Shooting film

by Chris Bertram on April 18, 2010

That’s enough on libertarianism … now for something completely different.

More velvia testing-5

I’ve taken up photography quite seriously over the past three years or so: a welcome distraction from other aspects of life, a source of great satisfaction when I get something right, and the occasion of new friendships (both off and on line). In one sense, photography in the digital age is easy, and it wasn’t hard for me to get to a level where I was producing pictures that I was very pleased with. But it some ways it is too easy, because you skip a proper understanding of why things are the way they are, because each additional picture is costless you can just shoot away and not worry as much as you should about technique and composition. So I’ve been shooting film more and more, and thereby discovering some things about the art and about myself.

Such as what? you might ask. Well here’s one trivial example: ISO. In the digital age ISO is something that you rack up to get a sufficiently fast shutter speed at the aperture you want, subject to the constraint that you don’t want the image too noisy. So faced with a dark interior: no problem, just make the sensor more sensitive. With a roll of film things are quite different. Your ISO is fixed for the next 12 or 36 exposures and it may significantly constrain your choices. So, shooting in the sunshine with an old camera (fastest shutter speed 1/300) and 400 ISO film, I realised that there was exactly one aperture I could choose. (And old cameras are lovely and fascinating, btw.) More significant, perhaps, is the way that film trains your head and where the sheer flexibility of digital gets in the way to learning to see things in the right way. If I load a film camera with Velvia, I quickly become aware of vivid colours and blocks of colour. If I’ve got a roll of black and white film, then I quickly become more attuned to line, light and shadow.

Using an old technology also makes you very sharply aware of how digital is changing society. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction? Don’t make me laugh. Even in that age, there were craft skills to learn, significant entry costs, and money to be made. The world where every amateur with a DSLR can produce images good enough for print and can license them for sale to Getty Images on Flickr is not a world where many people can earn their living from taking pictures. You have to be very special, very well networked or in some real niche market for that.

{ 62 comments }

1

nick s 04.18.10 at 7:22 pm

Just as photography changed the art of painting, digital imaging is changing the art of film photography. A friend of mine does wet-plate collodion work, which is High Victorian techno-magic with glass and chemicals and stopwatches. Niche markets are emerging for plates, and for tintypes and pinhole work and photos from plastic toy cameras and other deliberately constrained and imperfect working methods.

It helps that the price of most non-digital equipment has crashed as people offload their kit (there are bubbles in some cheap kit, and old Leicas and Zeiss glass hold their value) and cameras that were once rarely available get passed on to a new generation, along with the collective knowledge to get the best out of them. So even though the door is closing in some ways, as certain film stocks dwindle and processors shut up shop, it’s an exciting time to be shooting film.

2

Cranky Observer 04.18.10 at 7:41 pm

The 1970-1985 era mechanical cameras are supreme works of engineering and design – the absolute peak of their makers’ art. While one can argue that digital cameras are in many ways “better” than those cameras (for some value of “better”), I doubt that the lens from that era will ever be equaled in quality or variety.

Cranky

3

Tom R 04.18.10 at 8:14 pm

Is there any material you would suggest for a beginner who wants to get a bit serious about photography?

4

BettyPageisaBlonde 04.18.10 at 8:51 pm

One way I stay connected to the days of film is that I force myself to shoot with say one ISO (200) all day long or one aperture (f2.8) for an entire shoot. I also only shoot with manual focus. It really makes me think about my shots and find creative ways of capturing the moment.

Digital need not be bad, but training yourself to use the camera with constraints is really satisfying.

5

Miracle Max 04.18.10 at 8:51 pm

Speaking of Hayek . . .

6

Chris Bertram 04.18.10 at 9:48 pm

Tom @3 – there are some terrific websites and blogs around, but the ones I get the most benefit from are

http://www.theonlinephotographer.com/

and

http://shutterfinger.typepad.com/shutterfinger/

7

VV 04.18.10 at 10:03 pm

@2: Lenses are kind of useful for digital photography as well….

8

Metatone 04.18.10 at 10:12 pm

Tom @ 3

Some of the classic books, even the dreaded zone system ones are worth a look. I always got a lot out of the Hasselblad Manual by Ernst Wildi and the Ilford Darkroom Handbook.

