View Full Version : Another 'digital vs. film' thought

Ben Calwell
8-Jun-2004, 09:50
I just visited photonet's gallery section, and it looks as if 99.99 percent of the images are digital, and I must say some of it looks damn good. It seems as if they're pointing, squinting through their little view finders, shooting and presto -- a masterpiece, courtesy of Photoshop or whatever. Am I an idiot for lugging a view camera around? The folks at my local camera store think I am. Pointing a digital camera at something just doesn't have the appeal for me as composing on a big ground glass and making the various adjustments with the swings and tilts. As soon as someone invents a self-contained, battery-powered digital back with the same viewing area as my ground glass and that doesn't have to be tethered to a computer in the field, then maybe I'll buy one. I'm not sure what the point of my post is, but I just feel as if I'm standing on a beach watching film-based photography slowly sail out of sight on the horizon. I feel like an old fogey, who is getting left behind. I guess I'd better buy a copy of "Digital Photography for Idiots" and get busy.

chris jordan
8-Jun-2004, 10:02
The day they come out with a digital camera that captures as much information as large format film, then yes, we will all be lunkheads to keep carrying around our LF cameras. But until then, for large, beautiful, impossibly detailed prints, there is still nothing like LF.

My dream digital gadget is an 8x10 digital back that is the same shape and size as an 8x10 film holder. It's battery powered, no laptop needed to drive it, and has a few hundred gigabytes of memory inside it. It works just like a normal 8x10 film holder, but captures a 2GB digital file instead of recording the image on film. Oh, and it costs a hundred bucks. I think Fuji is planning on releasing one in the year 3099.


Edward (Halifax,NS)
8-Jun-2004, 10:12
If you want to create the best possible image to view on a website then yes you are wasting your time with a LF film camera. If you wish to produce the best possible 16X20 (or larger) prints to hang on the wall then you are wasting your time with your digital camera.

Kaatharine Thayer
8-Jun-2004, 10:21
Well sure, if all you want to do with your images is put them on the web, then (with all due respect, and you said it first) you are an idiot for lugging a view camera around. But if you want to make prints rather than jpegs, that's something else entirely.

If you enjoy working with the view camera, who cares what other people are doing? But if it really makes you feel unhappy and like an "old fogey" to be left behind while the digital boat sails off without you, then you probably ought to get on the boat. Large format folks, in my experience, tend to be people who do what makes sense to them without worrying very much about which direction the crowd is going.

Steve J Murray
8-Jun-2004, 10:29
What Edward said.

David K.
8-Jun-2004, 10:45
There are things about the large format experience that just do not equate to digital photography. Digital may someday duplicate or improve on the quality of the large format image, however the process (especially B&W) of making the image will always very different with traditional photography.

The more I look at classic prints, and think of the history and skill that went into making those images, the less interested I am in the latest digital wizbang.

Traditional photography has such a rich heritage, and as large format users we can probably relate to it better than other format users. I am enjoying doing something very different to digital crowd.

Calamity Jane
8-Jun-2004, 11:10
Well, there's no boubt about it - I AM on old fogey! I have been shooting and processing film since the 1960s.

In the last 10 years, the majority of my "photography" has been documenting projects on The Web, so a simple digital camera was the way to go - nothing "artistic" or even photographically "good" - simply documenting the process.

I will say one thing positive about the proliferation of digital photography - I believe MORE people are taking MORE pictures than ever before and that must (somehow?) be good for photography in general. Everybody has to start somewhere and with no lab fees and the ease of sharing digital images over long distances, digital is a logical starting place.

One would assume that a FEW who cut their photographic teeth in digital will eventually wander into the film world.

As has been the case since the Brownie, ANYBODY can snap a picture but only a few will invest the effort to become GOOD at it.

Richard Rau
8-Jun-2004, 11:26
Back in the days of the Conleys, and the Empire States, and the Senecas, where 8x10 and 5x7 was about the only way of capturing an image on sensitized material, a bright young man decided to produce a roll film camera with the slogan "you take the picture and we do the rest"! Millions were produced and sold, yet still some hung onto their LF cameras, who knows why, but they did! Well, the Leica was introduced some years later and with the 35mm revolution, copies of Leicas and what not were introduced and again millions were sold, and yet still some hung onto their clunky old LF cameras, and who knows why? Well, history once again repeats itself with the digital revolution, and there are those of us who insist on hanging onto our big, beautiful LF cameras and using them to create silver image prints that will stand the test of time. The only difference is, we know why!!!!

