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Friday, 03 December 2021


First, I agree. The only reason to use film now is because you want what it offers; that it delivers what you are looking for in a photograph. There are a lot of versions of that. I have a friend who shoots with an 8x10 camera, primarily because he does all his printing with platinum. He needs that big negative.

I was an early adopter of digital because after decades of shooting in black and white, I became increasingly interested in color. And what I was interested in was the weird things that color does in different lighting conditions. I was shooting color negative film and having fits because my labs were doing a great job of color correction...which eliminated exactly what interested me in the photo. When digital came along all of a sudden I could make my own prints and keep the weird color I wanted.

These days I find myself shooting more black and white. But with my digital cameras. You saw the prints from my "Class of '69" project. I think they look pretty reasonable. That project is on my web site here: http://davelevingston.com/123/index.php?/category/8
(Not that you can really tell what the prints look like from a screen image.)

I also do a lot of "toned" black and white prints using a formula that I devised in the NIK software to get the look I am after. The one you showed on here with my post about orbs is an example of that work.

I can't see any reason to return to film. You outlined why pretty thoroughly. My standard is, "Is it better than Tri-X at 400." The answer with just about any digital camera available today is yes and then plenty.

["I think they look pretty reasonable." Oh, much better than reasonable! With the exception of a few that I pointed out to you, they were beautiful. Very well done. I enjoyed those very much. --Mike]

"Of course, I suppose good workers in any craft have always been in the minority, and film photography is a beautiful craft. And an ancient one, dating back to just before 1839 (our Year Zero)."

I fully agree with your first statement (in the above quote). In my view, it is that idea of craft that is, in the main, lost when photographs are not printed and, instead, are merely viewed on a 'device'.

However, I must quibble with your second statement. Being a practitioner of salted-paper printing, I fully understand "year zero" for photography on paper.

But, I am currently reading Elizabeth Brayer's interesting biography of George Eastman and thus have learned that the development of "film" for photography occurred several decades after Fox Talbot's work.

I still enjoy film photography; I like the cameras and the process. I'd be interested to hear more of your opinions of the best film/developer/technique combinations. Or recommend a book.

I don't do wet lab. I'm a lighting person who couldn't care less about lab work. After I press-the-button on a well lit and composed scene I turn the lab work over to a pro.

Recently I've used Blackie, on my iPhone, for B&W https://apps.apple.com/us/app/blackie/id904557761

This is rich stuff that I'll save to read carefully later.

I haven't done it in ages, and I'm a terrible note-keeper, but I'm pretty sure that at some point I decided that the best way to scan BW negs on my cheap Canon flatbed was to scan it as a color positive and then afterwards invert and convert to BW.

No matter how you do it though, what about the destination display? Is that not a third variable? I believe very few monitors are calibrated with BW in mind, if they're calibrated at all. On top of that, won't adjusting the monitor for changing ambient lighting and/or to preserve circadian rhythm (adjustments that are increasingly automated, btw) screw up that final curve anyway?

The matching of film and paper curves reminds me of matching RIAA curves for vinyl records--amusing given recent posts.

Bollix, eh?

Mike this debate was settled years ago.

[Thank you. This isn't a "debate" post, it's just for those who choose to work with film for whatever reason. I changed the text because of this comment, to reflect that. --Mike]

Once again you so clearly have stated the obvious and also have not stepped on any toes belonging to the color film diehards. I just don’t understand why anyone would shoot 35mm color film or even medium format color film. Cost, processing, scanning, color balance, it’s a nightmare and at the end of the day you end up with a inferior digital image, WHY ? I watch a you tube guy that goes around on photo excursions and shoots large zip lock bags of 35mm and medium format film and yes it reminds me of my early days shooting film but agin I ask WHY. The images can be duplicated with a digital camera several years old containing an older sensor. As you have said if that’s your thing go for it, all we need however is a B&W digital sensor camera that is not LEICA priced. Most digital B&W that I see on the web is quite bad and maybe that’s why some people assume color film will be better than color digital, it is definitely not. Color film is dead folks, stop drinking the Kool Aid, oh I forgot it slows you down, it forces you to conserve image count, those guys on the web swear by it.

