There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.
Camera of the month update…
I’m always rather hopeless at these camera resolutions - “one camera one lens for a year” is something I could never contemplate, and “a shot a day” or even “a shot a week” serves to discourage me from taking any photos at all.
I started this year with two mini-resolutions: firstly to use primarily one camera each month, and secondly to shoot a sheet of large format film every week. I dropped out of the latter after two weeks, but have kept up the former, in a manner at least.
January I shot with the Fuji GW690 III most of the time, and February with the Kodak Retina IIa. Unfortunately February was one of those months where I hardly shot a thing. I only put one film through the Retina, and only finished it just now, 2nd of March. And I started that film in January!
Oh well - I’ll attempt to develop it this afternoon and we shall see.
Now what shall I shoot during March? Any suggestions? 35mm? Medium or large format? TLR, rangefinder, SLR? Leica, Nikon… any of the other various things I have.
Why I shoot film
A consideration of the question “why I shoot film” in which I cause offence to everyone who chooses not to use a digital camera1.
Warning: contains drivel and unsubstantiated assertions!
There are no good reasons to shoot film which cannot be dismissed with barely a thought.
The usual arguments of hardware cost (the myth of the affordable Hasselblad); image quality (smallish format digital overtook 35mm years ago and most film shooters still shoot 35mm); archival quality (again digital storage and good ink-jet prints, are far more archival than film. A well washed fibre based b&w silver print is good for 100 years in optimum conditions and needs special handling to get longer, this was overtaken by ink-jet when I still printed my own back in 2005. As for colour: ink-jet exceeds C print stability so far it is not even playing the same game anymore).
So why do we in this tiny, inward-looking corner of the photographic world continue to shoot film? It seems a number of people get asked this by persons other than themselves and often have a good answer (see this and this small post by @jenquest as a fairly typical example). My usual response is “because I like it" which is a bit like answering a small child’s interminable questions: it is a non-answer which, in uncontrolled circumstances, can go disastrously wrong leading to a cycle of "but why?". In this case the uncontrolled circumstances are my unmedicated brain so what follows could well be even more stream of conscious-y drivel than usual.
My first step in considering but why leads very rapidly through a mind-numbing labyrinth of references to four of the finest draughtsmen of the 20th century: David Hockney, Lucien Freud, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali2. The thing about the drawings of these (and others) is a combination of the precision of the placement of marks, the fluidity of mark making, the variety (or specific lack thereof) of mark and, possibly most important, what they left out. Any graduate of a decent art school can draw3 but there is a rift between pleasing rendering in two dimensions and the simple quality of great drawing. I am going to leave this line of thought here but it is not a cul-de-sac: we are at a junction and it is time to give way.
In 2008 I could see a time when I would never again shoot 35mm film. I am still not a fan of 35mm because it is just too small and too bitty. I shoot a lot of it because of the variety of film types available which cannot be acquired in larger formats. Even though the main two films I use are available in pretty much any size (subject to finance) there are times when one needs the peculiar properties of gritty Russian copy film, deep American cine stock or weird ortho-pan with grain as low as it red sensitivity. A very small proportion of my photographic output appears on Flexar&c and even that delves into some film not available in anything other than 135. For most sensible purposes there is no good reason for shooting any film smaller than 5x7. Digital capture, output and storage have all exceeded the ‘quality’ of small format films if quality is judged by the typical High Court Judge. Another junction.
Let us put subminiature aside. Even when film was the only (well, you know what I mean) way to photograph, subminiature was a weird niche cult. Now it is the weird niche cult within a weird niche cult and they won’t accept that their format of choice is crap and always was. APS is subminiature and you deserve to be clumped with that abomination you weirdos (I am keeping at least one subminiature camera at the end of this year, just not sure which - but it will not be an APS: a format even I have never used).
Once we have tucked the submin lunatics up in their asylum we can safely state that 4x5 is the most pointless format. Too small to contact print, two big to be user friendly. I used to have a 4x5 enlarger: a huge hulking De Vere. I used to let other photographers use it because they didn’t. Only idiots and those employed as idiots kept large format enlargers. Except that to have proper control (which a lot of LF shooters were all about even when it wasn’t a silly niche activity) one should at least be able to make one’s own work prints. 4x5 work prints are fantastic. But so are 6x7 and 6x9 work prints and they are all inferior to 8x10 contacts. My eyesight is now rubbish but even when it wasn’t I would have been hard pressed to tell the difference between a gallery sized final print made from 4x5 and one made from 6x7. NOTE: landscapes are boring and architecture is for real estate agents and they are happy with an iphone and a wide angle adapter to make those pokey rooms look bigger. If you want movements go 8x10 or go home4 (better yet contact Mr Canham and get an 8x20, you know you want one). Since only the certifiable would shoot whole plate or larger5 that leaves most of us film shooters shooting mostly 135 or 120 and of that mostly the most mostly of the mostly is definitely 135. But 135 is rubbish. Another junction.
