The pixel race continues: more resolving power is being crammed into smaller and smaller physical sizes. The recent Hasselblad X1D announcement is at the pointy end of that: we now have medium format resolving power and tonal quality in a package that’s smaller than many 35mm solutions. I have a theory about resolution and the megapixel race and perception. Aside from the marketing reasons why 100>50>24 and must therefore be better, there are much more fundamental reasons why we feel the resolving power limitations of digital far more acutely than film. And it isn’t just our ability to pixel-peep with ease; it’s more to do with the fundamental nature of the world. Yes, there’s sufficiency in output because of the limitations of the output device itself, but I suspect these will catch up and exceed capture very easily. Allow me to explain why, and why I think there’s a way out that might well result in a very different sort of sensor…
Sometimes, you can’t help but feel that the mood of a particular event or evening fits a particular camera; some time back I was invited out to a casual evening jazz concert/ jam session. There is something about black and white film and jazz; I don’t know what it is exactly, but I think the two compliment each other perfectly. Perhaps it’s the way the smooth richness of the brass instruments is the auditory compliment to the rich 3/4 tones of film*; or perhaps it’s because the whole affair invokes another, earlier, era. That said, the relatively low light was challenging due to the inherent sensitivity limitations of film, traded off against image quality – the tonal look I prefer for film requires mid tones, which tend to be pretty thin with faster emulsions. Not to mention the challenge of focusing under such low light – fortunately, I had the F2 Titan, whose focusing screen is really quite excellent – snappy, and easy to discriminate the focus transition even with very fast lenses. I hadn’t used that camera in so long, I’d forgotten how transparent a photographic experience it was; your view of the world is reduced to what’s inside the large finder, and your fingers are only the three controls – focus, aperture and shutter, with a thumb cocked around the winding lever to help secure the right-sized body, and nothing more. It’s what the Df should have been.
*A discourse on the relationship and similarities between photography and music is something I’ve been meaning to write for some time, but I’m still trying to learn enough about music to have enough descriptive language to adequately convey the concepts. Increasingly I’m starting to feel that the written/ spoken language really is inadequate for the description and explanation of visual ideas; perhaps that too is another article for another time.
These photoessays will have far fewer images than the usual variety, simply because the number of images taken is necessarily lower. I’ll shoot perhaps 12 frames in a productive day. To confess, I’ve actually been hesitating a little over whether to post these at all, because even though the loss from print to screen is enormous, there’s an even bigger loss between full digital files to web. There is simply no way to represent them in such a way that doesn’t throw away most of the tonal subtlety and immersive detail. I’ll do it anyway, for the curious. But upfront I will say that something is definitely missing…there’s a ‘digitalness’ to the images at this size that isn’t present in the full size images; I suspect it’s because once you shrink an image this much a lot of the subtle tonal and microcontrast cues that say ‘film’ are downsized into oblivion. Just so you know: you’re looking at an image that’s been reduced to about 0.5% of the original size. MT
It’s been a long, long time since I last shot slide film. 2006, to be exact; I stopped for two reasons: one, I was shooting (and developing) through about a third of my pay every month in film; secondly, scanning was beginning to take up all of my spare waking hours. And even then, I was never that happy with the results. But then, every so often – and I was a much, much worse photographer back then (not that I’m that good now, mind you) – you’d get one slide back that was so immersive, so detailed, so crisp that it was like peering into a little world of its own. And then you’d feel the itch to do it all over again. Sometimes this would happen a few times per roll, and then you were well and truly done for.
No words today, just a series of images for you to enjoy. Various architectural details from my last trip to Amsterdam, shot with the Hasselblad 501C, 80/2.8 CF T* on Fuji Acros. Some of you may recognize these images from the November print sale; others may be enjoying a large print on their walls 🙂 MT
These images were made during the October 2013 Making Outstanding Images Workshop in Amsterdam; I will be holding three more of these in Melbourne, Sydney and London later this year. Click here for more info, and to sign up.
The second part of the monochrome photoessay from Prague was shot on film, with a Hasselblad 501C and my favourite B&W film – Fuji Acros 100. To be honest, given the tight quarters, I’d have preferred to have had something either a little wider or a little longer – preferably both – to give me some additional ability to add context, or compress (especially with buildings clinging to hills in the background). Nevertheless, we make do with what fits inside our camera bags – after making provisions for film, I didn’t have any space left for lenses!
One of my favourite buildings in the country is the Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque – also known as the Iron Mosque due to its stainless-steel clad structure. It’s a very modern building located in the administrative capital, Putrajaya, that still manages to integrate traditional culture and religious cues into its design. These, together with its scale, location on the Putrajaya lakefront and sight lines, make it quite a spectacular building.
Contrary to popular belief, I do shoot pedestrian subjects. Quite often, actually; it’s one of those ways you can condition yourself to see differently and pay more attention to light, form and composition. At the end of a long assignment some time ago, I took one of the Hasselblads, the 120/4 CF Makro-Planar and a few rolls of Acros out with me for a quick excursion to the Kuala Lumpur Orchid Park; I’d evidently gone at the wrong time of year since nothing much seemed to be in bloom. Still, I came back with a few interesting images from that outing – and all in all, was pretty satisfied with the output especially given that I hadn’t shot any film for going on two months at that point in time*.
*Work really does get in the way sometimes.
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.
Ostensibly, this is already perhaps not the most practical of ideas; if one is extremely masochistic, things can be compounded further into the really bad idea class by using film. And a manual focus camera. Without a meter. I think it takes a certain amount of insanity – or at least a healthy dose of optimism – to even attempt it. Street photography (the genre itself being discussed in this previous article) is the kind of thing that’s handled best with a responsive, unobtrusive camera that also has a goodly amount of depth of field for a given aperture, plus what I like to think of as being very forgiving of slightly loose shot discipline. This generally means good high-ISO ability, perhaps a stabilization system, a low-vibration shutter and decently large pixels to make the effects of camera shake less obvious.