On general topics:
I used to be a pro photog, moved into other things as the digital revolution really hit. It’s impossible to argue with the economics – you can get a good enough picture for nothing these days. I have lots of old fashioned nostalgia for the slightly better images I took than the essentially costless work of amateurs that is often used now… but that’s just nostalgia. The real quality decline is related to a technology, but not that of digital capture…

In the end, the nail in photography as craft is not so much digital capture as digital output. Fundamentally we’ve entered the age where output is created for the screen and then occasionally printed out… and it shows… when people go to galleries and see collections of old prints they are often blown away… and can’t quite articulate why…

The roots are in the low resolution screens, low dynamic range screens and uneven stepping algorithms in digital printing… I’m too tired for the full rant this evening… and yes, one can imagine a future where digital displays outstrip old-fashioned prints and things get better… but we aren’t there yet.

Note: this is about photography as craft – photography as art has a whole different set of problems… but that’s for another day.

9

Matt McGrattan 04.18.10 at 10:25 pm

re: VV in 7

When people make claims about particular historic eras of lens-manufacture [the 1950s to the 1970s tend to be the favoured ‘Golden age’] what they have in mind is that the economics have changed sufficiently that no-one could make lenses of the mechanical and optical quality of the very best historic lenses these days at a price anyone could actually afford. Not that no-one actually does make lenses of that quality at all.

Top end ‘consumer’ normal lenses [fast 50s, etc] of that period are closer in build quality to high-end ‘pro’ lenses of the like made today by Leica, or Zeiss, or Canon and Nikon (in their high-end range) than they are the sort of thing people typically get now with their £500 quid SLR.

10

Barry 04.18.10 at 11:04 pm

“The world where every amateur with a DSLR can produce images good enough for print and can license them for sale to Getty Images on Flickr is not a world where many people can earn their living from taking pictures. You have to be very special, very well networked or in some real niche market for that.”

And the world in, say 1995 *was* a world in which many more people earned such a living?

11

Kevin Carson 04.19.10 at 12:39 am

For some reason there’s been a lot of commentary lately on this phenomenon (disruptive innovation and the increasing feasibility of high-quality amateur production cutting into the rents for expertise). See, for example:

http://timothyblee.com/2010/04/01/the-bottom-up-revolution-in-photography/
http://blog.ericreasons.com/2010/04/amateur-ascendant-compromise-of.html

12

Randolph 04.19.10 at 12:48 am

Metatone, on the other hand, color printing has improved with digital–it is much easier to correct color and the prints are believed to last longer. HDR display is arriving and synthetic images have become a form in themselves. So the art is changing, but there’s still an art.

“More significant, perhaps, is the way that film trains your head and where the sheer flexibility of digital gets in the way to learning to see things in the right way. If I load a film camera with Velvia, I quickly become aware of vivid colours and blocks of colour. If I’ve got a roll of black and white film, then I quickly become more attuned to line, light and shadow.”

The key here, I believe, is thinking through to the finished work, screen or print, and the discipline to achieve that is harder with inexpensive digital equipment. Learning to do good photographic work, more than ever, is a matter of choosing a simple disciplined way of working with the technology and learning to pay attention to your aesthetic responses–you need to be able to get the equipment out of the way of your eye and hand. The small heavily-automated, irritatingly slow, inexpensive digital camera often gets in the way.

Perhaps there is a teaching method implied here, or a study method. One might start by imposing on oneself a set of different restrictions, one for each week of work. Then one might explore the best, or most interesting, or whatever of these. Hmmm.

Meantime, you’ll get my medium format equipment when you buy me comparable digital equipment. Considering that costs more than most new automobiles, I don’t think I’m giving up film in that format anytime soon.

Oh, Tom–I also like Strobist, http://strobist.blogspot.com/ , for its discussion of lighting design problems in field photography. Caponigro is really good on image processing–he concentrates on Photoshop, but the basic subject is there, even if you use The GIMP. A lot of photography is interacting with subjects and working with lighting, and that hasn’t changed–in these areas, older books do well.

13

Cranky Observer 04.19.10 at 12:48 am

> @2: Lenses are kind of useful for digital photography as well….

True, but that’s no guarantee the market will create lenses equivalent to the ones designed in the 1970s, and as far as I can see those available today aren’t even close.

