Film diaries: choosing film or digital, and a little rationale

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Amsterdam Arch, color – Ricoh GR

For serious photographers – the kind that buy cameras to take pictures with, not for bragging rights or spec sheet counts – creative choice is good. And perhaps the largest and most divisionary of all of the creative choices available to a photographer has been whether to go film, digital, or a combination of both. Don’t expect to get a concrete answer one way or the other after this article; rather, I’m going to explore the less obvious rationale and strengths for both options.

Let’s make one thing clear upfront: neither one is perfect, and I’m not an evangelist for film or digital. I just use whatever I think will make the strongest image, within reason – carrying the kitchen sink everywhere is obviously not practical unless you happen to be a Sherpa village headman, nor is using film for work where you need precise color reproduction and instant approval by a client a good idea either. I’ve got experience with both media, though if I had to pick a side, it’d be digital. (I’m one of those young upstarts who got their first chomp at the bit when DSLRs crashed below the $1000 price point, only revisiting film later out of curiosity, a desire to learn more about this whole ‘natural looking’ concept, and to improve my discipline.)

I now shoot film when:

  1. The mood strikes me, and I don’t feel like culling raw files
  2. I want to photograph in a slower and more contemplative way – knowing each click costs a decent amount of money is a great way of achieving this
  3. The subjects I’m likely to encounter will benefit from the pictorial qualities of film – specifically, things with huge dynamic range and/or will look better in black and white – no digital camera can match the latitude of a good B&W negative yet
  4. I’m probably going to be shooting in black and white most of the time
  5. Logistically, I can carry and use the Hasselblad gear (smaller film formats are nice, but bigger really is better – unlike digital, there aren’t huge generation gaps between different format sizes since they all use the same emulsion stock anyway)
  6. I’m being masochistic and want to see how difficult things used to be, and if my skills are good enough (this set is a great example)
  7. The client really, really wants me to

I shoot digital when:

  1. I’m in a hurry
  2. I need perfect control, predictability and repeatability
  3. I can’t take the risk that I don’t get the shot
  4. Color, and color accuracy matter
  5. I’m travelling and need to go small and light
  6. There are flashes or external lights involved

I think it’s pretty clear that a divide is emerging: digital is for now, for work, and for output; film is for things that aren’t time critical, things that are for me, and most importantly, images where both the final output image and the experience of making the image matter. Film is suited to creative experimentation, where that slight degree of unpredictability might result in something better than full control. Shooting film is my me-time. I can compromise on certain things like color and speed, but I compensate for that by going full out on the creative portion.

The irony is that I find film to be a very binary medium – a digital concept, I know, but bear with me – the best film images are either fast and loose, like Moriyama or Araki’s street photography, or slow, contemplative and require a huge amount of effort – like Salgado’s early work, or Ansel Adams’ landscapes. The stuff in the middle is in no-man’s land. I tend to drift towards the Salgado/ Adams quantity of work, but I think that suits my typical film subjects well: slow, contemplative, carefully (or patiently) lit, and then matched with commensurately painstaking development.

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Amsterdam Arch, mono – Hasselblad 501C, 2.8/80 on Fuji Acros. The two images were shot minutes apart. Which do you prefer? Why? I can’t say either are right or wrong, or that – personally – I even prefer one over the other.

If you’re suggesting that I think film is for the large format plus tripod people, or the hipsters – then you’re not quite right. I simply don’t think it makes sense for the casual amateur photographer because it really requires quite a bit of dedication and effort in order to get the results and same level of control that is easily available with a raw file and some judicious Photoshop work. Simply put: if you don’t use those skills regularly, you’re probably going to forget – especially things like developing recipes. Digital is not really any better, but if you forget what a button does, you can find out and change it immediately instead of when you’ve shot all of your rolls, have traveled halfway around the world to get home, and then take the first roll out of the tank. I admit, it has happened to me before. And that crushing sense of despair was accompanied by the thought ‘why didn’t I use the DSLR…’

Digital has one enormous advantage for the less experienced photographer: the learning curve and feedback time is cut dramatically down, so that it’s much easier to progress. I experienced that myself. But I suspect that a lot of people get technically very competent and reasonably able, but then hit a brick wall when it comes to creativity, composition and taking the next step up. It’s because the sheer number of parameters with digital encourages you to concentrate on the process rather than the end result; you lose sight of the trees, so to speak.

Perhaps one of the reasons I’m seeing a lot of photographers increasingly revisiting and reconsidering film – at least for personal work – is both because there’s such a wide variety of interesting gear available at very good prices these days, and because the workflow process can be made as loose and simple as you want (or, as complex as you want) without seriously compromising pictorial value of the output. Film photos are still fun, even if they’re a bit messed up – part of this is down to the nonlinear/ macro-irregular recording medium, and I suspect part of it is because no matter how good you are, you’re never quite a hundred percent sure that you nailed it until you’ve seen the developed negatives.

Beyond that, there’s also the consideration that we’ve yet to see a digital camera – other than perhaps the M8 and M9s – that do not have a whole bunch of unnecessary gadgetry on them; sadly those cameras were both limited system-wise and not the most reliable. If I pick up my videographer’s E-M1 and try to take a still, I can’t. The reverse is true, too. But I can pick up anybody’s Hasselblad V, and providing I know what film it’s loaded with, shoot it like it’s my own with no compromises. If you’re going to shoot infrequently, it means that you’re not going to forget what you set each button to do.

I’m fairly certain that a hybrid approach to photography gives the best of both worlds: the learning curve,  shot discipline and technical control/ attention to detail of digital, and the forced creative process and slight uncertainty of film: the ultimate upshot is that you want to think before you hit the shutter, and then when you do, have the technical chops to ensure that all of your ducks are in a row and aligned precisely the way you intend them to be. The nice thing is that if you have access to a decent lab, there’s not much of a tradeoff these days in shooting both – you could just add a film body to your DSLR system, or find a complete used Hasselblad for the price of a midrange DSLR or less (and it won’t depreciate). And even if you don’t, black and white developing in tanks is simple and inexpensive, as we’ve seen.

I find the only real challenge is deciding when to use what: I like the way film looks enough to want to use it on jobs, but unfortunately, I need the predictability and instant-approval-by-client of digital. And then when I’m shooting for myself, I want it all, just in case. Perhaps that’s why I like the old Hasselblad V series cameras so much: they’re simple, robust, rugged, have great finders, and bringing along an additional back lets me have the best of both worlds…


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  1. Yves Simon says:

    Ming, first of all, thanks for your web site; you are a wonderful photographer, I am a fan.
    I am 55, and love photography since childhood. Before digital photography, 90% of my photographs were slides or Black and White (I developed and enlarged myself).
    I am an equipment nerd, and not proud of it.
    Practically all my best photos were taken with minimalist (equipment, or more sophisticated but well-known equipment. Equipment is a distraction.
    Film vs Digital? I went for digital very late, reluctantly. The first 10 years were a nightmare, everybody was going for digital, and the quality was atrocious. I bypassed most of that (began digital photography around 2008). But today, there is no doubt in my mind: Digital is vastly superior on all counts, film photography is like, well, collecting old fountain pens.
    One of the thing I learned the hard way: when taking photos, don’t try to use vastly different techniques. For example, I was doing slides during vacation. Because I loved B&W at home (Bruxelles; I was doing mainly portraits, reportages and architecture), one year, I took 2 SLRs – one for B&W films, one for slides. Result? Everything ‘bad’. It requires a different way of thinking, and you (well, I anyway) cannot switch from on to the other all the time. Based on that, I wouldn’t mix digital and film.
    Your photos of Amsterdam? I don’t hesitate one second: I prefer the B&W. Why? The light, the shadows, the geometry are highlighted, The color version is just messing things up.

