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I’m including in this post a link to a great excerpt on the ongoing argument of Digital vs. Film (analogue). http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/not-film.shtml. This issue has been argued so often and with so little real positive results that it begs the question… why continue it? Yet people often do, as they feel this need to be right about what they shoot.  I think it important to point out that while you will find images in this blog shot on Canon and Pentax DSLR cameras, you will also find those that have been shot on Velvia 100 film using a Fuji GX617 camera and B+W Kaesman polarizer.

For me, I shoot both film and digital and each are unique and valuable in their own right. Digital cannot compete with the Dynamic Range and saturated colors of Velvia film just as film cannot compete with the speed and flexibility of a good DSLR. The Canon 5DMKII and 5DMKIII and the Nikon D700 and D800 and Pentax K-5 are all good cameras. Whether they are “great” cameras depends on what you are using them for. If I were going to a Laker game I would surely want to bring along a Nikon, Canon or Pentax DSLR. Capturing a moving airplane… DSLR. Shooting birds in flight… DSLR. Shooting the Grand Canyon at sunset… take your pic (pun intended). Shooting the Grand Canyon at sunset with the intent of blowing the image up to 30×50 or larger and putting in a gallery… the best choice would be film, no question! Of course, the 60 and 200 megapixel backs now available by Phase One are challenging that statement more and more. This of course is a horse of another color as medium format SLR cameras are quickly becoming the gold standard for professional shooters.

So why film at all then? Well, it’s hard to explain to someone that has never shot film or shot it for any period of time. There are many reasons, all of which will be highly debated but here they are:

1) The Tonal Range of film is so hard to beat by a digital sensor. Sure, digital sensors are making leaps and bounds in terms of dynamic range but Film is so simple: organic emulsion in layers that has a chemical reaction to the light reflected upon it. A Digital image is an engineer’s interpretation of what light should look like. Digital sensors must be engineered and then reverse engineered with anti-aliasing or low pass and even color correcting filters to correct for moire. A problem not experienced in film as film does not use mechanical pixels.

2) Film is romantic to a degree. It’s like a woman, you must keep it at the right temperature, then take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you’re ready to shoot, then you must be careful loading it and (if you are using a rangefinder camera), you’ll need a good light meter and have to guess at what is the best shutter speed for your composition. In other words, film is temperamental.

3) Panoramic photography: this is where film takes the center stage. I was talking with a friend of mine and fellow photographer about the ability to capture on digital the wide-panoramic shots that you can get with film when using a 6×12, 6×17 or 6×24 film camera. My friend loaned me a Nodal point slide-shift adapter which allows you to turn a DSLR or SLR camera on edge and move the camera back on a tripod to center its lens over the “nodal point” and then in degreed increments, pan the camera taking a series of images that can later be stitched. After using it for several weeks, I returned and we compared notes. I surmised that only certain pictures could be accurately shot and effectively stitched to create a viable panorama that would match a film image. My friend said he could do anything on digital that could be done on film. Both of us needing the work of a master to compare turned to the panoramic prints shot by Peter Lik. We took 50 prints in total and reviewed them closely. Out of the 50 we reviewed, we both concluded that 38 of the 50 could NOT have been recreated, with any degree of accuracy, on digital format. My friend changed his view of film that day.  It is because when photographing fast moving clouds or water, set against an immovable background like mountains, trees or a monument (especially at sunset or sunrise) you need a single image to get all the elements working cohesively in the same plane.  When clouds move and the sun is rising or falling, you have just seconds and those seconds really count.  Most DSLR and SLR cameras (shooting RAW) need time to process the image and that in-camera lag time, coupled with shutter lag, allows nature to continue doing what it does best… move.  Waves don’t stop just because your camera is busy, clouds don’t pause and the sun… well its schedule is as regular as it gets.  So while you can make some cool looking panorama’s on a DSLR or SLR camera with an adapter and much post-processing and stitching, this is one arena where the panoramic film camera has little, if any competition.

4) Film images adorn the halls of the White House, Buckingham Palace, the Library and Halls of Congress and many noted places throughout the world. Digital is still so new it hasn’t had time to make such achievements, except in small doses by those able and willing to pay for the expensive MF SLR camera equipment. I still recall my first digital camera. It was 3 megapixels and about the same size of a Mamiya 7II with a 3.5 hard disk that also worked in a computers floppy disk drive, which is what the camera was designed around. The images were poor and mostly used to document work in the field as I was a construction manager at the time. This was just 12 years ago! A Hasselblad MF film camera on the other hand accompanied astronauts to the moon in the 1960’s and took the first images of the gray planet to bring back to the world. Canon and Nikon have never been to the moon, let alone traveled in space.

Can digital surpass film… absolutely! The Hubble Telescope has proved that, taking extremely large and high resolution images of distant planets and galaxies and beaming them back to earth at near light speed. The cost however would bankrupt a small country!  Someday, sadly, film cameras may become a thing of the past, the “once was” and “back when’s” yet for the time being I’m happy employing my Fuji GX617 every chance I get and I have no plans to retire it anytime soon… even if Mamiya or Pentax come out with a high resolution, MF SLR camera that the average person can afford.

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