I make a flat scan on a Nikon 9000 scanner. This seems to get all the information in the negative. In PS, the curve in the adjustment layer used to adjust the contrast typically looks just like the film curve you show in this article. I will also do multiple adjustment layers with masks to emulate dodging and burning.

I still shoot some film, but I'm mostly going through my archives of the last 50 years. The results are really good, if I may say so myself. I feel guilty that I don't miss printing in the darkroom.

Mike: I would suggest, if you choose to master film, that you shift your priorities to go for the maximum beauty of the medium. Don't try for fine grain; . . . grain is a concern with high enlargements. If you don't like it, just enlarge less.

Grain is one of the aspects of film that gives it character, but sometimes enough is enough. This is one particular area where the confluence of analog and digital—and, more specifically, the emergence of computational photography—offers some new opportunities to what I think of as hybrid photographers. I’ve found I can acquire considerable control over the amount of grain in a film exposure (I’m referring specifically here to scanned black-and-white negatives), by invoking the machine-learning enlargement technology of Topaz Gigapixel, Adobe Lightroom, and programs of their ilk: if I think an image is displaying too much grain for its target medium (e.g., web or print), I double the pixel dimensions computationally, then reduce the size by half on export. Voilà (or “viola,” as a software hacker of my acquaintance used to say): less visible grain.

I remember in the late 1970s Kodak made a high-speed color negative film, I think it was Kodacolor 400 but it's been a while, that had a lot of technical compromises. Mainly in order to achieve that speed, it had a lot of color crossover error. I think the curves for the different colors may have been different. A lot of art photographers were using it in medium format and overexposing it getting the highlights into the low contrast part of the curve and the shadows into the contrasty part. It was designed to be an amateur film suitable for fixed exposure snapshot cameras much like Verichrome Pan filled the same niche in black and white. I think that it was supposed to be suitable for low-light tungsten as well as overexposure in daylight. It may have been related to the Type-G Ektachrome that they were selling for low-light movies. This is from 40 years ago so I'm a little fuzzy.

Anyway, the word from a Kodak tech rep was that Kodak just hated hated hated that look and after a few years they "fixed" it. I suspect it was the same people who killed Pan-X and Verichrome.

It was really the only color film other than Kodachrome that I ever liked.

I have been developing and scanning B&W film for almost 20 years and will never claim to be any kind of authority on the subject. In my case it might be the equivalent of owning more than one camera and using too many lenses. One never masters any of them. Same with shooting B&W film really. You might want to try this film or that using a different developer, never mastering any combination.

I will say that when it comes to scanning, developing B&W film a bit on the flat side by cutting times a bit makes for a more adjustable file. It is very satisfying when it all comes together.

I found that the scanning of negatives was best done when they were developed in the low contrast D-23 developer.

I remember commenting sometime in the past that I still shot film on occasion because it forced me to slow down and look, if not more carefully, then at least more slowly. It was (and is) a good tonic for when I feel my normal fast-paced shooting leaves me without satisfactory results.

But what you write about film is, unfortunately, all true as far as I'm concerned. After all my years of shooting and developing, I think my negatives are mostly okay but my scanning is frankly terrible. To the point that I think I get better B&W results from digital images processed through the Nik plug-ins. So I'm on the verge of deciding never to shoot film again (except never say never, and all that).

More power to everyone who is still shooting film and enjoying the results. In fact I really enjoy many of the (young) photographers on twitter who post really lovely results from MF & large format trips into the mountains.

But for me, my current antidote when I start to get bored with my own results is, instead of picking up my old film cameras for a week or two, is to shoot my old Canon 5D with some adapted Mamiya 6x7 lenses. With the clumsy manual-focus adapter, lack of live view, and dull little LCD for "approximate" chimping, it's still an exercise in "slow photography" that is different enough from my normal routine that I have the chance to slow down and remind myself to look at the scene a bit more carefully. I guess if nothing else, that's an indication that digital is becoming mature enough that old digital does, in fact, start to feel old.