Cranky

14

Substance McGravitas 04.19.10 at 1:07 am

For some reason there’s been a lot of commentary lately on this phenomenon (disruptive innovation and the increasing feasibility of high-quality amateur production cutting into the rents for expertise).

There was a request via an intranet forum at work for an “amateur photographer” to take wedding photos. It was about that long, so I have no further details.

15

John Quiggin 04.19.10 at 1:19 am

This is one aspect of the more general point that something is lost when a hard-to-use technology is replaced by an easy-to-use one

http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2004/01/26/the-hard-way/

16

afu 04.19.10 at 1:44 am

Such honest snobbery is hard to find these days, but I think it is getting in the way of a clear analysis of the situation. The reason pro photographers are having such a hard time lately are two fold. First, it’s a shitty economy so like everyone else they are having a hard time finding a job. Second the advertising based media economy, in which most pro photographers are employed is slowly collapsing. Lower ad revenues means lower salaries for everyone in the business.

I think it is a great time to be taking and consuming photography. I am often shocked at how shoddy the techniques were when looking at 30 year old magazines. I do think that photography might die away as a profession, but that would only because being able to take good pictures would become such a fundamental skill that it would just be assumed that to be educated one would know how to shoot.

True, but that’s no guarantee the market will create lenses equivalent to the ones designed in the 1970s, and as far as I can see those available today aren’t even close.

You have no idea what you are talking about, I suspect that you will try to come back with some old Leica porn, so I will preemptively bring up this.

17

Randolph 04.19.10 at 2:23 am

John, Ctein (of TOP, yes) has been saying that it’s difficult to be a pro in the most popular visual folk art for at least 15 years now. The problem has only gotten worse. It’s the age of the amateur, and anyone who thinks that’s an unmixed blessing has never had to clean up after an amateur electrician.

afo, “[…] being able to take good pictures would become such a fundamental skill that it would just be assumed that to be educated one would know how to shoot.”

Like being educated now means you know how to write? NOT!

18

Cranky Observer 04.19.10 at 2:44 am

> You have no idea what you are talking about, I suspect that you will try to
> come back with some old Leica porn, so I will preemptively bring up this.

Ha – just a few weeks ago I was reading a screamingly funny account of how around 1985 Leica was buying Minota lenses, putting their mount and frontpiece on them, and marking the price up from $300 to $1200 (1985 dollars). I recall reading many reviews at the time about how superior the Leica lenses were and thinking to myself, really?

19

David Hobby 04.19.10 at 3:04 am

afu–

I am completely awed by that lens. Things do keep getting better.

20

giotto 04.19.10 at 5:44 am

Chris, you say digital photography is easy, but it seems to me that film photography was once (or COULD be) easy as well. With Kodak’s introduction of the Brownie (ca. 1900 as I recall) film photography became very easy; and became easier with the introduction of later technologies designed to allow the amateur to snap photos and send the film off for processing. It is probably safe (??) to say that the overwhelming majority of film product was sold to amateurs who wanted easy and reliable ways to produce photos of family, vacations, etc. That is no different today; rather than comparing today’s amateur photography with yesterday’s serious hobbyist or pro, it might be productive to look at most digital cameras, especially point and shoots, as the equivalent to the Kodak Disc or Instamatic cameras, or to the Polaroids. In other words, your complaint– about missing stages of learning a craft–is not specific to digital. It just comes with the territory. Most camera owners over the last 50 years, certainly, have wanted to miss those stages, have preferred to not worry about ISO, aperture, f-stop, filters, etc. And apart from the idiosyncrasies of specific film stocks, just about problem posed by film photography can be found in digital. With any DSLR, and with some upper-end point and shoots like the Canon G-9 you can set things to manual and play with shutter speed and aperture and depth of field all you want. The main problem, perhaps, is that it is indeed more difficult to learn to see in black and white now, in the sense that one has to willingly train oneself to understand the dynamics of light independent of color. But that can still be done with digital.

The world where every amateur with a DSLR can produce images good enough for print and can license them for sale to Getty Images on Flickr. . .

I do not recognize that description. Images good enough for print, and to sell, still require craft, in the shooting and the processing. Most amateur work I’ve seen, say on Flickr, is pretty much like amateur work I saw in the film days: much of it competent, much of it drek, little of it memorable.

