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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 03-29-2012   #121
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Lots of reasons (in no particular order)
- every shot costs real money (as opposed to the depreciation of my DSLRs as soon as I open the box), which subconsciously or not makes me take a different approach
- in 35mm the viewfinders and (IMO) haptics are so far beyond the most top-end digital gear it makes me weep to look through a viewfinder
- film cameras are light and small and somehow still manage to do what I need
- B&W. Oh, black and white! Adding grain even with the best software to a B&W conversion of a digital image destroys information; with B&W film, grain creates the image - I can't think of a more fundamental difference. The fact that products such as Silver EFEX Pro are so popular shows just how much people still like that "look"
- financial issues aside, there's just something about the process, from composing the shot to getting the negs/slides/scans that is different from digital in a way I can't really put my finger on
- you can buy perfectly good used film gear for a fraction of what you'd spend on a DSLR, get beautiful results and maybe even not lose any money on the equipment

I could go on but you get the idea. This coming from someone who just shelled out some serious $ (for me anyway) for a 5DIII. Yep, I still love film... I just wish I shot more of it!

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Old 03-29-2012   #122
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I have never got what I wanted from a digital black and white print, I prefer the colours I get from Portra 160nc. I could possibly get the same colours off a digital file but I get it right away with film. Maybe most importantly, the process of developing and then printing a monochrome print feel a far greater skill than moving a few virtual sliders. The whole darkroom work process feels more of a craft and when I have a decent print I feel like I have achieved something. Film is full of pleasant surprises as some times it will take me 2 or more wks to develop the film, will have forgotten some of the things I decided to put on the film by then. The cameras feel like quality things from the heft of a MF slr/tlr to the smooth engineering of the OM1&2. Film causes breaks in the shooting rhythm like the turning over of a record. No parasitical member of my family can say it won't cost me anything to take a photograph of her (told them I sold off digital) and expect me to do it for free. The negative and the print is a tangible thing, only a print with digital until then it is just a series of 0's and 1's, fibre based paper feels awesome in the hand.
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Old 03-29-2012   #123
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Because of the nice gear and the good feeling:
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Old 03-29-2012   #124
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To answer your question in the negative, as much as I have fits of nostalgia about film, when it comes to the practical use and payment for all aspects of the film experience and then the requisite waiting time, I don't use the stuff.

As if that weren't bad enough, now I give you three very different examples of current cameras that probably ought to make you abandon film if you are not completely hard core:

A. Sony ALPHA NEX-7

B. Fujifilm X-PRO1

C. Nikon D800

And Bill, if you are still using medium format, film OR digital, then you are a dinosaur.
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Old 03-29-2012   #125
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Originally Posted by Bike Tourist View Post
To answer your question in the negative, as much as I have fits of nostalgia about film, when it comes to the practical use and payment for all aspects of the film experience and then the requisite waiting time, I don't use the stuff.

As if that weren't bad enough, now I give you three very different examples of current cameras that probably ought to make you abandon film if you are not completely hard core:

A. Sony ALPHA NEX-7

B. Fujifilm X-PRO1

C. Nikon D800

And Bill, if you are still using medium format, film OR digital, then you are a dinosaur.
Dick -

The film I use the most is 8x10 sheet film. I use it in a studio with, believe it or not, a huge strobe that once belonged to Richard Avedon. The second most used film is 4x5 on a reducing back on the 8x10 view. These particular usages aren't of too much interest to this forum. But, if you already own the gear, it does eliminate much of the need for a many megapixel medium format digital. And the film is so big, you can get great scans from a relatively cheap flatbed scanner. (And I do use an X-Pro. Another interesting and relatively new camera is the Ricoh A12 module for M mount lenses. Not a lot of megapixels, but no AA filter and capable of pretty impressive image quality.)
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Old 03-29-2012   #126
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I bought a DSLR a few years back but was never very happy with the results compared to the slides I shot before. Two or three years ago I started scanning old family Kodachromes and was knocked out by the colour, and quality after 40 to 50 years. I sold my digital body and bought back a film one deciding slides and scanning was the way to stay.

At the same time discovered 120 folding cameras and always wanted to shoot medium format film. Again with a simple £30 camera I was blown by the tonal range, detail, colour balance and almost 3D quality of some photos. I've been on a medium format quest since now using more modern, well at least 10 years old equipment. In digital terms I can get a 30 plus megapixel image from a simple camera worth less than £100.

