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Thread: The Future of Film Photography

  1. #21

    Join Date
    May 2006
    Calgary, Alberta

    Re: The Future of Film Photography

    Dear Ian,

    If you are fishing for some answers to your question, you will certainly get a variety of qualified answers from this group, and few expletives thrown in for colour balance...

    That said, I use a film negative, and although I do not use a digital camera, I marry the analog environment, and the digital environment together through a quality scanner. For the moment, I prefer this marriage. I plan to reestablish a silver fiber based print medium back into my image making process, created from a scanned digital file, whether it is a digital negative assigned to contact printing in the darkroom, or a digital file managed by a digital enlarger. If you have a moment, maybe you could review the following article, written by a great American image maker, since you may require an additional perspective, from a non member too.

    The article is located here:

    I hope you are successful in your schooling...

    jim k

  2. #22

    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Currently New York

    Re: The Future of Film Photography


    If you want to write a legitimate paper on this subject, you might start by taking a hard look at the wording of your questions, because the wording is loaded in favour of film.

  3. #23
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Northern Virginia

    Re: The Future of Film Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Williams View Post
    1. Is image quality really better with digital photography?
    2. Has film technology been curtailed too hastily, and are there technologies in emulsions and chemistry that we could be yet to benefit from?
    3. What are the real benefits of film? Are we 'film enthusiasts" simply photographers who refuse to be swept along on the wave of digital technology, wallowing in nostalgia and traditionalism, or are there real qualities to film that digital photography simply cannot replace?
    4. What is the driving force behind the digital market? Is it that camera manufacturers are simply exploiting the modern consumerist culture of today, or is there a real and tangible benefit in 24mp cameras and hugely expensive zooms etc...
    5. Will film photography have a role over the next 30 years, and where will film photography fit into the digital revolution?
    I'll be weird and just answer the questions.

    1. Saying that digital is better or worse than film is like saying that acrylic paints are better or worse than oil paints. Many classicists love the look of oils, and insist that oils have something the acrylics don't have, assuming that something is important (which is a rather grand assumption). I doubt many non-painters would be able to tell without a side-by-side comparison at a technical level, which is somewhat outside where the appreciation of art for art's sake might live. Even using oil vs. acrylics is an unfair comparison. I don't know painters who believe acrylics look better even if they still use them for practical reasons. But I do know credible photographers who say, format for format, digital supports larger, more beautiful prints. I don't think I could refute that based on my own work.

    But since most photographers are amateurs (as are most painters and musicians), we please ourselves. So, in the 21st century, film will be relevant as long as there are people willing to pay for it and put up with it. Those people will do it to please themselves. I doubt there will be much commercial relevance, if indeed there is much even now.

    2. Film technology has followed the market, and is moving from a mass-produced product used by millions of consumers to a niche craftsman product used by thousands of dedicated artisans. The R&D going into film isn't how to make it better, but how to make it in small quantities and still maintain a reasonable cost model (in addition to meeting quality expectations which often required the consistency resulting from large production quantities).

    3. The real benefit of film is that it is an affordable path to large formats, and large formats are an affordable path to levels of image quality and (most important!) image control and management beyond what smaller digital solutions can attain.

    4. I get annoyed when "consumerism" is described as thought it is some form of dread disease. And I think that comment presents my answer to the question. If people buy the stuff, the manufacturers are doing what their stockholders expect of them. I doubt anyone could persuade me that any compact digital camera is a worse solution than a Kodak Instamatic or Pocket 110. The consumers are really getting much better image-making potential for their money now than they used to.

    5. I play music using a hunk of brass, by blowing raspberries into one end. My newest tuba was made in 1991, and my most-played tuba was made in 1970. Any synthesizer is better in tune. But there is some value, I think, in human imperfection when making art. I suspect electronic tuba simulators, which sound fake even to a casual listener, will get better and better to the point where even tuba players might be fooled. But there will still be tubas, because the act of playing it, and the satisfaction that comes from spending decades to become merely mediocre doing so, feed the souls of those who do it.

    Here's a non-artistic example: Amateur radio has seen some substantial declines. But even those who work in the IT industry, thinking of ways to move gigabits of data at light speed around the globe, still spend time in their basements trying to log contacts made with others, using only a radio and an antenna and no intervening infrastructure.

    There is a thrill in doing difficult things, even if we are purposefully inefficient in doing so. I was once asked why I wasted time playing with old-fashioned radio transmitters, and my response was to ask the person questioning me why he rode a bicycle. He said that the bike provided useful exercise, and the satisfaction of having worked for the accomplishment of arrival. Yup.

    Some will define that difficulty in terms of using film, even if they have to coat their own emulsions. Others won't. For those who do, however, then it is still relevant and important. So, film photography will fit into the digital revolution as a niche art for those who would rather do things the old-fashioned way, just because it is more difficult to do so. For them, the challenge of overcoming that difficulty brings personal satisfaction.