And count me in with Randolph @12 re color printing. I made color prints from film in enlargers in college, and contemporary technology is light years better and easier. No smelly chemicals, no warm water baths that have to be kept at specific temperatures, no multiple exposures trying to get the color balance right. . . The first time I color adjusted an image on the screen and printed it through a professional-quality ink jet printer I felt like I’d entered the promised land! I see no reason to lament to good old days on this one.

21

Chris Bertram 04.19.10 at 6:49 am

_Most amateur work I’ve seen, say on Flickr, is pretty much like amateur work I saw in the film days: much of it competent, much of it drek, little of it memorable._

Yes, there’s a sense in which what I said might have been misleading. The thing is there’s so much material around now, and in a form that’s easily available for browsing to people like advertisers, photo editors etc. Those people, on a tight budget no doubt, aren’t going to commission a pro to shoot something unless they have to. For many purposes, though most of the stuff on Flickr may be bad, they can still trawl through the available pool of licensable images and get something good enough, and for peanuts.

22

Chris Bertram 04.19.10 at 6:50 am

Oh, and right about colour printing too.

23

bad Jim 04.19.10 at 9:05 am

I embraced digital photography when I got enthusiastic about international travel. It’s cumbersome to walk through security with a bag full of unexposed rolls of film which you insist must not be x-rayed, and checked baggage is now even less safe than carry-on.

Both as a beach town resident and a tourist I resent photography for its restriction of my freedom. Every group wants pictures of themselves in front of traditional landmarks, forcing me (out of politeness, god forbid that I cross the sacred sight line) to halt my daily walk or defer my devoted appreciation to accommodate clueless fumblers painstakingly replicating postcards.

It’s my casual impression that the average camera user is afraid to shoot anything unfamiliar, and that the Mona Lisa is the most popular and least appropriate subject in the Louvre.

If my best photographs were those I printed myself in the darkroom my father built in the garage, it was likeliest due less to my eye or technique than the youth of my subjects.

24

John Meredith 04.19.10 at 10:02 am

Don’t forget, too, that film cameras are not only beautiful and facsinating machines to use but for a few pounds you can get optics that would cost you literally thousands if you were to start in on digital now (I mean this literaklly, £20-£25 will buy you a camera with a superb lens).

A £200 second-hand contax point and shoot film camera will take professional quality images that you would need unaffordable (for most of us amateurs) top-end Nikon glass to achieve in digital.

25

Matt McGrattan 04.19.10 at 10:15 am

24 is only sort of true, I think. I have a couple of really high-end compact film cameras of the type you describe.

It is true that they have fantastic lenses, and also (for me at least) much better ergonomics than a lot of equivalent digital cameras. But the process of getting the images off of the film really is the weak link, there. If you send the film out for printing and scanning, you really need to spend a lot of money with a pro-lab to get scans and/or prints that really do justice to the quality of the negatives; and if you scan it yourself you’ll need a fairly high-end scanner and quite a lot of time. I’d be very surprised if, shooting colour, you really notice much benefit over a mid-range dSLR with decent quality but not super-high-end prime lenses. Although, of course, the mid-range dSLR and prime lenses is going to be a lot larger and more expensive (in the short term) than your Contax T2, or Hexar AF, or whatever.

26

novakant 04.19.10 at 11:52 am

There seems to be some confusion about lenses. I only know this about Nikon, but if you have one of their pro DSLRs you can use many of their old lenses built in the pre-digital age. Some don’t work because of the mount, some features might be restricted, because the lenses weren’t built with those in mind, but the bottom line is that there is no fundamental difference between those lenses.

And as far as digital technology making things easier – that’s at least not the case in film. Today, almost all films are edited digitally and most films are color corrected digitally as well – that is, while shooting on film as opposed to digital is still the norm (at least for features), editing and color grading is done digitally. Back in the good old days an editor had to learn how to operate a Moviola or a Steenbeck and the people in the lab would sometimes push the film a stop or two at the request of the DoP, but the technology used was quite simple to learn and operate – which was great at least for editors, since they could concentrate on the art of putting a sequence of shots together. Nowadays an editor has learn and keep up to date with all sorts of software and hardware and color correction has become a proper career in its own right. This stuff is hard and a lot of work. Of course, anybody can buy a camcorder and edit on Imovie or something, but that is just the equivalent to Super 8 amateur productions.

