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Tuesday, January 15

When Digital Reigns Supreme





There's no point in denying it, as much as we all love film, there are times when only digital will do. This was one of them when a few local shops were engulfed by fire and gutted. My daughter was the first to know about the blaze when someone mentioned it on Facebook. I grabbed my D700, set it to 4000 ISO, fitted a 35mm f2 lens on the front and went to take a look.

Having been a reporter for 32 years, I knew that a brass neck went quite far in these situations so, whilst everyone did the sensible thing and stayed behind an invisible cordon, I wandered over to the fire appliances. Before I could get a shot off, a firefighter told me to get back but - don't try this at home kids - I ignored him and kept snapping. I got a couple of shots off before he was joined by a mate so I beat a hasty retreat with the view of getting to the opposite cordon so I could see the fire from that direction.

With the road closed, that required a lengthy walk and proved to be in vein as the police had the whole area properly cordoned-off by now and the copper on duty turned a deaf ear to my pleading. At the end of the day, it didn't make a lot of difference anyway. I so seldom use the D700 these days - really, just for photographing negatives using a slide duplicator - that the battery must have been almost flat when I left home and it packed in right at this point.

The 35mm lens proved handy when I could get close to the fire but I could have done with the 85mm f1.8 I have for the Nikon at times. Despite the fast ISO, I was getting shutter speeds of 1/15th to 1/60th depending on the aperture but I would have been able to get some close-ups with the telephoto.

Could these have been shot on colour print film? From my experience, not a chance. Uprating a film to 4000 ISO would have given horrendous quality. Good enough, perhaps, for newspaper use but no way would they have been as sharp and fine-grained at the shots above. Black and white film would have worked but these scenes really benefit from colour, I think. There's no doubt that DSLRs have made life an awful lot easier for press photographers. 

11 comments :

Paul Glover said...

About a year ago I was asked to be second shooter at the finish line of a local charity run/walk. Our task: to make sure that between the two of us we caught everyone as they reached the finish line. There were a few hundred participants and not much down time as the bulk of the runners arrived. I had to borrow the main shooter's backup camera (a D70) and his 50mm which turned out to be the perfect focal length for what I was doing.

As much as I prefer shooting film, this was clearly a job for a DSLR set to dump JPEG images onto the biggest memory card we could put in the camera. The end result was for web use and maybe some prints up to 8×10.

It's really about choosing the best tool for the job *from the options available*. Had it been 1998 we'd have been ripping rolls of film through a couple of F5's or 1V's and getting the job done anyway; the DSLRs available now just made it a good deal easier.

Neal said...

Nice shots! you make a valid point too, I agree however I would like to think that portra 400 could handle being shot at ei4000 and push processed.

the guys at "Twin Lens Life" done some testing of portra 400 against Fuji Pro 400h to see how they compare when pushed and pulled.

check it out http://www.twinlenslife.com/2010/12/its-our-favorite-time-of-light-new.html

Jan Moren said...

I agree; use the best tool for the job. I use both film and digital as the situation arises.

But of course, the tool you have determines the job. Weston famously said that "Anything more than 500 yards from the car just isn't photogenic"; a sensible attitude when you shoot very large-format film. I'm fortunate to be a complete amateur and can choose my time, place and subject at will.

morris 1800 said...

I think the film versus digital battle is over . no doubt for conveniance and ease of capturing an image I think digital wins easily.But the vareity, individuality and pleasure to be had from exploring film photography in its many guises leaves digital standing. Similiar in many ways to preparing and cooking a fine meal against putting a ready meal in the microwave. We need both but the pleasure from preparing ,planning every step of a meal is the most satisfying even when the end result may become the 'dogs dinner'

Danny said...

Nice shots, they almost look like HDR images. You peaked my interest when you mentioned using your D700 to duplicate negatives. I would be interested in your system for this...perhaps in a future post. I want to digitize a film archive with my D300. I would have the additional problem of the smaller sensor size to deal with, but would be interested in your method.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Y'see Bruce, if you'd been packing a wee Leica, you could have slipped in through the cordons, lain on the ground and pretended to be injured and just wheeched the camera out when people weren't looking, snapped away, slipped away, run home and developed your Tri-X in triple strength Panthermic 777 . . .
Nice pics though, so well done. I'm surprised you didn't send them off to The Courier!

Phil

Dave Jenkins said...

True, digital makes life easier for press photographers. However, it also makes it easier for others, such as reporters and passersby with cell-phone cameras, to do their jobs, so press photography is a dying trade.

In a happier vein, I also would like to know your system for duplicating negatives with your digital camera.

BRUCE ROBBINS said...

If I were you, Danny, I'd buy a copying stand, a lightbox and a macro lens for your Nikon and shoot the archive that way. Once you find the best settings on your camera, it's a very quick process - just as fast as you can swap the slides/negs in and out. Sell the stuff once you've finished and you'll not be out of pocket.

BRUCE ROBBINS said...

I dId send them to The Courier, Phil, but their guy had beaten me to it. Speaking of Leicas, I loved it when photographers used film at The Courier as I used to get the odd free roll. I also taught myself how to use their colour print developing machine in the photo lab (not difficult) and used to run rolls of XP2 through it. There weren't many fringe benefits to be had once they'd gone digital. :-(

BRUCE ROBBINS said...

There's not a lot to my digitising process but I'll write a wee post about it at some point.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Not fancy a wee Fuji mini-lab to sit in the corner of your living room?
P