I have always kept and used my Olympus rangefinder cameras and on a recent trip to India my 35RD with Ektachrome produced the sharpest, perfectly exposed photos compared to my SLR. In all my previous travels my XA has often produced the best pictures, perhaps not in complete quality with edge light fall off but because it is so handy to carry and use at a moment. If I could have found a digital version of the XA, simple controls, quick to use, quality results I would have bought it. I did try a Canon G something, 7 or 9, Ok controls ,lousy viewfinder and only OK results with fringing and other artefacts. Well an X100 now might fit the bill but not the price.

Things finally seem to be changing where digital cameras (not including SLRS) you can use with familiarity and control and get good results are arriving albeit expensively. I will probably get a NEX-7 to replace my present film SLR and indeed for 35mm digital makes sense.

I will continue using medium format film and my rangefinders, it suits my style, selecting the scene, composing the shot then firing instead of indiscriminately shooting then looking for that instant result. I like the process of waiting for the result, the unexpected element you did not notice in the composition, the joy when it works and the 'oh well I could have framed that better’ result but you are only capturing a moment and it passes so you may never have got it anyway.

I also like the physical element. I have something tangible my hands I can see the image on a light table or even project it. I scan and print the keepers and love flicking through the albums from time to time. I have the best of both worlds. The reliance of computer storage worries me. A friend has just spent hundreds trying to recover images from a disk that failed. A lot of people rely on digital storage and never actually get prints made.

Also at an exhibition of a photographer last year which spanned his film work and later digital you could easily tell the difference between the two. I overheard a couple commenting on one landscape shot about the weird green colours of the digital print, so it wasn't just me. I also had the impression of over sharpening in the digital scenes, like each pixel was trying to jump out and have noticed this in other exhibitions, it looks so artificial.

In short:
Quality, high dynamic and smooth tonal range and detail, colour balance.
Using equipment simply designed to capture images rather than process them.
Longevity and flexibility of use. Archival quality.
Range of film types for different results and immense flexibility with black and white.

Last edited by RichyD : 03-29-2012 at 12:02. Reason: Corrupt elements
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Old 03-29-2012   #127
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Only film makes me print... I never printed any of my digital images.
Currently that and the reason for the only M compatible full frame body costing more than my full education fund.
So, analog, darkroom, enlarging till i score some oil or a gold mine
I've passed a Canon 40D, 50D, 5dmkII, Pentax K5 and finally came to rest with a pack of Leica M3's ...
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Old 03-29-2012   #128
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I suppose the simplest answer for me is that the thought never occurred to me to stop shooting film.

The cameras I work best with - my pair of Hexar RFs, my Contax Tvs, my ersatz-view-camera Olympus OM-2n, and, yes, even my funky little Holga 135 - obviously use film. The film types I prefer to use - Kodak Portra, Ektar 100, BW400CN, and assorted conventional black-and-white films - aren't in any imminent danger of disappearing. (Too bad about E6, though.) My hybrid method of image-making - shoot film, scan film, digitally edit/manage/print - has been in place for nearly fourteen years and has served me well.

And the one digital camera I do have and use - a Nikon Coolpix P6000 - does what I need to do when I specifically need a digital camera to do it.

I don't do big-ass dSLRs; I moved to RFs a decade ago because I was getting sick of big-ass film SLRs and their stovepipe zooms, great performers however they were.

Film, put squarely, is relevant to my work, and my method. There's nothing romantic about my use of it. When it ceases to be relevant to me, I'll simply stop using it. For now, it remains my mainstay.


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Old 03-29-2012   #129
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Shouldn't it be photography equals fun?
No, the rules of alliteration tell us it should be Fotography is Fun, or Photography is Phun.
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Old 03-29-2012   #130
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Element of Surprise
Digital is kinda boring IMO
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Old 03-29-2012   #131
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The buffer time on film's recording is still the fastest in visual media.

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Old 03-29-2012   #132
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The buffer time on film's recording is still the fastest in visual media.

Phil Forrest
Yeah, that too.


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Old 03-29-2012   #133
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil_F_NM View Post
The buffer time on film's recording is still the fastest in visual media.
Writing to the buffer is fast. From buffer to JPEG? Not so much.

