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Tuesday, 13 October 2009


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I'd love to see someone stick with the same dslr for 20 years!
With film, nothing could be easier to find.

The only thing I did not like about Panatomic, was the 25 ASA/ISO. I developed it in D76. I ended up buying Tri-X 100' rolls. Developer was either D76, or I pushed it 2 stops in Diafine. Enlargements were always on Kodak Polycontrast. Simple.

That's all I used until digital. I have not touched film since June, 2002 when I bought a Fuji S602.

May be it's the stockpiling habit that got the film users in trouble - film manufacturers *coughkodak*cough* see that the sales are good, but then no sales for a while and conclude that the particular emulsion is not popular anymore...

Speaking of which, I should stockpile some TMAX-400 120/220. I really like the look...

I could swear that I was still using Panatomic-X 120 in 1987 or so, and 70mm Aero Panatomic-X around then as well although I bought the Aero stuff in big batches short dated from freestyle. I miss that and Verichrome Pan. I never could get any of the T-Max films to look anything but awful for my work.

I think changes in software have more of an impact than the changes in cameras. My 1Ds images look better now than when I bought it, same for my Sony R-1. The big difference is a cranky film camera will still pretty much work without much effect to the images, and a cranky digital camera is unusable.
Well my 70mm film camera is pretty much unusable too..

Try Fuji Pro 160. I like the 160C, you might like the 160S. Both are great.

In a phrase, "Know your tools." Does the tool limit the artist or is the limit in the artist? I would think intimate knowledge and understanding of one's tools facilitates expression of creativity with said tools.

i still remember when there were rumors that kodak is killing tri-x a couple of years back, i headed to my favorite photo store immediately and bought a whole box of it. thankfully, tri-x is still around, and so is the stockpile in my fridge lol.

Dear Richard,

Many pros would buy multiple bricks of the same emulsion batch, but they didn't coordinate their purchases, so the sales averaged out the same. Hardly anyone did long-term stockpiling UNTIL they learned that a film would be going away. So, no, stockpiling did not make it more likely a film would be discontinued.


Dear Hugh,

Heh heh. Wondered if someone would catch that.

Kodak discontinued the original Pan-X 120 in (I think) 1973. The hue and cry were sufficient that Kodak decided that they'd erred. But, they did not reintroduce the old formulation, regardless of name (this a decade before the Coke Classic debacle).

Incidentally, this induced Ilford to introduce Pan-F in 120 format to fill the gap. A very nice film, and had I had a crystal ball to know they'd be doing that I might not have stockpiled Pan-X.


Dear Hookstrapped,

Indeed, NPS 160 is the closest thing to Reala out there, embodying much of the same technology. It's an excellent film. But it has slightly less accurate color, saturation and contrast, and it is noticeably grainier than Reala Professional. It's a very good Second Place, tho'.

pax / Ctein

I am totally on this one with you.
We used FujiNPH 400 both in 120 and 35mm formats for year - and the fridge is still full of it today. Same goes for Kodak B&W Films. Admittedly it doesn't get used that much today but it should be noted that people don't change for changes sake - at least not professionals concerned with making quality photographs. Consistently.

Ctein, I like the implication that if you find a digital camera with a sensor you like there might be no need to change or upgrade, but I wonder if the analogy works in the real world like it did with film?

It brings back memories of an affair I had with Agfa APX25, especially dev'd in highly dilute Rodinal. In the studio, and rated at around 12iso I got the most wonderful negs when shooting portraits, over exposed produced the most wonderful highlights with tremendous shadow detail! Then the twits at Agfa decided to stop production on the idiot pretext that APX100 would give similar results! They didn't know a golden egg when it bit them on the nose or other protuberances . I managed to amass over 400 rolls until some fool broke into the studio and stole them from the fridge. I can just see him now in some unpleasant pub offering 400 rolls of APX25 120 to all and sundry. He also nicked my Carl Bohm Ring Cycle, now who on earth would he have sold that to?

I'm glad people are still talking about film. I just got into it a few months back. It's damn expensive, occasionally frustrating, but rewarding both in process and results.