27

alex 04.19.10 at 12:36 pm

…the Mona Lisa is the most popular and least appropriate subject in the Louvre.

I treasure my shots of a scrum of about sixty people all struggling simultaneously to photograph something about the size of an A4 sheet of paper behind [reflective] bullet-proof glass… The work of art in the age of incompetent reproduction…

28

JoB 04.19.10 at 1:19 pm

Personally I treasure the shot of the about 100 people simultaneously photographing such 60-people scrums.

29

Tim Wilkinson 04.19.10 at 1:40 pm

Reminds me of this one of the G20 ‘riot’ in London. IIRC, and I’m pretty sure I do, there’s another which also shows a row of police standing back and calmly watching, but couldn’t quickly locate it.

30

VV 04.19.10 at 2:09 pm

@Cranky “True, but that’s no guarantee the market will create lenses equivalent to the ones designed in the 1970s, and as far as I can see those available today aren’t even close.”

I am not sure what you mean. Nikon and Canon digital SLRs take the same lenses…. (I don’t know whether the mounts have remained the same since the 70s but definitely they’re the same as the last few generations of film cameras….)

31

Bloix 04.19.10 at 2:10 pm

A major difference between the historical pro and the amateur was that the pro understood that you have to take a hundred shots to get one or two worth keeping, while the average amateur was unable to deal with the expense, inconvenience, and waste of carrying around dozens of rolls and then paying for processing or taking the time to DIY. Now anyone can take 100 shots , see them immediately, and delete all but a handfull, with no cost and no inconvenience. The ability to shoot many shots and to see and delete them creates a much more level playing field.

32

VV 04.19.10 at 2:10 pm

I meant they take the same lenses as non-digital SLRs from the same companies (not, alas, the same with each other)

33

Ceri B. 04.19.10 at 2:21 pm

Bloix@31 makes most of the point I wanted to, so I’ll just add this: the ability to handle everything after shooting on one’s own computer really seriously opened up photography to people with a lot of kinds of disabilities, from movement impairment to immune trouble with developing chemicals. It also works out well for people with a wide range of visual problems, who can now make their photos look the way that’s best for their needs and never mind how it seems to anyone else.

34

Matt McGrattan 04.19.10 at 3:08 pm

I think most of the major lens manufacturers would claim their current products are as good or better than anything they made in the past. Improvements in computer-aided optical design, lens coatings, precision manufacturing with finer tolerances, and so on, mean that the very best of what can currently be made in the ‘price-is-no-object’ range is pretty amazing. Canon, Nikon, Leica and Zeiss still make a lot of their old lens designs. If you want to buy a 50mm Sonnar, or a 90mm Summicron, or whatever, you can go out and get one tomorrow. It’s just that those sorts of lenses are very very expensive relative to the polycarbonate-bodied slow-speed super-zooms that most people use.

The high-quality metal-bodied fast prime standard lens that manufacturers used to supply as a loss-leader on SLRs is now a thing of the past, but the modern kit-zoom is a lot better than the kit-zooms of the past.

35

Matt McGrattan 04.19.10 at 3:08 pm

I think Chris is absolutely right, though, that using older cameras, and working within limitations is a fantastic spur to discovery.

36

Bernard Yomtov 04.19.10 at 5:47 pm

If you really want to discipline your photography get a hold of a view camera, say a 4×5, and learn to use it.

It’s a completely different experience from shooting with any hand-held camera, film or digital. Not only are focus and exposure manual, but so are the relative orientations of the film, lens, and subject planes. It takes a while to set up a shot, and each one is expensive, so you develop great care in checking framing, focus, depth of field, etc. Spend time looking at the corners of an upside down image, through a loupe, under a cloth, and you will want to make every shot count.

Just use it every so often, and you will find the discipline carries over into the rest of your photography.

37

astrongmaybe 04.19.10 at 7:23 pm

The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction? Don’t make me laugh.

Blame the first translator. Walter Benjamin never used the phrase; his essay is on “the work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility.”