  2. richard says:

    My experience has been quite different. I am an enthusiast and started in film photography 50 years ago. I did both color and BW mostly in 35 format but also occasionally using large format for BW. I had my own darkroom. I quit photography for several years because of the transition to digital with all the new equipment and software I didn’t want to master as well as the expense. Recently I took it up again and have been surprised at my greater productivity with digital. In particular I have been using a Ricoh GR for BW and am excited about the results I have been getting. I also have a Nikon D750 but the percentage of keepers has been similar to film. Maybe it is the switch to P&S and a different approach. In any case I love the digital darkroom and the control it gives me over the finished image. I have thought about shooting Tri-X again on my Leica M but the inconvenience of developing and scanning negatives has kept me from doing so. What I enjoy is carrying the Ricoh in my pocket and wandering the streets near home. This has been a real departure for me since I used to do mostly landscape.

  3. Ming,I pefer the Hasselblad shot.. Looking at the brickwork under the bridge for example,it’s got more detail and yonality than the Ricoh shot..

  4. Steve Baker says:

    Really interesting article. I’ve recently started shooting with the Sigma dp2 merrill. I don’t know if you know that camera, but it seems to offer a lot of the qualities you like in film, but don’t tend to see in a digital body- reviewers have complained that it is slow to use and has extremely limited battery life, but I have found that these weaknesses, as with film, force me to slow down enormously and consider the shot as I might with film. Additionally the quality of the images is very good considering the size. It still irritates the hell out of me more often than not, but well worth a look.

  5. Just a comment on the bit saying that with a digital camera you can be carried away by the choices and concentrate on the process forgetting the end result. It can be true, but there is a cure: focus your will. Exactly as on many other things: you can make more phisycal exercise, but the car is so convenient… and follow an healty way of eating, but carry-away food is so quick… and so and so.
    A quick suggestion: choose only one lens, set your camera PASM wheel on Aperture or Manual, a fixed ISO, center metering and switch off the back lcd using only the viewfinder and NO checking if you got right the shot. No cropping/photoshopping at home either… I’ve shot for an year exclusively in this way, and I’ve found that made me trying of having every shot counting. No more spray and pray…

  6. “digital is for now, for work, and for output; film is for things that aren’t time critical, things that are for me, and most importantly, images where both the final output image and the experience of making the image matter”

    This is pretty much my position too, except that I’m not a professional photographer, hence there’s no “work” element. “Output” counts when I’m doing some amateur photojournalism and need to have images to upload ideally as the event is happening – fine, that’s what I have the m43 kit for. But everything else is for me and for “art”, and I think most amateurs are in that position too.

    Also, just, high-end digital kit is _expensive_. I can’t afford full-frame DSLRs and the lenses to go with them and other associated costs – I particularly couldn’t afford to then lose them or have them stolen. Film is not that expensive, particularly when home-developed, not at amateur volumes.

    • And the more I think about it, the more I envy the amateurs: you can produce whatever you want, all the time. And that has to be liberating; I’m sure it was when I was doing it, even if I’ve now gone the other way and decided to do it for a living 🙂

      One other bonus with film is that the very top of the line stuff is now not much more expensive – if at all – than entry level to midrange digital. I suppose it’s like old supercars: it’s the running costs that put people off, even if the experience is going to be much better than say, a mew VW Golf at the same money.

      • The only trouble is, you have to keep doing that job that lets you pay the rent, which keeps you in the office until whenever…. In London I see a lot of Leica-toting photographers who manage to get out of their jobs to shoot some street maybe on the weekends. Earn enough to buy the Leica but you can only use it a few hours a week.

        • And the cycle repeats; this is why I got out of corporate. Too much time spent trying to pay for the distractions.

          And having a Leica does NOT make you a photographer, let alone a good one, despite what these people might think. It’s the thousands of hours of dedicated practice that do it…

  7. Cibachrome was mentioned at some point. I have submitted Cibachromes that I had done over 25 years ago in competitions and there is always the feeling that I am cheating, the quality of the images are so good. Digitally, I print with the best of equipment and papers, but nothing ever comes close to the Cibachromes. The process was relatively inexpensive and efficient, although the chemicals are known for their toxicity. So many people got into photography when digital came about and never had the experience of good analog printing. Really, most photographers do not have film as a reference. How many have even seen a good analog print? My best work was with a Nikon manual 55mm macro lens on a Nikon F3 with Kodachrome, printed with Cibachrome. We keep fighting for sharper and sharper lenses, but that was as sharp as I could ever want and it didn’t require a lot of effort. For sure, less cumbersome and less expensive than my printers and inks, computer, software, and endless search for the perfect paper. For years, I would have people ask me why their images from digital cameras are never as sharp as those from their film cameras. That was before Sigma made people aware of what the AA filter was doing to their images shot with their $1,000 lens. I remember the early digital cameras. A few megapixels with cheap lenses and still everyone declared the images from them better than anything from film. I bought into that. As a reminder of how far I’ve fallen behind, I regularly search out monochrome images on Flickriver from the Nikon F3. Also, thinking that one day all of those ink droplets will magically produce something close to a good Cibachrome.

    • From what I understand of the Cibachrome process, it seems we’re going to have to change to a different substrate and ink set to get similar vibrancy – perhaps an opaque ink that prints on transparency rather than a transparent one that prints on opaque paper; that would change the process to additive rather than subtractive, which in itself would more closely match the nature of vision…

  8. Gary Kopacek says:

    I just want to say, Ming, I like the B&W a lot, but I think the color shot that goes with this article is sensational. Your composition and the blue and green on the right make it great for me.

  9. “Finally a camera that does make you a photographer”

  10. It goes to show that certain forms of fascism are not only totally acceptable, they are beautiful.
    I.already have a pitch. “Shot on anything else, its simply fauxtography”

  11. HI MIng,

    Great shots. Although unless you told me I wouldn’t really notice if these were shot on film or not, or really care for that matter. I guess the difference would show in the print, even still…… Viewing them on screen however (99% of people viewing the images)I fail to see the point in this day in age. I guess the argument lies with medium vs message, and that said in dealing with contemporary subject matter, i believe the best device to capture the times is a device of the times. (good compacts are ample in my view) As for shot discipline…sure money is a motivator, but if we look at photographers that shot film in its heyday I think that this argument falls down. Your average National Geographic assignment in the film era = 25,000 slides per assignment to get 8 published images, is it so different to how an assignment would be shot in digital today? Film certainly didn’t seem to inhibit the likes of Gary Winogrand and that’s why his work was so amazing. He made alot of it! Film era photographers shot endless rolls, they didn’t think about shot discipline in this manner. It was just more of a specialized pursuit back then. Shooting film today just seems like another symptom of GAS for most.