Most people do not want to make blurry, black and white photographs. They want things to look like things (at least I think they do, I could be wrong but if I was the camera in your phone would not be anywhere near as good as it is because it takes a lot of R&D to make something that sensitive in a space that small in a device routinely shoved in pockets, bags, toilets &c.). One of the usual reasons for shooting film is that the shooter does not want things to look like things but to look like what they want the thing to look like. This subtle difference has Paul Strand and Edward Weston spinning in their well earned graves but could be amusing to the spirits of Peach-Robinson, Coburn et. al.
I shoot film because I like to make blurry black and white photographs which look more-or-less like something but with just enough of not looking like something to interest me. I have a low boredom threshold unless full of Ritalin6. I shoot film because film draws in peculiar ways which results in interesting marks. One knows what the marks will be before-hand and chooses the pencil, compressed graphite, conté, burnt stick, lump of fossilised poo &c. in order to make the marks one thinks will be most appropriate to the image, knowing that there will be a bit of variation. Some variation because I can cause it: shifts in exposure, development &c. and some because variation will happen by itself. There will be a bit of variation in emulsion coating, the pressure plate of the 80 year old mechanical device will react slightly differently each time, the temperature of said mechanical device, the exact concentration of developer, temperature and impurities in the water will result in subtle shifts. One may sneeze during agitation or miss the dev finish time because one is getting the blowjob one was promised in exchange for a camera7. I like that I get different results when shooting in winter than in summer not just because of what happens in front of or inside of the camera but what happens much later.
How does this differ from the dumb luck and random nonsense of Lomography which eagle eyed readers have known me to mock in the past? The uncontrolled variations are slight, and one may compensate for others leading to a general consensus towards the norm; but the controlled variations and actual choices: which film, which exposure, which developer, how long, what concentration, what temperature and what trade-offs, can all be used as cumulative controls over the marks left on the final print. Sure, one can spend some time and/or money and try to emulate these in software but they are different. They are not inferior. Take two images shot a couple of weeks apart and do a conversion to HP5 using DxO or similar and you will get pretty much the same effect. Neither would be the same as the photograph shot on HP5. Shoot two on HP5 a couple of weeks apart and process them separately and they won’t even be the same as each other, let alone the DxO clones. They will, however, be typical HP5 under the conditions you chose to shoot and dev them. I like that. I was in the fortunate position last year to be able to do this sort of side-by-side comparison using two Leicas with the same lens. The images from the M9 were pleasing, it is an excellent camera, but they did not look like the film images coming out of the M3. DxO FilmPack conversions to Tri-X and HP5 do not look like the real thing. Not bad, not inferior, but not what it says on the tin. I use my lovely wife as a sounding board for the stupidity of my ideas: she prefers the digital photographs8 which merely confirms sensible people are sensible and we who shoot film are not.
I shoot film because I am a professional software engineer9. I like that there is something about it which is hands-on and does not involve sitting in front of a computer. I can choose to follow a set of steps and get a perfectly adequate image, or I can riff on the variations and change the outcome. All of which requires physical and mental effort on my part.
I shoot film because I have a low boredom threshold and shooting film is several orders of magnitude more convoluted than shooting digital. The more I think about it and re-read this crap the more I am convinced this could be the fundamental reason.
I shoot film because I love mechanical devices: they fill me with awe. How can a bunch of cog wheels and a tiny spring still keep two pieces of rubberised cotton apart so precisely that my F2 can shoot at 1/2000th of a second? They sound wonderful10. Once they have been properly cleaned and calibrated they feel wonderful (again to go back to the M9 it is obviously a Leica and was not a world away from my former and much missed M4 in feel and operation but it did not feel like an M3). Even when brand new cameras built before the late 1980s, especially quality cameras, were just such objects of delight. I still remember the first time, aged 14, I handled a new Bronica: not the most desirable of medium format SLRs but still magnificent to hold. Pity I had to immediately hand it back to the photog who owned it. But I could be a collector without ever exposing a single frame, so I do not actually shoot film because of this11.
Ultimately I shoot film because I like to shoot film. It is cyclic nonsense but it is the only real reason.
- Or something 8x10 or bigger: those people rule.
- It is a pity that for Dali showmanship was more important than art but he sure could draw.
- Well I could when I left art school so I assume others more talented than me could too.
- Larger is, of course, allowed.
- I may make an exception for 5x7 because I am fond of its quirky charm.
- Other drugs are also available. This is not interesting but interestingly print spotting is one of the few activities I can successfully undertake unmedicated.
- Just seeing if anyone is paying attention.
- Penelope likes all photographs - film and digital - equally so long as they are of her.
- I am a meta-developer: I build bits of software that other programmers use to build applications so that people can go about their business.
- The slow speed train on a Pentacon S fills me with glee.
- Though use keeps mechanical cameras alive.
So why do you shoot film?
I don’t really know why people ask this question. No one ever asks a painter why he still paints. Why not just buy a camera? Because I’m a painter.
I shoot film because I’m a photographer and film is fundamental to photography.
Been doing it since 1969. Why would I change now?
rlfsoso said: looks good to me… Tri-X 400 @400 in HCD new (+HCD-S) is still my favorite… R.
Everyone has to have a go-to film. Mine is HP5plus, has been for over 30 years (incl plain ol’ HP5) and will remain so for as long as I can get it. But with middle age comes the desire for the new and exciting…
I’ve been trying to think what my go-to film is and I don’t think I have one.