And his “A Small History of Photography” is also a kind of paean to old photographic technology, the slow deliberation required for the daguerrotype compared to the speed and instantaneity of 1920s cameras…

38

dswift 04.19.10 at 7:52 pm

When shutterbugs talk about lenses, it sounds just like the Mac v PC crowd which sounds just like the Ford v Chevy crowd.

Absolutist pronouncements are silly. Within the same batch, lenses will vary in quality. Anyway, we remain plagued by sharp pictures of fuzzy concepts, to quote Ansel.

Chris Bertram’s point bears repeating: an artificial limitation is annoying, then instructive, and finally liberating. If you’re up to it. When I take a hike or a light trip, I pack either a 24mm or a 200. I won’t often stop to shoot but when a do, there’s a good reason.

Randolph @12 gets to the real bummer of the digital revolution: chip size. We don’t need denser sensors. We need physically larger sensors. I want to use my Pentax 645 glass again. Because my 645 Takumars are better than any of all of youse guyses lenses, ever.

39

Cranky Observer 04.19.10 at 10:13 pm

Per #38, I really didn’t intend to re-ignite the gear wars of the 1970s and in doing so hijack Chris’ post which was quite insightful.

Good thing we didn’t have the Internet back then and had to settle for writing LTEs; gave us more time to actually do things.

Cranky

40

Jon Erickson 04.19.10 at 10:59 pm

On the other hand, because “each additional picture is costless” (excepting one’s time) and “you can just shoot away,” it’s possible for the attentive photographer using digital to make adjustments on the go, thanks to the camera’s more or less instantaneous ability to give feedback.

Chris, when you send your film out to be processed, do you have the developed images scanned to a digital format? Whatever one’s preferred tool for initial capture, it seems to me the most useful advancements in recent imaging technology lie in the digital darkroom.

41

Bruce Baugh 04.19.10 at 11:30 pm

The thing about consciously chosen limits – “artificial” seems odd, in that I don’t think cameras occur in nature anyway – is that they’re liberating if you can get over the hurdle of working within them in the first place. But gatekeeping is tricky business.

42

tomslee 04.20.10 at 12:41 am

As some of you know already, I’m sure, Jon Elster has written a lot about the creative role of constraints in art and elsewhere, including arbitrary and seemingly perverse constraints such as those CB imposes on himself. See Ulysses Unbound. He goes into the formal structures and conventions in Jazz and blues, the extremes of Oulipo, and more.

I know nothing of photography – thanks for the post and the discussion.

43

Randolph 04.20.10 at 4:51 am

dswift, Pentax plans to start shipping the 645D next month and you’ll be able decide if you want to put $9400 where your mouth is:
  http://www.dpreview.com/news/1003/10031002pentax645d.asp

Jon Erickson, “it’s possible for the attentive photographer using digital to make adjustments on the go, thanks to the camera’s more or less instantaneous ability to give feedback.” This was what Polaroid backs were for, when. But using a Polaroid back was an expensive professional technique: it took a medium-format camera to make a big enough image, the back was expensive, and the “film” cost perhaps $1 a shot. So chalk up one more win for digital.

44

Chris Bertram 04.20.10 at 9:11 am

Jon Erickson:

Yes, I either scan the negative myself (with black and white film which I’ve processed myself) or if I’ve sent colour to a lab (usually E6 process) I get them to provide a scan. I’ve obtained an old enlarger with a view to making prints old-style, but I haven’t yet got round to setting up a proper darkroom.

45

alex 04.20.10 at 1:18 pm

Personally I treasure the shot of the about 100 people simultaneously photographing such 60-people scrums.

Ah, but you see, I was there, and there weren’t 100 people taking that picture, there was only me; but there were definitely 60 people fighting to take a much worse picture than they could buy on a postcard from the shop. So your comment is just a cheap and obvious crack, whereas mine is a poignant commentary on the existential disconnection between seeing, doing and possessing that which is allegedly ‘Art’.

Or something.

46

Chris Bertram 04.20.10 at 1:34 pm

alex @45 – well Martin Parr is the master at this kind of thing. Mind you, I had a go myself:

Little Mermaid

47

JoB 04.20.10 at 1:48 pm

45- The other 99 were right behind you thinking about something in quotation marks. But I will gladly admit it’s better than shooting guns; even better than shooting ducks.