    I can understand wanting to play in a darkroom and processing your own prints, and “getting ones hands dirty” but this is simply process ( a done to death process at that) It has little bearing on the conceptual integrity of the image at the end of the day, and less to do with the times
    It seems film is somewhat making a resurgence, A lot of kids shoot film today it seems to keep it “pure”. They bash digital, (although most have film lab processed and scan it ??) yet fail to make any real convincing arguments as to why they shoot film conceptually beyond “it makes me think more”. Shot discipline should reflect a state of mind not the state of your bank account. If you need film to make an image more interesting your simply compensating. I fail to see how being inhibited by a medium gets results beyond grasping the fundamentals. Shouldn’t the thought of taking up time and hard drive space with crappy images be enough motivation to consider what you are doing?

    • You get the point perfectly – not from this article, but many previous ones: if your sole output is digital, then it doesn’t matter what you use since we’re far, far past sufficiency. In print it matters. But beyond that, the end artistic intention should also be a consideration before selecting your medium. Some subjects work better with B&W negatives, others with colour digital. Complicating things is the requirement for consistency across a body of work or for an individual artist.

      NG photogs didn’t pay for their own film, and Winogrand left thousands of rolls undeveloped; the process seems somewhere between spray and pray and curation to the nth degree to me. I’d rather have a bit more certainty than that.

      As for conceptual integrity, hipsters, and playing to get your hands dirty – well, there’s plenty of that going on. I shoot film because it gives me a tonal range I can’t easily do with digital, and I want that effect for certain subjects. It has a side benefit of somehow forcing me to think differently; I am now starting to think it isn’t so much film per se as the fact that all of my film cameras are bare bones: shutter, aperture, focus. That’s it. None of my digitals are, and it’s a different usage experience. As much as you try to be consistent, it affects the way you think and work at a subconscious level.

      Arguing about wasting space to somebody who thinks the medium makes the image or lends it legitimacy is wasted, I think.

      • I don’t think that it was necessarily a spray and pray attitude, I just think that the margin for error much smaller that they needed to work beyond certainty as it could be months before one could review the shots not seconds. An NG assignment could easily mean over a year of shooting, so I imagine film would be low on the costings list. Winogrand is an extreme example,I was just pointing out that serious photographers of the day held little regard to film expenditure as shooting film was cheap and they probably had a couple of trusty cameras that they used for years. The printing process is where the money went, so I don’t see shot discipline being compromised vs film costs .

        I really like your approach to photography Ming, its sincere, so I hope you didn’t take it as a personal dig. Film used with a good level of competency has advantages over digital for now, and used in right context it certainly has its merits conceptually. I just feel we are so close to the pinnacle regarding digital that soon the gaps between the digital vs film will well and truly be closed.

        I use digital with a bare bones approach, manual exposure , minimal post processing, and I’d crop a finger before an image, but appreciate your point that its not quiet the same. The Leica M-E seems close to a bare bones digital for now. NO live-view, no auto focus, a good viewfinder and a crappy screen, however not in my budget 😦

        • That would make sense, too. Unfortunately, film is no longer cheap 🙂

          Not taking it personal at all – I hate the pretentious-faux-retro-hipster-wankers as much or more than anybody else – but there are still reasons to use film under certain circumstances – resolution isn’t one of them, unless you’re talking sill output sizes/ quality. When we do have more DR and nonlinear sensors, then even the tonal argument might become moot.

          The M-E is overpriced for what it is. Bare bones, yes, but priced well above premium. Especially given that the RF system is fiddly and prone to drifting out of calibration, quality control is terrible, and it still can’t write to a card properly.

          • “pretentious-faux-retro-hipster-wankers” 😀 haha well.. you can take the boy out of Melbourne…as they say.

            Kinda thought there would be some catch with the Leica, which is great because I can’t buy one 🙂 although the intention is nice. For 7 or so grand for body +lens plenty of more sensible options out there (you could shoot film like Garry for a year, even at today’s prices) . The GR more than satisfies my needs,although would probably upgrade if they release a full frame with the same form factor, because you know…. Maybe they could release a Retro Ricoh G-Star Moriyama Special Edition type R, it sounds hideous I know, but necessary to distract marketing long enough to enable Ricoh engineers could slash the LV screen in place of a nice, big bright 100% viewfinder 😛 ( The potential for such a device to cause Japanophilic hipsters to literally drop dead with sudden acute heart failure would also be an exciting prospect )

            • I have a better idea. Change developing chemistry to require extreme care, with mishandling or stupidity resulting in production of oh, I don’t know, hydrogen cyanide gas as a byproduct.

              I would dearly love to start a camera company that makes the best cameras in the world, but subjects each buyer to a portfolio review first, and a fingerprint-ID shutter button so you can’t sell it on for a profit. The only problem is I probably wouldn’t have enough customers to stay in business…

              • I like the cut of your jib Ming! I promise, If I ever make a billion,I’m bankrolling this venture! Even at a loss.

                • Think of it as the ultimate photographic status symbol: carrying one actually means you are a good photographer! Finally, the assumption the average idiot is making about the camera being representative of the operator will finally be true.

                  • plevyadophy says:

                    A VERY interesting concept; camera ownership by invitation only. It would be kinda like the hardware equivalent of Magnum Photos. Very interesting.

  12. I love the repeating segments within the composition:
    The panes within the windows
    The windows within the buildings
    The segments of the frame – not quadrants, but more like 6ths – like the frames within the windows.
    Well seen and expressed.

    PS. I own and love the GR – a very special camera.

    Steve L.

  13. Another great article, Ming. Regarding personal, experimental work, I’m finding shooting Harman Direct Positive paper in 4×5 to be a very interesting pastime, and the required processing equipment is nothing more than a changing bag, some sheet film holders and a 4×5 Jobo tank. The results are similar to contact prints on fiber paper, but sharper. They’re one-of-a-kind pieces that don’t offer much in the way of digitizing into a larger sized print, as the rich shadows don’t scan or rephotograph well, so they only work in the context of diminutive sized prints for display. Challenging but somehow addictive. Keep upmthe good work.

    • Now that’s an interesting idea…are you sure you can’t scan them? I might try that – assuming I can find the paper!

      Silly question, but how do you process the paper after shooting?

  14. Speaking of film, does anyone know of a good place to buy film(and film cameras) in London?

  15. Ming, while you must be right that no one (or perhaps a few old pros) would use film for time critical/one shot work any more – you are quite wrong in limiting yourself to medium format film- may I suggest you pick up an old 35 mm SLR (e.g. a Nikon F, or Nikkormat) and run off a few rolls of Tri-X? You may find the limitations increase your creativity. (And if you don’t, you’ll at least appreciate the advantages of digital more!)

