Don’t give me no latitude!

I’ve been meaning to post this film test up for awhile but just haven’t had the time. And the last thing I want is a film vs. digital debate. That isn’t why I’m posting this. I enjoy both digital and film for different reasons. Sarah actually still shoots digital and I say it adds a great level of balance between the two of us when we shoot.

“The only thing more trendy than shooting film, is telling everyone that you’re shooting film.”  Twitter fans of a particular photographer were quickly “re-tweeting” this comment. It bothered me but also made me laugh. Film has been around since the late 1800’s. Kodak and Fuji still spend money in their respective R&D departments on coming up with additional improvements with the emulsions. Kodak recently introduced Vision3 to their “Vision” line of cinema film.  The movie industry spends millions of dollars on film every year. Two movies this year I can think of off the top of my head were Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” and Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” – both shot on Kodak! I believe AMC’s “The Walking Dead” was also shot on film. There is such a rich history that to label it as “trendy” seems to be an oxymoron.

I switched back to film over a year ago while I was playing around with a Canon 1V and a Mamiya RB67.  The Mamiya RB was an amazing breath of fresh air. Looking through a waist level viewfinder and literally diving in to the frame I was composing was intoxicating. I felt like getting lost inside the fresnel focusing screen. The process seemed almost three dimensional to me now. I anticipated moments and hunted for the shot. I became more in tune with my surroundings. Digital fed the techie inside me. All the camera body specs to drool over: increased FPS, sensor sizes, higher ISO capabilities, AF improvements, and all the gadgets that go along with it. Film has helped me step away from most of that and focus on my subject and the environment I’m in. No longer am I staring at an LCD screen scrolling through frames to make sure I didn’t clip a highlight or miss focus.  Now, I’m connecting with each individual subject and concerned only with composition, light and moments happening within the shoot. My eye stays glued to the viewfinder. Film seems to feed the artist within me and I feel like I’m finding more excuses to pull the camera out.

I did want to use this oppportunity to post a quick comparison of one of the reasons I love film so much.

Dynamic range and latitude. It’s something that is often talked about but not always clearly understood. I start to twitch when I hear people talk of “HDR” or High Dynamic Range photographs. One of the disadvantages of shooting a digital SLR is the sensitivity to highlights and shadows. If you’ve shot a digital camera and worked with any kind of post production software, you know that clipping highlights is easy to do. A midday sun and cloudless sky can be a huge challenge when photographing a bride in a bright white dress. If you’re a digital shooter, you’d be glued to your histogram to make sure you’ve got all the necessary detail and information in each frame to show off the beautiful nuances of the wedding gown. Film is quite different. In a lot of ways, I’d say it is better.

Kind of a bold statement, right? Let’s take a look at some example images. I’ll warn eveyone that this film was developed at a local lab and scanned by yours truly at a very fast pace. The colors are not at all right. But then again, I also didn’t touch the digital files either. This is simply to prove the latitude and range you have with film. Do not judge based on the magenta/greenish scans.

The contenders: Canon 5D Mark II + 50mm 1.4 Sigma (Our Cost: $3400)  vs. Mamiya 645AF with an 80mm 1.9 shooting Fuji 400H  (Our Cost $700 + $5 roll of film)

We’ll start with an underexposed subject:

+1 stop

+2 stops

+3 stops

+4 stops

+5 stops!!

1/30th of a second and we still have a useable image! Digital has little to no information in the file. Highlights really start to fall apart at 1/250th for the 5D mark II while film continues to record it. And we can obviously go beyond 5 stops and still be ok.

I’m not trying to sell the idea of laziness. In fact, I carry an external meter with me at all times when I’m shooting. Rather, I hope this post helps those that are curious or on the fence on shooting film. Just make sure you’re always erring on the side of overexposure.

Julia in West Des MoinesJuly 2, 2011 - 7:55 pm

so tweeting this.

Laura willsJuly 5, 2011 - 8:18 am

So awesome!!!

meganJuly 7, 2011 - 1:26 pm

LOVE this post, man!

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