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Thread: Wondering why I still shoot film

  1. #1

    Wondering why I still shoot film

    I know this has probably been discussed over and over again...but the advantages of large format strike me to be questionable at this point. I have used digital since the beginning and have been impressed with the ease, but always took pride in shooting film for serious work. I have been photographing for 50 years and have in the past earned a fine living as a commercial photographer. I love the avocation and am committed to making photographs until I breathe my last breath.

    Perhaps it is due to some life changes...getting older... I am currently finding film (4x5 and 5x7) to offer diminishing returns. I would love to hear some response to my thinking...as follows.

    • Though I like to think of my work as artistic, photographs are all about information or content. Clarity is something I have always valued. I am currently torn as to why I continue to shoot film because the digital stuff is cleaner, clearer and has loads more information and tonality. Despite the claims I read about film is superior...I have to question this thinking as of 2016.

    • I have been shocked how amazing some of the digital output can be and how easy it is too achieve very acceptable results. It strikes me that all the tools like Photoshop are optimized for digital images... When I make a fine film image and take the time ( a lot of time) to scan and carefully edit...when compared to digital....the film scans are ok but not a clean or informational as digital.

    Are we film addicts delusional??? Are the results any better than digital...I have my doubts now. Certainly not from a technical perspective. Film cannot resolve what a quality dslr can resolve at this point. So what is the point...other than the pleasure of craft and a different way of working???

    Here are some points that should be considered for digital.

    • Because it is faster to shoot, the results can be more fluid and dynamic. Frankly, some of my view camera stuff looks stiff, static and clunky. Even though I shoot most of my digital on a tripod, I find I make many more variations and frequently find the results more engaging.

    I suppose I am looking for justification to leave my film days behind me. I appreciate those who love the craft...I do as well. But on the assumption that the "print" is the goal...I cannot find much justification in film anymore. As an aside...I left analogue printing behind over 10 years ago and have not looked back. I have been reluctant to abandon film...but I now have doubts. Perhaps the technology has finally exceeded my wildest expectations???

    I would appreciate any input on this. I love this stuff...and would happily keep all my film stuff if I felt I was making superior photographs. I cannot see that anymore.

    Wondering why I still shoot film in 2016.

    Cheers

    Phil
    Los Gatos, CA

  2. #2
    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: Wondering why I still shoot film

    If you have to be talked into something, then your heart's not in it.
    "Why can't we all just get along?" President Dale, Mars Attacks

  3. #3
    Corran's Avatar
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    Re: Wondering why I still shoot film

    You are correct, digital sensors even in mid-tier DSLR cameras have eclipsed 4x5 in actual usable resolution in most typical situations. I have advocated for this here before - but that makes no difference to me in actual use. Why does it matter to you? That's not a rhetorical question - do you really need exceedingly high resolution per square inch of sensor?

    From the technical side, I personally don't think any digital sensor, due to physics and the way the work at the moment, can have the kind of highlight retention and "look" as negative film, especially b&w when developed to taste. Aesthetically, I absolutely love color film and the way the colors render, as compared to any digital sensor, and the myriad number of "film emulation" software just can't even come close to mimicking it IMO.

    But anyway, Peter is right. I can't imagine shooting digital seriously for my own work. I hate it - it's boring, sterile, and gives me little real joy. I shoot plenty of it for commercial work, for obvious reasons. I even sometimes bring my Leica digital out with my film gear and 99.9% of the time I toss those images on my HDD and look at them once, and never again. Film's where it's at for me. Your situation, aesthetics, needs, and opinion may be different.
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    Re: Wondering why I still shoot film

    Having something that is a hands-on process, that you guide through the steps with experience/knowledge/passion/tactile sense, a little alchemy, and finding the relationship between you, the process, and subject..., And the camera will record more than you can see, so the entire cycle is a process of discovery...

    Or you can experience the image mostly on the other side of the looking glass (monitor)...

    Steve K

  5. #5

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    Re: Wondering why I still shoot film

    If you aren't finding the whole process enjoyable you have most likely answered your own question.

    I and some others I have asked still use film in Large Format because we still do darkroom work. Part of it is the hands'on aspect of making the print. One at a time with the small variations that come from the process. Much of what I photograph with film is 5x7 or 8x10 and contact printed, whether silver, Pt/Pd or Carbon. I don't scan the negatives or go digital with these prints. I have the digital camera gear for that and really enjoy using it.

    Still have not started doing enlarged negatives from digital images so I can contact print them. I see others who I highly admire doing this with beautiful results and figure I'll do it before long. A nice marriage of the technologies. I've been telling myself I'll do it before long for a few years now. We'll see. Meanwhile I still enjoy the process of setting up, composing on the big glass, exposing and processing the film and making the print. For me - that is reason enough to use film for a number of images. I could easily use it for everything but that would preclude much of the world I live in. Using both gives me options for quality and freedom as you state in your post. As long as it remains enjoyable I'll continue.