The one problem with this current situation is, I still have some undeveloped film somewhere and I hate to just let it age past its date. Maybe I'll pass it along to some young hipster who wants to "Believe in Film", or whatever the current hashtag is. 😉

Your two-part series on b&w tonality relates well to some of this discussion…


An excellent article - thank you. The reference to the earlier 2017 article about improving BW digital scans is very helpful and I look forward to testing that approach with scanned large format BW.

If I were a rich man, I'd buy an 8x10 view camera, a Cooke Series XVa Convertible 8X10 Lens in a Copal #3s Shutter, a pile of Tri-X to last the rest of my life and a contact printing setup.

It's a nice fantasy but a brand-new Leica M10 is a cheaper one.

"A lot of people have lots of money, and some people don't have much at all. So talking about expense really has nothing to do with the activity;"

After the times you have wished for a dedicated monochrome digicam at much less than Leica prices, and considering the above, I'm surprised you haven't mentioned the M-Monochrom Leicas.

I am not a mono guy, and seriously dislike rangefinders. But . . . following the work of a talented Leica shooter, it seems to my eye, even in web JPEGs, that the Monochroms have curves and a smooth subtlety of tonal graduation that surpass at least the vast majority of RGB to mono conversions.

With a large Ctein monochrome print from a UV converted Oly here to view in person, I'd expect equally expert prints from Monochrom bodies to be wonderful.

". . . that's not to say that there aren't people out there doing very fine work with film; there are. (You don't have to protest. I know you're out there.) They're in the minority, is all I'm saying."

Wasn't that true back then, as well?

There were an awful lot of mediocre to poor B&W shooter/developer/printers in film days (including me). I'm not surprised that there are equally questionable results from contemporary scanning/printing.

Good B&W scanning requires learning, care and attention, but isn't all that hard with a proper scanner and software.

Likewise printing of monochrome, esp with some of the special inks, etc.

[I've never used a Monochrom, so I can't really talk intelligently about them. We did offer some Peter Turnley Monochrom prints, however, in the past. --Mike]

This post is quite a reality check for those of us who convert digital images to B&W, and for those of us who have our B&W film negatives scanned to work on them in digital postprocessing. I see your point that digital photography has brought color to its best expression. I do not have your darkroom skills or knowledge of printing paper (or a darkroom)in order to render optimal B&W film prints. I know I will continue to convert digital images to B&W. Any suggestions about good technique would be appreciated.

For many years I have been involved in the extensive digitization (camera scanning) of B&W negatives of various shooting formats.
Mostly historical shots or from the last decades.

I achieve excellent results with it, because I work very carefully.
Again and again I read that this digitization would change the analog character of the tonal values very much, because the camera sensors image linearly, but the characteristic curve of the analog films is often curved (which is usually very advantageous in pictorial photography).
These characteristic properties of the films would supposedly be more or less lost with the linear imaging of the camera sensors, the images would then supposedly look digital.

I consider this view to be wrong, since the tonal bends of the film curve and thus the placement of the tonal values are already firmly anchored in the negative. Linear digitization transfers these analog characteristics completely and the impression of the tonal values remains analog despite this digitization!
This point is very important to me.

I admit, however, that the subsequent tonal value changes that used to be additionally added by the subsequent enlargement are omitted when the image processing software only inverts the image.
But also the photo papers had and have very large differences in their characteristic curves, so that one could select them differently.
Today, this adjustment of the final tonal values can be done comparably via the image processing software.

So expert digitization of analog film can deliver a print that doesn't look digital, but delivers an analog feel.
In recent years, I have frequently demonstrated this with very large enlargements, for example up to 110 x 180 cm.

Film is too broad a term. I will offer a counter point.
I would say that I have shifted to using film now as well. But not your negatives.
I now like the color Fuji instax film.
Too many times our photos sit on a camera memory card, waiting, but never properly edited or printed.
Shooting Instax you get that one print, with its one, never reproduced look now. Right now. And you can bin it, give it away or place it in a book.
Even if your subject is perfectly still and your lighting is fixed, no two shots will look the same. Do to light leaks in the film, the camera and variation in the process.

As always with subjective judgements along the line of "x is better than y" that people constantly bicker over, I'd like to see the idea that B&W is done better using film materials put to objective test.