...Mike
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Old 03-29-2012   #134
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And Bill, if you are still using medium format, film OR digital, then you are a dinosaur.
What a ridiculous statement...
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Old 03-29-2012   #135
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Why?
Leica M5
Canon VI-T
Hasselblad 501c/m
Pentax 6x7
Zone VI
Linhof Technika V

None of the above came with a digital sensor.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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Old 03-29-2012   #136
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Why film? Because I can use the camera my father handed down to me if I use film. It survived the Korean war, it went to Japan, came to the United States and if I wasn't so afraid it would be lost or stolen I would have taken it to Australia. Why else? Because I am relatively new at photography and using film cameras is teaching me a lot. I have to think rather than the camera doing it for me. Sure there is going fully manual but having to understand Sunny 16 etc.. is teaching me a lot more about lighting than my DSLR meter. I do have digital, but when I am holding one of these old film cameras that I have [from rangefinder to twin lens reflex] I feel like there is an aura about them from the people that used them before me down to myself that makes them special. I don't know how many hands they passed through, how many lives they touched, but I know someone was just as fond of them at some point just as I am now.
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Old 03-29-2012   #137
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I am a b/w shooter and as much as I love the low light superiority and convenience of digital I just can not get the look of film with a digital camera. If I shot color I would switch in a heart beat. Digital b/w to my eyes looks fake.
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Old 03-29-2012   #138
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It's not so much film being the reason... I just prefer the way my TLR and rangefinders work over anything I have used thus far with a digital sensor... also the lack of batteries is very liberating knowing that at any moment I can press the shutter and it will work.
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Old 03-29-2012   #139
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Quote:
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And Bill, if you are still using medium format, film OR digital, then you are a dinosaur.
Bill has answered for himself. Me, I do use medium format film. If that makes me a dinosaur then so be it. An extremely successful group of animals Their descendants are with us to this day (another very successful group of animals).

...Mike
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Old 03-29-2012   #140
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Quote:
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Archival record.
I like using my film Ms. (e.g. No real attachment to my OM. But attached to Hexar...)
I take more care.
Fixed ISO.
All manual controls.
So little battery dependence.
More certainty of final result.
Less time at computer.

But:
I hate misloads - only the M5 has defeated me and I think I'm now on top.
I hate fixed ISO.
I hate scratched negatives.
I hate dust and lint on negatives.
I hate scanning.
likewise...
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Old 03-29-2012   #141
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I'm very curious to know why you don't consider it photography ? I know the words people use but I fail to understand the reasoning.

and to add further confusion, there's a thread about Thomas Dworzak using an X100. Does this mean he and Alex Majoli for example, aren't making photographs ? If not, what are they making ?
add Peter Van Agtmael
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Old 03-30-2012   #142
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What a ridiculous statement...
I suppose so. It was meant in the context that MF, even MF with digital backs is not necessary for the quality demanded by almost any application. The special film "look", the visceral satisfaction some people derive from working with film and even the wonderful optical/mechanical characteristics achieved by some older cameras are, of course, dinosaurs of a different color!

And, as Mike pointed out, dinosaurs were a very successful group of animals, enduring much longer than we have so far. So, don't be offended by my ridiculous statement, Jubb Jubb. It probably won't be the last.
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Old 03-30-2012   #143
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besides, it was meant in fun ...
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Old 03-30-2012   #144
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To answer your question in the negative, as much as I have fits of nostalgia about film, when it comes to the practical use and payment for all aspects of the film experience and then the requisite waiting time, I don't use the stuff.

As if that weren't bad enough, now I give you three very different examples of current cameras that probably ought to make you abandon film if you are not completely hard core:

A. Sony ALPHA NEX-7

B. Fujifilm X-PRO1

C. Nikon D800

And Bill, if you are still using medium format, film OR digital, then you are a dinosaur.
Not sure if you're joking here, but in case you're not:

The 3 cameras you list are cool, to be sure, but they're all still fairly typical digital at heart, all menus and modes, not simple at all.

I started on medium format maybe 18 months ago, feels a lot longer though. The quality available on 6x6 or 6x9 like I'm using now will wipe the floor with 99% of digital cameras. If you want to beat medium format on resolution, then you've got to spend more money than I'm prepared to.

Digital cameras were not made to make better quality photos, they were made so companies could profit. If you stand back from the marketing etc. it's easy to see why often newer is not better. The fact is that you can spend a few hundred on a medium format camera and get resolution that costs thousands in digital.

