Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Horizons for Film

Somebody out there is thinking. As it turns out, it's the Chinese. Now on the leading edge of the world's high tech high volume manufacture, it turns out they have retained much in the way of old world craftsmanship too, offering high end products such as audio amplifiers, musical instruments and now really radical film cameras. We might tend to still brush off the Chinese as offering low grade mass produced junk to the rest of the world - (wait - can we call the Apple iPhone junk?) It wasn't too long ago that I had very low regard for Chinese manufactured goods, but now I see I was either thinking out of pure prejudice, or shopping in all the wrong places. So far, my experience is in the recent purchase of two musical instruments, a Tanglewood Parlour Guitar, and an Eastman Mandolin, both hand-crafted in China. Both of these are absolutely exquisite in their craftsmanship, tone and playability, and the best part - they are very affordable. These cannot be products of round the clock production lines and practices such as overworking 14 year old girls - these instruments are way too good, and the care put into their craftsmanship becomes very obvious as soon as you have one in your hands.

It now appears the Chinese have picked up a torch for high-end cameras, hopefully in the same vein as these other products. I'm seeing brands such as Day Yi, Gaoersi and Fotoman emerging with what are really Large Format cameras built to more of a Medium Format spec, resulting in designs inspired by the Fuji G617 of some years ago, but with more of a hand built look to them. What they've done is take a lens specification intended for Large Format and adapted it to a 120 roll film width, resulting in Panoramic 6X12 and 6X17 negative sizes. Not exactly new or ingenious, but the provocative thing comes in the way these designs are executed. As with Large Format cameras, the super quality bit is all attached to the front, with combined lens, aperture and leaf shutter assembly's from Schneider Kreuznach, and after that, what else is there? This trend has even been taken up by the super cheap toy camera Holga outfit, with their model 120Pan at a cost of less than $80. And, as with all things Holga, somebody soon came up with a very meaningful modification. For your further enjoyment Here's another one. It seems too that Lomo is about to launch their own low cost solution - this is the one I'll be holding out for personally.

Panorama photography seems to be all the rage now, with the ability of smartphones and some digital compacts to make a panorama with one sweep, right in the camera, with no stitching required. Cool as this may be, it cannot possibly result in large printable images such as would be the product of these new Large Format Roll-film hybrids. I cannot say this will catch on like wildfire, but I'm certain what we're seeing here is a very strong Niche, and only film could keep it affordable.

Photographers ought never lose touch with the roots of our craft. This seems to me to be a great, highly creative way to reinforce a touch of much needed continued classicism.

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