjoy the fine tuning of positioning the standards for perspective and focus….

    I also bought an F6 recently. They have quite a following. Photographer John Crane has a website devoted to it. I was impressed with Tomohisa Ikeno’s article on Nikon’s website about their approach with this camera. And, in the hand it gives you AF, matrix metering, weatherproofing, great ergonomics, exif capability… I like this camera, but for 35mm will probably use RFs more, for their portability, and because I feel less self-conscious with their small scale.

    With your Hasselblads, how do you tend to use them in combination? Do you keep, say 100 ASA in one and 400 ASA in the other, and switch depending on the light? That is something I have been considering with film – bodies dedicated to film types. Still, as others have suggested, better to try to use up the roll you have!

    • Try it with the prism finder; you’ll find it’s a lot more fluid – though admittedly one gets used to the reversal after a while. I’ve got two bodies now, six film backs and one digital back; generally two will be loaded with Acros 100 in one and Delta 400+1 in the other, with a spare. The digital back is for color. I only carry both bodies on assignment; too much weight otherwise.

      I’m keen on large format, though only with a digital back for commercial work – there’s no point in having a camera that’s nearly impossible to get film for…

      I love the F6 too, but don’t shoot much with it simply because I prefer the rendering of medium format.

  28. I’ve been looking for a new ‘project’ for later on in the yr and a ‘blad could be the answer 🙂 – how many lenses do you have at the moment?

    • Well, you won’t lose anything if you change your mind after that year. I’ve got the 50/4 FLE, 80/2.8, 120/4 makro and 150/4. I’ll probably add a 40/4 IF FLE at some point to round things out.

      • Cheers – I plan to borrow a friends hasselblad and see how I get along before searching one out and making the plunge….

  29. Elf Kerben says:

    Hi Ming,

    nice to read and i’m also interested in your Rig. I love my F6 with slide (velvia50) and i also leave my “normal” DSLRs more often at home. So the F6 is still in production, look here (23 Feb 2012 ):,factory-tour-inside-nikons-camera-plant.aspx/1

    Nikon’s flagship factory in Sendai, Japan, assembles all of Nikon’s current pro-level bodies, from the D700 (discontinued in Japan, but still to be sold elsewhere) and D3X to the brand new D4 and D800/D800e. It also assembles every single F6 film SLR, the production line of which is staffed by two, yes two, people. This admittedly means only turning out 50 a month, but it’s still a big responsibility for just two people. [Words and second photo by Chris Nicholls]

    • Lots of interest so far – hopefully those will stay once it’s available for order!

      Yes, the F6 is still available new – but very expensive. I suppose given that there are only two people making 50 a month, that makes some sense…

  30. Steve Jones says:

    Nine months on and the journey has led you to a greater appreciation of film and developing your own signature scanning system.
    What a great result! I prefer not to use menus on cameras when I’m taking pictures so I still prefer to shoot with film rather than digital for landscapes and travel.. Interesting for me is your realization that 36 shots on a roll of film is too much. I had never thought of that and now that I do think about it, you are absolutely right! Better to finish the film in one shooting session than to have unfinished rolls destined to be lost or forgotten. Thanks. From today my Leica will be loaded with 24 instead of the usual 36 and I’ll force myself to use all the frames before dropping the camera back in the bag at the end of the day.

    • Don’t laugh, but I’ve actually got that problem with two rolls in my ‘blads now…just haven’t had any time to shoot for myself lately. The last month has been back to back assignments.

    • HI Steve”

      Good suggestion about the 24 exposures. However, if one has 18 excellent exposures at a given location, all with the same approximate lighting conditions that would indicate similar development, why complicate matters when moving to a new location that has a different exposure range and needs different development? Forget the 6 remaining frames: rewind, reload, shoot.

      Of course, one could always carry two M bodies…..:}

      Stay well.