  16. Hmm, I think Philip struck on something with the mention of serenity and calm. I am at first impressed with the B&W ‘Blad image but when I compare the two, the tone and framing of the color image seem to communicate a more picturesque, calm, warm stetting. Perhaps choosing depends on the purpose: the B&W might seem to speak more strongly of interesting detail while the color might communicate a sense of the place and encourage more strongly a trip to Amsterdam.

  17. As much as I am a film-only photographer, I prefer the colour image to the black and white one. It’s better executed, respecting the horizontal lines of the windows, for instance, which adds serenity and calm to the image, and it also has a greater depth because the shadows and reflections appear stronger than in the black and white image. It could be that this just looks better on screen and that a print of the black and white image would look better in this respect, though it would still be a bit crooked.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, though.

  18. jim bennett says:

    I’ll chime in with my thoughts as well. I recently started shooting medium format and 35mm film again. I purchased my first digital camera 11 years ago after only using cheap P&S film cameras before that. I am currently shooting with a Minolta rangefinder- the Himatic 9, and a Rolleicord 6×6 TLR. Here is the funny thing for me, I have been creatively stuck for years shooting digital and often fall victim to the problem of “shooting pictures of things just because I can” and its free with digital. I have progressed so much in the past few months with film because it forces me to slow down and contemplate what I am going to shoot. Plus like you said, it costs money every time you click the shutter. Sure it hurts when your camera back pops open just after you started shooting a roll you loaded, or when you forget what speed film you have loaded and meter 2 stops wrong for the entire roll. But even with all of that, for me, its been invaluable. Everyone I know has commented on my improvements over these past few months. Oh and for color, Kodak Ektar is a dream emulsion for me.

  19. Hmmm, having been involved in the production of computer-controlled mega slide projection shows of the early 90s, I have always found colour to be vastly superior in terms of the conveyance of mood and I dare say, majesty of the captured image. Black and white does have its role to play, mainly to inject visual rest and even rhythmn change in the course of a slide presentation.

    Im not quite commenting on film or digital but rather impact of black white vs colour when taken in the context of giant projections using colour slides, be it 35mm, 120mm or even 4 x 5.
    Having seen these projections (typically 20’x 60′ panoramic) using state of the art optics and projectors, to this day, the impact of colour is unsurpassed in my mind.
    Perhaps what im trying to express is that one’s most striking/dramatic visual memories and visual experiences impacts and dis-objectify our perception of colour vs blk and white throughout our lifetime.
    So much so that an objective preference becomes impossible when new technology raises the question of digital vs film and/or colour vs black and white in the digital age. Dont forget, even film these days have to be digitised to enable social network sharing.

    Hmmm, wouldnt this fact then renders the film vs digital debate irrelevant?
    Perhaps a more objective apple to apple comparison would be a live comparison using a 120mm slide projections using state of the art optics on a projector (if one can still be found) and a state of the art giant monitor displaying a hasselblad digital photo.

    Although my visual memory bias will say film projection will win hands down, I have seen hassie files that would plant more than a doubt.

    • Visually, projected B&W looks terrible. I agree that colour is the way to go – I suspect it’s because the projections don’t have as much contrast as a screen or print, and this kills the impact of the subtle tonal transitions.

      It depends on your intended final output. You might digitise a film negative just to show, but if your final intended output is a print, then I don’t see the point in optimising for an 800 pixel-wide web jpeg. Few project these days – lack of space and availability of equipment – so I think it doesn’t make sense for most. Making the comparison more difficult is the lack of projectors that CAN actually project a full-res D800E/ Hasselblad file – 7500px on the long side?

  20. Thanks for your thoughts on digital vs film and I see your reasoning behind when one is perhaps better than the other depending on the situation. From my side, I got into photography some 9 years ago when I bought a Canon 350D and over the course have upgraded a couple times and gotten myself a couple of nice lenses. My initial feelings were digital was simply the best thing since sliced bread, especially when I recalled the photo disasters from my childhood using a 35mm film compact when I would be lucky if one holiday snap came out good. So I embraced digital in a full on way and there is no doubt that I have learned a lot and very much enjoyed it a lot since then. More recently however it slowly dawned on me that almost everything I knew about photography was based upon consumer-focused magazines that, although they may try to convince you otherwise via various interesting articles, are dominated by kit and technology that will apparently make you a better photographer. I am now convinced that, although I have developed my own skills as a photographer through practise, there is so much more that I could have learned by now had I adopted a more manual approach to photography. So it is true in what you say that digital offers the beginner the advantage of immediate acknowledgement of whether their shot is good or not from which they can learn, but I also think it has the disadvantage of making it all a bit easy, such as when assessing exposure, when you can simply rotate the dials until you get it right without thinking of the f-stop, shutter speed, iso combination that you would otherwise have to think about when using a film camera. I mean, even a $2000 L prime lens has the shoddiest focus scale to play with, but then again with 100 AF points or whatever, apparently no one needs one right?!

    Recently I discovered a film enthusiast had opened a shop in my local mall so bought my first 36 roll for an ancient Trip 35mm that had lain hibernating in a drawer for years (I don’t actually know where it came from!) and shot over the course of a month or so before getting it developed, all for a meagre price of $8. My slight nervousness at collecting the results was justified when I seen the outcome… no more than a third were sharp whereas the rest were an arty blur at best, but I was happy to see the light meter gave a reasonable exposure at least. The one thing that caught me was the colour and the overall feel to the photos – I mean they are far from perfect and no where near as accurate a rendition as my 6D can manage, but the feel to the photos is so refreshingly different. I’m now onto my second roll and loving taking the odd shot where I have to think a bit about the lighting in front of me and how that can be captured on film… fingers crossed for the results lol :S Over the hols my dad gave me his old Retinette so the collection is already growing 😉

    All in all, I wish I’d thought a bit more on shooting manually from the beginning. That can of course be done with either a film or digital camera; just in my case my own ignorance and not knowing any better led me down a certain route and it took some years for me to realise there may be other paths. Guess it’s just part of the learning process and I’m definitely an advocate for using both.

    Keep up the good work Ming.


    • I’m not familiar with the Trip 35 and to what degree it’s manual/automated, but I do wonder how many of the misses were due to the camera/ technical limitations, and how much due to technique? I’m suspecting that a lot of purely digital photographers get lulled into the routine of shoot-chimp-try again-iterate, which is the complete opposite of shooting film where you think, think again, and then release somewhat on instinct – then move on. You almost develop a sixth sense of whether the shot worked or not. In any case, it’s certainly possible to get to the point where your keeper rate is high – much higher than for digital, simply because film forces you to think and previsualize before hitting the shutter – instead of evaluating the results only afterwards.

