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Tuesday, 08 February 2011


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I agree with you about the entrancing quality of moving water, light and long exposures. Once upon a time back in the early '90's I went in the opposite technological direction when I made and used large pinhole cameras from trashcans. The cameras held 20x24 photographic paper taped inside to the back of the can. With an F number of 284 my exposures typically were in the range of 20-30 minutes. I loved what became visible in the image made possible by the accumulated light of the long exposures.
I had five of these cameras I carried around in the back of my van and a whole days work might consist of these five exposures most of which were failures for one reason or another but with persistence, there were still many good images. Here are links to two of them:
Catoctin Cascade http://www.edkirkpatrick.com/catoctincascade.htm and
Jeffery's Creek http://www.edkirkpatrick.com/jeffreyscreek.htm

Thanks to Charlie for the great write-up and beautiful photographs. My shift to shooting 4x5 was largely inspired by some of his astonishing prints in Yosemite. Sadly I don't have the budget to justify a phase-one back, so instead I'm left hauling both a dSLR and 4x5 camera just about everywhere (and my back pays the price rather than my wallet).

A very encouraging article - I was a fan of his photos before and now I find Charles Cramer to be humble and down to earth. I might have to buy one of those prints now, darn it.

I love the bit about Charlie "... waiting for the camera manufacturers to add a little red light in the viewfinder that comes on when I'm making "ART".

As opposed to some other forms of "ART", I am realizing that Photography is full of people I can actually relate to and find interesting. Thanks Mike.

Beautiful work, Charlie. Do you have any upcoming exhibits or books available for those of us who can't afford prints? I'd love to see more of your work in a non-internet fashion.

Thank-you for one of the most enjoyable and informative articles I have read in some time.

Cheers! Jay

A very honest article.

If I said something like "With that many exposures to work with, I have no excuse if I don’t find at least one good one!" on a web forum I'd be hammered. Yet, that's exactly what I've always thought. Nice to hear a top guy saying it.


Good article. As I read the beginning of the article I expected to read about you adopting a digital camera to use as a previewer for film exposure with your 4x5. Even Ansel Adams liked doing Polaroid tests. I'm intrigued by why you made the jump from large format film to medium format digital in one go.

This is a great article. Charlie's choice of gear seems very considered and is a refreshing change from the "gear fetish" that sometimes seems rampant in the photography world.

I like to use both. I'll use the DSLR to figure out the best exposure and metering, and then use the 4x5 to capture the final image.

Lovely photographs. But I must say I find these types of "oh the world moved for me when I switched to digital" rather tiresome.

I'm with @jay frew , a wonderful, piece - thank you so much...totally made my day... make that my week.

Very nice pictures and an interesting article. Only Mr. Cramer can really decide what he gained, but it seems to me the upshot of the article is that he gained very little by switching to digital. Maybe a little more "free film" but also less time of his own if he has to process and edit 1800 images on one shoot! (I couldn't help wondering why more efficient bracketing would not work with film in that situation, but I'm not that familiar with this kind of photography.) The trade-offs are different for different styles and of course only the individual photographer can decide what balance he or she really wants to strike.

In the end, it is very sad to me, a lover of film photography, reading these articles by experienced photographers who discover digital capture. . . sad because, in my opinion they seem to gain so little -- convenience --and yet seem to lose so much -- time, I think, and maybe even more important, film itself, the final demise of which they are undoubtedly contributing to.

I wouldn't mind having that waterfall print, or those trees. Wouldn't mind at all. :)

By the way, what I really like about TOP is meeting all these crazy photographers. Astonishing, marvelous, wonderfully crazy people. But still crazy. :-) Ed Kirkpatrick, my hat's off to you.

Superb images, and a fine tale behind them. I particularly enjoy the receding waves photo, and identify with the tale of the DSLR-user calling out the correct exposure. I've gone as far as asking those carrying a DSLR for their take on the correct exposure when using film in low light. Happily, they're often happy to oblige.

@Edward B;

"As opposed to some other forms of "ART", I am realizing that Photography is full of people I can actually relate to and find interesting."

I hadn't noticed that myself, but you're quite right!

Love photographing moving water, and digital definitely makes things possible that I couldn't do with film. One technique I've developed, somewhat akin to using really long exposures, is to combine multiple exposures taken at shorter shutter speeds. More here:




I expect the quantity of intermediate water exposures I've been seeing lately (not completely creamy smooth, not frozen) is due to the ability of people to play around more with the low cost and instant review of shots on digital. Some of them I like a lot!