Brian Schall
8-Jun-2004, 11:35
I shot and developed my first 4x5 negative last week. HP5+ developed in Rodinal, shot with a 50 year old Busch Pressman with a 50 year old 135mm Steinheil press lens. Shot the concrete block and wood fence in my back yard just to check the camera and lens and to practice developing the negative. Looked at the negative under a 5.5x Pentax loupe. You can see splinters in the wood. Try and see that kind of detail with digital.

Janko Belaj
8-Jun-2004, 11:48
Good point Calamity. I'm in film processing fun for 24-25 years now, and have to say that I'm really happy that my hobby (love, life, whatever :-)) become my profession. I'm relatively fresh in LF, but where I would like to go can be described with my mistake calling 4x5" "medium format"...
(O.K, I will build jumbo digital 12x20 when chip become cheap as box of efke film.)
As Ben wrote, I'm not sure either what the point of my post is, maybe to accent that I like to be part of this nice large group. However I also have to admit that in my professional time I use LF under 5%. Film in total under 10%. Digital gives us (me, my firm, other photographers in same business) chances to go cheap with quantity to get quality. Right now I'm shooting dozens of exposures trying to get what designers want. After that I will switch to medium format and make same crop on slide...
Well, Ben's post was about photonet's gallery and massive number of digital images, I wish they have a search function to find only LF pictures? (I did put few my images on that site, but had no comments at all... :(( ) Or... maybe here can be sort of list or "subforum" where people will write: I have submitted my LF taken photo here or there or... whatever.
I know that the best way of showing LF taken photos is in real life, but it would be just too costly for me to travel around the world with box of prints... would be nice, but expensive...


Guy Tal
8-Jun-2004, 12:26
Why is everyone so bothered by what "other" people are doing? Don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe one should educate themselves on the options and possibilities out there (as in - teach yourself some Photoshop skills, go rent a top of the line digital and see what it can do for you), but at the end of the day - they're all just tools. Use what works best for you and be happy. Live and let live.

Scenic Wild Photography (http://www.scenicwild.com)

Frank Petronio
8-Jun-2004, 12:37
Understanding digital will make you a better analog photographer and vice-versa. Use both systems with care and aim for the best results in both mediums.

If all you make are 4x6 snapshots, then using a medium or large format camera is overkill. Use the medium to its best advantage - go large, study detail, use movements, make the control and pace of large format your advantage.

Bob Fowler
8-Jun-2004, 12:47
Allow me to quote from my own web page. My original discussion was digital v 35mm film cameras, but the concept is still valid regarding large format.

"Don't confuse a DSLR with a 35mm film camera. Even though they may have a physical resemblance, they are different animals and each serves a different purpose. Neither is "better," they are just tools in the box. You don't hear auto mechanics arguing that a socket is "better" than a combination wrench, that would be silly. They are both tools and both can live peacefully beside each other in the box. They each have strong and weak points. A pro knows which tool is the correct one for the job. That's the reason we have so much stuff, NOT because we collect toys. If a tool doesn't make us money, it's just taking up space in the tool box (and adding weight)."

Keith S. Walklet
8-Jun-2004, 15:03
When students pose this question to me, my response is that large format photography is a craft, embraced by folks much like fine carpenters and hot rod auto mechanics. That is, people who enjoy the hands-on process from start to finish, who enjoy getting lost in the act of photographing as a form of meditation and appreciate the finer quality reproductions that are possible from a larger piece of film.

At the same time, I wholly embrace the newer technology for its ability to overcome long-standing compromises in color, tone and sharpness. There is no doubt that the newer digital color printing technology surpasses any analog process in quality, but perhaps not as much in the "joy of creating" category, where half the fun or the craft crowd is still "getting there."

I encourage folks to familiarize themselves with this technology, and like Bob Fowler just pointed out, view the equipment as tools of liberation.

For instance, I just posted a note on a another thread stating how much fun I am having using a Digital Rebel as my light meter now after years of happily using a Sekonic L775. Having a histogram to instantly evaluate my exposure is invaluable, plus, if I were using negative film, I now have a positive reference print to attach to my negative or upload to the web without having to scan the film. In fact, if folks continue to see a need to use a handheld lightmeter and sales justify there continued manufacture, I'd like to see the suppliers incorporate the histogram technology into the readouts.