  31. I’ve used an Canon EF (it’s a beautiful camera with manual FD lenses, it’s not a canon with ef mount) to take photographs. My first problem was the film, in the touristic place where I bought it the film was a counterfeit so the photos of that film have problems in exposure, nice clipping by the way; another problem was the lab, they processed my negatives and I received copies with less resolution than my 2mpx camera phone, I ask them for an explanation of their method but they just operate machines without knowledge, I think several photos were great because I used an old superzoom digital olympus just in manual so I hadn’t problems adjusting aperture, shutter and I just was worried in composition, so the poor files from those negatives were for the lab and besides the counterfeit film; and the last problem was that the shutter is stuck, I understand a common problem with those old cameras. What is disgusting because I really enjoyed to shoot with film because that improved my digital photography too and vice versa. In my country I cannot process slides, and the negatives are the lower quality or to lomography that it’s not of my taste.

    In Peru is hard to find good film, and harder find a lab (and no one process slides) so I use internet, is so cheap. But everytime I want to buy film and repair the camera I note that I can buy a filter (I love the graduated neutral density filters because they take me more time in the nature where I shoot landscapes and reduce my time in front of my laptop editing the raw files) And actually I’d love to use medium format film.

    I am not a professional photographer but since my amateur side I love the way your photographs looks as a product of your creativity and not as a product of the camera, always I can read an implicit message in they that is more important that the camera used behind.

    Said that without internet and online worldwide sellers I couldn’t access film photography the way I want.

  32. Ishkabibble says:

    Wow….Kuala Lumpur sounds like quite a back water area. No color film processing at all? While not as common as it used to be, finding good C41 processing has never, ever been an issue for me, both in Asia as well as the US. I wonder why KL has such a problem here.

    35mm was definitely used for commercial photography in the pre-digital years. I hired many photographers using 35mm equipment. They produced *excellent* work. Not everyone needs bill board sized prints.

    I agree with you that 36 exposures can be too much sometimes! It sounds funny but is very true. I am going to buy a second Nikon body so I dont have to commit to a particular ISO for such a long time. Sometimes I dont want to use ISO400 film but that is all I have in the camera!

    I urge you to try Fuji 160NS. It is an amazing color film that has incredible tonality. It would be most interesting to read your views on this compared to Kodak Porta.

    Keep up shooting and writing about film! It is greatly appreciated.

    • We have it, but the results are inconsistent and labs are limited. There’s no demand; everybody wants the latest digital body. Even a one- or two-year old digital body is out of vogue. Still, they produce the same crappy images year in year out – go figure.

      Plenty of color films I’d like to try, probably when I’m next in Japan. No point if I a) can’t get it here and b) will land up having a lab mess up the development. Even my Acros has to come from Japan – when I called up Fuji here, nobody seemed to know what it was!

    • Thanks for the interesting suggestion! I will certainly try the Fuji NS.

      The comments about C41 processing in the USA are on target.. The “pro labs” are slowly disappearing ( or consolidating! ). Nevertheless, one can still obtain excellent processing of C41 AND relatively inexpensive scans at the time of developing. A reasonable work flow ( alluding to “amateurs” for I understand the particular needs that a professional photographer has ) might involve using such inexpensive scans to share images on the internet, and to evaluate the frames. Higher resolution scans might then be considered for those images that one wants to spend time with and print larger. One understands the inconvenience of such work flow for those with a deadline, etc., etc.

      As to black and white: One might, of course, consider a similar work flow. I can easily develop black and white in my own small darkroom. However, there are professional quality labs who will develop black and white prints at a cost that is so reasonable that the time, effort, and expense of materials makes developing one- self unnecessary. Scan at the time of developing, evaluate and share over the internet, Better scans for images that one thinks have “potential”, etc., etc.

      The use of film presents the challenges that all of us are aware of. The results-at least in black and white-are still superior to digital black and white capture, and also better than moving color images into a black and white work flow via PS, etc. Evidently ( and I have no experience with such programs ) the black and white add on programs can “mimic” the look of various films….but there is still no equivalent to the “look of film”….and to hear an expert digital photographer say so is both reassuring and encouraging!


