2015 I Still Love Film - You Should To

Yep, I have two of the best digital imaging devices (according to me and what I like) ever made. Each of them cost a hideous amount of money for what they are. I still shoot film here and there — if you measure frame count then my digital far out numbers my film use. Part of the reason is laziness, part of the reason is convenience, and part of the reason is just plain ol’ mob-think. Come to think of it part of it is hoping and searching to find a place I was over a decade ago.

Where was that place? A place where I was completely satisfied and had no desire at all to upgrade, cross-grade, or chase after anything “more” in terms of imaging devices, glass, quality, nothing. The only think I gave a hoot about was subject. Honestly I thought we’d be way way past where we are at now far more quickly. Yes, we all have cameras that are sufficient for any job in a technical sense but truthfully they’re not as fun, not as simple, not as direct, and in some ways not as capable.

If you measure things on digital’s playing field you would concluded that digital capture wins on all fronts. For most people it probably does. Delving into the score card just a tiny bit would reveal that even decades ago film delivers a few things that digital cannot touch even now. I’m still waiting for digital to deliver a few of those things. Until then and maybe even past that point I’ll still shoot some film for many different reasons. Not counting the psychological head-space stuff that really does make a difference I’ll shoot it purely for the way it looks.

Here’s what I mean. Take it at face value as I walk you through a roll of Kodak Portra 160 I shot in 2012. Gear? A Nikon FE in real brass and black paint I bought for $35 and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 S from the 1960’s. Single coated glass that cost next to nothing. All images were processed and scanned at Walgreens for $6. RPL or any of the pro labs would do a far better job at the scan and color correction.

The shot at the top is at the top because it’s frame number 1. Daughter #3 at her awkward age with her two friends. “Dad take a picture of us… certainly not my usual M.O. Not my favorite picture but we can look at something that even now digital just cannot deal with in a pleasing and simple way. Real world light. Note the background, hell note the foreground. See the bright spots even on the subjects shoulders, head, hair. See it spilling over onto their front sides. That my friends is the sun. You think I have different full shade under trees and sun than you do? Nope we all got the same shit. Think I setup 42 speed lights bounced off a giant white thing behind me? Nope we are in full shade.

You know, the kind of real-world light we live in rather than the perfect light within a couple stops that you NEED to make digital look like this. I took a reading off what you see on the bottom of the frame. Added another stop (which I always do for low contrast subjects — the actual subjects not the entire scene). Took the freaking picture and moved on. You think I used f/1.4 for effect? Nope I prolly couldn’t have used anything that wide considering the FE tops out a 1/1000s I had to use that aperture at ISO 160 to give me a hand-holdable shutter speed in full shade. Probably something along the lines of 1/125. If you do the sunny 16 math that would put the highlights at ummmm, ummm, an aperture smaller than f/16. Counting on my fingers that’s seven or eight stops brighter.

Any notion digital would look like if we did this? Dog doo-doo. Okay then we an just up the ISO and shoot at say f/8 or f/11 or 1/4000 or something and make highlights that look like this and we’ll pull the shadows up 7 or 8 stops or 6 stops or 5 stops… see where I’m going here. Digital with shadows pulled up that much also looks like dog doo-doo. I won’t even go into how good skin looks auto-magically.

Moving on we get to my granddaughter. At the time she’s between 5 and 6 months old. Her first watermelon. Of course it was my idea against what her mom thought was a god idea.

Wooops I blew the focus at f/1.4. Yep it’s razor thin. AF might have helped here. Maybe not, absolute minimum focus distance — swear it was racked all the way no lea-way. I was rocking back and forth trying to manage focus plain here and shooting one handed — that’s my hand helping hold the watermelon slice you see in the foreground. Nothing will save you here. AF may have even done stupid shit like hunt back and forth. So why didn’t I move further away so I could get focus… Hmmm. Good idea.

I’m still holding it for her, still at minimum. Surprise surprise Leela wanted no help and yanked it out of my hand. She’s good on her own. Grabbed the moment she did that. I’m okay with the focus plain here not being on the close eye. You might not be but it was an intent right or wrong…

She did that thing in far quicker than I thought she would. Her expression on the discovery that the green part sucks. Common theme here… full shade, 1/125 125 ISO (I shoot Portra 1/3 over and then also add a stop for low contrast like this) f/1.4 — again see the direct sun in the background that’s 7 or 8 stops over? The real world. Fuddy duddy film looks freaking fantastic. Antique simple small lenses perform fantastically. They also feel good to hold and use. Film technology loaded up in a beautiful little unobtrusive device works fine and delivers imaging aesthetics that smaller sensors just cannot.