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    Re: Wondering why I still shoot film

    I shoot film because it makes me happy to do so. If it's not making you happy, do something else.

  7. #7

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    Re: Wondering why I still shoot film

    Quote Originally Posted by brouwerkent View Post
    I suppose I am looking for justification to leave my film days behind me.

    Hello Phil,

    You are in California, just (IMHO) look at your neighborhood: Hollywood !!!

    Spielberg, Tarantino, JJ Abrams, Hoyte van Hoytema...

    Tell Spielberg that he has to shot a fantastic, top gear, Alexa 65... tell it to Janusz Kamiński, in this face... one can get injured

    https://stephenfollows.com/film-vs-digital/

    Today, 2016 still 20% of movies are still shot in film, in competition with even some $500k digital bugs. Then see aesthetic results, and resulting viewer inmersion.


    Case 1

    Bond 23, Skyfall (2012): they moved to digital, see the Alexas at job: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLcvA0deKDs

    Bond 24, Spectre(2015): they returned to film, see the Planafex gear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vckN4SwCasI


    Case 2

    StarWars 7 (Dec 2015), $2 Billion Box Office, +200 million production, see the panaflex/IMAX armor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-8N4CQzdGM

    StarWars 8, (Dec 2017), First they show is a panaflex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQQMLE4FuIQ

    But: Rogue One (Dec 2016), this StarWars (say lesser) spin off is shot digital with the superb Alexa 65: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdTog2OA-4A





    • Can an Alexa capture the beauty Daisy Ridley has?
    • How Schindler's List would had been looking without plus-x/double-x?
    • Can imagine Save Private Ryan without genuine bleach bypass?





    Film is not obsolete at all, even in most demanding and critical challenges it can provide a great edge over digital, or the counter, depending on situation and on what we want. Ultra-high budget operators know it.


    An strong imaging culture is there, forged in a century+, this is a vault of jewels... It is there. Then we can talk on how AA, Karshy, Avedon, Mann, etc, etc used those tools...

    We are privileged because we can use those tools of that people, and also those incredible digital cameras, and also the powerful hybrid workflow.

    Is there any need to choose one and discard the other?


    There is an intense, (and hystoric), cross feedback between top influential still photofraphers and top influential cinematographers. Our imaging culture comes out from there.

    Today the top notch imaging technology is film+digital hybridation. Also there is a problem, digital projection at movie theaters throw little light, they project shadows but no light, 47 cd/m2, a shame.


    ¿Then, what happens to us?

    We can load Cinestill (Kodak Vision 3, wo/Remjet) for our Nikon F5 machinegun, so we have same medium than Spielberg and Disney. We can also load Portra or Fuji 160 and have same medium than José Villa (http://josevilla.com/)


    We can also use any format, from 135 signature to beyond 8"x10". Digital is 24x36 in practice, one inch. It is possible to use Photoshop stitching to simulate a larger format with Brenizer method (http://www.camerastupid.com/brenizer-method/)


    I agree that for a lot of shots there it won't be much difference if it was digital or analog, and digital is the efficient thing, not surpising at all that digital took the whole market.

    In some situations (ISO 30000) digital has an overhelming advantage. While negative film has highlight advantage... Also each film has an spectral signature, with digital we are tied to sensor on pixel dyes that manufacturer used.

    And then there is the analog crafting pleasure, the grain (mostly in smaller formarts, including MF),


    So film still (2016) allows a very, very,powerful set of unique artistic tools. We can value those tools or not, and this is a personal choice.


    My suggestion is use both, if you appreciate the film/format signature and the analog crafting. If you don't value that...then there is no way for analog, of course.


    Michelangello made the Pietà with a bare hammer, so the nature of the tool it is not that critical, but it's for sure that he selected an special boulder before start hitting it.


    That's IMHO, I can be wrong...


    Regards,
    Pere
    Last edited by Pere Casals; 19-Oct-2016 at 02:55.

  8. #8

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    Re: Wondering why I still shoot film

    Quote Originally Posted by brouwerkent View Post
    I suppose I am looking for justification to leave my film days behind me.
    No need. It's 2016, the discussion of absolute quality of film or digital is behind us. Digital is phantastic. Film is phantastic. Use whatever suits your needs and/or workflow and feel free to switch back and forth. You don't have to abandon film forever, but right now it sounds like it's not making you happy anymore.