"In a phrase, "Know your tools." Does the tool limit the artist or is the limit in the artist? I would think intimate knowledge and understanding of one's tools facilitates expression of creativity with said tools."

That's kind of a loaded question. I know it's a tautology, but it's nevertheless something that bears repeading: different tools have different capabilities.

I.e. You can't freeze action in the same light using ISO100 film vs. ISO3200 film. That's obvious, but many times people like to say things like "it's not the camera, it's the person using it" without any qualification or caveat.

The reality is, tools do matter. That being said you need to thoroughly get to know your tools first before you can know if they are limiting you in any way.

In the original article the point was made that once someone found a film they like, they stuck with it forever and ever until they stopped making it, and with stockpiling even sometimes beyond that point. However that kind of action only makes sense in the context of someone who has already gotten to know their style, and what they like to shoot, has explored the tools available to him/her and is making a conscious choice about the best tool for the job.

So again it's a loaded question, arguably the tool does not limit the artist because if they've put their time in, they should be "picking the best tool for the job" as it were. That being said technology marches onward, there are always new tools being developed (e.g. D3s) which presumably gets "better" in some dimension. If that makes it a better tool for the kind of work you do, then I assume that, if you can afford it, you switch.

It might be better to define tools in a functional/ergonomic sense in this regard rather than a technical one...

I saw great benefits particularly in color negative film upgrades through my photo lifetime (40 years this fall! dating from getting my first SLR anyway). CPS, then various incarnations of Vericolor, and we're at least two serious generations past that now. Going from something rated at ASA 100 but often shot at 80 or even 64, up to something where the slow version is 160 and the fast version at 400 is extremely usable even in 35mm. Not that that's as big an improvement as from my Fuji S2 to my D700, but the digital technology is much less mature, so faster improvement is to be expected.

I haven't felt the same sense of progress in B&W or slide films, though. I never did really get used to TMY. However, I wasn't doing my own darkroom work when I started using the T-Max films.

Well, the only digital "film" that has this kind of keep is Epson RD1. After discontinue for many years (5?), people are still re-using the "film" for more than US$1,200. It resurfaced as RD1x but for $2,400, people are not buying. They continue to use the old digital "film" in there.

The difference between the kinds of film being discussed and digital upgrades is that the film didn't allow photographers to shoot in more environments and with higher quality. The difference between Panatomic-X 100 and Tri-X 100 were aesthetic. While those differences are certainly important, both were ISO 100, and both worked in the same range of lighting conditions. With digital, however, sensor upgrades allow photographers to take pictures they could not have taken with the previous generation of cameras. My last camera, for example, took great photos at ISO 400 and O.K. photos at ISO 800. My current camera looks great at ISO 800 and O.K. at ISO 1600. This constitutes an improvement in what I can shoot and where I can shoot it, which was less true for the film upgrades everyone's been discussing.

Well, let's see. You bought one film only until/unless some manufactor brought out a very clearly better one. Then you switched. You didn't stick with the first 'as long as you could' when something clearly better came out. You were all competitive and not wanting to be left behind. That's what I remember. They just didn't have clearly better film every couple years. I guess we'd stick with the same digital camera under those conditions as well, no? So... same diffence. IMHO

Of course the main prospective value in Ctein's post is, as Andrew quickly remarked, "Know your tools." But as Peter observed, the tools must also be adequate. Film photographers could change their compromise propositions very cheaply every 10/20/24/36 shots without changing the camera. Digital photographers have had to change the whole camera.

But the quality and properties of digital cameras have recently reached a point where they can do almost anything. Full (35mm) frame imaging and shot-in-the-dark light sensitivities are within nearly everyone's reach. The holy grail is here. Theoretically we can stop the chase and begin settling-in to actually learn to master the camera we have.

Ah but it won't work that way for most guys, will it? No, the fact is that most amateur photographers are cut from the same cloth as golfers and anglers. Most of the enjoyment comes from planning, analyzing, discussing, and shopping rather than actually doing. And that's fine, too. In fact, it's essential for us all.