Hell, my X100S is about the same size as this combo. Here’s the really funny part — an XT1 and 54mm 1.2 at north of $200 feels nowhere near as good, it’s not really smaller and if I up the lens to 85 it still can’t deliver the same aesthetic let alone the way film dynamic range looks compared to stupid ass measurements that have nothing to do with the way anything actually looks.

Enough bashing of digital and Fuji — they’re just making what people want. I guess. Hell I even rather have an X100 than a lot of other cameras. Doesn’t mean I’m satisfied. So I took a bunch more pictures that day — mostly of Leela and my daughters. A few months later — that was late May, this is July. I still have a few frames left of the 36. So I used them at the community 4th of July party.

Here’s a grab shot of one of the pie eating contests. Even worse conditions than that open shade. Background full sun foreground has negative fill — the wall they are situated facing is painted dark brown, almost black and we are pretty far inside the building. Think lifted digi-shadows on a 10 or 12 stop difference look this good? Really? Think fill flash looks the same… talk about obtrusive — flash going off in people’s faces.

Yep at least 12 stops brighter outside. How do I know? Well I was shooting there too. The theme? Real world light. Okay enough bright situations. High ISO, that’s why we’re all shooting digital right? I’ve got ISO 160 (which I’m metering at 125 and shooting aggressively biased towards the shadows) loaded up so I’m in real trouble at night/low light without the ability to dial up stupid-high ISO right?


The power is out here. That’s why a horrible florescent lantern is on the table. Where’s all that fill coming from? Ummm, candles about 4 feet away from the edge of the table you see. Candle’s and florescent mixed low lighting and super contrast between the two. Hmmm even the auto-drug-store-color looks okay. Digital in this mixed horrible light… good luck. Why? I don’t know why but I do know I don’t worry so much about horrible color temp mixes with color neg film — looks great. Well, at least it looks like it “should” somehow. This is why they made fast glass. Who the fuck really needs 3200 ISO except when wanting to “stop action” in the dark? Who cares? I’ll rephrase — not at all in my pool of interest.

The last two frames shot a month later… Leela again, boy do they change fast at this age. May to August…

Luchtime. Yes she’s obviously moving pretty quick. Looks good to me.

Drastically change lighting conditions due to the sun going behind the clouds. No Auto ISO required.

Shoot it while you can. Some other day I’ll try to show the virtues of black and white negative film. How about a whopping upgrade in ISO to 400? This is all just context for what I blather on about when talking pooh-poohing all of the stupid shit that digital gives me that I didn’t have before. Honestly I was perfectly happy with 35mm TRI-X, Portra, small — really small cameras that felt good to shoot and occasionally my 120 Hasselblads. I’m still waiting for some of the things I used to have 20 years ago to finally arrive with all the progress.

I can make presets to match up film to digital under certain conditions but that doesn’t make them the same. In a lot of conditions it just cannot be done. On the digtal playing field where we all get hung up on gee-whiz the auto focus is marginally “faster” than last year and OMG, I can now shoot at ISO 6400 and it looks the same as last years 3200… Here’s the question; What happens if you really don’t give a shit about those particular things. On any particular sunny day with a bunch of dappled sunlight and shade and all the rest of the stuff that happens in the real world I’ll demonstrate right now at this particular point all those “wins” don’t count for shit unless you chuck variables in that I don’t care about — like really slow glass, olympic sprinters in open shade, or bullshit like that.

If you’ve ever wondered why I don’t go all goo-goo eyed or get all pissed off between say 1/4000 and 1/8000 shutter speed capabilities there’s a simple reason. I rarely use 1/1000… in fact I will bet you there’s not a shot I’ve made if I look through my metadata in the last five years over 1/1000 and even those are rare.

I have shot at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400. Again rare but every single time I did I’ve never thought — man, I really wish these pictures looked like I shot them on large format without grain on ISO 100. Maybe some people want that — if you don’t then you can see my point about being a little miffed I still don’t have some stuff I used to have with the convenience of digital…


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