Friday, June 10, 2022

Why digital or film?

Regular readers will know I recently bought two film cameras, a Fujica GW690, and a Canon 7.  (Here's a photo of them both.) Plus the Canon 6D mk2 I've had for several years, and an older Canon T6i. To say nothing of a fairly current iPhone, which is a pretty capable camera for most subjects in most light, and is probably all the camera that most people need.

I borrowed a pair of film cameras from my friend Sean to see if I liked shooting film, and I did, though those particular cameras didn't feel happy in my hands. Then I discovered the GW690, and love shooting that. Then the Canon 7 because who can afford a Leica?

So now I have the question, why would I shoot a particular scene on one particular camera, and not another? The trite answer is that it depends on which I'm carrying at the moment. I might have gone out with a specific camera or specific lens to look for suitable images, and happened to come across a scene where I wish I'd been carrying a different camera. It's happened any number of times, and that was before I bought the film cameras.

I'm still noodling through, but thought I would talk about what I intend to shoot with each camera, recognizing there's some overlap.

The easy one first, the iPhone. 
Documents to be sent to someone. Taking a photo of a scene for the meta data, typically the location. In a related sense, I might take a photo of a scene taken with another camera to help remember what colour those scooters actually were, or what the phone thought a particular scene looked like. When I want to capture a scene, and it happens to be the only camera available. If I need to put a photo on social media right now. The V word, as required, which is really rare.

Another easy one, the T6i.
I use this and a macro lens to photograph the film negatives to create a digital image. Plus it's a backup during an important shoot in case something happens with the main camera. Plus, sometimes during night shoots I'll set it up pointing in a different direction than the main camera. Or I'll lend it to a particular friend if we go for a camera walk. She loves doing macro shots with a 'real' camera.

Canon 6D mk2.
This is the workhorse camera. I'll use it for races, community association events, trips, and client shoots. I'm usually still taking it on walks where I intend to shoot film, with the intent of capturing something I don't want to use film for. Or dialling in on exposure settings in tricky situations. Or when HDR is needed. Or night sky shots where I want to capture many exposures in a row. Or where I need a long lens, or a really wide lens. Or when I want to capture a film image as digital for whatever reason. There are many 'or' situations here. I have no intention of jumping on the mirrorless bandwagon, though in a sense, I already have. Both the film cameras are mirrorless in the usual sense of the word.

The joy of this camera is the huge negatives, nearly 6 x 9 cm, meaning an enormous amount of detail can be captured. The fixed lens on this camera is a 90mm, which means it's about the same as a 40mm lens on a 35mm camera. In practice that means a bit wider than normal, which is considered to be a 50mm lens. Buying and developing film costs about $3 a photo, so I'm not going to take shots on a whim. They are almost certainly going to be carefully considered and composed as best I can. So landscapes or group portraits in a setting. Shots where there is lots of detail and texture (see May 2022 Image of the Month). Art (which could mean darn near anything, but I'm not going to get into it here.) 

Canon 7
A much smaller and more nimble camera. Not quite a shirt pocket size, but it will go into a generous jacket pocket. It's about a third the cost of the GW690 per photo, so I'm more willing to take risky shots, and have fun with it. Experiment with different films. Urban scenes. Informal portraits. 

As an added bonus, the film cameras are great conversation starters. Walk around taking photos with the big DSLR or a phone, and typically nobody pays any attention. But film, I've had several people come up and ask about the cameras. That's fun.

The overlap.
This is a bit of an odd situation. Most people look around and they see what they see. Something shiny or unusual might catch their eye, or some clever bit of advertising, or a specific thing they're looking for. Or maybe the woman in the red dress.

Most photographers are looking for something that will make a good photograph, and even more specific, one that can be made with the equipment on hand. It's remarkable how specific this can be. If the 70-200 lens is the one on hand, I'm not going to 'see' macro or close up shots. If I've got my mind set that I'm going to shoot a scene on film, even if I've got the digital camera with me, I'm likely to think of it as a sophisticated light meter, not a camera.

An example, you ask? Last weekend I worked with Michelle on trying to get a nice selfie in B&W. Read the back story here. As it happens, I took the GW690 and some black and white film (Acros II, if you're interested) with the idea I might try portraits with that film. After we finished the digital photos, I put the film in the camera, tweaked the settings, and coached Michelle on finding focus. Several clicks. We moved outside and tried that. I did not think of using the digital camera while we were doing these shots, not even a little bit. I was concentrating on the film experience.

These are not intended to be formal portraits, but rather to find out how skin looks with this particular film, without any lighting tricks. If you remember the selfie post, I'm sitting in the same place for that first shot. Then outdoors, in the shade. The background is whatever it happens to be. There is no special editing to soften skin or try to create 'dramatic' light.

As ought to be obvious, these are not selfies. Michelle did really well holding a big camera at a fairly slow shutter speed. These are all cropped a bit to an 8x10 format, but there's still lots of detail left; I could crop in much further. Something to keep in mind if I want to do a tight head and shoulders shot.

Michelle is in really harsh mid-day sun here. I tried softening the shadows, but what I really needed was someone to hold a reflector or something to create some shade. Or move elsewhere, but the chair was so comfortable...

Another from a slightly different angle, with slightly different settings, making a subtle change in skin texture. Pity about the the change in the fencing and bright spot in the upper left. Note to self, bring the reflector package next time.

An all round great learning experience. I'm not as un-photogenic as I thought. Being relaxed in front of the camera is really important. I love what a fairly wide open lens does to the background. B&W and all the shades in between can be really interesting. I think film (carefully done) is more flattering for my skin than digital, but then again, with editing anything is possible. Michelle just looks great on film or digital, B&W or colour. 

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