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  1. #1

    Join Date
    Dec 1999
    Forest Grove, Ore.

    Last Year at PMA

    Last night, I went to a meeting of our local Portland Photographers' Forum, and someone who works at a well-known color lab said that the scuttlebut last year a t PMA was that color film had about 10 years before it disappears. He said that , at his lab, everything is going digital.

    While I didn't attend PMA last year and can't offer my own version of the "scutt lebut", this touches off a whole series of questions in my mind.

    o Is this true -- will a way of life for large format photographers come to an end in 10 years?

    o What is the potential of taking LF digital (aargh!) into the field?

    o What is the future of large format B&W? The same person commented that, beca use of print longevity, B@W will last longer.

    o Will it no longer be possible to obtain the kind of rich textures in a print that can be achieved in LF silver?

    Last weekend, I purchased three rolls of Kodak 24 exp. 35mm color film for my da ughter with ASA's 100, 200, and 1000. The cost was over $18! It won't be long before these kinds of prices drive the inevitable change in the 90% of the mark et that does a lot to drive advances, etc., in the remaining 10%. (LF.)

    I know about paradigm shifts. I just don't do a very good job of accepting them .

  2. #2

    Last Year at PMA

    Neil: Sad situation. The problem is that there just aren't enough of us around who care about the quality of large format, and what few of us there are have done a bad job of educating the public. We are selling prints to a generation of younger folks who have grown up with TV, where images don't have to be sharp and full of light and tones. I show my work at art shows for sale to the public, and one of the greatest things about doing shows is to see the people come into our display and see large format black and white original prints for the first time. It literally blows their minds. I have had people spend an hour in the booth, looking at every print again and again from corner to corner. I have seen the same response to the work of a fellow art photogrpher who does large format color. There just aren't enough of us around who do LF work to influence the large companies much. I go many places to shoot where people have never seen a person with a large format camera at work. The most amazing thing about it is that nearly all of them feel that you are doing professional work. Large format still implies professional photography, although most of them have never seen a LF camera. Strange. A couple of years ago, my wife and I visited her mother on Vancouver Island in Canada. Just ahead of us was a man and wife with enough 35mm equipment to stock most camera stores. The customs person looked in the bags and waved them through. I came through just behind them with an old Graphic View II, two lenses and a dozen film holders. The customs person looked in the case and her asked if I was working in Canada on a photography job. I had a difficult time explaining that I was just taking photographs for pleasure. I finally persuaded her that my visit was the trip of a lifetime to her beautiful country and I wanted the best pictures possible. I almost had to get a work permit! There just aren't enogh LF format photographers. It is too much work for most amatuers and too expensive for the majority of pros, who shoot 120. I know there are exceptions, but think of the times when you are shooting and you are the only LF guy there. And think of the companies who made wonderful large format equipment who are no longer in business. There aren't enough of us to support them. As you so aptly put it: Arrrrrrgggggg! Doug.

  3. #3

    Last Year at PMA

    Neil: A good 4x5 transparency has over 300MB of information. With Provia 100F, that 300MB can often be captured in 1/15 of a second or less. That is a data transfer rate of 4.5 GB/sec. We're a long way from that in portable, lightweight, battery powered LF digital backs... I give it more like 20 years... after all, you can still buy cassette tapes along with your CDs.

  4. #4

    Last Year at PMA

    When and if film availability is ever threatened, you can always buy a lifetime supply of your favorite emulsions and freeze them. As long as you can find processing, or do your own, why panic? You can do the same with B&W printing papers. As for the availability of photochemicals, you can make up all of your own chemistry using the formulas in books such as the 'Film Development Cookbook'. Fine art B&W photography, processing, and printing may indeed become a small niche market akin to what today are referred to as 'alternative processes'.

    This has happened before: Shortly after the 1st World War platinum printing ceased to be commercially available and its use died. Today platinum printing is enjoying a Renaissance. Chemicals and sensitizer solutions must be measured and mixed by hand, paper must be hand coated, and hand processed. There are many good books to guide the aspiring platinum printer. It has become a niche process for those willing to make prints by hand from scratch, and the process is far from extinct.

    The point is, with such a wealth of silver gelatin prints in private and museum collections, and with fine prints fetching increasingly higher prices at auctions, how can the most important processes in the history of photography ever die out?

    The mainstream availability of B&W photography may contract into a smaller and specialized niche market, but it will never die. Has fast food killed the availability of fine cuisine? Has pop music killed the performance and recording and playing of Bach, Beethoven and Thelonius Monk? Will digital kill the legacy of Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Paul Strand etc.? No, I have greater faith in mankind, and moreover I can afford to buy at least two deep freezers!

    Keep shooting and help preserve the art, craft, and science of photography from being obliterated by the digital death star...