      • It’s semi-auto in that you can either shoot with 1/200 sec and it chooses aperture, or you can choose aperture and it shoots at 1/40 sec. I made a conscientious effort to take the shots carefully to avoid blur and most were in good daylight, so should have been ok. For the second roll i’m trying with a tripod to see if any lens/camera issues.

  21. Fantastic post! Thanks for sharing.

  22. plevyadophy says:

    Thanks EVERYONE.

    Ming, for the very thought provoking and insightful post, and everyone else for the high quality of the discussion.

  23. Differences in perspective compression and the minutiae of black and white conversions aside, it’s pretty awesome how close those two shots are, broadly speaking, considering one was taken with a hitherto exotic MF film camera, and one was taken with an < £500 APS-C compact!

    • Well, you can’t really tell from a web jpeg…there is a much, much larger difference in the full size file and in print.

    • I had a bit of an odd deja vu moment when I saw the color photo. It looked familiar yet not, since I see the B&W print every day (and it’s pretty damned spectacular).

      Ming, what do you think of a project where you present a print of the same subject, except one in color and one in B&W, printed on the same sheet of paper side by side? It might be tough finding a subject that is makes a strong image in both kinds of prints and yet has unique things to say in each kind of print.

      • I’m not sure that would work – I generally choose one or the other to fit the subject and creative intention of the image. You could probably shoot the same subject at different times or from different angles, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to do the same image in colour and B&W. One will always be stronger than the other.

  24. excelente

  25. Honestly, it’s too close to call for me. I like both renditions very much. Hmm, making me think about picking up a M7 since I’ve already got the glass!

  26. I feel much the same as you do, re digital vs. film. I still happily shoot either, depending upon my intent. If I’m going out to “make art”, it’s film. I also enjoy my Hasselblad kit the most. But I shoot digital for most everything else. Unfortunately, these days, I’m on the downswing regarding the photo hobby. I have that issue where I fairly suddenly lose interest. It always comes back, though.

    Re the photos in the article, I prefer the B&W image. Not because it’s film or anything, but because the structural/graphic elements of the photo are brought to the fore. The color shot has good color, which brings its own interest, but your eye has to kind of work past the dappled sunlight to get to the structure. If you work to get past that aspect, it offers its own charms. The FOV of that camera also just makes it a very different photo, IMO. In the end, the color is sort of “documentary”, and the B&W is more artful, if that makes any sense.

    Along these lines, I posted a slightly philosophical video to my YouTube channel some time ago on B&W vs. color shooting, and my personal approach/opinion regarding each. I almost consider them different mediums. I’m not sure I made my point very well in the video, but you (and your readers) might find something of interest there.

    “Is B&W Easier to Shoot than Color?” (probably a bad title, I admit)

    Thanks for the great blog, and the even better photos. You are definitely the most talented photographer that I know of blogging today.

    – Mike

  27. Great post (as always) where you trigger reflective thought processes. I like the black and white best, not because there are anything wrong with the colour image, but because I for this kind of photo prefer the “abstractness” of a BW photography. Black and white is down the the essence, shadows and texture.

  28. Dai Furuta says:

    Lovely pictures, I was lured by this beauty of films through some of sites including you. I never thought about film until I started to read comments or description of film camera vs digital.
    I bought Olympus XA2 last summer since it is not Leica price tag and heard a lot good comment on this tiny pocket size film camera however one day I have to own a rangefinder to understand what film enthusiasts are talking about.
    I took XA2 with me when I went to Thailand but have not developed negative yet. I will certainly appreciate beauty of film camera

  29. Even with a safe full of Nikon equipment including D3, D700, and D800, plus serious Fuji X gear, I still break out my Pelican hard case with my Mamiya 645AFD OR, Oh My – The Yashicamat 124G!!! whenever I get the hankering to shoot 120 film…
    Love it. But it sure does make you think when it’s a buck a shot.

  30. serialphotographer says:

    It would have been interesting to have converted the GR to B&W to give a level playing field, I for one am blown away by the quality of the new GR. It certainly is a huge leap from my GR lV which I loved, I also shot with the blad one of my all time favourite film cameras and as Ming says they are almost hewn from granite so strong are they. Once again another cracking post keep em coming

    • Well, I didn’t simply because I thought it’d be pretty pointless to have two very similar images; I’d just keep the better one. However, these two have a very different balance and feel, which was the intention. Agree that the GR’s image quality is really quite special; the raw files make for fantastic B&W conversions in a way which I haven’t seen from any other CMOS camera; whatever they’ve done with the processing bit, they’ve managed to keep the wide DR and latitude of CMOS, but the nonlinear tonality of a CCD.

  31. The digital colour shot is very pretty. But the B&W film shot is ALIVE.

    Unlike digital, film crystallises the air itself. f 🙂

    • Interesting how polarised the responses are – I wonder how much of that is down to monitor calibration, and viewing it on a screen instead of in a print 🙂

      • That’s 90% of the variance on this particular view for sure. But I would generalise also. The non-linear masking you get from the analogue process makes it aethestically preferable for many of us film freaks. For sure digitial is sharper and higher res, but some things can be too perfect. Thinking vinyl vs. digital now. Analgous to hobby vs profession.

        As you say, for work digital is street ahead up to MF today. But the simple pleasure of film is something different.

        • I agree. Sometimes, too much ‘cleanness’ destroys the artistic intention rather than working with it. I shot a few rolls of Delta 400 through the F2 over the weekend and forgot just how transparent and fluid a camera it really is…very smooth/ vibration-free mirror and shutter mechanism, too. Must have something to do with the curtains running horizontally instead of vertically.

  32. thephotoseye says:

    While I am merely a hobbyist it did take me some time to make the switch from film to digital. I love shooting in black and white and did lots of film shots using black and white – even shooting with portrait film (a bit grainy) during one of my trips to Rome. The film gave it that old world look that I had wanted. While solely using digital now (still have my film camera though and just may break it out) I have been shooting in black and white with high hopes! I programmed one of settings (D7000) for black and white – and with digital at least I can shoot a few shots to hopefully get the shot as I want.

  33. Michael Matthews says:

    Maybe it’s my monitor; maybe it’s unrefined taste. But my reaction to the two Amsterdam photos favors the color image. When I first saw the B&W in an earlier post, the reaction was “Damn…if only that bright triangle beneath the bridge were dialed back just a tiny bit. It kills the detail above.” Now that the color version is available for direct comparison, that bright area seems even hotter but the warmth of colors above compensates to pull my gaze back up to where it belongs — to the whole scene.

    • It could be your monitor. The B&W one puts the bottom bright triangle in about zone VI. The doorway/ window frames on the top right are much hotter, VIII-IX.

  34. Iskabibble says:

    That bridge shot is freakin’ AWESOME. Except those two bystander’s dont do it for me. I wish somehow they worked out better, or were just gone. But still, the shadows in that shot are glorious, along with the framing.

  35. Reblogged this on $ule KAYAN.

  36. Well, I may need a handkerchief after writing this, but I had a roll of Kodachrome 64 sitting in my freezer until just recently … but now momma done gone and taken it away .