The real problem with digital photography is that the best way to get better "film" is to get a new camera.

Ctein, you depict well the behaviour of film users, but it strikes me that I never heard of a particular DSLR that is so beloved that nobody would want upgrading it. I know Mike Johnston fell in love with his Minolta 7D, but Mike is a little weird, don't we know? ;)

There are some people who exploit the particular features of certain cameras (those playing with the noise of the Ricoh GRD), but I can't see the same devotion to a CCD sensor that film users have for their products (only exception I can think of is the Kodak digital monochrome camera). DSLR are rated in terms of performance and ergonomics. Films are rated for their beauty.

My theory is that a particular film is in fact a whole precise set of assumptions and decisions, whereas a DSLR is a vague, wide collection of semi-realized decisions that one has to complete in post-processing. So in fact, there's not much to love in a DSLR, since you are responsible for making it beautiful.

We film users are so lazy!

I used Plus-X and 160NC for years. There's nothing as forgiving that looks so good in digital.

On the classic coke thing, there was an article in the Sundat Times magazine about the increased sales of Mexican Coke in America. It is sweetened with cane sugar, and the taste is to most better. The theory in consiracy circles is the whole new coke thing was done to cover the switch in America from Cane to corn sugar.

"The difference between Panatomic-X 100 and Tri-X 100 were aesthetic."

Panatomic-X had a speed of 32 and Tri-X, 400 (320 for sheet film). The difference of speed was very real, even if there were also aesthetic considerations.


Dear Player,

I think it's too soon to tell. Dunno, mebbe, mebbe not.

That's why I was being very careful these last two columns to be entirely descriptive and not prescriptive. I was ridding us of some erroneous generalizations we'd unconsciously been holding onto. A precursor to serious discussion of the questions.

Peter brings up some of the interesting cofactors. I'd already been thinking, in fact, about writing a third column around some of that.

Or I may go OT again. Gotta whole week to decide!

pax / Ctein

I believe that someday we will have cameras with plug-in sensors, with these characteristics:

A) There will be choices such as these:
* various resolutions for given sensor size, with correspondingly greater dynamic range, etc, as resolution decreases and pixel size increases
* Dedicated B&W and Infra-red sensors
* Sensors with and without anti-alias filters

B) The plug-in modules will have to contain the image processing software. They will off-load the processed image to the file-handling software that will be in the camera, to be written to the memory card.

C) This technology will probably begin with Canon/Nikon, but soon after we'll see 3rd party plug-in sensors with options not offered by them.

Like you and many commenters, I had films I liked and was loyal to for many years.

Now that I've gone 100% digital, I find that loyalty moving to papers and inks. Red River Arctic is my favorite for a matte finish, for example.

I wouldn't think that my statement would preclude the use of different tools. But rather that in most cases the limitation is with the user as opposed to the equipment. Generalities tend to hold true for the common case, but fall apart at the limits. I think your final statement would be a good corollary, as it were, to my original statement.

I still have a few Fuji Velvia films in the freezer; but they make it so expensive to develop them, I may never do so. I tried most of them, including Polaroid instant slide film. So I was open to new films and did not find any being necessarily better, just possessing different characteristics (as you said, some better for skin tones.) I still have two projectors and a dissolve unit for syncing slides. But Digital is a wholesale and ongoing rapid change. This is all racing so fast that it begs the question, what will one do if they start to place 10 meg images on phones? The convergence is approaching fast.

What is one to do with all the digital images that are produced at about 100 times or more the rate of film images?


Just the other day I was thinking that I could try some EPN, but found that it was discontinued.

Something that really bit me was the discontinuation of APX100, which had very pleasing midtones. Reala I miss too, but I hadn't shot so much when it was discontinued, so no biggie.

Now I start to really like EPY. The old Kodak tungsten films have a very pleasing palette, but they are expensive and I'm afraid that they won't be available for long.

I still have some interesting things in my freezer, but my film volumes are not so large, I can concentrate on using maybe three or four emulsions.

