What We Lost With Analog

I wanted to follow-up on my post on the cure for pixel-peepingwith a few random thoughts on film, why I still shoot a bit of it regularly, and an example of what the hell I was talking about. As an aside last week or the week before the first section of The On Taking Pictures podcast #114 discussed a bit about - what we lost with analog photography. One of a very few photography podcasts I listen to when I’m driving. I find it amusing most of the time, kind of repetitive circling around the same topic most of the time but generally agreeable. I do have to say Wadman drives me crazy when he emphatically states things as ultimate facts when he’s not taken the time at all to actually get his facts strait.

Somehow I blame this kind of thing for all of the non-sense I have to deal without in the world in my never ending quixotic quest to un-fuck up the world. For instance the OTP discussion regarding what megapixel equivalent full-frame vs APS-C comes out to the same sensor pixel pitch. Of course they gave the wrong answer. I mean come on, WTF? It takes all of two seconds to calculate or even less time to Google the right answer. Now we have another 1,000 people that will be parroting that un-truth. Same goes for Wadman’s idiotic notion of how Aperture 3 works, or shall we say worked. No matter, back to the what we lost with analog thing. Listen to the first part of that podcast if for nothing else a little back and forth on a few thoughts about shooting real film for your amusement and maybe even consideration.

I will mention a few reasons I still love film. I really wish I shot more of it. Upon reflection I always, always tell myself this. From the time when the number of occasions where digital outnumbered film I’ve said this to myself. The keyword is occasions not number of frames. I still love shooting negative film for a bunch of reasons. Some technical some not so technical…

  • A few of those reasons are the intangible, semi-explainable, soft notions discussed on the podcast.
  • I absolutely enjoy the gear a lot more. Be it 35mm gear, medium format gear, even large format. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Your gear and how it makes you feel when making photographs absolutely influences how you shoot. Maybe not in pedantic lab comparisons but in real world interactions with dynamic subjects it certainly does. To an extent it also impacts your subjects. At least human subjects.
  • That hard stop of 24, 36, 12, or 10 frames changes your shooting rhythm. Most of the time in a good way.
  • In many cases having a limit and a cost per frame absolutely changes your psychology behind the camera which in turn changes the pictures you make.
  • I like the way it looks. Same goes for black and white. The way film renders skin, color, highlights, etc. It’s just different and attractive to me.
  • Even shooting a little bit here or there grounds me and resets my thought process. Notions that aren’t important even bleed over to when I shoot digital which is most of the time.

So why is it I don’t shoot more film? The only answer I can honestly come up with is laziness. That’s it, pure laziness. Okay enough of that. Go shoot just a little bit. A roll every month, hell, a roll every couple of months if your too lazy.

Moving on to pixel peeping, retina displays, and the cure. Last time I went on and on about my new 13” MPBr I talked about magnification. Maybe a bit too ummm, mathematical for some of you, so how about a more tangible set of thoughts that amounts to the exact same thing. The image at the top can serve as an example. A random shot from a contact sheet I just scanned as part of my freebie film borders endeavor. First off, let’s talk about the scanning and post-processing conditions.

  • 2400 DPI scan on my shitty flatbed scanner of the entire sheet of negatives thru the plastic filing sleeves I use.
  • Iffy flatness
  • A quick and dirty setting of black point and white point with a tweak to color to get it in the real of neutral for the entire sheet. Certainly not optimal for either color or contrast or even response curve.

Is it the best frame on the contact sheet? Probably not. Is it perfectly sharp? Nope. I shot it wide-open at f/1.4 on a lens from the ‘60s at 1/30 sec of a squirmy baby. Not the point. I could make it warmer as it’s a bit cool. I could tweak the color and curve until the cows came home. Again not the point. If I wanted no work in post at all with perfect color and contrast I could send it to one of dozens of fantastic labs and they would do it just how I like it. So what does all that have to do with curing the dreaded pixel peeping disease? Not much but I wanted to advocate shooting a little film here and there again…

Here’s the tangible example. If you happen to open that image in a new window and look at all the pixels 1:1 (at the quintessential 100%) one of two things is going to happen. If you happen to be looking at it on a retina display like a Macbook Pro Retina machine you’ll be looking at it somewhere in the neighborhood of 225 DPI which will turn out to be around 9 inches if you get out a ruler and measure the long edge. What you are seeing is approaching photographic in the sense that I have of the term coming from an analog photographic world of yore. You don’t see caricature’s of analog film capture. You don’t see overwhelming grain (noise) or anything of the sort. It’s starting to approach that photographic, I hate to use the word, tonality. What’s more you’re looking at a reasonably large image. Larger than most you see on the web even at 225DPI. The bottom line is that you’re looking at a 5x or 6x magnification.

What’s the other thing that could happen? That second thing I mentioned? Well obviously you could be looking at it on a normal display. Something modern but more around 100 DPI or thereabouts. If you are then what you’ll see is a print in the neighborhood of 20 inches on the long side. A significantly larger magnification bordering on who cares. You are also seeing much coarser pixels at the same 1:1 that’s nowhere near photographic tonality. Even so if I wouldn’t have blown focus and motion blur stuff the medium itself still doesn’t show a whole lot of flaws in terms of grain/noise. If I shot it properly I could easily do a 20” print. Depending on the exact display pixel pitch you are viewing you’re probably seeing between 14x and 18x magnification. Far far more reasonable in evaluation of image quality than what you would get if you took a 24 megapixel image and looked at it 1:1 on a normal display (about 30-40x).

Hopefully that clears up the magnification thing I was talking about. The bottom line is that I personally believe that examining photographs at far far too high a practical magnification can and does influence how you might choose images for the worse. Then again I can’t edit my own stuff if my life depended on it. I need and editor that I trust.

RB

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