Something like a blinded comparison of darkroom B&W prints vs digital B&W prints, both produced by experts in their medium.

I've seen an awful lot of passionate internet debates ended by such tests, which often result in diehard opinions revealed to be conceits wrecked on the rocks of reality. People are often convinced they can easily distinguish preferences but when properly tested, they can't. Sometimes such tests even reveal that there really is a meaningful difference.

[This isn't an article about which is best. As I mentioned, people do great work in either medium. It's just an article about what I consider the basic drawbacks of using film generally. By "generally" I don't mean everyone, I mean on average.

P.S. I agree that visual survey can be very valuable--in fact that was how the Kodak scientists of the '30s determined many of the things we took for granted for many years, such as target CI and even the design of Commerical Ektars! The basis was showing groups of people alternatives and seeing which they like better. I ran several preference surveys (blind tests) in the 1990s for Darkroom Photography magazine. I tried to do one comparing Leica lenses to non-Leica lenses, but so many Leicaphiles I knew refused to take part, or made unreasonable demands as a condition of their participation, that I had to call it off. --Mike]

The look of digital black & white has kept me with my hobby of shooting and developing black & white film. My partner does not understand why I do nothing with my hobby except personally enjoy it. Maybe I misunderstood your comment about stand development, but I do get great results with Rodinal 1:100 with certain films, ya know, the ”Rodinal Look”. I agree color is for digital, but every so often I get the urge to run a roll of slide film through my little CLE for old times’ sake. We have so much to be thankful for in photography today.

I guess I agree with the overall premise. But at the same time, some questions. I absolutely love the color rendering of many of the great books I have from photographers shooting color in the 50s-80s. I think many of those books became possible with high quality scanning of transparency film. The limits of the medium (iso, dynamic range, etc) in many cases made the work stronger in retrospect.

Do you think that the dedicated monochrome sensor, like that found in the Leica, brings digital BW to the level you would want? Do any of the various software products (Silver Efex, etc) bring a color raw file to something you like digitally? Is BW film printed in the darkroom better than bw film scanned and printed inkjet? If one is going to scan and print inkjet, are they not better off starting with a high quality RAW file - color or monochrome? And what about a digital file that gets printed in traditional bw chemical process?

I will be visiting Carmel, CA this week and roaming lots of the galleries with Adams and Weston prints. Each year when I view that BW work I am unbelievably impressed. And then I am equally unimpressed by the incredible fakeness of many of the modern digital color landscapes.

I'm just not sure I boil this issue down to film vs digital? They each have their own qualities. I have been very impressed with bw and color prints from both film and digital. And of course have seen terrible examples of both as well. The Weston Gallery had a print of the Cartier-Bresson a couple years back and it really was not a good print.

Seems that it is all about the ability and taste of the photographer. It just seems like the digital files are BETTER, but maybe too good, too clean, too perfect, too easy? Is the difference really just about character?

Thanks for linking to the ‘How to Cure the Digital B&W Nasties’ post. Not sure how I missed it back then, or perhaps it wasn’t pertinent to me then and I’ve forgotten, but it’s a gem to me—information the helps me out now. What a site and resource!

In the last few years, I have very much enjoyed some movies which have been shot on actual film. Their images have a wonderful beauty, yet hard to define precisely. Dunkerk by Christopher Nolan, Once upon a time in Hollywood by Tarantino, Malcolm & Mary by Levinson, among others. And even the last James Bond.
I guess movie directors must know one thing or two about visual. Of course, the money question is here in a different league.
I will certainly go to watch the new Speilberg, West Side Story, seemingly shot on film stock.

Another problem: changing film and lost opportunities. In the film era, photojournalists often carried multiple cameras because they could not risk running out of film at a decisive moment. A large roll was 36 exposures. If you look back a photo archives, famous photographers like Larry Burrows covering the Vietnam war carried four cameras. W. Eugene Smith covering WW2 also carried multiple cameras. Changing film in older cameras was not a quick process. Even with improvements in modern film cameras, the process takes time. The Leica M6 is easier to load than the M2, but you still need to take the bottom plate off. With film is also best done in a semi-dark environment (inside your backpack) to avoid fogging the first exposures on the film roll. One could cock the shutter for the next shot, but could lose opportunities when shooting action. Adding a motor drive made the kit that much heavier to lug around. I can remember several times seeing a picture and cocking the shutter only to discover that I was at the end of the roll.

