Thursday, January 17, 2013

What If??

 Digital's Cold Perfection

Film's Warm Embrace

My friends, this Blog is close to celebrating it's first birthday  and today, I see it's had 10,130 Page Views through it's first year. With no point of comparison, I don't really know how good that is, but it sounds like a lot to me - if I got $1.00 per Rage View, it would be pretty sweet!

Now, almost a year ago, in my third Blog entry, I said this - "Move ahead 4 years, and I've made tremendous changes. I now hate film, in spite of the tremendous successes I had with it. I'm on my sixth Digital Camera now, actually my third DSLR - a Canon EOS 40D which I just bought used at an amazingly low price. I truly believe that digital is the way to go - there are so many advantages, I cannot fathom that I would ever shoot a roll of film again."

Hard to believe I said that isn't it? Film photography is like a genie out of the bottle, and I've certainly turned the proverbial 180 over the past few months, from having said "I hate film"!

But I still struggle with digital convenience versus film's magic spell, and I've got to somehow get beyond it. I rediscovered film by way of shooting Medium Format with a very special camera, but nonetheless, I re-discovered the fact that the magic is still there even with 35mm film being used in absolutely forgettable Thrift Store cameras. Do I mind having to wait a week or more to shoot through a roll of film? Well, to be honest, yes, although that is somewhat offset by the joy of getting that negative back with 12 or more goodies, like Christmas gifts, and spending that couple of hours on my scanner, watching the real magic appear. 

So, I wonder, "What If??" What if the market now finally has a film - like digital camera, that does film emulation right in the camera? Well, of course it's rather old news that I knew about already, but Fujifilm Makes a few very good digital cameras that, fittingly  have colour and B&W film emulation built in. Naturally, it is exclusively Fuji's own film they;re trying to emulate, but that's OK with me. The "film's warm embrace" sample above was shot on Fuji Pro 400. So I went back and read the review of their top of the line camera of this genre. It is the X-Pro1, a mirrorless, APS-C interchangeable lens model that looks beautifully like a classic rangefinder, reportedly with a good "optical-hybrid" viewfinder (which kind of amounts to a similar arrangement I enjoy on my EOS 7D), and it does emulate the look of four of Fuji's well known colour films, as well as the usual B&W with filter type things that most cameras do now. From what I could see in this review, the film emulations are quite subtle - and that's a good thing - because if it wasn't subtle, it would be downright phoney. So far so good. Also, this camera seems to have received a price drop of several hundred dollars since it was first introduced in late 2011. WOW! 

Now, let's stop and talk about "film emulation" for a minute. To me, it's a similar idea to the wonderful way in which Yamaha Electronic pianos are able to digitally emulate the sound of various true acoustic pianos of various sorts, be it grand, or baby grand, or parlour, etc. Another example is "modelling guitar amplifiers" which again use digital sampling algorithms to 'model' the sound of various famous vintage amplifiers, like Fender Tweeds, Marshall Stacks, Vox (for an authentic "Beatles" sound), etc. This does work, but of course there are purists who still would prefer the real thing. But I notice that no less than Burton Cummings, the truly great Canadian genius rock and roll pianist and singer song-writer, (if you don't know the name, maybe you've heard of "The Guess Who") usually shows up on stage these days with a Yamaha digital, instead of a real baby-grand.

So what am I -  a purist who insists on the real thing, or would a Fujifilm X-Pro1 make me happy? I'd have to sell my  EOS 7D of course, but the valuations are pretty close to par. But then when I read how the X-Pro1 is just plain "goofy" when it comes to manual focusing, for example - it uses an electric motor controlled by a fake focussing ring on all of the lenses in it's system.. I thought "good grief, why do they do things like this?" So, nope - my ideal digital camera still does not exist. I'm not sure that it ever will, apart from the $10k Leica M9 (I guess it's just called the "M" now). 

Let me summarize what I think it is I want in a camera -

  • High end, but no more than $3k with one good lens included
  • Interchangeable lens system
  • Full frame sensor, to truly make the most out of legacy lenses
  • Maximum legacy lens optical compatibility
  • Non-SLR "mirrorless"
  • Totally optical rangefinder focusing
  • Absolutely no-nonsense features, truly back to basics, quality over quality
  • Well designed film emulation for a wide range of films, vintage and new
  • Here's a real novel feature - no LCD picture display on the back (just a simple function display), but instead, use built-in WiFi or the new "Near Field Communication" to allow you to field-view your pictures on your Smartphone or Tablet

I've got to move on one way or the other, forgetting about cameras for awhile to improve my photography.  Am I really composing right? Am I exposing right? Am I scanning my negatives right? Am I working from ideas and inspiration, or simply dressing things up after the fact? (That's always a good question isn't it?)

