Saturday, August 31, 2013

Is film still relevant?

I happened on a travel article ( this morning written by Melanie Kaplan for the Washington Post travel section. The article talks about a "new trend" in photography - using film. While Ms. Kaplan's article deals mostly with the re-introduction of the Polaroid-style instant film, I thought I would open the can of worms on film and look back on my own film experience spanning 35 years.
I came to photography (and I am talking about something other than being an occasional snapshooter) later in life than a lot of people.I was 31 years old when my wife took me to a local electronics store in Fairfax, VA, and told me I could buy as 35mm SLR camera and lens. (Yes, she did give me a monetary limit. No top-of-the-line Nikon or Canon or the infamous rangefinder Leica!) I spent about an hour handling various camera bodies with their standard 1,8/50mm lenses. In the end, I picked an Olympus OM-10 and Zuiko 1,8/50mm as my weapon of choice. The year was 1978.
The next step, of course, was film selection. Within a short amount of time, I settled on two Kodak films - one color and one black&white. I would use these two films exclusively for the next 20-plus years.
Initially, I tried several color negative, or print, films. But those films just did not work for me. I enjoyed the one-hour processing but to see the images I needed to do prints. Yeah, I know that is so "old school" but scanners like my current Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED were not available to me back then. But the images from the various negative films did not strike a chord within me. You know, those images that just beg to be shared.
So I shifted to color positive, transparency/slide, film. One film began to stand out to my eyes. One of the top films of the day was Fuji Velvia, an ASA50 film, but I did not like the skin colors that Velvia registered. Kodak's Kodachrome25 renders the tones to my liking but was just too slow for my style of shooting. Enter Kodak's Kodachrom64. I was in love. Processing took longer but no need for prints so overall costs dropped. Add in that, in that day and age, most magazines would only accept slides for consideration to print.
For black&white films, it was different. My first roll went to the local one-hour processing lab again but the images came back all muddy. None of the great tonal range and contrast that I was seeing in the landscape prints of Ansel Adams (I had no knowledge of the Zone System at that time) or the images of Henri Cartier-Bresson and other photojournalists of the day. In the end, I took a couple of classes at the local community college and learned the rudimentary process to developing and printing my own images. What an amazing difference there was in b&w images when you have total control over the development and printing of them. I tried different Ilford and Kodak films and settled on Kodak Tri-X, an ASA400 speed film.
Today, the only film I shoot is Tri-X as Kodochrome64 is no longer available. And, even as good as K64 was, I am not sure I would have a need to shoot it today. As anyone who has visited this blog or my flickr stream, facebook pages, or website, it is apparent that I am totally hung up on b&w imagery. I was never a good color photographer in my opinion. I spend too much time watching expressions, movement, and the light that I very seldom remember the colors. My two new digital cameras are setup so their electronic viewfinders show only b&w representations and, for me, that is great as it helps me to photographically "see" the image better.
In my early shooting days, I reached a point where I would mentally "see" an images in b&w tones rather than color when I was shooting b&w film. I am not sure I could do that today with digital SLRs where you see only what the camera sees. But when I pul out my dad's old Yashica rangefinder, I do tend to see as I did back then. Something about shooting b&w film that triggers something in my brain.
For today's images, I dug into my negative files that I have scanned in the past year or so as I try to digitize everything. I picked one from my early days of shooting and one from 2011.
The first one is another of my wife on her birthday. It was shot with the same camera/lens combo she had let me buy the previous year and Tri-X film. Many people do not like Tri-X as it is too contrasty for their eyes but I love the rendering that Tri-X provides. Hell, sometimes I even boost the contrast a little!
 Besides the fact that this image conjures up all sorts of emotions within concerning my "model" here, I love how the Tri-X tonal range handles the light. At that time, I had been shooting enough Tri-X that, instead of "seeing" in color, my brain took over I saw her as this image presents - in black&white. Now I know she is a blue-eyed blonde but I cannot tell what shade of eyeshadow or fingernail polish she was using that day.
But the ability to "see" in b&w is something that has eluded me (not including the new cameras' capabilities) in recent years.
EXCEPT when I started using Tri-X in my dad's old Yashica rangefinder. There is something about shooting with film in that rangefinder that triggers the old responses. My mind doesn't necessarily disregard colors but tends to see the colors in shades of grey. When I develop the film these days, I can't remember what the colors were. The second image was shot during the Seaside Fourth of July parade in 2011. I was trying to see if I wanted to return to shooting nothing but film (something I may still do some day!). I know there was a lot of color that day but I have no idea what the colors were in this shot! All I saw was a range of greys.
 If you have looked at my flickr stream, you might have seen this image before. But I love the kid here. He was nice enough not to fire his water cannon but I love the story it tells.
Anyway, that is today's post. I never know what I am going to post so stop back by when you get a chance. There is no telling what dumb thing I will do or post next!!
And, as always, make a comment!! Let me know what you think! Until next time, keep on shooting.....


  1. Richard, which do you enjoy shooting most: digital or film?

    I recently shot a roll of film on my old Zenith B that I dug out of the loft to see the first light of day in about 30 years. Unlike you, I no longer have any darkroom kit so I sent it off for processing and scanning to CD and am eagerly waiting for the results in the post. My first shooting on film in many years!

    1. Oh, forgot to answer your question.

      I know I shoot more digitally than I do with film. Most of that has to do with the ease of digital. But as I continue to slow down in my shooting, I am still considering going back to analog at some point. Right now, I am still holding out some hope of getting paying gigs with the Fuji X-System cameras I have. But, at some point, digital may go away for me. I do know that when I am shooting digital I have a tendency to see colors whereas if I am shooting b&w film I pay no attention to the colors. My brain's "eye" just seems to see tones and light. In my Fuji cameras, I have set up the EVF displays to show a b&w representation. I only shoot in RAW but can do a film simulation that affects the EVF. So these digitals are really providing the best of both worlds right now for me. While I am still learning the cameras, I am getting more and more excited with their capabilities over the 10-year-old Nikon D2H bodies I sold.

      Oh, and sorry for the long replies. I can talk about images and photo gear till I have bored even the Pope!!!

    2. No need to apologise! I enjoy reading your posts.

  2. Would love to see the results, David! Can you send me a link when you get them up? I really do not have a darkroom, only chemicals and a double-zipper changing bag. I have to pretend I am in a darkroom by closing my eyes. It really heightens one's tactile senses. And the thrill I get when I open the can and see that there is actually something on the film, just can't be done by looking at them on the computer from a digital foray.

    1. I will let you know the link - if I get results worth posting! I don't know if you are familiar with the old Zenith B camera but it is very basic: no aperture priority or shutter priority - indeed no exposure meter at all (you had to go to the Zenith E for a meter built into the top of the camera) - far from having auto-focus it didn't even have the split prism focussing aid that most SLRs of the day had. But by far the most basic feature of all was that it didn't have an automatic diaphragm that closed down on pressing the shutter so you had to remember to manually turn the diaphragm ring round after focussing at widest aperture, before pressing the shutter, in order to shoot at the correct exposure instead of full aperture.

      When I was shooting off my roll of film the other week I kept saying to myself, "Now did I remember to stop down before pressing the shutter on that last frame?" I swear half the frames will come back exposed at F2 instead of the requisite aperture!

    2. Thanks for the lesson, David! Wow, talk about returning to the BASICS! My first "real" camera was an Olympus OM-10 so I did have aperture preferred mode along with a pretty good metering system. Toss in the split prism focusing and I guess I was just light years ahead of the Zenith B. Can't wait to see the images!!!

    3. I'm expecting them back through the post any day now!