48

alex 04.20.10 at 2:08 pm

Hmm, then they were 2-dimensional, because I was standing up against the wall… Anyway, what do I know about ‘Art’? I think one of the most interesting things in the Louvre is trying to decipher the 17th-century graffiti scratched into 16th-century statues, how sad is that?

49

JoB 04.20.10 at 2:17 pm

Not much sadder than taking pictures of people taking pictures ;-)

50

alex 04.20.10 at 2:41 pm

But you were the one who claimed to be taking pictures of people taking pictures of people taking pictures… If only we had a picture of that, eh?

51

Randolph 04.20.10 at 3:22 pm

BTW, good used medium-format film cameras are only expensive these days, not so expensive that only pros and rich amateurs can afford them. And the medium-format film scans very nicely–it’s big enough to scan on a modern flatbed scanner.

52

Matt McGrattan 04.20.10 at 4:09 pm

re: 51

If you are lucky, good medium format cameras can be genuinely cheap these days. One UK second-hand retailer occasionally has decent post-war Rolleiflexes for 100 quid or less. Slightly less often, I’ve seen Bronicas and Mamiya RB/RZs for not much more.

53

novakant 04.20.10 at 4:51 pm

But the process of getting the images off of the film really is the weak link, there. If you send the film out for printing and scanning, you really need to spend a lot of money with a pro-lab to get scans and/or prints that really do justice to the quality of the negatives; and if you scan it yourself you’ll need a fairly high-end scanner and quite a lot of time.

That’s the thing – while it’s of course an essential skill to be able to judge the interplay of lighting situations and film stocks intuitively and adjust the settings on your camera accordingly, there is no special magic about it and post-production is and has always been a major part of professional imaging. Ansel Adams spent ages in the dark room trying out all sorts of techniques and Roger Deakins, one of the best cinematographers, was the first to fully make use of the digital technology that allowed him to grade the footage after the shoot.

So if amateur photographers today have the opportunity to shoot RAW and make such adjustments in Photoshop, I think they are in a much better situation than those who had to entrust their film to a lab, which generally would just apply some off-the-shelf settings. Of course there is the danger that your average user will just stick to some preset that makes all their photos look decent enough, while they will never learn the basics of color and light, but in general digital technology has given people much more freedom and independence – it’s not the tool, but the artist.

54

JoB 04.20.10 at 5:06 pm

50- There’s just no come back to that one. Or, wait! …. Nope, there isn’t. Carry on. For some unfathomable reason you seem to be enjoying yourselves.

55

Bloix 04.20.10 at 7:14 pm

Now THIS is a picture of people taking pictures:
http://www.marcriboud.com/marcriboud/accueil.html

56

Bloix 04.20.10 at 7:17 pm

Oh dear, that link won’t take you to it. but this one will:
http://www.hackelbury.co.uk/artists/riboud/riboud_pic13.html

57

JR 04.21.10 at 7:14 pm

Hi,

I have a little collection of photographic stuff, like a steroscope with about 500 cards, and a set of accumulated cameras.

I learned on the Rolliflex in the late 60s which was pretty interesting, backwards images at football games on Friday nights! But for late-breaking things, mostly auto accidents at midnight, we had a 4×5 Speed Graphic with a Polaroid back, so we had a print that was useful when we got back to the newsroom. Still got both of those!

Later on I picked up a smaller format Speed Graphic that used R120 film, like the Rollie. I also was offered a Leica at a VERY good price 20 years ago by a fellow who I suspect… well never mind that. Couldn’t say no, didn’t think it was stolen, still got it too. It was built before any of us was born, I suspect.

My Dad bought a set of Nikon equipment when he retired, and I got that equipment too, when he died. My great-uncle had Exacta stuff from East Germany, not as pretty as Nikon, but still pretty sweet optics. I picked up a Nippon Kogaku F55 Micro-Nikkor at an antique shop not too long ago, no telling how old that is.

Now I shoot with a Nikon D70… I like the 60mm Micro Nikkor, no zoom but WOW that’s some good glass! The zoom stuff is OK, but no speed, and the precision isn’t there that the Macro lens provides – down to about an inch. I use it for non-close up stuff a lot, just because it is so sweet. I do use the kit lens for travelling, it’s just too useful.