Ralph Gibson is one of my favourite photographers working in black and white . He often doesn't do much in the way of mid-tones, though.

I remember him saying that at one time he used to print on A3, from 35mm film. Then, whilst the print was still slightly wet, scan it on an A3 flatbed scanner, so as to obtain his digital 'negative'. Then print as will on a big digital Epson/Canon.

I also came into contact with Tom Stoddart, who has just passed away far too early aged 68. And comissioned a silver halide print from him, but that's another story. A truly wonderful human being.

This and the various links to past TOP posts from you and others has all been a great read, as well as all the comments. Thank you!

It's all a funny thing, though. I know that my choice to seek film cameras and practice (among all the photographic stuff I've tried to do-- I've "Foveoned" twice) has always been a mixed bag of the rational and irrational. And it has been that way for about 25-35 years. There are goofy delights in this hobby. Sometimes it's a bit of technical archeology and technical history if you are late to the game (I'm 51, which I now see puts me squarely between film and digital). You learn how everyone needed to work to get great results, what was at stake for them from a technical perspective, even if you come to know it from a wacky tack. You hear about mastered practices that may be becoming archaic for most. You find out about photo books that are now out-of-print. That is all always interesting.

The folly of my various forays into using past cameras (the variety of lenses and adapters, unfortunate apartment thefts, schneiders on mounts, canisters, tongs, broken shutters, acid-ridden batteries, paraffin oil, dried up peel film, open source scanning drivers, old kodak enlargers and timers as decor, etc, etc) has been a ton of fun that I wouldn't trade for anything and wouldn't undo, though I may occasionally have given some of it away!

Hi Mike

I have been shooting a Leica M Monochrom and printing on an Epson 3880 with Piezography for years now. It is not film nor traditional developing but I love it, the improvements in image quality over film and latitude to adjust the image characteristics helpful, while Jon Cone’s printing system takes away any color option like the Monochrom does and keeps me focused thinking only about the greys.

I haven’t seen you write much about Piezography over the years but the Piezography Pro system is really worth some ink on TOP, and an interview with Jon Cone would also be worthwhile.

Best Regards,


[I have seen Aaron's prints and they are superb, very well crafted and made with good taste IMO. You're right, Aaron, I should look into Piezography again. It's been years. --Mike]

Great article. I think that the reason for the problems you cite regarding most scanned BW images posted online is that many, perhaps a majority, of those shooting film now came of age during the digital age, have never printed in a wet darkroom, and have little or no concept of what a good BW print is supposed to look like or how to achieve it.

In response to John Sparks' response, Mike cited David Pye: "Apparently surface perfection was once highly valued until machine finishing, which could be more perfect much more easily, came along. Then, handwork that showed roughness, variability, and the inherent nature of the materials began to be treasured above smooth perfection and high finish."

This may or may not be true for mainstream western furniture-making, but Japanese people began to cherish such characteristics centuries ago, long before machine finishing. However, concepts like wabi-sabi are about revealing and respecting both natural and hand-work processes, and I'm not sure adding or manipulating grain in digital post would be congruent. To return to the furniture parallel, digital grain may be more akin to "antiquing" or distressing furniture to achieve a superficially weathered or hand-made look.

To borrow John Sparks' term, are warts genuine if they're added after the fact? Does it matter? (I guess the answer to that is in the eye of the beholder.)

Makes me wonder what might be considered an authentic artifact of a digital photo process, whether that's even possible, or if it is, whether anyone could be moved to cherish it. I have taken pictures I really like with extremely low-res digital cameras, ones that just happened to "work" with the flaws of the tool.

It is pretty cool that we can now tailor apparent grain to suit the picture, make it finer or coarser to suit the crop, etc., rather than having to anticipate or get lucky. It may not be the same, but I suppose it is work and skill and judgement all the same.

