Friday, November 19, 2010

The Adventures of an Analog and Digital Photographer

I have been mulling over the idea of writing a blog post on my recent use of a digital SLR camera ( Nikon D90 ) it has been an interesting journey……

………Should I use film or digital ? I am finding out that each image capture technology, new and old has its own unique characteristics, I have been shooting large format 4 x 5 film, including 5 x 7 and 8 x 10 for quite a while now, about 25 years, and I feel I have gotten to know the use of view cameras quite well, although I am sure there are photographers that are more proficient then me, at the start, back in the 1980's I was not sure if using a view camera was worth the bother and I seriously thought about going back to using 35mm film, but I persevered on. Now today there is digital to ponder, I am no stranger to using a digital camera, I been using one every day at work as a staff newspaper photographer since 2001, I would not want to use anything else and I have no desire to use film for my work as a newspaper shooter, but for my personal work which I do on my days off and holidays, that is a whole different ball game.

I know there are a good many photographers out there who would not hesitate for a second to abandon the ole' film camera especially a clunky view camera, it can be heavy and bulky to carry around, a good day's shooting with the view camera I might shoot 20 sheets of 4 x 5 film, less with the larger formats, there is the developing, scanning and or printing in the darkroom which is a laborious task, so why bother ?, in some ways the view camera seems so outdated and old fashioned, especially when the digital option is so much easier to use. I have to admit that the image quality that I have been able to achieve from my Nikon D90 is very impressive as long and as I keep the print size to around 14 to 16 inches on the long side with out cropping the original file, the pictures are simply fabulous. I also realize that I have much to learn when using the digital camera, especially for my fine art work, although over the past year I have learned a lot about squeezing as much quality as I can from my digital RAW files, I am happy with the progress.

A few observations between the two systems and I should mention that there is no one perfect camera system, also do not mean for this post to become the all too common digital vs film debate. When I am out shooting with my view camera I tend to be more focused in making my pictures, I tend to concentrate more on what I think will be the best shot, I take my time to carefully compose my subject matter before may lens, I might add that I try to "see" what works best for the view camera and the particular lens I might be using, usually my 120mm lens which is roughly a 28mm lens on a 35mm size full frame digital or film camera, I try to see what view camera lens "sees". I have learned the limitations of my lenses and work around that. I find the view camera much more inspiring to use as a technical piece of equipment, I feel inspired when out in the field using the camera as it's is a beautifully hand crafted piece of equipment. I also realize that there are a number of draw backs to using a view camera, the limited number of photographs that I can make in a day is one, although I must say at the conclusion of the year I am content and happy with the work I have produced even though there are always a few pictures left on the plate that I was not able to make with the camera. There is the bulk and weight of carrying the view camera gear, once my back-pack is loaded up with a the bare minimum amount of gear, a couple of lenses, some film holders, camera body, tripod, light meter, plus extras like food, water and some extra clothing I am carrying a 35 to 40 pound load ( 15 to 18 Kg ) that can feel pretty heavy at the end of a long hike. Then there is the unloading and reloading of the film holders after shooting all day. Next I then have to develop the film, I can process about 16 sheets of 4 x 5 film per hour, on my last two-week holiday this past October I shot 225 sheet of 4 x 5 film, that took me ten days to get it all processed, doing a bit each night after work and on my days off, I then edit that negatives to see which ones I would like to scan ( from this holiday about 140 ).

I'm sure some would think that it seems like a lot of unnecessary work when compared to shooting with digital, with my D90 I can easily shoot 200 pictures in a day and have those all down loaded in about 10 minutes or so on my laptop, I can sit back in my comfy office chair , put my feet up grab a cup of tea and see what I have on my monitor screen and the editing goes pretty quick, like or don't like, delete. Despite all that work that goes into the using the view camera, I like the pace of work and I like being out in the field with it, to me there is nothing quite like framing and composing my soon to be captured picture on the ground glass screen of a view camera ( the 8 x 10 is really amazing! ), that for me is the creative artistic reward, when various elements comes together for what I hope to be a rewarding image. One thing that I run into with shooting digital, and I must admit that perhaps I'm not disciplined enough when out using the camera, is that I tend to take more of a lazy approach to using the camera - pointing it at various subjects with no real intent thought of making a well thought out image, consequently I end up deleting about 90% of my images, although I am getting better at my mindlessness, I need to concentrate on my work ethic with the digital and I feel in the long run I will be able to make some exciting images with the digital camera, I can see how handy it would be to use on longer hiking trips, when I don't want to pack around all of my view camera gear, and the image quality of digital cameras are improving year by year.

My plans for my future fine art work is to continue to learn all I can about using digital capture, and how I can integrate it into my body of work, I plan to keep using my view cameras for the foreseeable future, I hope next year to able to upgrade to Nikon's new D7000 DSLR, it has better dynamic range it will have a few more megapixels plus has a metal internal frame it seems from what I have read that it's better built than the D90 that I currently own also it's reasonably priced. The D7000's improved dynamic range will come in handy for my landscape work too.

Here is the tricky part of this post, the two pictures that I have chosen for this blog post were taken on my recent holiday this past September to the Red Deer River Valley area near Three Hills, Alberta, this is an incredibly beautiful area to photograph, I had some excellent lighting with lots of nice clouds hanging about. The two images are not meant to be a side by side comparison, they were taken within about a hour of one another in roughly the same spot. I have found when I have tried doing side by side tests between the film and digital that its sometimes difficult to come to a conclusion as to what is better, each has its pluses and minuses, I don't feel no one system is better than the other, at the end of the day its the photograph that counts, how it was made doesn't matter.

Technical information for the film image: 4 x 5 Ebony view camera ( RW45 ) 120mm lens, I don't recall the aperture or shutter speed, I think maybe about 1/8 sec at f32, I used Ilford HP5 film rated @ 200 ISO, which I processed in Kodak Xtol developer ( full strength ) the image was scanned with my Microtek M1 scanner at about 560% of the original 4 x 5 negative.

Technical information for the digital image: Nikon D90 DSLR camera, Nikkor 24mm lens, 1/250 sec @ f14, 200 ISO, I shot the image on RAW and used Photoshop CS3 to "develop" the image. I have also provided a 100% crop from the two images, this is not a fair comparison as I had to up size the digital image to match the film scan, if both were printed at around 14 to 16 inches on the long side, it would be hard to tell the difference.

If you have gotten to the end of this post thanks for reading ! I am not a professional writer, and nor did I mean this to be a technical review as to what is the better piece of gear, happy shooting and I hope you enjoy your passion as much I enjoy mine.

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