Why film has made Me. Prologue.

Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Blog | 4 comments

Why film has made Me. Prologue.

We’re off to Bridgnorth in a weeks time on a house hunting trip. The image below was made on my last visit while we were visiting the local schools with our children.









I find it interesting how poor digital cameras are at capturing this sort of thing compared to film and especially Large Format. Old, decaying, flaky buildings have become some of my favourite subject matter in recent years and that is in no small part down to the fine detail that I can render with film. No matter what digital camera I have tried ( it’s not many but there have been a few) I always fail to capture the subtly and detail. The results tend to end up looking hard, brittle, dry and lacking emotion.

As an example this image of frosted kelp made at Ganavan beach a few years ago has so much rich and subtle detail in the print and a natural sharpness that digital would struggle to match. Sharpness incidentally that is not the result of movement of a LF camera, nor LF lenses (LF lenses have a smaller dof at any given aperture that smaller formats and therefore have to be stopped down further to match their digital equivalents). The sharpness that I prefer is natural looking, with biting, three dimensional detail but without the brittle ‘digital’ look. It’s the same warmth and richness to be found in vinyl rather than CD, analogue rather than digital recording, a valve amplifier, real ale, I could go on. In other area of course digital excels; it is a match for film in the wider landscape, particularly in strongly lit situations and of course film cannot compete where instant feedback is now necessary (reportage, action, wildlife etc).
It interests me to know how much my visual style has been moulded by the equipment choices I have chosen in the past. I regularly ponder the conundrum as to whether it would be worth my while switching to digital and to date I continue to come up with a resounding no. I still feel as though I have only just started down my chosen path and have so much to learn, develop and improve that I simply cannot entertain the thought of change at this point.
I’m taking my 45su next week so expect to see my large format version of this in the next few weeks and pray that I might have cloud to make this image work. Once I have returned I will write more fully on the subject and luckily having made digital back ups of many of my past images will do some comparisons from my library. You never know, some expensive digital back manufacturer may start throwing gear at me in an attempt to prove otherwise! Anyway, I’m just heading outside to collect up some of that rocking horse s#*t for my flower beds while I wait for their call ;o)


  1. Hi Richard, I couldnt agree more. Having used film for the past 12 years, had a 5D and Mkll, sold them both, went back to film and to large format, Ive never looked back. What Ive found is despite the cost difference, because film and processing and scanning is a big expense, we all know that, is that film does not allow a photographer to make mistakes, especially positives, which is what I (and you mostly) use. For me, getting it right in camera is all part of the art, challenge and fun of photography. Im going to nark a lot of people but, with digital, anyone can take an image and make it a success of it. You dont really need to know what you are doing technically to achieve good results. Composition is another thing altogether. Ive seen so many people just look at the LCD screen and thats it. Choose f/16 or f/22, and fire away. No metering, no vision, no thought process, no commitment. Ive learnt that photography is about being true to yourself, and allowing yourself to be challenged, as well as to be patient and enjoy the full making of an image. Digital cameras rob so many people of this process because instant seeing is available, and this means you dont really have to use your brain, eyes and to think. Digital photography is so sterile its unbelievable. I also learnt that with all the pixel peeping that goes on, people really have just about forgot that its just 35mm! How can such a small area capture so much data when it comes to detail and tone gradation? It cannot. Its ok to get bigger images, but who wants big images if they are poor quality? I know this for a fact having Canon L lenses and Zeiss glass even. The cameras cannot resolve all the detail and tones you need for landscape. And no matter what anyone says, they ALL show chromatic aberations and distortions. Why pay such huge amounts for lenses that cant even give you good results? Large format is the way to go if the photographer wants quality over quantity, and that should be every photographer, and who enjoys the whole process of landscape photography, inlcuding all the challenges, the waiting, and patience required to fully appreciate your final image. I will never go back to digital photography ever. As for the MF backs…well who can afford those anyway? They are stupidly priced. Only the rich can afford them, which is just the point, its a rich mans game, and Im sorry but thats not photography. Anyone should be able to enjoy it, which is why I even show people my Holga and what it can do when you know how. Get yourself a MF or LF camera, dont let the manufacturers dangle the latest carrot in your face, buy one film camera, just like the good ol’ days, and it will last you a lifetime, and, you will have better quality than any DSLR, and you will also help keep film manufacturing in business!

  2. Got to agree with whats been said.
    New to LF and re-discovering film.
    scanning a few memory lane 35mm slides,
    and realising how pleasing the colours and contrast are
    really enjoying the whole thing, digital great for “work stuff”
    film for pleasure and satisfaction

  3. The end of Velvia 50 in large format, terribly sad news :

    • I think Fuji have again done what they seem to have been doing for the past few years; releasing news to the public before they have finally decided what they are actually going to do. It will indeed be a sad day if Velvia is being killed off. My understanding is that this would happen at the end of the year and if so I will try to get myself enough stock to last me a couple of years when mixed in with Provia and the new Kodak negative emulsions. No doubt my photography will have to change but I believe that change is a healthy thing for any artist.

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