If you like the convenience and very low ongoing cost of digital, fine, but film can offer stunning results for little initial outlay, and probably offer a technically better image in 99% of cases.
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Old 03-30-2012   #145
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Hmm, if MF, film or digital = dinosaur. What does that make me if I use 8x10 and larger
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Old 03-30-2012   #146
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I just find that for me images created with film have a certain 'depth' to them that digital just doesn't have.....

To my eyes, digital just appears to be too clinical, too 'sharp, too clean. I've seen many many images created recently with the M9(P) and although, granted, the sharpness and resolution is simply outstanding, I still prefer film......
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Old 03-30-2012   #147
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None of the above came with a digital sensor.
Wayne
There is no such a thing. Camera sensors are as analog as it gets.

When comes to dinosaurs, I think it was way to say that film and film users are technologically backward. And that from a guy who is biking around California. Doesn't he know we have cars now ? For the past hundred years or so ?
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Old 03-30-2012   #148
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Primarily I still use film, now mostly large format B&W, for several aesthetic reasons, many already mentioned here. But also for the fact that it provides a distinct point of difference both aesthetically and philosophically in my work.

I find statements like film and film users are technically inferior to digital totally ridiculous? If so then what does that say about painting and painters? This type of statement makes about as much sense as saying a new Toyota car is better than a tasty naval orange!
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Old 03-31-2012   #149
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Let me respectfully disagree with comments from timor:

There is no such a thing (as a digital sensor). Camera sensors are as analog as it gets.

I'm not sure where this comes from. No reason is offered. Actually, when the photochemical analog process is taken to the quantum level, everything becomes digital. The universe, really.

When (it) comes to dinosaurs, I think it was (his) way to say that film and film users are technologically backward.

Some are including themselves with the technology! Let's separate "film" from "fim users". Film is nothing but an older technology. The fact that it's older has no bearing on its worth or the satisfaction derived from it's use. A "film user" is not "technologically backward", only someone who, for their own good reason, uses film. But that reason no longer needs to be to get superior results.

And that from a guy who is biking around California. Doesn't he know we have cars now ? For the past hundred years or so ?

Ha, ha. Guilty! I say I'm car free, but I can borrow my wife's if I need to. So, yes, I know we have cars and in my long life I have probably had too many. Speaking of dinosaurs, those inconsiderate animals did not die in sufficient numbers to supply our happy motoring suburban lifestyle forever.
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Old 03-31-2012   #150
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As an amateur, there are a lot of good reasons. (A high-volume shooting pro has different needs.)

Mechanical/Build/Design/Operation
There is only one expensive choice. This beef pre-dates digital (which refined the concept of "just hit the button" by adding "and, simply fix major problems later in photoshop").

It seems that today only Leica is be able to separate imaging technology from simple operation and decent build. If I have to go to an obscure tips and tricks blog to find out how to perform a basic function properly, I'm holding the wrong camera.

Cost
We can buy the best imaging technology for peanuts. A D800 with the right lens set will be at least $7k.

Results
It's not as fast to process as digital, but the quality cannot be beaten. MF and large maintain an affordable distance with digital.

Downside
Slow processing.

Intangible
The processing, handling, communication and storage of digital files is easier and faster than film and all of these are practical attributes for missile targeting systems and commercial photographers. But, the digital process is simply too synthetic for my liking or needs.

- Charlie

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Old 03-31-2012   #151
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Some are including themselves with the technology! Let's separate "film" from "fim users". Film is nothing but an older technology. The fact that it's older has no bearing on its worth or the satisfaction derived from it's use. A "film user" is not "technologically backward", only someone who, for their own good reason, uses film. But that reason no longer needs to be to get superior results.
Film is certainly an older technology, but I don't think that can have any bearing on whether a technology is better or worse. IBM's OS/2 was wiped out by Microsoft Windows, an inferior technology in every way.

At the moment, for the ultimate in technical resolution, I think we can agree that it's either use large format film, or spend an enormous amount on a digital scanning back or something.

Right now, respectfully, I think film is the superior technology. My career is in computing, and digital is far more second-nature to me than film. However, I think that all things being equal, the simpler solution is the better one, and film is that for me.
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Old 03-31-2012   #152
semilog
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Arguments about technical superiority are, in the absence of a specific artistic, journalistic, or scientific problem or goal, vacuous.
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There are two kinds of photographers:
those who are interested in what a particular camera can't do,
and those who are interested in what it can do.

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Old 03-31-2012   #153
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bike Tourist View Post
if you are still using medium format, film OR digital, then you are a dinosaur.
Only if you view photography as a technical exercise rather than as an expressive art.