    Rick "for whom the challenge of digital photography is thinking of ways to make it hard" Denney

  4. #24
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    brooklyn, nyc

    Re: The Future of Film Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Maris Rusis View Post
    A film photograph is physically, necessarily, and materially bound to its subject in the same way as a graphite rubbing, a footprint, or a silicone rubber cast. It is a straight line case of a substance direct on substance action. ...
    Maris, you're talking about the semiotic nature of photographic materials. This relationship you describe, where the sign is a direct imprint of the thing signified, is called an indexical relationship. I happen to think this type of relationship between subject and image is a fundamental characteristic of photography.

    But I disagree with you on most of your points. I don't believe that an image formed on a digital sensor is any less indexical than one formed on an analog one. And I don't think there's anything about a medium's capability of recording straight, indexical images that guarantees straight, indexical results.

    In other words, film, while it can record a direct imprint of a real world subject, is not bound to doing so. For 150 years, photographers have been photographing things that don't exist, removing things that exist from photographs, and fundamentally changing the form of things through their photographs. All with film.

    Digital media are not different in this regard; they can break the indexical relationship with the subject in all the same ways. They just happen to make it easier to do so.

  5. #25

    Join Date
    Oct 2007

    Re: The Future of Film Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Marko View Post
    With digital, it is not the media that guarantees data continuity, it is the procedure.

    Just like the car does not react to whip...
    With 20 years working in computers, both technical and consulting, far more examples of media have disappeared from the industry than currently remain. Even many early CD and DVD products cannot now be read in current drives. And now we are embarking on storage on solid state (magnetic) media????? God help us!

  6. #26

    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Southern California

    Re: The Future of Film Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Kuzano View Post
    With 20 years working in computers, both technical and consulting, far more examples of media have disappeared from the industry than currently remain. Even many early CD and DVD products cannot now be read in current drives. And now we are embarking on storage on solid state (magnetic) media????? God help us!
    Well, I have spent about the same amount of time working in publishing of some sort or the other, old fashioned media and electronic alike. A significant part of my job at most of those places was making sure that working data remains safe and accessible at all times. So, yes, I am very well aware of that. Just as I am aware of how many negatives vanished over the last 80 or so years in attics, basements, shoeboxes, cupboards and such. Burned, soaked, molded, scratched, lost or simply discarded.

    That's exactly why it is the procedure that matters and not the media itself. Any physical media is short-term temporary storage only and liable to damage of some sort. With digital storage, data loss per se does not matter, it happens all the time. What matters is the loss of the only copy of data.

    The point being that no data worth saving should ever exist in a single copy on a single physical medium and in a single physical location. If you don't understand this, you are in the wrong business.

    FYI, Solid State Drives are strictly electronic semiconductor devices, they have no moving parts and no magnetically or chemically reactive parts. Magnetic or optical media is NOT solid state.

  7. #27

    Join Date
    May 2005
    Portland, OR

    Re: The Future of Film Photography

    1) Is digital better? I think that digital has surpassed 35mm in sharpness and color when coupled with Photoshop. I have a Flickr account, and I look around at other photographers' works. Folks put some astounding imagery on there. Photoshop and Absolute Fractles give the digital shooter some powerful tools. I would put my old Minolta XG-1 and, certainly, my Hasselblad up against any digital camera and win for image quality, but only until the digital image hits the computer and gets a makeover.

    Here are some exceptions: 1) a film camera and photoshop are equally horrible in the hands of someone who has no freaking idea what he's doing. 2) Digital still has trouble with black and white. I don't know why, but I find the tones of digital B&W to be harsh. 3) Scanning film gives the film photographer the same tools, with the added benefit of having the analog negative. What digital really gives the photographer that film can't is instant gratification. Polaroid is gone, as far as their professional products are concerned. The instant films may return next year, but we aren't likely to get the high quality films back ever, so digital only will be able to deliver decent quality images in moments.

    2) Film technology has certainly been curtailed too hastily, but only because the marketing departments at Kodak and the major camera manufacturers made the choice to abandon film in order to move the comsumer market to digital. The ultimate goal of technology and consumer product companies is to get everyone to replace everything every few years, and the best way to make something obsolete is to make everyone forget about it. (also my answer to question # 4)

    3) The real benefit of film, I believe lies in the process. Instant gratification leads to sloppiness. This is why machine guns were invented. Thowing a wall of lead down range allows the amature almost the same chances of hitting the target as the seasoned sniper. With data cards that hold thousands of images, the average photographer can create a whole army of slop, out of which can come a few good images. There is no way even a 35mm shooter can carry a few thousand images worth of film the way a digital shooter can. I liken film photography to a sonnet. The sonnet is a poetic form that focuses the poet's energies by restricting them to their basic essentials. I shoot everything from 35mm to 8x10", and as I move up in size, my shots get more careful, and better planned. Like the sonnet, I am forced to be more thoughtful about the process. The medium influences the art.