      • For DIY B&W, it’s about control for me – not the cost or time or effort. I’m already choosing film because it’s a conscious creative choice; it seems somewhat pointless to make that choice then stop short halfway. I think I’ve barely covered the tip of the iceberg, but already there’s so much flexibility in the development and scanning parameters that one can achieve very different looks – all whilst not sacrificing any of the tonal signature of film.

  33. It sounds like the scanning adapter won’t allow MF scanning with APS-C-sized sensors (eg. Sony NEX)? I’ve been digitizing my 6×9 negatives by stitching together macro shots on the NEX with an adapted Canon FD 50 macro, and while the results are good, it’s a bit of a pain to deal with. I was waiting for more details on the adapter to decide between a camera rig or a flatbed scanner for quick scans. It sounds like the scanner may work better for me.

    BTW, was the Verticality print done from your D800E scan?

    • No, the working distance is too long. It may be possible with the 30/40mm macro lenses, however – not having one, I can’t really say.

      Yes, Verticality was from a D800E scan of a 903 SWC 6×6 negative. (I’m sending you a replacement for the damaged print, by the way, but my printer hasn’t had time to do it yet nor have I had the chance to go down and sign the print that hasn’t been printed 🙂

      • Thanks Ming! I really appreciate your great service!

        Having never seen your scanning device, I wonder if it’s possible to gain some working distance by using tubes to move the camera further away from the negative?

        • You could if you put them in front of the lens. The current design supports 135 with 50-100mm (FF 35mm equivalent) macro lenses, or 6×6/6×7 with 50-60mm lenses. Anything more than that and the whole thing becomes huge and unwieldy to post etc.

  34. Ming,

    There is something special about your shots from the blad. Simply wonderful!

    Best Wishes – Eric

  35. I’ve seen slide copy rigs similar to what you are describing. Of course none of these have been made for a few years now. I have some of the rare Nikon tunes and the ES-1 adapter. So far I have never used those because I have two dedicated scanners here.

    I know what you mean on finding good labs. I’ve done self processing of E-6, but it’s a bit of a pain. B/W processing is far easier. The biggest issue I have now is that the good labs are few and far between, meaning turn-around on a project is slower. There are some great things that can be done with film, but when the deadline is tighter it is more convenient to just shoot a project with a DSLR.

    Almost hate to suggest it, but it almost sounds like large format may be of interest to you. You could mount up a rollfilm back for medium format film. That way you have easy access to macro imaging, or you could try a variety of movements to get some interesting results in-camera. Probably an Arca Swiss or Linhof would suit you, or you could take a look into a Japanese made Ebony. My theory on large format is that if you will be carrying a tripod, then you may as well place a large camera on top of it. 😉

    Overall I prefer medium format, though with the 16 frames per roll of my RF645. I wet mount scan the images later, and I tend to shoot in four frame groupings. I like the pace compared to shooting the D3, though lens choices are far more numerous for Nikon. It was not many years ago that the average person spoke of film as if the results would look like coloured oatmeal or water colour painting. Film results can be quite good, and it is nice to see you tell it as you see it.

    • I’m actually thinking about large format, but more for an large upcoming assignment as the easiest way to get full movements for my digital back. Large format film is impractical – I can’t even get the stuff here…

      As for MF lenses – I think having fewer choices isn’t a bad thing since there weren’t that many dogs to begin with. All of the CF lenses for the V system are excellent, and we’re really splitting hairs when it comes to preferring one version over another optically (with the exception of the Tele-Superapochromats, of course).

      • Large format with geared movements is almost a must have aspect to get the best results from a medium format digital back. There are some dedicated 6×9 technical cameras upon which you could make it work. Most of the really wide stuff on medium format digital is shift biased.