Digital is 10 years mature. Panatomic-X and Tri-X were at least 40 years mature when they were released. I bet we can stick to the same DSLR for 20 years when it is released in 2040.

Lately the B&W conversions I have been doing of digital captures have been getting pretty good. Modern pigment printers have also improved a lot in the last five years.
The output from these digital captures on to modern papers is shockingly close to the best I have been able to do in a darkroom.
So why does the idea of a pro pack of TXP120, a week off and a Golden Eagle pass still give me chills?
Am I stubborn, ornery, living in the past, delusional?
Last month I spent a week up in the Rockies. I tired to limit myself to one camera, two rolls of 120 film and two lenses. I tried to work like I was using a view camera.
I believe the discipline that imposed was a good exercise for me.
The time spent just looking and thinking was very relaxing.
I'm not sure I would have got the same peace of mind filling up cards at flank speed.
Another reason I want to continue shooting at least some film is that becoming a good black and white printer is not a skill that comes easily. I don't want to toss it aside just yet.
Since my day job is in TV news I don't have to be practical about my still photography habit. If on the other hand still work was how I kept the bank off my back then I suspect film would now be a distant(and fond)memory.

"You bought one film only until/unless some manufactor brought out a very clearly better one. Then you switched. You didn't stick with the first 'as long as you could' when something clearly better came out."

Sure you did--that's what Ctein's saying. Lots of people stuck with their preferred film even after "clearly better" films came out.

Believe me, I know, because I was editing a darkroom magazine when a number of familiar products went away. With each discontinuance, I'd get bombarded with anguished appeals from people who needed the film or paper they were used to and didn't want to switch.


Adox KB14 with Rodinal 1:100...sigh. Those were the days. Also the respooled microfilm craze of the early 1970s...sigh. I now use a gigapan head to get extreme image detail.

Given the fundamental disposability of digital bodies (and their rather rapid technological obsolescence), coupled with the fact that digital manipulation is so fast and easy, lenses are what matters...

I used (almost without exception) Tri-X and Rodinal for more than 25 years. I have now had 5 different RAW converters since 2003.

Kodak Plus-x at ASA 320 and Acufine was my 20 year film and developer combo beginning in 1960. It just worked (for me). Acufine can still be obtained.

When I first saw digital images printed out, it was apparent that film had better dynamic range, but digital could record more colors. The gap has been narrowing ever since, if it hasn't closed by now. Still, the old analog ways worked...

My behavior has definitely changed from the film era to digital, I hope for logical reasons. Back in the day, I shot transparency film almost exclusively. With this medium, exposure is so critical it makes sense to become intimately familiar with the quirks of one or two films and stick with them rather than jumping around. For instance, like many folks I liked to slightly underexpose Kodachrome 64 to get better color saturation, deliberately composing to accommodate the resulting blocked-up shadows. I used K64 for a decade, then settled on Provia 100F because its modest contrast scanned well for digital printing. Provia required a different exposure strategy, but once I learned it well it made no sense at all to dabble with other films.

Things are different with digital capture. Yes, the sensor is "baked in" to a digital camera from the start, so you can't "upgrade" like you could by adopting a better film; but it's not quite so simple. If you're obsessive about image quality you're shooting raw files rather than jpegs, so your raw conversion software introduces a new wrinkle. Raw converters keep getting better all the time: more flexible and usable, but also steadily improving demozaicizing algorithms that yield better or more natural color rendition with fewer artifacts. The difference can be just as striking as using a new film. And the gain is retroactive! Raw files I shot more than six years ago make far better prints today than they did back then, largely because the raw conversion is so much better. Prints I made six years ago strike me as a little cartoonish in their color rendition compared to what I can do with the same file now.

Ken: "Full (35mm) frame imaging and shot-in-the-dark light sensitivities are within nearly everyone's reach." I don't think so; I think most photo hobbyists' budgets are under $1000/year. (I don't think that's true of the people HERE; we are rather extremely non-typical, in fact.)