Yes, digital is all well and good, but what about the 'look' of film. Don't you miss it, or don't you see a difference to care.

Dear Charlie,

Huzzah-- another fan of "stochastic photography" (vis: http://tinyurl.com/2da3o6b), as DDB dubbed it.

pax / Ctein

Good story.

And a good antidote to the "wait half an hour, take/make one shot and go away" mentality so prevalent in some circles (mostly LF landscape, I think).

I started doing some infrared work before digital, then did IR work on my digital camera and a while back got my old DSLR modified to be a dedicated IR camera. The difference is huge compared to film; it's impossible to completely previsualize something one cannot see, with digital it's easy to take a snap. Also, I get something like 10 stops more sensitivity with no grain penalty.

OTOH a couple of weeks back I took out my 4x5" equipment after a long hiatus from using it. It was refreshing. I could have done pretty much all of it in digital, but for a change I didn't. I think that I got the feeling at the end of the article; taking good pics is hard, no matter the equipment.

Thank you Charles for your article. I very much enjoyed it. I'm not sure that I would have gone through 20 rolls of 220 film on one setup - I think about half way through I'd've thought about a digicam, or a lightmeter....hell, even a polaroid.

"I’m waiting for the camera manufacturers to add a little red light in the viewfinder that comes on when I'm making "ART"!"

The Charles Sheeler quote intrigues me. Call me a contrarian (and my amateur art is certainly contrary to widely-accepted views on the difference between snapshots and art, but it pleases me), but if ever a camera manufacturer dares to put up a red light "ART" warning in my viewfinder, I'm going to smash the camera to pieces. I don't do presets in image software, and I don't do lowest-common-denominator software engineering by graduate programmers who have been told to aim for the mass market.

Ignoring my middle-aged neuroses and repressed anger, I'm fully on board with your film to digital journey. I'm just the inexplicably grumpy one at the back of the hall, that's all.

"One of the reasons for my switching to digital capture was the thought that being able to make many more exposures would lead to more "keepers.""

I have a theory that you only get X number of keepers per "image bank". So, (for example), 1 keeper on a 120 roll, 1 keeper on a 135 roll, 1 keeper on a 2GB memory card. The capacity or number of images on your "image bank" is irrelevant ;-) You can't cheat by shooting half frame.

Your percentage of keepers goes down the more shots per "image bank" - ULF format shooters make every frame count!

Of course, if you accidentally had your digi-wonder set to low quality and resolution, you'd probably end up shooting a magnificent number of keepers, at least until you see they are all at a 2MP equivalent....

Yes, but what about the ‘look’ of film. I’ve read countless articles on forums about the pro’s and con’s of digital versus film photography and vice versa but rarely do they mention the ‘look’ that film has which is very different to digital capture.
Had you shot the scene with the 4×5 as well as the P45 when it hailed you would of had two very different shots. I’m not going to say which one you/I would have preferred but they would have been different nonetheless.
What you’ve done is to buy a high-end piece of kit which now gives you a very different end product to using analogue film. It’s like if you were a fine art painter, investing in acrylic paint and discarding oils or saying you now eat apples instead of oranges. Sure, you’re still eating fruit but the two are not the same and should not be compared in the same way.
Nice blog by the way :)

Thanks for the posting. Always appreciate another photographer's point of view. One thing I think about is image overload. Does photography remain interesting and special if you're out shooting 1000 images in one sitting?

I only say this because I started going out with a DSLR about 5 years ago. I would go out for a few hours and shoot about 200-300 pictures. Ninety percent crap. Then I would come home and look at those pictures and go out the following week etc. Now I photograph with a 4x5 and in the same place for the same amount of time I am shooting 4-8 frames. If I shot b&w then I develop that week and may have at least 2 or more solid keepers. Color I send to a lab and have about a 36 hour turnaround. The following week I can go back to the same location and shoot again because there are still plenty of pictures there I haven't taken. I'm not focused on volume or perfection necessarily.

Last week I went out in the freezing cold, early morning and took 1 picture! Haven't even had it developed yet. Not necessarily a goal to work that way, but it was nice being outside regardless.

I guess my basic point is I like the mystery. I like slowing time down a bit. I don't need to speed down the digital autobahn like everything else in this GooglingTweetingFacebookingTextingFlickering world (I'm in my late 30s so not an old fogey yet). I like not having an immediate answer to something. Having to use my brain, and who knows, maybe my soul.

