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Friday, November 11

Ditch digital - do it now!

This article was inspired by something I wrote in a comment to a post on the blog of my cyber pal, Gordon Lewis, also known as Shutterfinger. Gordon was bemoaning the fact that, "the number of available films is shrinking and, along with it, the variety of high-quality and convenient processing options." He was soliciting suggestions for a "convenient, high-quality way to" and it got me thinking.

I hope Gordon forgives me for being presumptious but I think the problem is that he's shooting both digital and film. Although some people say they can pull this off, the sheer convenience of digital always makes film feel much more of a hassle than it really is. We're accustomed nowadays to having more or less what we want (within reason!) when we want it. Why shoot film and then have to process, scan and/or print it when we can fire off scores of frames on the DSLR and see the results straight away?

A few years ago, just when the early signs of my disillusionment with digital were beginning to show, Cath and I went on a three-day winter break to Paris. I was determined to start shooting more film and took my Rolleiflex and a few rolls of Tri-X along with my digital outfit. I even packed a lightweight tripod for night shots using the Rollei. Sad to say, I never exposed a single roll of film. It just always seemed easier to reach for my Pentax DSLR, fire away on program and see the images immediately. What a wasted opportunity.

The perception that film is inconvenient reveals itself most acutely when it has digital available for direct comparison. When you lock your digital gear away, as I have, you quickly realise that film is just what it always was: a considered, high quality way of capturing the world around us. Imagine if tomorrow digital was "uninvented" and we were left with exactly the same range of films, processing options and labs as we presently have. Would we all give up photography because it was too inconvenient? I don't think so. We'd just get used to shooting the way we did before. At the end of the day, if you try to shoot both digital and film I reckon the former will always be the dominant medium because of its immediacy. Ditch digital and your love for film will return and you'll end up wondering what all the fuss about pixels was in the first place.

I can't believe the cash I've splashed on digital equipment over the last seven years. A Minolta A2, a Pentax K10D outfit, a Nikon D700 outfit, an Epson 2100 A3 printer followed by an A3+ HP B9180, an Epson 3200 Photo scanner and a dedicated Plustek 35mm film scanner. And that's not everything. But, as I said on Gordon's blog, I wont be spending any more on digital equipment. It's taken a few weeks but I've weaned myself off the DSLR and I can't see anyway I'll be going back.

So my advice to you, if you're shooting film and digital together and not feeling entirely satisfied, is the same I offered Gordon, "Resolve to lock your digital cameras away in a cupboard for a year and I guarantee you'll not only find a way to develop your films but, within a very short space of time, the whole film 'workflow' will become second nature again".


Noons said...

Can't say I've ditched digital completely. I scan most of my film, and from there on it's digital all the way to the print. Only for the simple reason I don't have space for a proper darkroom.

But the image capture, I don't think I'll ever give film up. Both slides and colour negative are used here, with b&w a close first. Nothing I can do with the dslrs gets anywhere near the results I get with film.


Is there no way you get the use of a community or art centre darkroom? You really need to print in the darkroom to get the most from a negative. Just think of the increased satisfaction from following the process all the way through from loading the film into the camera to pulling the print from the fixer. In photographic terms, it's hard to beat.

Gregory said...

Two vacations, the first was 6 weeks in Central Europe and the second was 4 weeks in England, Italy and Canada. On the first trip, I shot mostly digital and a little bit of film. A few thousand exposures in total, and I don't think I ever finished the digital workflow. I had a few dozen shots that I was happy with. On the second trip, I shot mostly film and a small amount of digital. Probably close to 200 exposures. I ended up with more keepers the second time around, mostly because my brain was engaged the whole time.

I haven't started printing yet, but it's my New Years resolution for 2012, right at the top of the list. After jumping in and learning to develop B&W at the start of this year, I'm looking forward to another year of learning.


You have to ask how many pics you need when you get back from a trip. Like you, I'd shoot a couple of thousand digital images and they would largely remain on the hard drive. Realistically, you can't do that with film but I'd be happy to have around ten really good prints from, for example, a film trip to Paris. Why would anyone need more? The ultimate for me would be to go to Paris with my Rollei TLR and one roll of film and make every shot count, returning with 12 cracking pics.

I'm beginning to think the biggest difference between film and digital is that when you shoot film you think before you press the shutter whereas with digital you shoot first and then think. If you can visualise what you're looking for in the end result then film is probably better. If you can't, then you would likely have more success with digital.

Good luck with the printing when you get round to it, Gregory. If I can help in any way I'd be only too glad to. Just ping me an email.