Like many in this post-analog world I cut my teeth in photography on a digital camera. I learned about apertures, ISOs, shutter speeds, flash… all with the benefit of the instant feedback on my camera’s LCD. I had several film cameras years ago but that was when I was a teenager and didn’t know an aperture from a hole in the ground. So, curious to find out what film would be like after learning on digital I set out to find a good camera and jump down the rabbit hole of cellulose acetate. Below I sing the praises of film I but won’t be shooting weddings without my trusty DSLRs anytime soon. Digital is still king of my world and getting better every day. (D800 released today!) That said, film will definitely be a part of my photography for as long as it’s made and processed, especially for personal work and family shots.
So, I found a Nikon F100 on ebay for just over $200 and bought some film. Why not give it a whirl…
Questions in my mind were simple.
1. Will I see a major difference in the film images compared to the digital images?
2. Will my shooting style change when I can’t instantly see each capture on my LCD?
3. Is this worth the time and $$ it requires to purchase, process and print film images?
All answers turned out to be a resounding Yes!
The first thing I noticed was that my shooting style did indeed change. No longer did I just click away with my slutty shutter. I was forced to wait for that decisive moment for every frame; knowing that each click of the shutter equates to a dollar amount. And knowing I’ve only got a few dozen clicks available per roll! Quite the change, but a welcome one. From my first roll it was obvious. The shot above was the first frame I took with my new camera. My niece played on the deck for several minutes with me tracking her. I snapped this single shot of her. If I had my DSLR I’d have clicked 5-10 times already, and likely wouldn’t have found this moment exactly as it is here.
Inspired shooting continued through several rolls but the real bomb dropped on me when I got my first few rolls back from the lab. The images were …just better, better everything. Better contrast, better highlights, better shadows, better skin tones…(OMG the skin tones on a roll of Kodak Portra 400 are like butter), better vibrancy, better color gradations,… damn!
And as I discovered, the lab you use to process your film can be just as crucial to getting a great image. I sent these rolls out to North Coast Photo, an outstanding lab just north of San Diego, CA. Had them back to Vermont in just over a week.
The biggest differences in color were the greens and magentas. Just perfectly rendered…so unlike my digital Nikons that have a very particular way they process greens and magentas, usually over-doing the magentas and pushing the greens towards yellow. Seeing these rolls for the first time was like taking a pair of dirty goggles off!
These few images here are good examples of how film has great color separation and vibrancy right out of camera. Often results like this take several steps in processing for digital images. The shot below in particular kills me, his red shirt is soooo red, without having that over-saturated, digital look. One of my favorite shots from the roll, despite the band of discoloration on the right (my daughter opened my camera before the roll was done and gave me these pretty bands of color on several shots : )
Next up to blow my mind was that ever present film grain. I can’t describe it,… it’s more of a feeling, a texture, a state of mind. Kind of like describing the feeling of listening to analog records vs. mp3′s. The image below has awesome grain.
a closer look… the shot below is a crop of the film image.
and here’s a crop from a digital image.
both images have grain but the film is so much more…sexy, earthy, tangible, whatever you want to call it. It has it. Some would call it noise, but just as I prefer a bit of record scratch on my analog records, I dig the hell out of this type of noise.
Landscapes just sing on film. The shot above has those rich greens again.
Another thing that floored me was the detail retained in the highlights of a film image. The top half of this frame would have been solid white behind the trees on a digital capture, but here you can see the blue sky and clouds in back.
Here’s a perfect situation where I would have lost highlight information were I on digital. Direct sunlight, directly overhead is strong and harsh light. Under these conditions, white shirts on digital capture will very often blow out to pure white if the exposure is made properly for skin tones. On film it’s all good! Detail in the highlights.
The image above is a digital file captured at twilight, you can see clearly that nearly the entire surface of the water is blown out to white. Film would have retained much more detail.
Not a perfect comparison by any stretch, but the shot above has plenty of detail on the water while still rendering the sky beautifully. Below are several film favorites from this past year.
— Posted on February 7, 2012 at 6:59 pm