Another reason to shoot film now is that one prefers using the old cameras; at least I think that's why I like it. But I also like seeing physical images come out of the tank. In this respect colour negative film is less satisfying than black and white film, because the negatives never look like much. Colour reversal film is the most satisfying, but I don't shoot that anymore because I can't get it developed locally, and I'm reticent to develop it myself. I think I can easily get the tonality I want from a flatbed scan of a negative; no need to make a chemical print and scan that. I mean, I think the tonality of this example is alright? (Bronica SQ-A; black and white conversion of a Portra colour negative--ha!). https://www.flickr.com/photos/hsandler/51639324727/in/album-72157647032369412/

Back in the 60s when I was an astronomy student working as an observatory assistant, I had a telescope used to take photographic plates, a Speed Graphic 4X5, several 35mm cameras and an elaborate darkroom with a 5X7 head. I also had a technical contact at Kodak I could call when needed.
We experimented with color on the telescope instead of the technical emulsions we normally used, but results were mediocre - reciprocity failure was a problem but mostly the sky is muted in color and the atmosphere is a problem - that's why the Hubble is the solution for astronomical color.
But at the same time, I was experimenting with shooting at low light levels with my Leica M2/Summilux 35. I routinely shot Tri-X at 1600/3200, pushed, usually in Accufine. I also did color development, helped by having a climate-controlled darkroom. I shot a lot of Ektachrome, mostly High Speed Ektachrome normally rated at 160. I shot lots at 320 and some as high as 1200/1600. The results were more painterly than photographic sometimes, something an impressionist artist would like, I suppose. Fun, but I gave up when I graduated and lost the fancy darkroom.
But I have a question on digital B&W. I've been shooting my new Nikon Z-fc in the monochrome mode and comparing the results with the Nikon FM I bought last year to experiment with B&W film again. I think the results are pretty good - does Nikon know something about B&W too? Perhaps Thom Hogan knows...

I can see why one wouldn't want to go to the higher film speeds, and especially the pushed speeds, for many kinds of photography.

For mine, though, that's what the light demanded, so I didn't have a choice. And, because all photographers were in roughly the same situation for that kind of work, that's what people got used to the photos looking like.

I think the highest speed I pushed film to was EI 4000 (the HC110 replenisher approach). I should have done more of that (or discovered it sooner), and I probably should have gotten addicted to Diafine. Oh well.

By the way, it was very definitely "EI", not "ASA" or its modern descendant "ISO". This was not an official speed!

"scanned B&W negatives tend to have compressed highlights. Since highlights are the single worse feature of digital capture [...] this just makes a known problem worse."
Maybe I'm missing something, but for purposes of a scan, wouldn't the 'highlights' be the shadow (i.e. least dense) areas of the negative? I 'scan' film with a digital camera, but I feel like scanners should be the same. Fwiw, when digitising, I check the histogram to make sure it's not clipped (or close to being clipped) in either direction. If the scan is correctly exposed, both modern FF and even APSC sensors seem to have enough dynamic range to accommodate both shadow and highlight details on film. JPEGs sometimes compress detail at either end of the range, so for high-contrast B&W negatives, and all colour negatives, I tend to use RAW capture.

[Highlights are highlights: the most dense parts of a B&W negative. Shadows are the nearly-clear parts of a B&W negative. --Mike]

MMVFY (my milage varies from yours). I think my black-and-white digital prints are at least as good as my analogue ones. Yes, somewhat different, but only very slightly, and on the positive side. But it takes some work and dedication to get there.

I had my first darkroom in 1956 and my last one in 2016. I must have tried at least two dozen film developers and several of them in different forms. You mentioned Rodinal stand developer. Did you use 1:25 or 1:50 or 1:100 or even 200? I tried all. And I varied the temperature. Agfa APX 100 was the recommended film, but I tried several other films too. I ended up with Delta 100 and TMY in Xtol 1+1.

And then the different papers and the paper developers. I shall not mention any names. The number of combinations iI tried was smaller than with film. Luckily. What was important was to be able to judge a print in the hypo tray to say if it would look good the following day, dry and in full light.

That is a bit similar to digital printing. One has to make sure the brightness on the screen is set so that the print looks the same as the screen image. That also requires some adjustments of the light surrounding the screen, but that is much more easily done than with wet prints.

