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Herr Barnack

Film photography has found its feet again

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From our friends at DP Review, a little food for photographic thought:

Opinion: Film photography has found its feet again

https://www.dpreview.com/opinion/4909160716/analogue-photography-is-not-what-it-used-to-be?ref_=pe_1822230_482835640_dpr_nl_415_9

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Gill has a point that there seems to be a reduction in the silly which is best debates that plagued the last decade. And things are looking up with a few new/newish emulsions becoming available. If only there could be stronger development by Fuji in the film market but that's not going to happen, I fear. And, which is also important, film is generally on people's minds and talked about, which is extremely positive. There are lots and lots of film photographers over at IG, for instance.

I've been wondering what would be needed for film to take off again as much as is possible in today's digital-focused market. I believe developments are needed in the self-scan department. While digitising is possible it fails to deal adequately with dust etc and also doesn't handle larger formats well at all.

What people want is the simplicity of digital as far as that is possible - that would lower the "barrier to entry", to quote Gill, and would entice digital shooters to try film, which in turn would increase film use.

If only a manufacturer could realise that what is needed is a modern scanner that handles the 35mm and 120 film formats, has Digital ICE or the equivalent, includes autofocus and scans quickly. 

With modern tech it simply must be possible to make a competent scanner that ticks these boxes. That would help increase film use which in turn would drive demand for film and for developing services. But someone needs to take that step. There was a brave gentleman over at RFF who began designing a film scanner but that project seems to have died.

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6 hours ago, philipus said:

I've been wondering what would be needed for film to take off again as much as is possible in today's digital-focused market. I believe developments are needed in the self-scan department. While digitising is possible it fails to deal adequately with dust etc and also doesn't handle larger formats well at all.

I have to admit, I've never understood the appeal of a hybrid workflow.  Why bother shooting film if your end goal is a digital image?  I shoot film exclusively and do scan it so I can post images on my web site and Instagram, but my end goal is a wet print made in the darkroom.  If inkjet prints and posting on social media were all I was interested in I would be shooting digitally.  Shooting film and scanning seems like the worst of both worlds. 

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Interesting...I kind of view it the opposite way...you get all the joy of using film cameras and the aesthetic of film, without the difficulty of darkroom printing. Especially for color, you have infinitely more options for printing film photos digitally than you do via optical prints. As far as I know, I think you can really only get Fuji Crystal Archive and a few Kodak Endura papers, primarily on rolls for minilabs. With the inkjet you have an endless amount of choice. I still enjoy black and white darkroom printing, but the color darkroom was never nearly as charming for me.

I agree wholeheartedly, however, that someone needs to make a better scanner. I say this as one of the lucky few with an X5 and an Epson V850 in my lab. But both have terrible software and are increasingly obsolete. More than a scanner, I think someone needs to make a universal or semi-universal all in one solution for camera scanning. Give me a very high quality transport/copy stand setup with a good light box and film holders, and I will be happy. Basically the Digital Transitions film scanning kit, except not tens of thousands of dollars to set up. Needs to allow for easy stitching, preferably to at least 8x10 film.

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1 minute ago, Stuart Richardson said:

Interesting...I kind of view it the opposite way...you get all the joy of using film cameras and the aesthetic of film, without the difficulty of darkroom printing. Especially for color, you have infinitely more options for printing film photos digitally than you do via optical prints. As far as I know, I think you can really only get Fuji Crystal Archive and a few Kodak Endura papers, primarily on rolls for minilabs. With the inkjet you have an endless amount of choice. I still enjoy black and white darkroom printing, but the color darkroom was never nearly as charming for me.

I agree wholeheartedly, however, that someone needs to make a better scanner. I say this as one of the lucky few with an X5 and an Epson V850 in my lab. But both have terrible software and are increasingly obsolete. More than a scanner, I think someone needs to make a universal or semi-universal all in one solution for camera scanning. Give me a very high quality transport/copy stand setup with a good light box and film holders, and I will be happy. Basically the Digital Transitions film scanning kit, except not tens of thousands of dollars to set up. Needs to allow for easy stitching, preferably to at least 8x10 film.

Agreed on the color front.  My comments were based on the fact that I shoot black and white film only. 