Looking forward to another great year of Blogging!


  1. Nice summary of what you're looking for in a camera and what's available. For me the ultimate enjoyment in using a digital camera has been with a Leica Digilux 2 that I borrowed from a friend. Finding something as lovely to handle and that produces such nice results, but that isn't so flawed with such awful ISO performance over 200, poor autofocus and maddeningly slow response time could nearly cure me of wanting to use 135 film cameras in the future.

    I handle paid jobs with two DSLRs, but prefer something compact to carry with me on a daily basis, so the Digilux 2 with its 135 equivalent 28-90 f/2-2.4 lens is just what I need. The Fuji X-Pro1 or the X-E1 are quite tempting, but unlike you I don't seek removable lenses since I'd prefer to have a quality zoom as walk around kit and not have the temptation of investing in glass that won't go on my top quality gear. The upcoming Fuji X20 looks like it's going to be the updated equivalent to the Leica I've been yearning for.

    Lastly, since you've put it out there about not acquiring new cameras this year I'll try to hold you to that.

    1. Interesting. Here's a good retro review of the Digilux-2 on Huff's site -

      I recall wanting one of htese back when they first came out - I think they were close to $500, and I bought my first digital- a Pentax Optio 230 instead

      It looks like the Digilux-2 can still hold it's own. Guess I'll have to be real sneaky if I try to buy one of these - my Wife's watching me real close!

  2. The Digilux 2 and its Panasonic DMC-LC1 brother can cause an aching yearning to purchase one. However, my advice would be don't do it. You're getting a 5 MP CCD sensor from 2003, very poor autofocus, frustrating and nearly unusable manual focus, very minimal subject isolation through use of DoF due to the tiny sensor, and unusable ISO over 200 (max. is only 400) for many times the price of a DSLR of equivalent quality and vintage and image output, like say a Nikon D70. These cameras have had issues with sensor failure, necessitating replacement, and are not getting any younger. Despite their many flaws, they are fabulous street cameras, but not all that versatile, and the abysmal image quality over 200 ISO makes them roughly the same in practical use as any of your/my compact film cameras like a Russian rangefinder, Olympus XA or Trip 35.

    Unless of course you can't help yourself. But then you'd be breaking your resolution, n'est-ce pas?

  3. "... the abysmal image quality over 200 ISO makes them roughly the same in practical use as any of your/my compact film cameras like a Russian rangefinder, Olympus XA or Trip 35."

    I don't think you mean exactly what you said here, or maybe it's just my interpretation - all of the film cameras you mention have superb image quality, making them far superior in practical use. The film picture above was taken with Fuji Pro 400 ISO film, and it is totally free of grain, compared to the Digilux-2 reputation for running out of breath at 200. Right now, I'm awaiting a shipment of Fuji ISO 800, which I expect to perform just fine in all my 35mm cameras. Some newer "enthusiast compact" digital cameras take great pictures at even higher ISO's than this, but still suffer from what I see as "cold clinical perfection", while film has a warm inviting character that can be every bit as "perfect". I just don't think digital camera marketing, and their mass market public "gets it".. they see film as some kind of inferior medium that can be "emulated" simply by deteriorating a digital picture in various ways. These big corporations simply can't make money with film any more.

    Really, I'm not seeing any digital camera out there yet that will cause me to break my resolution ;)

  4. To explain my previous remark, I had in mind the admittedly excellent high ISO performance of many of today's digital cameras, for which they are desirable in low ambient light conditions. In comparison, the Digilux 2 doesn't even have an ISO setting over 400, and has a very dramatic drop-off in quality from 200 to 400, making 400 a setting to avoid. So what I meant in comparing to film cameras was that the high ISO performance feature is not a consideration when looking at a Digilux 2, and as you correctly pointed out it is possible to achieve excellent image quality from film at 800-1600 "box speed" ISO or by pushing lower sensitivity films.

    In fact, I am eager to try a trick I learned today from one of my favorite Flickr film shooters, who pushed Tri-X (Arista Premium) 400 to 2500 in Rodinal using stand development of 2.5 hours and still managed to retain detail in the shadows.


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