I shoot different films in different formats, and I shoot all formats. It also depends just what I can buy. Especially when I’m in Busan, my wife’s home-town in Korea, there is often a limited choice and I have to be content with Delta 400 or something I’d never consider otherwise. Here in Townsville there is no film available. Zero.
Here’s a funny thing. I’ve been shooting black and white film since 1969 but I only tried Tri-X for the first time about 2 years ago, Liked it too. It is now pretty much my go-to 35mm fast film. Silvermax and Acros compete for the ISO 100 place. Before I tried Tri-X I mostly shot Neopan. Used to love the 1600.
Medium format - Acros dominates.
Large format - TMax 100, and Fomapan 100. I have some 10x8 Adox in the fridge I must try.
Colour - anything E6. If I have to shoot C41 I like Reala or one of the Fuji Pro line. I’ve had no luck with Ektar and Portra is patchy. I must try some more Ektar. But seriously why bother? E6 rules colour. And B&W trumps them all.
Townsville’s “Sugar-Shaker” on Flickr.
The Townsville Travelodge is often referred to as the sugar-shaker because if its shape. It is seen here from the south bank of Ross Creek across the Victoria Bridge.
This photo is part of my “camera a month” project. In January I primarily shot with a Fuji 6x9cm rangefinder.
Camera - Fuji GW690 III
Lens - Fujinon 90/3.5 (fixed)
Film - Adox CMS 20
Process - Rodinal 1+100
Processing the CMS 20 in Adonal was not such a great idea. I gave it 18 minutes @ 20°C in 1+100 Adonal, which is the same, I believe, as Rodinal. Agitation with the rotary stick thing for 15 seconds every minute for the first 3 minutes and then a single inversion every 3 minutes after that.
The images are overdeveloped and yet the dark areas are intensely dark, ie the on the negative, the clear patches are oh-so-clear. After scanning I imported the TIFF to LR and reduced the contrast a little and tweaked the exposure up.
If I don’t get some Adotech (the recommended developer) soon, I may try PMK Pyro next, or maybe Diafine, if I can find some. I have plenty of Pyro in the fridge, I don’t know why I didn’t think to use that.
Grain is very fine however. On the whole this is very nice film. Remarkably clear base. Oh and it curls like ribbon. That I don’t like.
Adox CMS 20 in Adonal.
I ended up processing the CNS 20 in Adonal, which is identical to Rodinal. I used 1+100 dilution, 18 minutes at 20°C. For the first 3 minutes I gave the Patterson tank 15 seconds of twist-stick agitation every minute. After that it got one inversion every 3 minutes.
I did a roll of Acros is the tank at the American time.
Negs are dry and cut. The Acros looks good and nicely balanced. The CMS 20 is very contrasty - perhaps a little overdeveloped. Some of the frames look like Kodaliths. The other startling thing is the perfect clearness of the Adox backing material.
I’ll scan some tomorrow. Meanwhile they gave a heavy weight on them. Adox curls like ribbon.
January over… Time for another camera.
January sped by and I didn’t use my chosen “camera of the month”, the Fuji GW690 III, nearly as much as I had intended. This is in part a reflection of what a heavy beast of a camera it is.
1st of February today and I managed to finish the film in the Fuji. I’ll probably process it later today. I have another roll to process too, but it’s Adox CMS 20 and I’d prefer to do it in Adotech, of which I have none. Any suggestions for an alternative? I’d like to get it processed soon so I can post a selection of the better shots from the month.
Camera for February will be the Retina IIa.
Post processing of images.
I try to keep everything really simple.
- Auto tone, contrast and colour.
- Convert to B&W using either the default option or choosing green.
- Often, I’ll duplicate the layer, apply multiply to the top layer at 45%-75% opacity.
- If I don’t use that…
Thanks for this. Always something to learn. I’ll have to write something about my own processing, but for now just want to say I often crop. Sometimes I look at a photo I took on 6x7 and think, “How would that look square?” If I like the look I’ll crop.
I’ve cropped all ratios to square, and often crop 2:3 down a bit to 4:5 or even 6:7. Funny thing about the Mamiya 7. It’s actual frame size on the film is closer to 4:5. If you want true 6:7 ratio you have to crop.
One of the beautiful things about larger formats is that one can crop heavily and still have plenty of resolution. Sometimes I find a tiny area in the corner of an 8x10 inch negative, a tiny rectangle no bigger than a 35mm frame, with so much beauty in it I want to see if it will shine on its own. And with such a large format, I can do that.
Funny though how the original frame, the vintage image, is usually best. It is what I saw when I shot.
so i got this little book on balenciaga tonight (holiday clearance half off at neiman marcus holla) and the reason i did was because i really, really like some of the photography in the second half of the book. it emphasizes the shape, form, cut, pattern, whatever of the clothes and totally…
It’s a good thought. Last time I was in Korea I was struck by a sort of abstraction of people like punctuation marks in the scene. It was an incomplete thought too and was only partially realised in some photos that I haven’t shown anyone yet.
Thank you for reminding me. I will take that up again.