    I really should have used it before the final cut off date. Still got tons of Agfa, Konica and other assorted rolls of 35mm sitting in my freezer, though. Just yesterday I was thinking I really ought to take out my first SLR — a Canon EF (circa 1974-1978) — and shoot a roll through it … even just as a comparison against today’s digitals, to see what it can do.

    • How would you develop it? 🙂

      I’ve got Delta 400 in my Titan and a borrowed G2 tonight.

      • I couldn’t. Not most of that stuff. My best option now is really limited to Fujichrome Velvia. Wouldn’t waste my time on color negative film anymore. B&W? Different story … as you’ve noted. 🙂

        I’ve always been curious to put the D3s and the F3HP up against one another at ISO 100, shoot the same static subjects on a tripod with the same lens, and see how the scanned transparencies held up to the pure digital files.

        • I think it would depend on how you processed the raw file. It’s not difficult to make the D3s look like Velvia, but you get the option of also doing it at ISO3200…

          • Precisely. And that, in a nutshell, is why I don’t shoot film anymore.

            Though I would be curious to see how the D3s handled tonality gradation vs a top-quality transparency film. People forget that today’s contemporary films are better than they were 20 years ago. Technical advances in emulsions have continued, despite film’s diminishing influence and popularity, though obviously not with the same R&D resources as digital sensors.

            • When was the last time that a new E6 emulsion was introduced? The most recent C-41 was probably the Portra range and when was that? Ten years ago (wild guess)?

              For personal work, I’m happy with Superia 400 and I have a feeling that hasn’t changed in twenty years.

            • I believe Acros was the last of the serious ‘new’ emulsions. And it’s an absolute cracker. It has the the tonality of pan films in the shadows AND the highlights simultaneously; the emulsion is very hardy, the film is easy to handle, and it pushes well up to 2-2.5 stops without any extra grain – just increased shadow density. Very little reciprocity error, too. Best of all, it responds very well to different development chemistry/ technique to control contrast and grain.

              • Taildraggin says:

                Tri-X today is much better than that of 20 years ago, too. I have no reasons for using Plus X or Pan X as before. Charlie

                • I still find the Kodak emulsions very fragile and prone to micro scratches; they’ve also got a very pronounced curl that makes them a pain to scan.

      • Iskabibble says:

        Do I hear an article on the Contax G2 coming up soon???????

    • Got you beat. Still have rolls of Kodachrome 64, 40 and 200 in my Freezer. And…get this…..some Kodachrome 25! Kodachrome 25 live through all my cameras until it became unavailable. My favorite film of all time.

      Want to buy some Kodachrome?

  37. All very interesting. But my conclusions yielded differing results. Though the color print film, Ektar 100, not Portra? 160, which I do not favor, and Velvia 50 & 100 may not be as accurate in color from commercial labs nowadays ( pretty darn accurate at home lab though ) but it is still more realistic and 3 dimensional to my eye. Ran some tests at Glacier Point shooting out towards mountains and forests with the aforementioned films. And with the D800, D4 & D90, all with the highly cherry picked current 50mm F1.4 AF-D ( the G 50s, like most G lenses not up to this kind of task ). Slides and prints were compared and brought back up to the scene the next day at the same time of day shot the previous day and compared to the scene itself. All the film was just a bit off in color accuracy. Surprisingly, the Ektar 100 seemed most accurate. The digital was way off. But in a different way. And to the untrained eye could be perceived as more accurate. However, while the film was slightly off on color it was dead on in tonal accuracy, zone placement and both highlight and shadow detail. If a the scene was metered zone 7 the tone from the color print was right on or close. Velvia of course had the most trouble, but was close. Shadows to Zone 3 at least dead on. Digital, out of all the cameras above, even when hiking or decreasing the contrast ratio was waaay off. Of course, especially in the highlights. Which both blew out and at the same time were much duller than the film. A unique phenomena to digital, which always seems dull and lacking in luminosity in comparison to film. No matter the camera. Some of our group preferred the digital to the film though, until going back to the scene where the dullness and off tonality were obvious. More importantly, despite some bad field scans of the color neg stock, film still has this “there” quality. A gripping, 3 D quality. Sad we cannot get Kodachrome anymore. Much preferred ti to Fuji stock. I have Kodachromes from my Leica M4s printed to 6 x 9 feet and are still tack and hold color, tone and contrast. This brings me to strangest of all conclusions. Or perhaps it was just my ignorance. Everybody now touts the superior sharpness and resolution of digital to film. I hear this everywhere and assumed it to be true. BS. My D800 will make fabulous prints to about 3.5 x 5.5 feet in size. Grat. But no match for any of the films which I can take much bigger with much sharper and overall better images. Yes, the color neg has some grain. But it is still sharper and more vibrant. It is no contest.

    All this said, have used digital most, but not all the time for the past 7 years. For all the right reasons. I am cheap. Don’t want to spend the money. Lazy. Don’t want to drive to the lab. Etc. Did I say cheap! But use it for my advertising because it just “jumps” out and grabs the viewer. And after all, this is war! We are all competing for the same shot and any advantage I can get I will take.

    Perhaps I am doing something differently than everybody else. But have ran this kind of test with my team 3 more times. Just to be certain with Leitz glass on both film and their M9, Canon with Canon glass & Leitz R glass. And with Nikon mounting both Nikkors and the current fake Zeiss ( Cosina ) glass and original true German glass from my old RTS II ( much better ). Results are similar.


    • The tonal representation of film is definitely more natural and similar to the way our eyes respond to light – i.e. in a nonlinear fashion. Current CMOS sensors are only accurate if shot with a grey card before and tweaked afterwards. As for film out resolving digital – sorry, not even close. It may appear that way because the nature of its resolution is non-linear, but if a D800E out resolves a 6×6 Hasselblad negative shot under optimal conditions – tripod, low ISO B&W film carefully developed – there is simply NO way 35mm does better. Finally: ‘Fake Zeiss?’ If the Otus – also manufactured by Cosina – is a ‘fake’, then bring it on. Because film or digital, that is the highest performing lens I’ve ever seen.

      • Thank you for your thoughts. I would concur with your CMOS sensor comments. My results match yours. This resolution business, and not just from you drives me a touch batty. Virtually everybody argues digital out resolves film. But looking at both field pictures and test cards again just confirms my conclusions. And used motion picture tripods with pressure clamps and weights for the cameras ( they weigh a ton ). My film shots are sharper. Just drives me batty. And if what appears to be is, then so it is. However, because many out there, myself included, highly value and respect your findings we a going to run test again. I am taking a statistics whiz and physicist from the local school, UCLA, whom know nothing about photography and will let them run the tests. D800e, vs. FM2 with Kodak Ektar 100 & Fujichrome Velvia 50 ( which is not what it used to me in it’s new form, especially color accuracy ). And will also shoot field comparisons on a high fashion shoot I have tomorrow. We shall see.