>>But this subject matter requires a huge amount of luck, since you don’t really know what the water will look like at different shutter speeds—unless you use a digital camera.<<

Of course, instant film will provide the same answer--worked for Ansel. :)


There are some people who feel you have to get past all the obvious pictures before you can start to really see a place.


Thanks for the kind words. First off, I should say that the Charles Sheeler quote was a favorite of Ansel Adams, which is where I first heard it.

To respond to some of the comments or questions:

Jeff: I loved working with film, and I'm really loving working digitally. But both are just a means to my end goal of making prints. If I have one complaint about digital capture (and digital printing), it would be that it's becoming almost too easy!! I'm joking here—but only partially. To make a good color print 20 years ago was a major accomplishment technically. Now, not so much. But the aesthetic component is still just as hard. Ansel Adams said that making 12 meaningful images a year was good production….

Paul: Do I miss the look of film? As a gross generalization, I'd say film tends to make shadows darker while giving tons of mid-tone separation. (Otherwise known as an "S" curve). I always worked hard to open up my shadows in film, and in digital I don't have to work nearly as hard. And you can always add an S curve. I find I actually do very similar things to adjust and fine-tune images regardless of whether they're film or digital. During an exhibition last year, I asked some people to tell me if they could tell which prints were from digital capture. Nobody did very well…

James: I agree—if there were such a thing as the red "ART" light in cameras, I would only expose when it was off! I was just expressing my frustration with how hard it is to get good images via a lame joke.

Sherman: When out in the field, I've used a "cut-out card" for 30 years. This is an 8x10 card with a 4x5 hole in the middle, and I use it to help me select what to photograph. I still use it with my digital camera, so I actually don't make that many exposures! (The 1800 example was because each composition of the receding waves was different—and I thought—why not go for broke?) So, I still do most of my editing when making the images, and carefully consider each scene.

HT: I'm still working on a "real" book, but the closest thing to seeing my work in books is in First Light: Five Photographers Explore Yosemite's Wilderness. And if you're having trouble sleeping, you can see a video of my most recent exhibition by going to:



Nice photos but isn't this really yesterday's news? Everyone and their brother (sister) shoots digital now. Most of those folks couldn't even imagine owning a film camera of any format. Film is a rare breed. Why I like to shoot with film is because the masters made well, masterpieces on film. AA said he would be pleased with 12 of such a year. Sure I own a digital camera or two but feel totally involved when deciding my exposure, developing and printing my own B&W work. When Les Paul invented the electric guitar it's acoustic sibling still sounded as good as ever. Just different.

I had the most wonderful experience to have been a student at one of Charlie's print workshops in California.

He is a wonderful teacher as well as a great artist. Seeing his work, in print, is just amazing. Like Ansel, Charlie is a great artist and simultaneously a fantastic technician. One could (and I did) stare at his photos for long periods of time.

After staring for a while you recognize that Charlie rarely uses skies as part of his work. He finds great compositions and by not including skies, gets natural and saturated colors of leaves, reflections et al.

If I sound like a fanboy it is because I am. I have no connection to Charlie other than as a student but I would heartily recommend to one and all that if you have the time you can't go wrong with one of Charlie's (and perhaps Bill Atkinson as well). I know I am going back to do a follow up and sit at the feet of the master on more time.

Woody Spedden

I asked Charlie to write on that topic, because one of the prints we will be offering in the sale is from film and the other is from the digital camera.


Dear Jeff,et.al.

Ummm, you do realize that Charlie was not only willing to haul a ton of view camera gear all over hell and gone to make his photos, but he then would make dye transfer prints from them!

This is not a guy who is at all afraid of a bit of "inconvenience" if it serves him well artistically. So you might well consider that he must have a much better reason for doing what he's doing than mere convenience.

Understanding what that is is left as an exercise for the reader.

He also does not routinely make 1,800 photographs any more than I routinely engage in stochastic photography. You're pulling a number way out of context. He's talking about a most specific situation.

I've known Charlie and his work for decades. His new digitally-based photography and printing is in no way whatsoever inferior, by any artistic measure, to his old film/dye transfer work.