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Yes. I think my view is skewed as well as I do it professionally. Making darkroom prints for others can be a chore. Doing it yourself as a hobby (or even for your art) can be really rewarding. It is nice that you are on your feet instead of at a computer, but it is easier to work with a client next to you to get the work exactly how they like it ahead of time with digital, and it is also easier to do that kind of work up front, and then do the actual printing part without needing to pay quite so much attention, while you are doing other tasks. Repeat jobs and reprints are also a million times easier, so if you are doing editions, or if the framer damages a print, or even if someone comes back a few years later and wants more, it is very easy to do a nearly perfect reproduction. With film it means starting from scratch every time, unless you take very scrupulous notes for every print and every job.

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6 hours ago, logan2z said:

I have to admit, I've never understood the appeal of a hybrid workflow.  Why bother shooting film if your end goal is a digital image?  I shoot film exclusively and do scan it so I can post images on my web site and Instagram, but my end goal is a wet print made in the darkroom.  If inkjet prints and posting on social media were all I was interested in I would be shooting digitally.  Shooting film and scanning seems like the worst of both worlds. 

It's a question of degree, even in the film era photographers stepped aside every now and again from the full hands on process. William Eggleston comes to mind for sending out his negs to be dye transfer printed, an expensive high tech approach in its day, and even HCB had a personal printer to print his work. I can't really see an awful lot of difference between wet hands in the darkroom and an alternative stage between the photographer, 'analogue' capture, and the final print.

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15 minutes ago, 250swb said:

It's a question of degree, even in the film era photographers stepped aside every now and again from the full hands on process. William Eggleston comes to mind for sending out his negs to be dye transfer printed, an expensive high tech approach in its day, and even HCB had a personal printer to print his work. I can't really see an awful lot of difference between wet hands in the darkroom and an alternative stage between the photographer, 'analogue' capture, and the final print.

True, but in these cases the image was kept in the analog domain throughout, for whatever that's worth.  What I don't understand is why one would want to start in the analog domain - and subject oneself to the potential issues that can arise during the image capture/development phases - and then immediately switch to digital for production of the final image. 

As much as I love shooting film, I just don't really see the benefits of using it when the image will be immediately transformed to digital.  But it's quite possible that I'm missing something.

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For years I was only person I would see with film camera in Canada. I meet just very few over decade. But in last five years it is changing. 

Despite of massive film labs closing at least in Toronto here is one (at least) remaining film oriented store. Lots of young people every day and I see much more on the street.

But it is still minuscule numbers, presence.  From what I see, I hope film rapid decline will stabilize on some niche product status. With film, chemicals and paper still made.

 

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I'm in two minds about digitising. I have tried it and the results are ok with 35mm, similar to what I get with my old Coolscan V ED, but they don't match what I get with the X1 or the CS9000, which obviously also handle larger formats easily. But the one thing I dislike about using the X1 is the time it takes to clean the scans afterwards. Digitising with a digital camera will never, it seems to me, be able to incorporate a Digital ICE function. Yes, I know what there are those who claim that that removes image information but, honestly, in 20 years of scanning I have never seen any ill effects (to the contrary, the software-based dust removal of Flexcolor does degrade the image). And naturally, one can also turn Digital ICE off should one want to. 

7 hours ago, Stuart Richardson said:

I agree wholeheartedly, however, that someone needs to make a better scanner. I say this as one of the lucky few with an X5 and an Epson V850 in my lab. But both have terrible software and are increasingly obsolete. More than a scanner, I think someone needs to make a universal or semi-universal all in one solution for camera scanning. Give me a very high quality transport/copy stand setup with a good light box and film holders, and I will be happy. Basically the Digital Transitions film scanning kit, except not tens of thousands of dollars to set up. Needs to allow for easy stitching, preferably to at least 8x10 film.

I have seen this view expressed a lot but I simply don't understand it. Film's qualities as a matter of look, colour etc are fully retained in a scan. By using a hybrid workflow one gets access to all the possibilities that computerised post-processing affords. I also don't see any "potential issues" that arise during shooting and development. Film is utterly reliable and processing equally so in my experience. So the benefits are clear; a scanned frame will still be and look like a film image and retain all its glorious qualities. Digital, however, will always look digital.Ironically, it seems many digital photographers go to great lengths to try to post-process their images into looking like film.

For me this is not a question of which is 'better'. It's a matter of personal choice. There are plenty of types of photography where digital is objectively 'better'. I just choose not to use it because I dislike how it looks. That's the benefit, imho.