(I picked the number out of the air. Of course there are a lot of people with bigger budgets than that; there are a lot of people in the world, and photography is a popular hobby. But I look at the cameras used for photos posted to Flickr, and to the fairly serious "photographers" community on Livejournal, and I see that most people are using P&S or cheap DSLRs, with things like the D200 and 40D mostly among the high end.)

"Nearly everyone" is a strong enough statement that I couldn't leave it unchallenged.

For me, with a highly-paid computer software job and no children, I could only afford the D700 by selling off an old lens that I liked but which had achieved absurd price-levels on Ebay (my Nikkor 58/1.2 NOCT basically paid for my D700 body). Census statistics tell me that one heck of a lot of people make less money than I do.

"This is all racing so fast that it begs the question, what will one do if they start to place 10 meg images on phones? The convergence is approaching fast."

That convergence has already gone flying by: Samsung's AMOLED 12M Camera Phone.

Dear Ray,

Well, no, that's not what the majority of serious photographers did... unless you define the phrase "clearly better" as meaning "so astoundingly better than what you're using that you'd be crazy not to give it a try AND you're unhappy with the quality of the film you're currently using." In which case, yup, yer right!

Tri-X is a case in point; so was Kodachrome. I could list many others. All films that hold/held a substantial following far, far past their 'image quality' sell dates.

pax / Ctein

Before I started in Digital I didn't even know I was that interested in Photography. From the late 70's until the very early 80's I used Kodak 110 film. For awhile in the 80's I used single use cameras, the disc camera and then 35 mm. But the use of film was a chore for me. I hated bringing the film to get developed, the cost involved, and I still have about 25 or so rolls of film I never got developed. Then in the early 90's I got an advantix camera. Boy oh boy the pictures from that were crap.

Then in 2005 I bought my first digital. And the whole world of photography opened up to me. Suddenly I was reading and learning everything I could. I bought a Kodak DS something. I quickly grew from that to a Kodak P850. I used that for a year or so, then I got a Fuji F20. Still have that one, use it for low light and when I want something small. Next I got a Kodak P880. That camera was my baby. I took it everywhere. The pictures (at low iso's are amazing). But then in 2008 I decided I had progressed enough to become a more "serious" photographer and this coincided with an inheritance of 5 Minolta lenses. So I got a Sony A-300.

So guess what? I hate the darn thing. I hate lugging lenses and that heavy camera. I hate changing lenses between each shots, and I quickly got dust stuck on the sensor, no matter how careful I tried to be. Sure I loved the speed and the pictures at high ISO's much better than the Kodak. But in daylight it doesn't hold a candle to the P880. I feel more like a photographer with it, but more often than not I leave it at home and take the F20 or the P880. The only problem with those is that now I'm spoiled with some of the higher functions of the Sony.

I've gone out on many an occasion and taken test shots with all the cameras. No matter what, during the day the P880 pics shine. I just love the look of that sensor. I think it's the clarity that gets me and the true to life colors. The shutter speed drives me crazy now, it is just so slow. And not being able to use it hand held in low light bugs me too. But I don't think I'll ever get rid of it because I still marvel at the photos it is capable of. Not to mention it's light, comes with a lens hood that stays on the camera whether you're using it or not. Now if Kodak would ever get around to upgrading this camera I'd be one happy camper.

I'm kind of stuck between 3 cameras right now and they all have their limitations. I wish I could get one camera that is good enough for most of the situations I would use it in. I've been thinking about checking out the new Canon G11. Or perhaps the Panasonic GF1. But so far nothing has grabbed with with the got to have it bug.

So in the meantime I use the P880 more and more.

Ctein: Karl hit the target: Digital is in its infancy. Would you have stockpiled the first or even second generation emulsions to the exclusion of later developments?

And, oh ... can you store DSLR bodies in a freezer? Will CaNikon support a 20-year camera you have metculously stored?

It's different.

Some changes in digital camera are like changing formats, not changing films. For example the difference in a Canon 30D and a D30 is imense, like going from 35mm to 645. And a 5D2 is like 6x9. You may have kept the same film for 20 years but many, many photographers moved from 35mm to medium format over the years. The only difference being that, then you kept a *small* 35mm body as well as your Bronica for portability and now we carry a compact digital next to our 35mm DSLR.