To even imagine it might be goes way beyond one's love of film, or even nostalgia. It's sheer delusion.

pax / Ctein


I shoot digital and analog (Old Nikon F5 now replaced by even older Fuji GX680 system). I can get everything I want from my 12 Mpixel Pana GF1. Transportability, quality of optics, speed of working, good view (I own a EVF for bright sunlight). A Leica M9 or D700 wouldn't improve my way of working nor the quality of my images dramatically. The F5 (scanned using a Nikon Coolscan at 3900 dpi) didn't either. Both systems can do the same but the GF1 was hell of lot more transportable so the Nikon has to go. I replaced it with the GX680 6x8 120 camera. Loaded with Pan F or Velvia it outperformes both the Nikon and the Pana at least 5 to 1, loaded with Rollei 25 asa it will outperform it even more and scratch on the realm of large format. Film is not dead not by a long shot. I will rent and try an Phase One back as soon I have the money to do so but one thing would bother me straight away and that is crop factor, don't you have that problem using a digital back on a 4x5 it should be more dramatical as for my 6x8?

@MF Ferron:

On my blog:


is a nice piece about photographer Andreas Gursky (German spoken) (in 2007) still using film to shoot the famous picture "Hamm Bergwerk Ost". He is using a 5 x 7 European format and uses a drum scanner to scan this into a Mac, then he uses a H4D Hassi to shoot some fill ins and combines the lot in a Quantel Paintbox. As far as I know all the photographers of the Düsseldorf Schule still use film (Struth (8x10), Ruff, Höfer (6x6 Hassi and 8x10) for the better textures it gives them.

So to be fair I think there is a justified place for both methods of working. Analog scanned can still outperform digital, not in speed but in the texture of working and lets not forget in cost (a $40.000 digital back is not for everyone especially not in field use just think of the efects of gravity and dust on such a delecate piece of electronics). A ultima quality drum scan at 6000 dpi cost about $40 so 1000 scans would buy me a digital back. A low quality scanner like a Epson V750 sets you back a few hundred dollars and a medium quality scanner sets Nikon CoolScan 5000ED. The former give you 2400 dpi the latter 3900 dpi. Information on film can be as high as 5200 dpi (low grain film, optimal exposure and optimal development, rock solid tripod and razor sharp lens). That means a low quality scan is limited to 5 x 4 x 2400 x 2400 dpi = 115 Mp and edges are 5 x 2400 = 12000 pixels long which means a 40 inch or about 1 meter longest side. Now a drum scanner can go to 5200 dpi (since this is film limit) which means 86 inch or more than 2 meters longest side. My personal GX680 will be used in the following manner:

A: Find subjest with scout cam (GF1).
B: Make print of pic (A4) from scout cam (nice in its own right).
c: Return to place of crime with GX680 under same or similar lighting conditions.
d: Reshoot using a 120 roll film using the nine shots for 9 different exposures at 3 aperture and 3 time settings per apperture.
e: Select the best shot
f: Scan (dry) on V750 (not on CoolScan by the way up to A2 I won't see the difference)
g: Print A3 or A2
h: If sold or needed for exhibition
i: Rescan (wet) on drum scanner (professional probably Grieger).
j: Print on the desired size (limit: 7.6/2.54 = 3inch x 5200 dpi/300dpi = 52 inch or 1.3 meters at 300 dpi.)

P.S. I don't do "Street" in this fashion of course for that the GF1 comes in its own little discreet self. Mostly I shoot cityscape not landscape since the big outdoors is a rather limited commodity in the region where I live (The Netherlands).

Ed, one minor thing confusing me -- the Coolscan 5000ED is 35mm only. You refer to "not on Coolscan by the way up to A2 I won't see the difference", but you can't scan your 120 film on a 5000ED anyway. Do you mean the 9000, perhaps? (I've got the 5000ED myself, I'm quite sure it's 35mm size.)

(This makes little or no difference to the overall meaning of your comment, but since it's my scanner too, the detail stood out to me. I've been reminding myself of the value of going back and re-shooting things better myself, so your workflow that often involves two shooting sessions and multiple post-processing versions as your needs change is very relevant to things I'm doing.)

Also, you don't mention the possible use of stitching together GF1 images. For many kinds of subjects (sounds like a bunch of yours would fall into this camp) that would get you about any resolution you needed, $40 cheaper (actually more than that, since the film costs you, and the processing). I find I can make even pretty casual hand-held sequences of shots into a usable larger image a large percentage of the time. You don't have to make a long, thin photo; you can do grids of images to get any aspect ratio you need. And it doesn't have to work all the time since you have the film route to fall back on.