To get good digital prints you need a very good computer screen and a very good printer. The new 16” MacBook Pro screen is excellent. The Epson SC-P700 is also excellent. Recent firmware updates have made printing much more straight forward than it was a year ago, at least when using Capture1.

Digital prints look very good even on budget price paper but baryta paper is much nicer to hold in your hand. (Baryta impresses people, but that is not my goal when printing.)

Did I say that I prefer digital prints? I also prefer digital printing over wet printing; very much so.

I noted that your comments on winter were labeled (OT). But the arrival of winter can have a profound effect on photography. I hate the arrival of the cold but the redeeming factor is that as winter approaches, the light evolves. The summer haze dissipates so the air is clear and the sunlight can be intense even as it comes from a lower angle. And because of the lower angle the shadows render things in a different and often special way. Although the sunlight through the clear air seems more intense, the colors are skewed to a more warm tone. I can sometimes said that I can tell roughly what time of year it is by the quality of the light. It is that quality of light that to me is the redeeming factor as it gets colder.

Mike, This was an interesting read & I'm in agreement with Aaron, you should check out the Piezography Pro ink set. The output from these inks is superb, & dare I say as close as you will ever get to a glossy silver print.

Can I suggest you hire a Leica monochrom for a weekend or week, & do side by side tests against your current digital camera. A Leica Monochrom is out of the budget of most photographers, but you would discover for yourself the advantages & disadvantages of a monochrome sensor. Think unrecoverable blown out highlights & the need for colour filters.

As a side note Pentax are evaluating as to whether they should launch a Pentax K3 MKIII with a monochrome sensor, so in 2022 there could be a cheaper option than Leica, & if a Sony APS-C monochrome sensor exists, Fuji might also be considering launching a camera with a monochrome sensor.

I disagree with your thoughts on color film. I use 400 speed film as my basic tool, have a local lab develop and scan with no adjustments. Then I use the JPEG as a basis for some fine tuning in Capture One, but often can use the scanned JPEG as an almost finished product. The current support for this hybrid approach is getting more and more robust as film demand and use seem to have gone up.

One aspect of "why" you did not mention is something I may have a little insight into. In 2021, using a film camera to record unscripted life makes me more accepted in the street by strangers. I am a middle age guy with a camera that clicks and clacks and sometimes whirrs. It has a flash that often fires up. I am the opposite of skulking, waist-shooting creepy guy with a little itty-bitty Fuji/Sony/etc. I may be a weirdo but I am a harmless weirdo to the public when someone asks me what I'm doing. I'm taking pictures with film, ma'am, that's what I'm doing.

Aesthetically, I also disagree with you. Color film looks different than digital done in color in part because it has such low usable range. Although if you are willing to spend a little money, the Cine Still 800 is an interesting film that is particularly good in mixed light. If you use color film you also use flash. It's unavoidable.

I could go on but will stop there. Thanks for the article, Mike, I like it when you get back to photography in the blog...

Your point about working within the medium's limitations -- which you expressed as "go for the maximum beauty of the medium" -- is a good one. However, I would extend it to digital black and white.

I've never had any interest in trying to make digital black and white look like film. Digital black and white is its own thing.

Obviously many people do like digital film simulations given the popularity of tools like Silver Efex and others that claim to provide the look of film. Ironically, many of the people who are using these tools have never used film or made analogue prints. Some may never have seen an actual silver gelatin print up close. How would they know if the film simulation is working?

To each their own, but my choice is to go for the maximum beauty of the black and white digital medium. For me, that means monochrome printing on matte cotton rag paper. The prints don't look anything like my silver gelatin prints, and that's a good thing.

Fascinating rumination, Mike. I was never happy with color print film in my film years and thus shot very little of it. Slides, however, were a different story. I still have a soft spot for slide film (though I rarely shoot it now). I think the reason is that the effective image created by slides is fleeting, only existing as long as the projector is on. Projected slide images feel alive to me in a way not computer monitor ever did, and I struggle to articulate fully why that is. Other than to say they glow like life does, and are fleeting in the eye, existing more as latent mental images. I don't know what I'm talking about, really, but do you have any thoughts on projected slide film and its differences?

