Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Musing About the Old Film Days

Recently, I have been musing about film. Is it worth picking up an older Nikon film body and playing with film again. Maybe even an old FM or FE from the early 1980s. It might be fun to re-experience the beginnings of my Nikon photography days. I've still got many of my older AI-Nikkor lenses like the 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.4, and 105mm f/2.5. They just sit there not being used. Shouldn't I use them again? I still have lots of film frozen in my freezer, sadly including some Kodachrome which can no longer be processed.

Is film dead? No! In many countries film has a much bigger following than here in the USA. I think part of that is the fact that many do not have the emphasis on computer technology that we have here. How can you shoot digital in a country where electricity is not a given, for instance? Third world photographers definitely would have a problem shooting digitally.

Shooting digitally is a commitment to using computer technology as much as the camera technology itself. The up front costs are significantly higher due to that fact.

I can see where film still has a very valid place in this world. Most of the film companies still put out film, although a few have gone bankrupt. The fact that film is still here means that many people are still shooting it. Should I shoot some again?

A Nikon FM with an AI-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 manual focus lens

I agree that slides are a delightful thing. I have thousands and thousands of them, and I gaze longingly at them frequently, wishing that they were already scanned. I have found that, even with Nikon's most expensive scanner—the Coolscan 9000—it takes forever to scan an image correctly. And then the results are not up to the quality of my Nikon DSLR, which approaches medium format film, in my experience.

Don't feel that I am a hater of film, because I'm not. I'm just a realist. I decided to take advantage of the new technologies and teach myself the excruciating detail required to really do digital well. Some days I miss film usage and crave a new film body. I'll even get a frozen roll of B&W film out of the freezer and put it in my old Nikon N80. But, then I get aggravated when I shoot a film image and cannot see the results until I pay someone to process the image for me. I want complete control of the imaging process, and want no outsiders messing with my images. I hate only having 36 images maximum before I have to take time to change the film. Some say that makes each image count more since you know you are about to run out of shots. It just aggravates me though! I'm used to my 32 gig memory card and the luxury of shooting thousands of images any time I want.

One of the reasons I decided to go digital back in 2002 was a very important roll of film I sent in to a professional lab. It was from my Mamiya RB67 ProSD in 120 format. When I got the roll back, it had a note attached that said, "We are sorry Mr. Young, but we seem to have ripped the roll of film in half during processing  (ripped longways). Here's a free roll of film for your trouble." Add that to the other local labs scratching my slides, fingerprinting them, and in general treating them like they had no importance, and I got disgusted. Then, one day, I opened a box of slides that I hadn't looked at in a couple of years, and found some little bugs eating my slides. There were big holes in them. That was it. I wanted relief, and so I started reading those aggravating digital articles in photo magazines (summer 2002).

At that point I bought a Nikon D100 and gradually stopped using my lovely F5. I now shoot digital images, transfer them to three hard drives, burn them to two DVDs, and send one DVD to a family member away from my home. My images are now in multiple places at the same time. Try that with film!

A slide scanned with my Nikon Coolscan LS-9000 scanner

But, I still have the film call from time to time. Sometimes I'll take my N80 and shoot a few critical frames on film, mostly Fuji Provia F, along with digital. There is still a place for film and it is quite large yet. Only about 80% of photographers have switched to digital. Almost all American consumers have since the little digital P&S cameras are pretty cheap. But, many pros have not switched fully to digital and are still shooting both.

I, too, craved an F6 when it first came out, but then looked affectionately at my F5, and bought a D2X instead. I don't like the small bodied cameras, and the F6 is too small for me. The F5 is juuuust right! So is the D2X.

Right now, we can make a choice to shoot:

  •     Film Only
  •     Digital Only
  •     Film and Digital

How long that will last, only time will tell. It will get harder to find consumer labs to process film. Maybe pro labs will last longer, but they will fade also. It is only a matter of time, to the chagrin of dedicated film users. But, when the masses switch to a new technology, the old gradually dies. The masses have now switched big time! Film will probably always be around during our lifetimes, but it will get increasingly hard to find a processer for it and it'll be much more expensive when we do. Since it seems that no new film cameras are planned, it is only a matter of time before there are no film camera left to shoot.

Life can be sad when old things we love go away. But, it can also be happy when the new things are fun and even more productive. If your old beloved dog dies, mourn for a while, then get a new puppy.

There are many benefits to digital, compared to film, and they should not be discounted. If you've been shooting mostly film but are thinking of "going digital," now's a very good time. Digital Nikons are mature, full featured, and fun; and the digital process makes better images than film ever did.

However, it certainly won't hurt to remember film and even go back and shoot some for old times sake. Many have been doing that recently. Will you?

Keep on capturing time...
Digital Darrell

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