5 hours ago, logan2z said:

True, but in these cases the image was kept in the analog domain throughout, for whatever that's worth.  What I don't understand is why one would want to start in the analog domain - and subject oneself to the potential issues that can arise during the image capture/development phases - and then immediately switch to digital for production of the final image. 

As much as I love shooting film, I just don't really see the benefits of using it when the image will be immediately transformed to digital.  But it's quite possible that I'm missing something.

 

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11 hours ago, logan2z said:

Agreed on the color front.  My comments were based on the fact that I shoot black and white film only. 

Agree mostly with that but with one exception. If you shoot film and then scan it you have THE most important part of the process which is a silver based negative.

You can store the negatives in a folder anywhere that you want with no special electronics or anything to degrade or not work such as CD Roms or a Hard Drive.

I have just scanned some negs from 40 years ago and they are as good today as when the were first taken.

To me this is THE advantage that you always have an archival image that if washed properly will last almost indefinitely.

For colour, I have no interest in a colour image but if I ever do use it then always on digital as colour darkroom work is to me at least not really practical without putting a massive amount of work through to justify the expense and degradability of colour chemicals.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, philipus said:

I'm in two minds about digitising. I have tried it and the results are ok with 35mm, similar to what I get with my old Coolscan V ED, but they don't match what I get with the X1 or the CS9000, which obviously also handle larger formats easily. But the one thing I dislike about using the X1 is the time it takes to clean the scans afterwards. Digitising with a digital camera will never, it seems to me, be able to incorporate a Digital ICE function. Yes, I know what there are those who claim that that removes image information but, honestly, in 20 years of scanning I have never seen any ill effects (to the contrary, the software-based dust removal of Flexcolor does degrade the image). And naturally, one can also turn Digital ICE off should one want to. 

 

I agree, the results are not yet better than what a Hasselblad scanner can do. That said, I think with a dedicated setup and good software, it would be fairly straightforward to improve upon them. There is a case to be made that they are "good enough", but they have a few fatal flaws.

1. Is the dust that you mentioned, though that is also a flaw for every scanner without digital ICE as well as all camera based scanning. As far as I understand it, Imacon left it out as there was a quite hefty licensing fee, and it would have raised the price of their scanners even more. So they made their own solution with mixed results. The diffuser in the X5 seems to help though, as compared to the 646 that I used to use. That said, clean workflows leave me with relatively little dust to deal with, and Photoshop has become freakishly good at dust spotting over the years.

2. They get everything practically usable out of 35mm negatives, most out of medium format, but leave a lot on the table for 4x5. The max dpi is 8000, 3200 and 2040 respectively. Film probably has about a max of 4000-5000 dpi of practical resolution, depending on the film.

3. The sensor design and software were designed in the mid 90s. Seriously. Digital imaging and image processing software have come leaps and bounds since then. Newer sensors (be they in cameras or some new scanner sensor) have the potential to be much better with regards to noise, resolution and dynamic range. One person operations and tiny companies like ColorPerfect and NegativeLabPro have already surpassed the software possibilities of the EpsonScan and FlexColor software. Imagine what would happen if a company that decided to do it really well invested in it. Well...Phase One did, but they charge 6000 dollars for the Cultural Heritage version of Capture One, so no one knows about it.

4. The scanners and software are a ticking time bomb. Hasselblad has already discontinued them after at least 15 years of not doing anything to support the software other than keep it running. Now they have stopped that. Parts and service will likely not last much longer either. Mojave was the last MacOS that will run the software.

5. If the logistics can be sorted out (film/camera transport and setup, lighting, film holders, practical stitching), and there is access to good color negative mask removal and stitching, then I think that we can finally retire the scanners. Unfortunately, until that is professionally sorted, the Hasselblad scanners will likely be the best option for film digitization.

---------------------------------------------

I am sorry for the mountains of text. I know this is not directly the topic, but I think it is extremely relevant, as the film resurgence is largely dependent on it. I teach scanning at the photography school in Reykjavík, and my students often ask what they can do to digitize their images, as all the options are somewhat compromized. They want to shoot film, but they need it digitized...for portolios, color prints, sharing on the web etc. Their only practical and affordable options are the Epson V750 and V850, which have a lot of issues, or camera based scanning, which is easy to do on a basic level, but extremely hard to do at a pro level. My hope is that given the documented resurgence of film, someone with an interest in it (Kodak? If they still own the Eversmart patents, a run of those at a more accessible level could be amazing) might give us something to really bring us back up to date. 