It seems to me that you are basically saying that the best and most reasonable way is for black and white images is to only shoot black and white film and only if you do your own optical/chemical enlarging and processing (or contact printing). Or pay for someone to do it for you. All mini labs are colour, most of them are by now digital. Most ‘professional’ labs scan the negatives and print digitally even if they do have chemical processing. So one must use an old enlarger.
But I guess 99% of people don’t behave reasonably. They do what they want, not what is the sensible or best way to do something. Cost can also come to it. Old film cameras are incredibly cheap and many already have them, either own from past days or borrowed or inherited from parents or relatives. Sure, a cheap digicam can give good results but if one wants to use the old camera, that isn’t really a choice. A digital back for a medium format camera is still at least $5000. You can buy and process and enlarge a lot of film with the difference. Absolutely no sense to do that if you are a wedding or fashion photographer, or want to post images to Instagram every day. But remember that most people used to get Christmas and couple of birthdays on the same roll of film before bringing it for processing.

I read your original article when you published it in 2017. I never had an X-trans sensor but ever since, if I thought an image might look nice printed in B&W, I've just snapped an extra 2/3rd-ish underexposed shot. It's free, after all, and only takes an extra moment - a mere flick of a dial and press the shutter again. I've then converted and corrected in post and especially lifted the midtones as your curve shows. Yes, it's rough and ready and I've had mostly failures, but I've also obtained some pretty nice B&W prints for no real extra effort. Is it the same as film? No. But then, if I waited to shoot on film, I wouldn't have the images at all - or they would be waiting with the rest of my exposed films for me to get around to develop them all .... one day .... maybe.

I like film because it doesn't look like digital, fuji filters be damned.

Hi Mike,
The analogy is why do I drive my 1969 Dodge Coronet 440 RT as frequently as I do with(very poor gas mileage, handles like a whale, stops like a Mack truck fully loaded, heater barely works, no AC, the convertible top sometimes works, when I have a perfectly great car in my Toyota Avalon.
I get why people think digital is great but there is something about using film that just seems.....satisfying. I am also speaking about the final product, the picture, as well as the process. Let's face it, 99.999 percent of "photographers" never sell images or make a living or business out of their picture taking. So defining worse and great is very arbitrary and capricious.
So what does it mean when you say "Why would they do that—because they want to spend more on something that's less practical and looks worse".
By all accounts the 69 Coronet is worse, but I sure enjoy the ownership, driving and maintaining that car.

BTW, What happened to Shoot a leica, one lens with film for a year.......

Great observations about not doing B&W in digital. One other consideration though:

I recently shot a college marching band (in digital) in rapidly changing light, and the ability to move ISO up and down (esp up!) was invaluable. And...sometimes the color was crappy, or various colors in a frame clashed horribly...and then I could convert them to B&W. Or just generally some frames were strong B&W compositions, and the color just detracted.

It's great to have the option.

I really like old European churches, but some churches will not allow a tripod, resulting often enough in blurry negatives. About 20 years ago i realized I just needed to accept the limitations of my choices and live with them. I have been a happier person since.

I donated my darkroom to a local high school. They have two sections of traditional photography and the kids love it. I settled on taking my photos in color then converting those I'd prefer in b/w.

Works for me... In a previous era I was using hand-rolled Tri-X in a Leica M2 at the rate of a roll a week. Or I sometimes used Verichrome in a Rolleiord IV. When I had a show viewers couldn't tell the difference between a darkroom print and a converted color digital print. Nice to have a choice.

When I read the phrase "if you're shooting b/w, use film, if you're shooting color use digital." I gulped. I gave away a Beseler and Componon lenses. Ah well! It was for a good cause. And no hard feelings here, really.

This discussion about film reminded me of the story of the film industry executive who was making a presentation to a group of newspaper photojournalists. The executive’s company had made a technological breakthrough in the development of a new film stock. He said, “The nominal ISO on this new film is 1,000,000!” A gasp of astonishment went through the crowd until one young photographer asked, “How many stops can it be pushed?”

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