        As far as Zeiss lenses are concerned. They are fake. At least to mind maybe. Have all the Cosina Zeiss lenses and not a one anywhere near a match for the original German ones in terms of color accuracy, snap, or actually anything. While I do not care for either, Cosina ones lack the vibrant, clean color and purity of the German ones. And the Cosina ones bleed warm colors. As for the Otus, I cannot speak. Have not used it, but perhaps it is great. That I would not call fake, but an original design from Cosina. At least in manufacture. Am hesitant to acquire as my position on Zeiss lenses is as stated above. But remain open to being convinced.

        Another interesting thing you bring up. That many say impossible. Never thought “Blad” lenses very good. And never liked them due to color balance. My initial solution was to do the Pentax 6×7 thing. But lenses lacked bite, snap and intensity. My end solution for medium format was to get a old Horseman field camera and have it custom adapted to take a 6×7 back and use old Nikkor view camera T lenses, Rodenstocks and Schneiders and more, depending on my mood.

        That said, the Kodachomes out of my Nikons and Leica with cherry picked lenses delivered noticeably sharper results ( resolution ) than Velvia 50 out of a Blad, despite the larger film size. Am staring at those on the wall now. Unfortunately never got to try 120 Kodachrome via both a Blad and the other cameras.

        I am open to everything. I actually still use one Zeiss lens. An old German made 85mm F/1.4 machined for my Nikons. Use it for young, fair skinned American girls on the beach in summer. My solution to the Nikon 85mm lens issue. ( Don’t fully like any of them ever made ). And since don’t use and 85mm much this solution has served me well.

        Thanks for your thoughts. I may actually try out the Otus tomorrow since some else will be paying. And based in no small part on your comments about it. It is a tough sell for me, as my late model Nikkor 50mm F/1.4 AF-Ds are the love of my life. As is my 60mm F/2.8 AF-D Micros. I feel strongly about my main primes. Literally and actually through out my 50mm F/1.4 G Nikkors. Lovely things they were with color shifts, casts, shallow color depth, harsh specular highlights, and flare like nobody’s business. Not to mention subtle, but noticeable and weird complex wave distortion. So Otus, lets rock. Will let you know.

        • The way the test is conducted matters, too. Your tripod may be heavy, but if you’re using a possibly moving subject like a fashion model, and your AF/ mirror are not calibrated on either camera, it renders the test worthless. And the way you process your film matters, too, as it affects grain and the resolution floor.

          Well, the Blad V lenses are Zeiss and made in Germany. You say they are not very good. Are they fake, too? Have you calibrated those mirrors? Is your focusing spot on, and are you sure?

          Bottom line: use what works for you, but also examine your testing process, not just the results.

          • Thank you for your notes on the pod and the mirror. And I obviously I agree and do this. Also a good tester. Was and auditor, controller and CFO for some of the best large CPA firms so applied my testing skills to photos. Till like you I believe, had enough. Am in the middle of shooting-break time-and have run across a pod problem of all things. A very expensive and heavy pod and head, but not quite dense enough for the D800 w/older 80-200 F2.8 & my old beast 400mm F2.8 AIS. A great lens for girly beach shots, and the weather was perfect here today. Damp, overcast, cold and beached in creating different, sublime high key delicate shots. Which the D800 handled better than any digital camera I have used before.

            Your explicit ramifications on grain and resolution resulting from processing style and techniques is so on the money that all parties should consider this. Clearly my self developed and our superb custom lab produces noticeably finer grain, better color and sharper images than even most “good” labs.

            The Blad lenses of course were made in Germany. But if memory serves, the camera was Swedish? They are not fake. And contrast was good to very good, depending on date of manufacture. But found resolution good but not great. Was explained to me by ? that it did not have to be when original designs were cast. They are not fake either. I just don’t like the look and preferred higher resolution out put as well as the color, from Nikkors on Kodachrome.

            But do love my Leicas. Can’t really explain it either. They are just better-to my eye.

            I do look forward to more shots from the Otus on your site. My client balked at the purchase or rental of such an item.

    • “…the current fake Zeiss ( Cosina ) glass and original true German glass from my old RTS II…”

      Sorry, but those “Zeiss” lenses from the Contax RTS days weren’t made by Zeiss. They were manufactured by Kyocera.

      • Mine are made by Zeiss in Germany. At least if you the believe the label which says, “Lens Made in West Germany”. My 35mm F/ 1.4 that lived on my Contax RTS and RTS II even had that little yellow medival shield on it. Or the little guy in Munich who sold some to me many, many years ago ( I am very old ) and gave me a pass to go on the factory tour. My 35mm F/ 1.4 that lived on my Contax RTS and RTS II even had that little yellow medival shield on it-remember those. The ones I have that say made in Japan were indeed made by Kyocera and were so different from the German ones I considered them not the same thing.

  38. Hi Ming, interesting article and photo (well, two versions of the same scene). Not so much for the film vs digital differences, but just the notion of having more than one camera. As a hobby photographer who rarely prints (other than the occasional photobook), I get by with the RX100. Over the last few months, I’ve been asking myself “If I do upgrade, should I buy one camera or two?”. The simplest ‘one camera’ option is the RX10 — same sensor (+/- 1% of RX100) but a more versatile lens. A ‘two camera’ option would be the RX10 and a Ricoh GR. I think I would prefer a camera with a zoom lens rather than changing lens on one camera (which I used to do many years ago with a film SLR).

    I’ve been enjoying your Ricoh GR images. However, when I first looked at the GR image above, it seemed to have a slightly “odd” yellow hue to the light. Then I thought maybe the late afternoon light in Amsterdam is different to the late afternoon light in Adelaide, Australia (where I’m located)! As an experiment, I slightly neutralized the light by 30% (assuming the window panes in the right hand side building are white). Hmmm, ok. Then I did a default conversion to B&W. Hmmm, interesting. Then I reduced the luminosity slightly with a simple curve … yeah, I like this version. That’s my 2 cents worth! 😉

    • The warm tone to the GR image was intentional, and done for mood rather than accuracy. Personally, I like to carry two cameras for a number of reasons – firstly, in case one breaks; secondly, it’s much faster than switching lenses, and I don’t have the optical compromises of a zoom.

  39. Interesting views and illustrative pictures!

    The two shots gave me very different experience of viewing. The HB shot is interesting with lovely tones, but my eye seem to follow the bridge to the point where it meets the shadow and then follows the shadow into the water and splash!! On the other hand, the same picture has tonally rich windows, doors, and the bricks which can be savored only when the eye gets out of the water into the warm area behind the cycles. The GR shot draws my eye to the guy with green jacket and to the trunk of the green tree. And from there it goes anti-clockwise savoring the tones of the windows, doors, and bricks and hits the woman on the bridge and takes the bridge to exit the frame at the left border.

    • Perspective makes a big difference in foreground dominance – it’s an effective 45mm FOV against a 28mm one. I don’t think there is a right or wrong here; I admit I just prefer the Blad shot due to the tonality and slightly greater dominance of the arch geometry.