        I’ve been working on a full movement modular camera for medium format film and digital backs for a few years. One prototype was completed and tested, which led me to the current design. Your film imaging rig probably took far less time than I have spent on this already.

        • Well, if you ever get around to making them, I’d be interested 🙂

          The film rig has taken far too long for what is actually a very simple device – but it’s been easily the better part of six months. Can’t imagine that would compare to your camera though…will it take Hasselblad V backs?

          • I’m trying to make the modular camera scalable with a few changes. I want to be able to use a 6×12 rollfilm back, which means a 4×5 film gate. There are numerous adapters to take Hasselblad or Mamiya, so I think incorporating that would be a great idea. If I can figure out an indexed stitching mount, like the Dr. Gilde camera, that would be another level.

            The next step is getting the four major parts in plastic, to test the fit, size, and handling. I expect more adjustments will be needed. I only revived this project after I read up more about 3D printing.

            • That sounds fantastic. Large format leaf shutter lenses on a board, I presume? Or maybe the ability to take other system glass with the right adaptor?

              I presume the final one won’t be plastic – not sure it’d have enough rigidity and resilience to support the required weight of lens/ back at fine tolerances. Regardless, I’m very interested to see this one come to fruition…let me know if I can be of any assistance.

              • Plastic is simply cheaper to test the general shape. While it would be light, I don’t think it would have a quality feel to it. So after the plastic would be alumide. If the alumide is strong enough, then that could be the final material. I have another company I can try with different material choices. The other way to do this would be through a machine shop. I have already sourced suppliers for sliding mounts and geared actuators, though those would be the expensive part of the development. I want it to not be too heavy, but feel solid and move smoothly.

                I have not finalized whether the lenses would be on a lens board, or whether they would need to be fitted. I think large format on Copal 0 and Copal 1 would be enough. The focus mechanism is another complexity, though I want that to be somewhat ergonomic and easy to use. While the final camera would probably be used on a tripod for the best accuracy, I want to make it able to be used hand held.

                There are many details that have been worked out. The built prototype was one, then that led to another folding design. I decided the folder idea was not durable and rigid enough, so I did a complete redesign to a more compact camera. It has been quite a challenge.

                • That would make sense. I can imagine the work involved – but I’m very, very very keen to see how it shapes up in the end 🙂

  36. Not a surprise Ming, but good to have you confirm some of the thoughts that you and I had been exchanging for some weeks.

    Yes, the 36 exposures are too much….so ( and it takes some courage! ) I just stop when I move to another subject in different light…simply rewind the film, and load a new roll. Roll film is simply not as expensive to use.

    Another possible approach to printing with a 35mm negative might be to scan the negatives, and have those negatives that appear to be worthy of printing, printed on one of the Durst digital printers using the special Gallerie grade silver paper.

    For what it is worth, I took out one of my R cameras and shot a few rolls of Portra. Amazing how rusty I had become ( I now shoot almost only 8×10 film).. However, a brick of black and white is on the way for use on the M RF…..and the Leica glass is still the best.

    Keep up these wonderful posts Ming. All of us benefit from your experience.

    It is refreshing to hear of someone with so much expertise in the digital camera area write of the advantages of film.


    • I’ve been printing from scans the whole time on Canson Baryta and HP production grade machines. Output is superb, even up to 30×30″ for 6×6 negatives.


  1. DPUG.ORG says:

    […] know there are tons of bellows available for Nikon. Also, Ming Thein, is talking about creating a scanning rig for using a DSLR. I don't know when he'll get it finished, or what the cost will be. But he uses a […]

  2. […] For color negative film, correction/ white balance is an issue – you've got to do tonal corrections across three channels, not just luminance – and critical accuracy a must for product photography. I suppose I could always shoot …  […]

  3. […] Film diaries: Nine months on – Ming Thein | Photographer color negative film, correction/ white balance is an issue – you've got to do tonal corrections across three channels, not just luminance – and critical accuracy a must for product photography. I suppose I could always shoot … […]

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