Digital & Film Ponderings
As I make the move over to Sony’s New A7RIII, I am reminded of how far digital imaging technology has come in the relatively few years it has been freely available.
I started my career shooting film on a Canon A-1, which I still possess. In fact, it even has the last film box lid tucked into the film slot at the back; an Agfa APX 100 for black & white prints. Needless to say, I haven’t used this for a very long time but keep it all the same as a memory to prove to myself it really is the photographers eye and not the equipment that ultimately counts.
I have been a life-long Canon user (34 years) but feel they have stumbled and lost their way a little. Don’t get me wrong, they are still excellent cameras but for my work I love to create high resolution images paired with the ability to pull out details from the shadows and highlights. I believe Sony offers that to me in an easy to carry compact form. I'm not saying this because I recently shot some images for Sony’s Xperia Campaign, but rather because I have spent a lot of time researching which camera would best suit my needs and this is it.
The first non DSLR commercial digital camera I used was in 1998, a Leaf DCBII on a Sinar 4x5 which was a mind blowing 4 MP - gulp! This had a huge colour wheel at the front which contained rotating gelatin filters and would take 3 shots to make one final image; one red, one green and one blue. It was so big and cumbersome it was really only suitable for still life work. Registration of the red, green and blue files was a bit hit and miss but could be manually adjusted in the software with varying degrees of success!
I then moved on to a Leaf Volare, a huge step up to 6MP and another 3 shot. I enjoyed experimenting with this camera shooting portraits with colour shifts, which I kind of liked. It takes the same 3 shots of RGB individually then stitches them together so any movement would misregister. You could also create some very colourful still life shots by waving your hand in front of the camera but this was rarely used commercially.
Self Portrait using the 3 shot Volare
I am not still, therefore I am fuzzy. You can just make out the separate layers of red , green and blue.
By 2003 I was still shooting film for certain jobs, particularly medium format and 4x5. For a long time I used 8x10 transparency film for Coca-Cola which would then be digitised by a drum scanner; digital capture technology at that time wasn’t really up to the standards required. Most clients weren’t, at that stage, going to risk having their product shot on new and unproven technology. However, digital backs did advance at a rapid pace and once it was proved it was up to the job, digital completely took over my work.
The cross over took place around 2004 almost completely and I have to say I have never shot a single piece of film since! That’s quite a scary statement but it is very true.
8 x 10 transparency shot for Coca-cola
(Notice handy WD40 and air spray supports!)
I began my photography life shooting film and used a darkroom for a long time, so I know what I am missing out on! In fact, my first foray into the world of professional printing was a stint at Ilford in the Printing department when I was 18. Wow, I really saw some amazing work there by some very well know photographers. A few of them even had special printing borders made up for their signature trademark. I learnt a great deal about composition, tone and the constant push for quality, so I shall forever be grateful for that opportunity.
As much as I enjoyed using toners and dodging and burning in the darkroom, I have to say I don’t particularly reminisce about those days! I certainly don’t miss the chemical smells which I am sure weren’t particular healthy for me, especially in a darkroom with no ventilation. Now I come to think of it, I have no idea what lovelies were in those blue and sepia toner chemicals? I’d often spend all day in the roof of the house, where the darkroom was; at the height of summer, the sun gradually heating up my insulated box to sauna temperature. No wonder the chemicals seemed to disappear quickly! Having said that, I have to admit, there is something quite satisfying shooting on film and waiting for the results to appear in a darkroom tray.
Fast forward X years and I thoroughly enjoy using digital cameras and in particular Photoshop, more so than I did printing in the darkroom in the “good ole days”. It’s cleaner, you don’t get fixer dripping in your cup of tea, it's probably more environmentally friendly and you’re not on your feet all day! It may be a recipe for a bigger tummy but I know which direction I’d like to follow!
Both formats obviously have their pros and cons. Some people prefer film some prefer using digital and some mix the two. One of the advantages of digital is the ability to enlarge on the screen, although now you really get to see the dust and imperfections. With film, however, there was usually no retouching to do afterwards by the photographer, a bone of contention for many today. What digital does give you is more freedom to be creative and allows instant previews without the constant burden of film costs.
As film & processing was quite expensive, I was "trained" to set up, light and shoot everything in camera which is a good way to begin, as it does teach you to be disciplined and technically minded. Digital can on occasions make you lazy. “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll do that in Photoshop”, I hear people say. I am the first one to embrace new technology or break an ageing pattern of working so long as I get the results, I or my Client demands.
The future cometh
Apart from improvements in sensor technology and dynamic range I’m starting to wonder how far digital cameras can progress? I know of well known brands that are demanding photographers use cameras with a minimum of 50MP so they have the option to print big. It's not all about the Megapixels as people seem to think; as photographers we probably need to educate our clients a little bit more. I have used a 21MP camera with a beautiful Zeiss lens and the results were truly outstanding, probably as good, if not better than a 30MP Phase One, which has a bigger sensor.
Whatever the future holds I had better go out and invest a larger piggy bank.