Once we get some maturity in the digital marketplace, only then will keen amatuers and professionals keep their gear longer. I suspect that the Leica M9 may be the first real 20 year digital.

The other factor is, of course, cost. Professionals and enthusiasts often compare the cost of running a digital camera against film costs. ie: 'when I've taken "x" frames with this camera it will have paid for itself". Once that "film cost" has been reached many *photographers* will emotionally justify a new purchase. You will have noticed that lenses, as in the past, do not seem to suffer from this disposable mentality. Lenses are not seen to be 'paying for themselves" like bodies are.


While we are talking about stockpiling:
can all the "still have film in the fridge" folks send it my way?
I'm tired of waiting for the switchable-sensor digital, so I'm perfectly happy to use your film.
(By 2040 I'll be long gone, don't care)

"Digital is 10 years mature."

Karl said just what I was thinking. Every major dslr upgrade so far has also been a significant improvment in image quality. But how long that will last?

What is the point of these film vs digital comparisons, arguments and analogies, anyway? Yeah, I can't resist them, either.

I agree that for a number of reasons it didn't make sense to frequently upgrade one's film, that many people in fact resisted doing so, and that this particular argument for upgrading digital cameras doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

But film hoarders were not the norm, but a passionate minority. They probably constitute the majority of remaining film users today; but back when film was mainstream, mainstream film consumers were not so hoardy, and were more ready and willing to buy what they were told to buy or what was available. On the other hand, they were also ready and willing to upgrade their cameras fairly often.

Another thing: if, as some commenters suggested, we make allowances for the accelerated pace of advancement in digital cameras--looking at it in terms of product generations rather than years, I think a passionate minority do indeed "hoard" digital cameras: Olympus E1, Fuji F31, Canon 5D, Nikon D40, Sony R1...

For me the best ones were TriX in BW and Kodachrome 25 in colour.
For more than 30 years ... And in spite of the easyness now provided by digital I always consider that most pictures are better when from films (Kodachrome and TriX). But digital allows so much comfort and easyness to manipulate... It's a pity: the quality is not the same. It's like a vegetable grown and selected with attention versus an industrial one. And the same applies to everything: cars, clothes, etc., etc.


A similar digital argument is however long JPG and RAW format files (e.g. NEF, DNG) are valid. If a new format comes along that better and replaces JPG or these raw formats, it will eventually replace these formats.

Then, it is only a matter of time when compatibility runs out and they are no longer used. How many people can still open a WordStar document on a daily basis?

While Tri-X has lasted over 50 years; I certainly hope that in 50 years there will be a format better than JPG or raw files available to me!!!


"What is one to do with all the digital images that are produced at about 100 times or more the rate of film images?"

This is a real problem, but have you noticed the trends on the consumer software side recently? Everybody and their uncle is trying to sell programs that can "see" photos and recognize things in them. That's the new big thing. I got to feel that improvements of that sort are dependent on algorithm improvement and increases in processing power. Which means that we're really going to be gated by the former, not the latter. It'll be interesting to see where this goes over the next few years. Wouldn't it be nice to pick a few representative photos of "Uncle Ted" and then have the software tag every single photo in your library with that label? If "Uncle Ted" is in the frame with lots of other people perhaps the software will suggest things like "party" or (if it recognizes other people in the photo with specific relationships) even "family reunion" in your library.

"I used (almost without exception) Tri-X and Rodinal for more than 25 years. I have now had 5 different RAW converters since 2003."
"Believe me, I know, because I was editing a darkroom magazine when a number of familiar products went away. With each discontinuance, I'd get bombarded with anguished appeals from people who needed the film or paper they were used to and didn't want to switch."

In some ways the more things change, the more they stay the same. I know after I got used to the workflow and look of a RAW converter I just stuck with it (Pixmantic RSP) regardless of how many times Adobe updated ACR. Then they got bought out by Adobe and development was discontinued :( That still irks me to this day. I got a free copy of Lightroom out of it, but I liked working with the software and I liked the results darn it. Lightroom in its 1.x incarnation is far slower than RSP ever was.

