October 28, 2016

Film vs. digital....again #?!>%*!

I have been dogged by this internal 'why film' conundrum for some time and it keeps coming up. Why do I keep coming back to film when I have the very best imaging technology available through my position with Canon? Is the extra time and expense and in many cases the hassle to shoot film truly achieving anything different or unique? Could this just my way of slowly mourning or honoring my film based roots?
I recently took a trip to Dutch Harbor Alaska to help the camera crew of Deadliest Catch as they prepared their Canon Cine EOS cameras for the rigors of Bering Sea. I took my work issued 5D mkIV and 24-70mm f/2.8v2. Arguably one of the sharpest and best combos available, the images I continue to get from this combo amaze me on a regular basis.
So why did I bring my 47mm 6x12 camera with me? My mental test for shooting film is this: will film solve a problem or achieve a look that I simply can't do digitally? I love my M6 Leica, it's a joy to shoot with, simply advancing the film with its precision German inner-workings is enjoyable but DXO film pack has made the time and expense of shooting 35mm film virtually unnecessary.  The 6x12 camera has a wonderful look, the pull and gentle falloff of the 47mm Super-Angulon creates wonderful images but does carrying two completely different formats dilute each other?  

I have a 35mm Noblex, a modern swing lens camera in same vein of the Widelux.  I'm mostly interested in its ability to expand or compress motion. With its spinning drum and curved film plane, this is something that simply can't be replicated or mimicked digitally. In this shot I'm panning with the go-carts but the drum is turning the opposite direction. 

I often wonder if carrying only a single system or format helps you (or forces you) to create stronger and more powerful images instead of your mind constantly weighing the pro's and cons of each system. It certainly doesn't hinder photographer extraordinaire Sylvia PlachyYears ago, I spent six days shooting alongside her in Rizho China.  She had what we came to refer to as her Mary Poppins bag. A nondescript bag with an M6, Widelux, Nikon F2, Holga, Rollieflex and an XPan. Her only digital camera was a lowly Digilux which in all honest got very little love. What she created with this bag of tricks was beyond phenomenal! All of here gear was as well worn as her Widelux that she's shooting here at dinner.  

In 2014, Harrington was fortunate enough to host a set of David Burnett's prints from the Sochi Olympics. It was a mix of digital (from a gen-1 5D no less) 2 1/4 and 4x5, I spent a lot of time with these images and each image was genuinely benefited by its format. I am truly grateful that he is helping to keep an interest in 4x5 (and film in general) alive. Without a doubt his images and Sylvia's images are so compelling because of the gear they are using, but it's really their comfort and familiarity with that gear that is allowing them to masterfully create their pictures.

While gear surfers and hipsters are quick to adopt classic, vintage and other old school tools, it is the years of use that create the imagery we have come to expect from these masters, not the tools themselves. 

my first ever 'fan-selfie', I had to do it:)
Oddly, the perfect timing award award needs to go to Mr. Burnett who I finally met in person (just after I wrote my first draft of this) when he wandered into the Canon booth last week at PhotoPlus. Nothing beats meeting a lifelong idol and finding he is just as incredibly cool in real life as he is in the cyber-verse. Just as geeky as I am, he was interested in my DIY cameras, the forthcoming CineStill 800t 4x5 film and other cool gear centric stuff, film and digital. While I didn't have dinner with him, I can certainly check that box on my bucket list.     Chris Usher, you are next ;)

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