After all the text, I will give you a picture at least. I came back to the studio after some time out of town, and found my chair sitting in some lovely light. I had half a sheet film holder that still needed to be shot, so I turned it on the chair. Processed in Xtol, but scanned with the X5.

Edited by Stuart Richardson

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Posted (edited)

Yes, this argument crops up time and time again. Each user should do what they are happy with but I certainly dispute the idea that a "hybrid" approach is qualitatively the same as just using digital. It really isn't the same thing whether you are using black and white or colour. It's just not. It isn't even close. The cinema industry has used a hybrid approach for decades and nobody complained that those films (shot on film, edited digitally and then put back on film for distribution and projection) were inferior or looked "digital". Film retains its inherent qualities (at least those ones that I am interested in and the reason I still use film) when it is taken through a digital stage. Personally, I favour an analogue to digital to analogue process (film, scan, wet print) but I have prints that derive from other methods and technology that I also like. I also have plenty of photographs that I view digitally (usually on my iPad) that were originally shot using film and I probably never will print them but I'm still glad I used film for them because they look unlike anything I've shot using a digital camera.

Edited by wattsy

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The hybrid approach is in some ways best of both worlds, not worst. 

The approach for shooting film is, to me, completely different from digital. You choose your film and therefore 'look' in advance, not in PP. When you scan the film you capture everything that makes up the image - the grain, the tones, the colours (if applicable). Yes you can still fiddle about in photoshop but ultimately you have a film image. 

Then you have a choice or multiple choices as to how you present that image - on screen, digital print, wet print (and let's not forget there are numerous ways to do that, paper type/grade etc). 

It's all good. 

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By "wet printing" a scanned image I suppose you mean a digital c print? 

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I think James means that since you also have the negative, a wet print is still always one option (ignoring the scan).

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7 hours ago, paulmac said:

Agree mostly with that but with one exception. If you shoot film and then scan it you have THE most important part of the process which is a silver based negative.

You can store the negatives in a folder anywhere that you want with no special electronics or anything to degrade or not work such as CD Roms or a Hard Drive.

 

Valid point, and one of the reasons I do prefer film.

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For me, wet-printing was always just "a necessary evil."

For the first 25 years of my career there was no other option, so I learned how to do it proficiently. I had the advantage of access to institutional, professional darkrooms with the elbow-room for high-end enlargers, drum dryers, drying racks, rotary washing tanks and so on. And relative "clean-room" conditions - although I still went through several quarts/litres of stuff like this over the years, spotting every individual wet-print (the #000 brushes also needed replacing every couple of months or so): https://www.freestylephoto.biz/category/58-Photo-Artistry/Spotting

Once I moved into graphic design and editing, and did not want to invade the busy space of the newspaper photographers, I had to start building my own darkrooms in apartment bathrooms. Worked fine for the "wet" stage (once I designed a quick-assembly/quick-breakdown wooden table for the trays, that fit onto a standard bathtub's corners, and another table that would fit over a standard sink/toilet to make another flat workspace for the enlarger). But no space for controlled drying - had to give up using fiber paper. Never could print larger than 11 x 14.

But even then, wet-printing was a PITA. Mostly, I gave up B&W altogether and shot color slides.

All of which made it extremely desirable to go hybrid and get a Nikon Coolscan LS-10 the instant it was introduced for $2999.99 (most previous pro scanners sold for $40,000-$500,000**, installed (1980s $$)). The "accessible" printers and paper for digital prints were pretty much cr*p for the next decade - but I trusted in the future, and now we have fiber-gloss papers, archival inks that match or exceed the lifetime of wet materials, and table-top printers that can produce 16x20s in 1/15th the space of wet trays/racks.

Nothing so much resembles the look and feel of a dye-transfer color print of yore as a 14" x 21" inkjet on fiber-gloss paper. Which takes 10 minutes to print, dry to dry.

___________

**I managed the installation of a new, very-small-newspaper darkroom, and digital -color-scanning system in 1992. The "cheap but pro" scanner for the time was the LeafScan 35 - $40,000 (and 8 minutes per three-pass color scan).

http://www.promarketinc.com/catalog/scanners/leafscan35.html

https://ingeniumcanada.org/ingenium/collection-research/collection-item.php?id=2005.0060.001

 

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