  9. #9

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    Re: Wondering why I still shoot film

    Lets go point by point, IMHO




    Quote Originally Posted by brouwerkent View Post
    • Though I like to think of my work as artistic, photographs are all about information or content. Clarity is something I have always valued. I am currently torn as to why I continue to shoot film because the digital stuff is cleaner, clearer and has loads more information and tonality. Despite the claims I read about film is superior...I have to question this thinking as of 2016.

    Resolving Power is not the same than sharpness. A 8x10" can deliver 500 to 800 perceptual Mpix, a 4x5 can deliver 200 Mpix. No digital stuff is near form that. Of course a Nikon D810 with a fine lens can fulfill what a 4k monitor can deliver. But technical image quality of LF is still unbeaten, by a very large margin. You may loss "sharpness" when downsize the scanned image in PS, make sure you set the right binning algorithm in the Image Size dialog: "Bicubic, ideal for reductions", this is not the default one.

    Tonality: If BW, film can record way more scene dynamic range if you need it, using compression techniques, etc Normally we compress scene dynamic range that can be even 1:100000, or just 1:30 to the output display that can reach 1:100 static contrast on paper or a monitor. TVs 1:1000000 "dynamic contrast" is missleading, a lie.

    Displaying film nice DR is easy with scan+PS, and a challenging art in the darkroom.



    Quote Originally Posted by brouwerkent View Post

    • I have been shocked how amazing some of the digital output can be and how easy it is too achieve very acceptable results. It strikes me that all the tools like Photoshop are optimized for digital images... When I make a fine film image and take the time ( a lot of time) to scan and carefully edit...when compared to digital....the film scans are ok but not a clean or informational as digital.

    Are we film addicts delusional??? Are the results any better than digital...I have my doubts now. Certainly not from a technical perspective. Film cannot resolve what a quality dslr can resolve at this point. So what is the point...other than the pleasure of craft and a different way of working???

    Here are some points that should be considered for digital.
    Digital cameras have a number of hidden sharpenning work, you can apply also to your scans from film, you can also adulterate microcontrast of your film like digital, by adaptative contrast plugins, or the "structure" control from instagram. Digital workflow is optimized to display "sharpness" in a 2 MPix environement, Full HD 1920x1080. Not many pixels for our eye, if you come from a 200 Mpixels 4x5" image you have to tune the reduced 2MPix of your picture in order it looks sharp in a 2 MPix monitor/Tv.


    Quote Originally Posted by brouwerkent View Post

    • Because it is faster to shoot, the results can be more fluid and dynamic. Frankly, some of my view camera stuff looks stiff, static and clunky. Even though I shoot most of my digital on a tripod, I find I make many more variations and frequently find the results more engaging.

    I suppose I am looking for justification to leave my film days behind me. I appreciate those who love the craft...I do as well. But on the assumption that the "print" is the goal...I cannot find much justification in film anymore. As an aside...I left analogue printing behind over 10 years ago and have not looked back. I have been reluctant to abandon film...but I now have doubts. Perhaps the technology has finally exceeded my wildest expectations???

    Digital gear allows photographers to bring home some 2000 pictures every day. ¿Do you need that? ¿Have you any picture of those 2000 that you are to see again in the future? ¿Are it all to be lost in next computer crash? ¿Will it remain hidden in the cloud?

    Masters proved that a single shot from a wood camera is enough, and "pixel counters" proved that 14 frames/second with 200 full frame buffer (D5) is mostly sterile.


    Film offers little today to commercial and news photographers.


    But... ¿what do film offer to artists? (I include those that makes photographs for personal joy)


    I'd suggest you review Karsh, for example, how he used toe, the smooth highlight roll off, the chiaroscuro. There is an ¡ncredible aesthetic/imaging culture there. Also the usage of grain structure is an entire world.

    This look can be simulated digitally to some extend.

    So it is a matter of love. One can love using those tools to get that aesthetic, or one can not give value to it.

    Today we also have the hybrid process. We can scan film, then adjust, and then print it with a Lightjet on silver paper, even fiber paper, and then do selenium.

    And also we can make powerful BW slides, from (TMax, TXP) reversal, or a contact print on film. Cook it a bit dense. Then take a 5000cd/m2 light table. This can make a hard man cry.

    Then there is Velvia 8x10" on a powerful light table... if you take a 8x magnifier you can be a full day exploring it.

  10. #10
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: Wondering why I still shoot film

    Quote Originally Posted by brouwerkent View Post
    Perhaps it is due to some life changes...getting older... I am currently finding film (4x5 and 5x7) to offer diminishing returns.
    If that's true, you probably aren't using camera movements much, or at all. In that case, finding that film is offering diminished returns is expected.

    But if you need camera movements to do what you need to do, film is still the only game in town. There (still) aren't any 5x4 (or larger) digital sensors, and if you aren't working at least as big as 5x4, movements are difficult to use because they are difficult to see on the GG.

    Bruce Watson

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