Ctein: Of course, no one suggested that Mr. Cramer's work is "inferior, by any artistic measure, to his old film/dye transfer work."

I went out of my way to say, to each his own, which of course includes you. No one is deluded here. I don't shoot film for nostalgia but for its unique qualities.

My point is that it's sad to me that because of the economics of film manufacture, my choices may soon be limited, when the choice of the masses, among whom you and Mr. Cramer now count yourselves, kill film for good. This is something that is probably going to happen unless people like me continue to stand firm to try to stem a very destructive tide. This has always been one of the functions of art and of dissent.

You'll note film users on this thread are not advocating exclusive use of film (although it's more than adequate for my type of work). It's only the digital guys who seem bent on deleting film from their work. Which I couldn't care less about unless that same phenomenon deletes film from MY work.

Shoot some film now and again, come on, keep it alive! Might even teach you old dogs a trick or two you've forgotten.

Jeff Glass,
The inevitable switch from film to digital in Hollywood, is more likely to kill color film for good than anything we do. We're a niche within a niche, a rounding error. That said, I do shoot film, mostly for nostalgia, and will miss the latest Kodak color films* when they are gone.

(A hundred years hence, I believe that Ilford will probably be coating one or two emulsions on flexible stock, and making good money doing so. In any case, we'll still be able to make our own wet plates, if we so desire.)

*Ektar 100 & the new Portra 400


First question: Oops......9000 it is, well observed thanx.

First remark: Yes, it will also serve as a way to slow me down and to think more about things like light, composition, contrast, atmosphere, depth of field. In a GX680 picture is more of "me" then in a GF1 picture and that's something of an added bonus.

Second question: I have tried stitching (using Hugin) as a front end to a collection of tools and I wasn't to happy with it. I never quite got it to work, maybe I'm a klutz or my pictures don't lend themselves to the stitching proces, I don't know (though the former looks more likely then the latter). Also I found that stitching shots take IQ (eh my IQ) away from the composition proces (during shooting) and that is were I make the composition. Therefore a 680 (with 6 x 8, a 6 x 6 and a 8 x 6 lines on the groundglass).

Greetings, Ed

Ed, from my not really extensive shooting of panoramas: you compose approximately and fine-tune it after stitching.

I tried Realviz Stitcher, which was quite okay, but then Photoshop came with a pretty good algorithm for stitching and I didn't need anything more.

A couple of months ago I reviewed the then-current Hugin for PC and it was quite nice. It's easy to get lost in all the options, but it usually works well on auto. No need to use the separate tools. Silly observation, but maybe you didn't have enough overlap between photos?

The photographs by Charles Cramer featured in this post are beautiful. I don't believe it really matters if his images were taken with a digital camera or large format film camera, good pictures are good pictures. I think what ever camera a photographer feels he/she needs to make their pictures whether it be digital or film is up to the individual photographer. Personally I really like shooting with my large format view cameras, but I shoot black and white film which I process myself to keep the costs down, also there is something about shooting with a view camera that makes me look at my subjects in a different way, likely because of the smaller number of exposures slower pace. I also shoot with an entry level DSLR camera which has amazing image quality, which gives me a different perspective of things, all in all there is no right or wrong camera system.

@ Erlik,

No the problem is parallax issues. I do interiour architecture quite a lot and then the distance between moi and moi's camera and the object is about 5 to 15 meters. Now a tripod is being used but it can't run the camera through the optic centre of the lens (where Pana put the iris in my case). So at that close a range (using a 24 till 36 mm focal length) a little parralax is deadly (or so it seams), and frankly speaking that frustrates the you know what out of me. Overlap is 1/4 till 1/3 in all directions. The grid on my Pany makes that part a breaze. Just move from left to right and from to to bottom using the 1 and the 3 crosspoints as reference and presto no problem there.

It's definitly not Hugin, it's my way of working in combination with Hugin, since i've seen great results as well, also from interiour spaces.

But the compositional problems are greater still. I want to be able to compose tradionally (in the viewfinder or the live display) and with a stich that does not work to well (to much technical stuff to think about). I'll keep on trying of course. I could try P-shop for it's stitching algorithm, but not to soon.

This could also be an option:


But somehow that seems a bit excesive on the price tag for the digital back. But it sure is tempting if I win the jackpot. Not for the stitching but for the digital back of course.

Greetings, Ed.

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