"Now that I've gone 100% digital, I find that loyalty moving to papers and inks. Red River Arctic is my favorite for a matte finish, for example."
Has anyone noticed changes to formulation in inksets or inkjet papers within the same "brand" or "type"? Has this driven anyone to start stockpiling inks and papers? I know as someone who owns an older model Epson (R800) I am always on the look out for when compatible ink comes up on sale, close-outs, or discount because I probably can't afford to replace the printer anytime soon and there's no way for me to know when Epson will stop making the ink. Not being a "consumer" model, I don't expect the installed base to be big enough for third parties to start making ink either.

"I know after I got used to the workflow and look of a RAW converter I just stuck with it (Pixmantic RSP) regardless of how many times Adobe updated ACR. Then they got bought out by Adobe and development was discontinued :( That still irks me to this day."

Tell me about it Peter--I've always hated Microsoft Word, so I used Wordstar, then WriteNow (my favorite--simple and elegant), then Appleworks...all of them now discontinued.


All the "lifetime" films mentioned were invented 40+ years after the introduction of film. I doubt many film photographers of 1890s stuck with the film of that period when something better came along. It may be 2020 before we see a digital product like Kodachrome.

At some point in the future there will be some other technology change, and the geezers will be griping at all the new whipper-snappers about the good old days of CMOS and CCD, and how inferior and artificial the new tech is, and how easy the new photogs have got it, etc....

Dear Folks,

The "stockpiling" thing is a side-issue. I brought it up to emphasize how important the continuity or materials was to many of us, but that's all. Don't focus too much energy on it; it's peripheral to the important point.

The majority of serious photographers did not stockpile. The majority DID stick with their favored media long after it stopped being the king-o-the-hill.

Just puts the lie to the assumption that it's the obligate norm to 'upgrade' as soon as something noticeably better comes along. That's all.

pax / Ctein

I suspect I am probably the only person on the planet who liked Agfa Ultra 50 enough to hoard it. I still have over 5 "bricks" of 120 in the freezer, and trying to figure out what exactly to use it for; moving overseas in six months and I would like to "spend it" by then.

Great film though, at least in medium format; I think it looked a little too grainy/blotchy in 35mm, but 20x20 prints from a 6x6 neg look wonderful.

Speaking of sticking to one camera and film for the rest of your life, this showed up in my email this morning. (Actually he wore out about 4 or 5 cameras)


Aside from a kind mention of a little project of mine, SX-70 film is coming back.

If only 665 were coming back too.

I never found a film above 400 that I liked and I was pretty ambivalent about the 400 speed films. I had a fav 50 and a fav 100. But I would try every film 400 on up.

Had I been shooting B+W I might have had a fav above 100.

Several people have suggested that the discussion fails because the films I referenced were much more technologically mature than digital is. That's not really the case.

Once we're out of the wet plate/collodion*/whatever era, you're into dry films that consisted of simply-crystallized silver halides in gelatin with industrial-derived sensitizers. That didn't change until the 1970's, and film progress was SLOW. Early photographers had even less reason to change materials, and if you read what first-hand accounts exist from the first half of the last century, you'll find that they were disinclined to jump ship until forced.

The 1970's saw the introduction of modern, innovative sensitizers and couplers, the 1980's novel silver halide structures, and the 1990's fully automated coating facilities. Before that, it was "old school" and it moved slowly. One reason I focused my historical perspective on films post 1970 (other than personal convenience) is that films started improving much more rapidly then. If there were incentives to switch, they were much stronger in the last three decades of the 20th century than the first three.

pax / Ctein

(*the equivalent technological era for digital ended almost two decades ago)

Ctein: How would you compare the film improvements in the last decades of the 20th century to the first three (?) generation of digital cameras in the first decade of the 21st century? I ran Tri-X for many a year, and I never switched to T-max for a number of reasons. I still think that Tri-X can hold a candle to T-max. But can a five year old digital compare favourable to an up-to-date digital? I think not. But as digital technology matures, its progress will slow down (me-think). (Besides, thanks for an insight to old vs new film technology.)