My first digital was a Nikon Coolpix 990, still works, still a good camera. If you buy a Nikon DSLR you can get excellent lenses, but they cost a 4 digit number, not a 3 digit number. The entry level lenses are OK for an amateur (like me) but I can tell the difference, which is why I have the one really good piece of glass.

The remarks about color printing are… right on. I used Cibachrome to print from Kodachrome slides, and those prints, 30 years later on, look really sharp, even though I wasn’t using state-of-the-art hardware back then.

But being able to shoot 500 shots on a SD card, that IS priceless! I used 2 SD cards on a 2 week trip to the Four Corners country, where Utah, CO, AZ and NM all come together. Unbelievable scenery, people, art, history. I would have spent hundreds of dollars on film, processing and printing. Not today. Thank the digital wizards!!

That’s where the value comes in, no chemicals, no film, no silver compounds. I hate it that the hard earned skill of spooling film in the dark is useless, but I’m glad I don’t have to do it any more.

58

Bernard Yomtov 04.22.10 at 1:21 am

JR,

I hate it that the hard earned skill of spooling film in the dark is useless, but I’m glad I don’t have to do it any more.

I’m glad too, especially since I never quite mastered the skill, and had too many rolls emerge from the process with “purple hearts.”

Spooling film onto those reels, in the dark, is for masochists only.

59

dswift 04.23.10 at 2:49 pm

Quelle threaddrift! I am suckered in, sad to say.

Randolph @43: Alas, the Pentax sensor is akin to the annoying 1.6 factor I suffered with my Canons until the 5D. It just so happens that I get pretty much the same image size (7k pixels long) when I stitch together two 5D frames. (This is too easy, especially with the 45mm and 90mm TS lenses, which shift about one entire frame with zero distortion. Photoshop’s “photomerge” script finishes them instantly and almost always perfectly.)

So, one can buy one Pentax 645D body. Or for the same money buy two Canon 5D MkIIs plus a bagful of good glass. Tough choice; why, the Pentax has more ways to meter a scene than there are scenes! I’ll have to wait until Pentax has a two-for-one sale. I always work with at least two bodies for obvious backup reasons, and because the less often a lens is changed, the less dust settles on the sensor.

Bernard @58. I feel your pain, indirectly. Spooling 35mm and 120/220 film onto those stainless steel spools is tricky. I’ve tried to teach it with little success. It’s frustrating, which causes the hands to sweat, which causes more frustration. Drop a spool on the floor and it’ll never work right again — and the good ones are (were) expensive. During my tenure as a college and newspaper photog, I processed, oh, not quite one zillion rolls. I learned to carefully get the first wind perfect, then the rest takes care of itself. Come to think of it, years before I finally escaped darkroom duties I despised everything about it (that’s some nasty chem in there) except loading film. I’m no masochist. Winding each roll was my moment of zen.

60

Randolph 04.24.10 at 11:20 am

dswift@59: Very good points. What impresses me most about the 645D is the sensor dynamic range of 11.5 stops, which is comparable to print film. Canon doesn’t even publish that spec for the 5D. I’m not sure how much that matters to most photographers, though. I like & work with contrasty scenes, and I’m also starting out as a lighting designer, so being able to record a broad range of contrast is valuable to me, but these are idiosyncratic preferences. It will be interesting to see if this camera finds wide application!

61

Randolph 04.24.10 at 11:29 am

Oh, yes. First look at the 645D at Luminous Landscape:
http://luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/pentax645d-1st.shtml

62

Bill Benzon 04.25.10 at 12:43 am

A former teacher, Bruce Jackson says this:

I’m been working with a Leica M9 lately, mostly with a 28mm lens, something my old 35mm. It’s very different than working with my Nikons, with which I mostly use zooms. Going out with the Leica and one lens forces me to think more, to see more. We’re going to Paris for a week in June and I’m torn about which camera to take along–which is to say, which way I’ll look at things. I’m still working on this Buffalo series. As soon as it warms up a bit I hope to find someone who’ll take me out in a boat along Lake Erie and up and down the Buffalo River so I can get some of those structures from the water side.

About these photos:

http://brucejacksonphotography.us/PIB/index.html

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