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Feb 1998

    Last Year at PMA

    Well, I dont think its quite so dismal. Working with digital just replaces the way we capture images. It doest replace the need for vision, or diminish the value of photography as art. The big truth is, film and processing and printing generates a lot of very nasty chemicals, and that is one of the driving forces to go digital, not just consumer acceptance. Yea, yea, I know, making chips uses nasty chemicals too, but at least its only once, not roll after roll after roll.... Large format has digital solutions today, and they give excellent results. Not very portable, for sure, but I bet that will change, too. As processing power gets cheaper, memory gets cheaper, etc, very portable solutions will emerge, probebly faster than any of us think it will. There are certainly benefits to digital that we can all look forward to. Instant feedback (no more shooting 10 sheets with various bracketing to get that important shot), greater dynamic range, no more loading film holders in the dark, dust spot problems, lab processing goofups, etc. Digital is going to affect us, so we may as well learn to use it as a tool.

  6. #6

    Last Year at PMA

    As a very new arrival to LF I often wonder if investing a lot of time and expense in this format is foolish but then I take this old camera out and just stare at the GG, maybe expose a polaroid or two, and think that this is the most amazing thing in the world and that I have now found my way to practice photography and will never be satisfied with smaller formats again. For me this is now the way. The problem is not that digital will or will not ever equal or surpass analog, it will. THe problems is that traditional methods will be pushed to the margins and become even more difficult and expensive to pursue. Not good for those who cannot afford it. I've made my commitmant to LF and will fight to stay in the game, I will learn to make my own film, parts and developers if thats what it takes, damn it.

  7. #7

    Last Year at PMA


    I am not afraid of digital coming to LF field work, in fact I am looking forward to it. I just think of digital as a new, better, erasable emulsion. There will still be view cameras but the format will probably be more like 6x8cm and I will need shorter lenses. Can't get too much smaller since the MTF of the optics will limit image quality at some point. A 6x9 Arca with the binocular viewer still produces a pleasing groundglass experience, although not the full impact of an 8x10 gg.

    I see a kind of phased transition of rising costs and phasing out of formats. I suspect the first to feel a pinch will be 8x10. Every time a new color transparency film is released, I look to see if it still available in 8x10 (I don't shoot 8x10, but I see this as the canary warning of bad air in the mine). When Fuji discontinues Quickload I will fall back on 120 if digital isn't quite there yet.

  8. #8

    Last Year at PMA

    I see a kind of phased transition of rising costs and phasing out of formats. I suspect the first to feel a pinch will be 8x10. Every time a new color transparency film is released, I look to see if it still available in 8x10 (I don't shoot 8x10, but I see this as the canary warning of bad air in the mine).

    You guys are depressing me! Im just getting my 8x10 package together, and would like to make at least one contact print before I have to A- start stockpiling emulsions B  mixing my own chemicals C - paying $200 for a box of 10 sheet B&W!

    Never the less, I have to agree with Glenns statement. As its been stated above, I too think digital will progress a LOT faster that we all think! This is one of the reasons that Im starting to back off 35mm SLR photography. For the type of 35mm shooting that I do, the technology/performance/quality is already there  if only I could afford one of the nicer Canon or Nikon bodies.

    Im not afraid of digital coming to LF; its just how much will it COST, and how long will it take before the armature/hobbyist can afford it??? The scariest thing is that back in the day, it was the professional product/fashion/architecture photographers that supported LF for the most part, but they also seem to be the ones moving to digital the quickest!

    Damn! I can see/deal with coating my own paper, and mixing my own chemicals, but what about the film?

    Oh well, maybe Im worrying too much. What I need to do is go out and by some holder sand start shooting.

    What do you think Sean Y?

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jan 1998

    Last Year at PMA

    My parents have a picture on their wall of my great grandmother when she was in her early twenties, standing in her garden. This picture was taken (and the print made) before 1900.

    It was probably taken professionally, but it's really just a snapshot. However, the technical quality of the photograph is astounding. It is extraordinarily sharp, excellent contrast, perfect exposure, and 100 years old. It is so obviously superior to anything anybody ever takes today in similar circumstances. It blows away anything I have ever taken or seen taken with a Nikon. It is by orders of magnitude better than anything I have ever seen from a digital camera. This picture compares rather well with the 50 million faded 4x5 color snapshots in various albums around the country taken in the past 30 years, and the 50 million more blurry digital images taken in the past 2 years.

    If we cared about good pictures, we would have stopped making cameras and lenses in 1900. But we don't care about good pictures. We care about something else. What is it? Cleverness? I don't know. But it isn't good pictures. (I admit by the way that lenses, film, and cameras have "improved" some (only some!) over the past century, but for the vast majority of consumers of images, the images themselves have gotten much worse.)

    I'm not sure what my point is, except to express sadness about this digital age. It seems with each technological advance things take longer, are harder to do, cost more, and deliver less.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Feb 1999

    Last Year at PMA

    sure the potential is there but so is the price. Better light is cheaper but both are slow.... aren't they?

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