8-Jun-2004, 15:25
Here is an amateur's point of view.

What's wrong with being an old fogey? That's precisely why I do LF, though I prefer the term "retro-geek".

To me, computers are work, and photography is a hobby. I just bought a computer, naturally the very latest thing, and also a(nother LF) camera, which is 80 years old. It makes me feel connected to the photographers of the past, and to the history of art, it lets me be involved in a physical craft, and have all the fun of the ground glass and movements.

For my wife, the computer is a toy to play with away from work. She loves the little digicam I bought her. When we went to Burma, she took 600 digipix and I took 40 4x5's. She printed 200 4x6 images while I printed 5 11x14's and one 16x20. And we are both as happy as clams. Who says film and digital can't co-exist happily? ;-)

Samuel Portera
8-Jun-2004, 15:29
I agree that if your goal is art for the web or small 4x6 prints, then yes you should use digital. I work in B&W usually 8x10 and 11x14 on Fiber paper. Nothing digital produces the look and feel of a fine Fiber print. Also claims of inkjet archival qualities are not yet proven. I have fiber prints that are 60 years old and look great.

I think 35mm may becomes less common, but for those in the arts film is an important medium. For instance we may have to mail order film. No big change for most of us, I can order my film from B&H or calumet for half of what I pay at the counter.

ronald moravec
8-Jun-2004, 16:33
It`s just like hot cars- no substitute for cubic inches or square inches in this case. I do like my Leicas tho, as there are pleanty of times a 4x5 would be impossible.

Keep in mind, even a minox looks good on the web.

Ben Calwell
8-Jun-2004, 18:29
Thanks everyone. I feel much better. Happy shooting.

Scott Walton
9-Jun-2004, 06:48
I just want to add another thought, well it's actually instructions for my wife... the instructions are to pry my Linhof out of my stiff rigamortice hands and place it by the casket (not to be buried with me but given to my current 6 yr. old son) when the time comes. I suppose I'm an old fogey too but I'm in complete denial! I'm only on my 10th anniversary of my 36th birthday!!! LOL! Ben, my thoughts on people who think that digital is better... screw them! Digital has it's place and I use high end stuff for work as well as 4x5 in the studio and locations but the digital just doesn't come close with the dynamic range (detail from highlights to deep shadows) and the look just isn't pleasant to me. I prefer 4x5 B/W and color when I shoot for myself and will continue till such time when film is discontinued (I don't see this happening although when they discontinued Ektapan a tear came down my cheek...). Keep the faith and shoot what you like! The salespeople are only trying to make a buck and if they knew photography like they somewhat know the "new fad", they too would be out shooting LF! Just as a kick, ask one of the salespersons (who is old enough to shave) their "preferences"...

Don Miller
9-Jun-2004, 07:20
I shoot both LF and 35mm digital. All kinds of fun with both.

I've lugged my 35 to use as a meter, but who needs the weight? I think it's best to learn spot metering and think through the scene. I've only made several hundred 4x5 chromes, but I can already 'nail' most exposures in quality light.

A simple pentax digital spot and my brain is all I need.

Frank Petronio
9-Jun-2004, 07:44
I'm relatively new to it, but having that historogram on the DSLR is a Godsend. It is the single best thing that's come out of digital IMHO. I love my battered Pentax spot meter, but the next time I'm in a critical situation I'll be using both the spot and my DSLR to meter.

It would be awesome if there was a "Polaroid-Graflock" style digital back insert that could provide preview, color temp, and exposure info on a large LCD - not as an image capture device, but as the ultimate meter.

Nick Morris
9-Jun-2004, 09:23
One thing that I don't seem to hear people discussing is the learning curve. I use a digital camera for work (I need to take pictures of properties for reference and to put into reports), and make small adjustments for contrast and sharpness, but I haven't spent much time trying to learn programs like Photoshop. Maybe its easier than I'm aware of to master digital, but I'm still learning to get more out of darkroom processing, which I love doing. I'm not a professional photographer, and I don't have the time to learn, never mind, master a variety of processes. So I stick with LF silver gelatin film and papers, and try to get the most out of it. I personally don't have anything against digital, and if I were a professional, it would be an important part of my business. When I came into photography, it was the work of traditional photographers that inspired me, and set out the path for me to follow. I'm still on it.