There are so many interesting films still available that I can't see myself only using one. Tri-x, new Tmax 400, the Efke films, Neopan Acros, FP4, Pan F just in B&W. I think of it more like an "fx plug-in." Different looks communicate different ideas. To me, because of digital, I think of all of these films as different colors/options in the palette. I work in a hybrid fashion but, still, by the time I've got a scan into Photoshop the image is 9/10ths of the way there. However I see this as just an analogue version to what I've been doing with Photoshop.

I think that it's in post-processing where the differentiation occurs, not the sensor. So the true analogy to film is not really the sensor, but the software (including the raw processor) that re-imagines it. Film is just easier on my wrists.

Peter, it is the old cart before the horse conundrum.

Ariel, most people can't tell the difference between a film or digital print, especially from a few feet away.

I use Leica's because my father bought me an M6 body a year before he died, 8 years ago. It is my way of having my father with me whenever I take photos of the kids or at work. It suites me just fine.

Otherwise, I would use whatever I needed to get the job done properly.

In the meantime, if someone could point me in the direction of a Leica 24/1.4 at a reasonable price, I would be much obliged.

I think we're at a point that's analogous to that post-70s era that Ctein was talking about for digital.

Remember that because these are chips, all the immense existing knowledge base and experience with fabrication and manufacturing expertise can be brought to bear on digital imaging if there is sufficient economic incentive to do so. All the more so with the trend toward moving imaging sensors to straight CMOS.

I don't know that much about that field to be honest, but I do know that engineers are fundamentally lazy (in a good way). You have to believe that anything and everything that they've learned about making regular chips that go into the electronics that are totally ubiquitous, if it can be applied, it will be applied to digital sensors. We take this for granted all the time because we watch the prices of dSLRs drop every year, even while the features and capabilities get better.

However, I don't believe that film has a similar complementary technology at the time (I'd love to hear more discussion about this, if I'm mistaken). So this is a kind of fundamental difference in the development of the two mediums.

I'm afraid the whole film analogy may be a side issue here, or even a red herring.

The fact is that serious/professional practitioners of all kinds of arts, crafts, and technical work are generally averse to changing their working methods, environments, and tools. Doing so can mean costly disruption, and the risk that the results will not be worth the time, effort and psychic energy devoted to the adjustment.

For working photographers in the film era, even for those who did not have aesthetic investments in particular films, adopting a new film could mean significant testing, recalibration and even changes in painstakingly honed workflows or familiar materials. All at the risk of little or negative impact on overall working methods, results, or bottom line.

Upgrading a body was often a comparatively less traumatic event. This was (and still is) often done within a system, where many conventions and characteristics remained the same within a model line and often across model lines as well. Even the more difficult adjustments here would likely have minor impact on overall work flow. The payoff was often a new feature or two that sped work along or expanded capabilities.

I propose that things haven't changed that much. Canon, Nikon and others appear to strive to minimize radical changes within successful lines, and today that includes image characteristics. To my eye they largely succeed in preserving general image character even as they increase resolution or sensitivity. For example, as far as I know, people who upgraded from a Canon 20D to 30D to 40D had to change little to preserve their process and "look", while enjoying for the most part features and files that sped things along or expanded capabilities.

Even Canon's compacts share a brand "look" that reviewers often mention. Radical innovations like live view and face detection, while offering more shooting options, are in fact options that need not impact fundamental work flows.

So it seems to me that upgrading a body and sensor these days is still more like upgrading a body than it is like upgrading film. Not as big a deal as, say, switching from Tri-X to TMax or Neopan, or going from Kodachrome to Velvia.

What also hasn't changed is a conspicuous segment that seems ever eager to embrace the next big technological "improvement", ever ready to try, test, measure and adopt the next potentially game-changing innovation; some of them ever ready with clever rationalizations and analogies. This segment overlaps with serious/professional photographers who are seriously/professionally seeking a change in tools or methods.

There is nothing wrong with any of that. But there doesn't seem that much different about it, either.

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