New year and a new camera

‘A new year and a new camera’. This is how I wanted to start off my first post of 2012. I wanted to feature a great shot I had taken with my brand new Fuji X100 digital camera- an exciting concept for a lover of film and analogue cameras.

But it is just not happening for me, whilst the X100 is a joy to use and beautifully designed I have yet to take a ‘good’ shot. I wanted to comment on the Film v Digital debate that is still raging across online photography forums. I wanted to casually say what a boring argument it is. I wanted to compare it to the numerous talks I have been to where, when faced with and amazing inspiring photographer willing to talk about their work, there would always be some nerd asking “What film do you use?”. To me it’s just not important as long as you get the shot.

But instead, I have spent the week trying to analyse exactly what it is, that is lacking from my digitally rendered images. For now I am putting it down to the fact that you just don’t get great pictures every time. The lack of, and quality of light in the middle of winter.  Maybe these are excuses, but this is where I am.. still wondering and unsure.

It will take me time and practice before I become as fluent with the X100 as I am with my Nikons and Mamiya 7, and I will continue to shoot film also. But for now until I have mastered my new piece of kit. Here is a photograph taken on film with my 21 year old Nikon F3. A photograph celebrating the creamy colours of Kodak Portra, as sadly, Kodak files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

  1. Lovely photo. But does it matter which camera it was taken on? Digital or analogue, you can create photos which are elegant, well crafted, beautiful, well exposed and sharp, or spontaneous, fuzzy and badly exposed. You can choose to use a grainy b/w film and push it to emphasise the grain, you can choose to shoot on Velvia – that’s not the magic of film, that’s the photographer making the choice of film and process.

    Sometimes [we] photographers love to suffer, we love what we think are the accidents of processing, of exposure, of composition, and give all the credit for this to the camera. Really, we did it, by choosing how to shoot, how careless or careful to be. Then, and now.

    I do miss Tri-X and D76, of course I do, but if I want that look now, I can create it in the choice of how I shoot, on what and how I process the image … just as I did then, though. What I don’t miss are colours drifting depending on who was running the E6 line that day, cold Polaroids that wouldn’t develop, green shifts on long exposures on Fuji, not being able to get good flesh tones when Fuji switched from RDP – really, film was a nightmare to use.

    Love that X100 and what it can do for you, it’s you taking the photos, not the camera

    (PS shooting and processing in RAW format will give you every kind of film you ever wanted, reliably)

    • Thanks for leaving such an involved comment. It is very welcome.
      Of course, you are right. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what camera/format you use as long as you get a great picture. This is what I had been intending to say in this post and I made a similar point in my post Paris Train.

      However when it came down to shooting digitally I was disappointed; there was something missing. Something I am still trying to put my finger on. Digital capture results in an image that seems to be flatter, has less sense of depth/perspective…To me a digital image looks more like a scan of a scene, than a photograph.

      It is early days for me and my digital camera, but I am surprised by how different the medium is from film. And my reasons for loving film are not just nostalgic as I have mentioned above. So many photographers shoot digital and then add post production effects to recreate the look of film. Hense the popularity of ‘instagram’and many other apps.

      It is an interesting debate (film v digital) and despite the many and various debates of the subject I still haven’t heard anyone describe the difference accurately and distinctly. But I know I will get a great shots with the X100. I am just finding it more difficult, as I haven’t yet mastered it. In the same way that I initially found it is easier to get a good shot in black and white than in colour. I am just in the process of figuring it all out..

    • Thanks for the tips. I have been shooting in RAW and processing in Aperture. Seems to be working well for me now.

  2. There is a reason why photographers recreate the look of film – that’s what we’re used to (and love) so we know what’s normal. Digital, when you start with it, is neutral, it’s meant to be. Film, although it was intended to be neutral, usually wasn’t. I’ve just looked at the Kodak reversal page, and it describes KODAK PROFESSIONAL EKTACHROME Film E100G
    — for natural skin tones and virtually grainless images, and KODAK PROFESSIONAL EKTACHROME Film E100VS — for vivid, saturated color. The former is more accurate, but I’d bet that most people prefer the punchy (and oversaturated) colours of the latter. Both are film and both wildly different, as would be anything from Fuji, Agfa (do they still make film?). There is no one ‘film’, there are many, and none is perfect. But you make the choice of which one, and what look that you want.

    The secret of shooting digital is to understand that you do have choices to make, to make the photo your own. When you shoot with film, you’ve already made your choices when you pick that film, that process.

    If you want to compare like with like, then when you shoot digitally to need to process carefully from a raw file, and process to your own taste – only then will you get what you want, and only then will you start to match the choices that you made when you shot with film.

    There is a myth that photographers like to believe in, that the photograph is a neutral record of what’s in front of them, that if they just take a photo, then it’s ‘true’. If you follow this logic with digital and don’t touch what comes off the card, it’s very easy to take this ‘true’ photo and be very disappointed that the image is flat/dull/lifeless. But, if you then run it through Photoshop and make it look better, then it’s not ‘true’ any more and so is not ‘valid’ so digital is written off for being boring – or for being retouched. Damned both ways!

    The reason this myth has any legs is that photographers conveniently forget that they already HAVE altered the image, by choosing a bright contrasty film, by pushing it to gain speed and grain, by burning and dodging in the darkroom, by cropping, by exposing a particular way – all choices that they made to move the image away from neutral.

    So shoot only raw and fine tune your best shots and you’ll get back ‘film’ very quickly.

    Here’s an experiment – shoot several (short) rolls of different films on holiday, say, and when they’re processed, try to describe what is it exactly that’s ‘good’ about any particular film, and why is that better than another. Then try to recreate that combination on digital.

    Digital pushes us harder to define what we value about an image in the way that it’s made. Be bold, explore that world with a brave heart.

  3. I’ve done both digital and film. Love both. Enjoy the economics of digital. Love the ‘hands on’ of film and darkroom. Things evolve. Some things we hang on to, others we let go of. Enjoyed your blog and your website.

  4. Matt said:

    I used to shoot in black and white film at college and loved the deep contrast in photos – maybe this was because I was developing them myself though! With analogue I think you always take just that little bit more time composing the image and making sure the camera settings are correct – you know it’s a one shot deal. Maybe that, with the additional grain, makes a better photo?

    With digital, although I still take time to compose, I’m free to experiment more and know that if something doesn’t work it can just be deleted. At least I tried though.

    Regardless, you have some lovely photos on your blog and I’m liking the way you just stop people and take photos of them! I just have to make sure my subject isn’t eaten before I take photos….

    • Thanks Matt, Maybe I should do some food photography for you as a trade for some blogging expertise..

  5. I have had my X100 for about 18 months now and often use it for street portraits. I use both film and digital and don’t really have a problem with getting good shots with the Fuji. I also use Nikon digitals (D300s and D700) and swap around depending on what type of shot I want. I have found that the Fuji performs great in low light conditions; better than the D300s and equal to the D700. To get the real film look with digital you just need to shoot RAW and process with photoshop and Nik plugins. Silver effex will produce very film looking black and white images. You can even choose the film type you want to reproduce.

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