  40. Excellent insight, which i share in the most part.. When i see what comes out from the Leica Minilux or the Nikon 28Ti loaded with a say Ektar 100 or Provia 400X in C41, i feel momentarily like selling all digital gear i have (3 cameras and 3 lenses). Then i see what the iPhone can deliver, and even better – the Pentax MX-1 and i switch over to them. Thanks for great writeup !

    • I think the difference is best encapsulated in ‘feel’/mood vs definition/ clarity – of course representing film and digital respectively. Clarity can be it’s own feel, providing it suits the subject; and similarly not all subjects/ ideas require perfect definition to make a strong image. There are reasons to use both…but always worth noting that you can remove definition, but not add it back again.

  41. I find the transition between the bridge and shadow to be the most compelling subject element of both images. By them selves the fluid movement of the bridge and the shadow are interesting, but are much stronger together. In other words, the bridge while potentially an interesting element itself, is much stronger when taken together with its shadow, and it is precisely the angle of the shadow, continuing the geometry of the bridge into the texture of the brick, that makes the shadow interesting. The rest of the photo – the buildings, the water, the trees, the bikes, the people, are background that give an interesting and rather specific cultural context to the dynamic play of architecture and light.

    I prefer the second shot. Why?

    The FOV with the HB, being longer than the GR, is more compressed and “tighter”, and results in a stronger, more dynamic emphasis of the transition between bridge and shadow: the bridge is larger, and breaks the frame at a different angle, the frame cuts the shutters of the window, the shadow is larger and more prominent. There is less water and less building, and I would argue that the end result is a more balanced composition. In the GR shot, the bridge just doesn’t provide a strong enough foreground subject, at least for me, because I am much more interested in the area where the bridge and shadow meet. The transition from bridge to shadow is the most compelling part of the image to me, and the HB version emphasizes this transition, where as the GR version, with a smaller transition and shadow, also includes more of the water, the buildings, and other elements which begin to distract from the prominence of the bridge-to-shadow transition while not adding anything more. In other words, while they still provide context and background, they become more prominent at the expense of the bridge/shadow transition.

    And while I enjoy the the color of the GR shot, the black and white HB shot adds to the seamless transition of bridge to shadow, lending a fluidity that is lost or at least less in the GR shot because of the contrast between colors.

    Since the bridge/shadow transition is the most compelling part of the image for me, I prefer HB version of the image because the FOV and being black and white emphasizes the transition and gives it more impact.

    • An interesting analysis – and very similar to the conclusion I came to, which is why I put the HB version in the November print run instead of the GR version 🙂

      Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison, though: the FOV and perspective are both different. Going closer with the GR would make the bridge overly dominant, and moving further back with the HB would see the tops of the roofs – and be too distracting. Time to match the HB’s 80mm FOV for the next test – I think the closest I can do with a smaller sensor would be the Nikon 45/2.8P on the D800E…

      • Amazing Photos. One thought : Blad -vs- Otus different focal lengths but perhaps interesting.

        • That occurred to me too. But I don’t have a good FOV match for the Otus – the 80 is too short, and the 120 is much too long – at least on 6×6. Ok the digital back the 80 is workable, but optically not even close to the Otus.

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      Ah, the kind of photo situation where you are lucky to pass at the right time of day, or just have to come back and hope the sun is still out.

      I like this analysis, but I think I would like to add a comment.

      To me the colour photo is a photo of the houses and the peopled street with the bridge as a calming and perfect foreground, like an anchor that keeps a ship still. The added colour contrast makes the foliage, bicycles and people stand out better and the less dark shadows deemphasize the bridge a little.
      The three different walls with the slightly askew windows in the left house enliven the photo.
      ( But the small jpg format on a screen makes the colour plus tone contrasts appear a bit cluttered so the comparison is somewhat unfair, a large print or even a high def. screen would make a fairer comparison.)

      In the b/w photo the darker shadow (of the bridge) and the darker water just under the end of the shadow emphasize the geometry of the bridge and its shadow, and the absence of colour contrast deemphasizes the background – and I think both by just the right amount.
      The texture of the b/w foliage and its shadows helps the strong and simple geometry of the main subject to stand out.

      A very “Amsterdam” street and a very interesting bridge photo.
      I like both, but for a photo on the wall to stay up a long time I would choose the bridge, i.e the b/w.

  42. NeutraL-GreY says:

    This article is almost the same conclusion I have come to on both of these mediums. I love it when someone else confirms my conclusions 😉

    On another note I would definitely recommend that anyone wanting to try the select color profiles of color negative film emulations to give it a shot. There is nothing like pulling out giant 6×6 color negative films out of the tank. I get consistent results with a standard inversion tank, no need for fancy automatic ones.

    • Do you have much control over the colour balance when developing your own colour? I’m assuming that it’s a bit like playing with individual channel curves in PS; doable, but messy.

      • NeutraL-GreY says:

        Unless my understanding is flawed I believe that when it comes to color balance manipulation via developing you have no control. Either you develop it right or the color is just wrong. You have to do it before development with filters. If you ever experiment with color negative film be sure to look at the data chart for the emulsion that you are using, It will tell you which filters to use for different lighting situations and provide you with exposure curves. Keep in mind that even if you do everything correct each emulsion will have its own signature color profile (which is the reason why it is so fun to use) although not as extreme as some film simulation software would have you believe. I have not really compared the dynamic range to black and white film critically but it definitely has a tone of latitude.

        As you already stated in the article I would not chance it with a paying client. If you can readily obtain it I would definitely recommend it for your personnel work. It’s far from efficient but it’s fun. I put a handful of my results on flickr if you want to see my results just look for colorful squares.

        • That sounds much in line with what I’ve heard. Personally, I have my own colour/ tone preferences, which I can’t achieve directly with film; none of them are quite right. Unless DIY with colour films is going to fix that problem, it doesn’t make sense for me to bother with it. Digital has far more control and latitude. I can’t easily get the chemistry OR the film (for 120 at least), so there really isn’t much point.

          B&W film, on the other hand…

      • You typically don’t mess with development of the negative. But there are a lot of controls you can apply when printing, either with color filters. You could dodge/burn with different color packs in different image areas, apply masks, etc. The now-unavailable dye transfer process allowed for huge amounts of control, but was also very time consuming.

  43. Greg Donikian says:

    If you are going to go black and white go for Film, medium format !! if you want color just use a digital camera, at least this is what i’m doing but i;m still in love with Portra 160 !!


  44. Film is probably fun for you younger folks who never HAD to shoot film because that is all there was. But for most people who where doing photography pre mid 90’s digital is much better than film ever was. There used to be so many types of film with real silver and real silver bromide paper too, I made my own chemistry in the 70’s and developed E-6, C41 and made color prints too. Kodachrome was awesome too but now every year there are less and less options in analog it must be really hard to do as anything but a labor of love. I still have some film cameras but I have a hard time putting film in them and taking the patience needed to really get into it.

    • I don’t and wouldn’t use film for colour, but there are a lot of lighting situations under which digital simply cannot produce the same tonal results as a B&W negative. Perhaps when we have 18+ stop dynamic range, but not yet…

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