9-Jun-2004, 10:00
I also had the feeling that digital was taking off and I was not on that boat. I would compare cameras, photo format, medium, etc. with cars and trucks, you use what is the best tool for the type of work you are doing. Example, my creative work I'll do it with film, wet darkroom. Why? Resolution, cost, stability of the medium. If I had to do commercial work, probably will be digital. Why? Most of the commercial printers use digital, almost all editing is in the computer (magazines, corporate brochures.) Also the argument goes for format (4x5, 35mm, 35mm digital, etc.) There is also in the middle, you can take a 4x5 negative and have it scan, and printed from digital format. It will cost you around $250 to $350 to have a big print out. Let say that I go all digital (medium format digital, and large format digital, a lot of money.) I have to maintain a fast computer, with a lot of RAM, disk space, plus CD, printers, and a lot of ink. Each cartridge of ink for a regular inkjet is about $25 to $35. I think that for photography you have to pick the right tool. Cost effective, great resolution, etc. By the way remember that Ilford, Kodak used to make money with papers, film, etc. now Epson, Canon, Software and memory manufactures shifted that business towards them. I do not see one medium better that the other, just like a sedan car is not better that a humbee. One you drive around town the other to take to Iraq. You can also take to humbee to get coffee at Starbucks and you can also take your sedan to Iraq, but that is a deferent discussion. Regards.

Keith S. Walklet
9-Jun-2004, 10:22
Actaully, I believe folks with a background in traditional darkroom technique have an advantage transitioning to digital. If one already has a thorough understanding of film curves, dodging, burning, and how to create expressive prints, etc. they are well on the way.

It is true that Photoshop is a deep program that can take years to master. It shouldn't be scary, though. Like visiting a big city, it might be intimidating at the outset, but after one learns a few primary routes, they can navigate with some confidence.

My love affair with the histogram is because I prefer a graphic interface over numbers. It is a personal thing, like the old Mac vs. PC programmer rants. I waited to acquire a digital camera body until there was one that offered the histogram in a lightweight package at a reasonable price tthat could result in a quality print. While I'll have to check on the weight comparison with my meter, I don't ever recall being able to take a picture with my meter. I WAS able to capture a fleeting moment with the Rebel recently in the Sawtooths when I had the view camera pointed the opposite direction while waiting for the light to change. I would have missed it entirely, other than "neurochrome."

It is also an incredible teaching tool in the field, both for compostion and exposure, not to mention accurately assessing the results of varying the length of an exposure and depth-of-field.

I became a true believer 20 miles into the Yosemite backcountry two years ago when one of the photographers in our group brought along his digital 35, an Apple laptop and solar panels. He'd create 300 images during the day. At night download them to his laptop and burn a CD to archive them to a CD, wipe the flash cards clean and start fresh the next day. The solar panels kept his system charged and he never ran out of "film."

Photographing moving a river scene, the rest of us with our traditional gear crowded around to see his review images to evaluate the look of his blurred water. When we got out of the woods, we later crowded around the 24x30 prints from his D1s off an Epson 7600. Stunning. That said, I equally appreciate the look of a hand-crafted platinum print and the skill that goes into creating one. Different, but both beautiful in their own way. I am not urging anyone to abandon their old gear. Use the old and the new together.

ronald lamarsh
9-Jun-2004, 12:00
Where's the beef? Its like Van gogh arguing with Cezanne as to which brush is best to use. It all hinghes on the desired end result. It's like arguing color vs B&W. Like Hamelt said," Tis niether good nor bad but thinking makes it so."

9-Jun-2004, 12:26
I know I'm not the only one in this category because I've talked to quite a few people who feel the same or similar.

To some of us, the end result is _NOT_ what it's all about! It's the _process_. The trip, not the destination that counts!

I have been involved with computers and digital imaging ever since there was such a thing, in kit form only! I still do some digital for the web. I had to buy a new printer, so I bought an Epson Photo Printer. Why not? I spent days and $30 worth of ink just trying to get a decent color print out of it and gave up... And people consider me a computer geek because it's my job... I'm a hobby photographer not a pro...