    5) There will be film in 30 years. Artists will use it. Non-comformists will use it. At least in the USA, just about everyone who is likely to move to digital has already done it. The big question is: will the next generation of artists and non-comformists embrace it. Will today's teens ever realize that it's even out there? I assume that many of them will eventually want a better image than a cell phone can make.


  8. #28
    Stephen Willard's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2002
    Fort Collins, Colorado

    Re: The Future of Film Photography

    I shoot with Kodak Portra 160 VC color negative film and print using RA-4 papers. Here are some things to consider:

    1. The new Kodak Portra 160 VC color negative film has a dynamic range of 14 stops using standard development. The characteristic curve shallows out a bit at Zone XIII and XIV which means that the contrast is softer, but detail is still recorded at those Zones. In comparison, I think the best digital sensors today are only capable of six stops.

    With a 14 stop dynamic range, I do not use GND filters. If I can see it, I can shoot it. With a 14 stop dynamic range my yields in the field are far greater than other media. With a 14 stop dynamic range I do not shrink from bold brilliant light, but rather embrace it. So when a beam of light punches through the clouds and splashes upon the land, I simply expose for the shadows without concern or regard for the highlights, and I am there.

    2. Color negative paper produces amazingly rich creamy tones that cannot be matched with injet printers. I print my work on glossy Fuji Crystal Archive papers, and the tonality is like no other media.

    3. I print lots of large stuff and for big prints RA-4 is very cheap. It cost me around $7.50 to print a 16x40 print and that includes the price of making test prints and chemistry.

    So I have not chosen film and darkroom because of my love for for tradition or complexity, but rather because I realize significant advantages that I cannot achieve with other media. It is my belief that my entire body of work is a statement of failure because it falls far short of what I actually witness and experience. The processes I have employed by far gives me the best approximation of the actual experience.

  9. #29

    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Southern California

    Re: The Future of Film Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary L. Quay View Post
    At least in the USA, just about everyone who is likely to move to digital has already done it. The big question is: will the next generation of artists and non-comformists embrace it. Will today's teens ever realize that it's even out there? I assume that many of them will eventually want a better image than a cell phone can make.

    I read an article the other day on how the art of writing letters has been literally extinguished between email and twitter. Same thing could be said about handwriting in general.

    Nobody (in statistical terms) writes by hand any more. Nobody has the time, to begin with and even if we did, email is so much faster, not to mention IM, and computer keeps copies of all the letters you wrote. The few of us who still cherish our fountain pens mainly use them only for nostalgia purposes. Even if I wanted to take the time and write a letter in longhand, on some nice, hand-picked paper, chances are the recipient would not even recognize the gesture, much less appreciate it and would scoff at having to decipher my handwriting.

    While a few of us may be worse for the loss of coherent, educated writing, all of us are much better for the tremendous gain in communication tools and abilities and that more than makes up for the loss.

    And it's been only about 20 years since email started entering the mainstream.

    So to answer your question, and it is a very good one, most of today's teens will never see film for what we see it. If for no other reason, than because they grew up in a different world, with totally different comfort zone. Some of them may eventually discover film, but only as a historical process. Just like most people born after 1980 do not really have a full concept of a vinyl record. Sure, some may even know what it is (was), but the phrase "skipping like a broken record" will never ring the same connotation for them as it does for those of us who grew up with all the crackling, hissing and skipping.

    In general, it takes a generation for a new technology to completely replace the old one. Not because technology is slow, it isn't as we all can see, but because it takes a generation for all the dinosaurs to go away and stop resisting. We are now in the latter half of this change.

    It's as simple as that. All the theories about big companies conspiring to get people to embrace digital and forget film are just that: conspiracy theories. Which companies exactly are we talking about? Kodak? Polaroid? Fuji? Agfa? Surely there are better and more efficient ways to commit suicide, don't you think?

  10. #30

    Re: The Future of Film Photography

    Did film photography have a meaningful past?

    I am referring to the actual use of film by typical consumers. Their pictures probably haven't lost much in the transition to digital, because they weren't aesthetically significant before; I believe film offers superior possibilities to the sensitive and discerning photographer, but for someone taking snapshots of children in the backyard or the family at Disney World, I don't think the capture medium makes much difference.

    In my opinion the truth is that film was once ubiquitous simply because there was no other choice. We shouldn't mislead ourselves into thinking amateur photography (amateur as in practiced by people with only slight interest in the craft, not in the strict sense of the word) was somehow better or more valid before digital cameras became widespread.

    That consumers had almost no attachment to film for its aesthetic qualities is clearly shown by their almost immediate flight to digital cameras once they became affordable.

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