To me and many others, it's the whole LF photography process that has meaning. And all in silver! Even if they ever came out with an 8x10 digital back that came close to silver resolution, I wouldn't bother. Why? It's not part of the process as we enjoy it. I sit in front of a computer all day long. I certainly do not want to involve computers in my photography!

Andre Noble
9-Jun-2004, 19:11
Present digital technology photography will soon evolve into something different from the traditional still photography as we've know it.

Personally, I love the loupe and lightbox too much. Processing film is a labor of love.

I don't mean to berate anyone's choice. I feel personally that digital photography is a waste of precious time because of the nature of the capture and lack of a physical master.

Transparencies and negatives are potential artwork to me.

jonathan smith
10-Jun-2004, 02:52
I think digital is a great way for handling many things, especially in professional photography, but I stay away from it for quality reasons just like I don't bother to shoot small format and enlarge. The results just aren't quite as satisfying.

Another important thing to me is the process of making the shot with LF where you have the ability to manipulate the focus and perspective, I feel like I am wasting my time with a point and shoot. I approach the task differently, and the results show it.

But I really like having the ability to scan and manipulate a photo digitally; nothing fancy, just color balance and contrast, dust particles, things like that. I have a local lab that makes excellent prints from my digital files (on photo paper).

I took my pictures to show friends at work and it was great to see their jaws drop at the beauty of a 1st generation 8x10. I don't think it's really possible to capture the same quality with a tiny lens and tiny film plane, no matter how many megapixels you have.

Richard Grogan
11-Jun-2004, 00:17
My .02 cents worth....I have a D-100 Nikon to use instead of 35mm Nikon.Small format(at least to me) is for documenting an event or place out of sheer convenience; a no brainer....instant gratification with the D-100 and "fix-it in the mix" with Photoshop, a wonderful tool for the application at hand.It's too damn easy!!I can drive down the freeway through downtown Houston and hold the D100 up and shoot out the window rapid fire at the skyline and come up with magazine quality shots.(what a challenge...NOT!!) You can do amazing things with electronics in photography,but I will not be coined as an "camera operator"..that would really suck!

LF(4x5& 8x10),on the other hand, requires time.And thought.And Vision.It is a precision tool which requires Human Intervention to create Art from your Vision.There is nothing more rewarding than setting up you rig at the site you scouted first, selecting the lens,composing and manipulating the swings and tilts, metering your subject and calculating for bellow draw.....you know the routine.I love it!!I tell my friends who suggest subjects for me to shoot.I tell them"it had better be darn good for me to set up this heavy @#$%$#@ camera!!"Needless to say, I scout my own subjects.

I love film.There's something about coming home from a shoot and processing those big negatives; like a kid getting up early on Christmas morning and seeing what FATMAN left...

I beleive digitals,35mm s,MF RB67s all have a function in a time and place,tools if you will, but I consider the (LF) stuff is where art comes from! Just my thoughts.... Richard

15-Jun-2004, 16:23
After a year of DSLRing around with a Canon 10D - I have returned to my film bodies, purchased another film body, a 4x5, and another polaroid propack. I use all of them (well i haven't used the 4x5 too much, shame on me!) Digital is convenient, 150 RAW format images on a 1 gb card, fix in photoshop, etc. I have enlarged to 16x20 and people have wondered if i shoot medium format. The prints are good, but not as great as upsizing a 4x5 to a 16x20, that's a no brainer. I have sold a couple shots of a lily, and have had people ask if the lily was real! The digital image, in all it's plastic flawlessness was lacking a reality that only film can show.

Ken Ramsley
22-Jun-2004, 09:49
Call me Rip Van Winkle because "photography" for me in recent years has become nothing more than wandering around Boston looking for texturing details I could capture to digital for 3D games I've been designing.

Until I woke up from my 20-year snooze recently.

I have an old saying that hobbies should support themselves whenever possible, and since I really need a new digital camera, I started poking through my old film cameras.... Leica M4, lots of Canon 35mm stuff, Calumet 4x5, Schneider lenses, and a beautiful wooden Burke & James 8x10 that I rebuilt just about when other hobbies took over.

But after looking at ebay listings of similar equipment, I can't do it. I can't just turn these old friends into cash to buy some contraption that will be obsolete junk in five years.

So now I'm reading about scanning LF film to see if perhaps a combination of -both- worlds might be a viable choice.

Because of your thoughts on digital "versus" film, I feel a lot more hopeful now.