Your argument is tantamount to saying that people who do stone lithography rather than using a photocopier are dinosaurs.

It is a vacuous argument.
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There are two kinds of photographers:
those who are interested in what a particular camera can't do,
and those who are interested in what it can do.

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Old 03-31-2012   #154
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bike Tourist View Post
Let me respectfully disagree with comments from timor:

There is no such a thing (as a digital sensor). Camera sensors are as analog as it gets.

I'm not sure where this comes from. No reason is offered. Actually, when the photochemical analog process is taken to the quantum level, everything becomes digital. The universe, really.
This interesting.

A single Photon behaves as discrete particles. Ensembles of photons often behave as if they are waves. Photons have speed and momentum which are linear (analog) Newtonian concepts. But you can not predict how photons behave using Newtonian physics... you need quantum mechanics and discrete states.

Phone energy states are completely discrete. So in a sense they are digital. Victor F. Weisskopf called this behavior the Heisenberg Certainty Principle. That is not a typo. The photon is in one energy level or another, but never in both. Gaining or losing energy causes a change in state, but this change appears to be perfectly digital.

A sensor produces an analog voltage/current which is eventually digitized by a analog to digital converter. Yet at some point the photons' interaction with the sensor site requires quantum mechanics to describe how the voltage/current is created. Finally, the transistors in the sensor circuits wouldn't work if it wasn't for quantum mechanic tunneling.

The chemical reactions in film also require quantum mechanics to fully understand what happens when film granules interact with light and more importantly how to invent improved photosensitive molecules. Of course the end result is a three-dimensional array of molecules that is purely analog. There is a continuous distribution of photosensitive molecules.
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Old 03-31-2012   #155
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bigeye View Post

....


It seems that today only Leica is be able to separate imaging technology from simple operation and decent build. If I have to go to an obscure tips and tricks blog to find out how to perform a basic function properly, I'm holding the wrong camera.

...[/i]
It is trivial to use dozens of different digital cameras in full manual mode. Operation can be as simple as any M camera. It's the photographer's choice.

A 30 second Google search will reveal numerous examples of digital cameras that have survived serious physical abuse implying robust build is not limited to one camera.

There are many reasons to prefer using a film camera, but I don't find either of these convincing.
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Old 03-31-2012   #156
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Quote:
Originally Posted by willie_901 View Post
This interesting.

A single Photon behaves as discrete particles.
Not quite.

Single photons (and other subatomic particles) behave as waves and as particles. In the double-slit experiment, you get interference patterns - an indication of wave-like behavior - even when photons go through the slits one at a time. One of the freakiest results in all of science.

And if you put a particle detector at the slits, to see which slit each photon goes through, the interference pattern goes away.
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There are two kinds of photographers:
those who are interested in what a particular camera can't do,
and those who are interested in what it can do.

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Old 03-31-2012   #157
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Because every time I pick up my filmcamera it forces me to slow down and learn a bit more, think a bit further ...
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Old 03-31-2012   #158
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thegman View Post
Film is certainly an older technology, but I don't think that can have any bearing on whether a technology is better or worse. IBM's OS/2 was wiped out by Microsoft Windows, an inferior technology in every way.

At the moment, for the ultimate in technical resolution, I think we can agree that it's either use large format film, or spend an enormous amount on a digital scanning back or something.

Right now, respectfully, I think film is the superior technology. My career is in computing, and digital is far more second-nature to me than film. However, I think that all things being equal, the simpler solution is the better one, and film is that for me.
The economics say otherwise for all products because there is no product nor development without economy. Inferior and superior arguments must factor that in. If not, the argument exists in a vacuum.
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Old 05-04-2012   #159
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I use film because I am acquainted with the process of making a picture, that is, of visualizing the print and then making the picture. I dislike the instant gratification of digital snapshots. I do, however, use my iPhone to document processes in the printing shop where I work and for snapshots of things that interest me when I walk or go mountain biking!

I find the digital cameras expensive, even used ones. With used ones, there is always the risk of buying something with planned obsolescence "programmed" inside. However, my original 1995 Minolta Maxxum 600si didn't outlive film, my Sigma lens stuck at infinity, in a symbolic way waving good bye at the great era of film.

I started seeing digital SLR's the last time I was on vacation in the USA, but found them complicated, the terminology complex, RAW, Lightroom, noise, etc. Then I found another 600si again on eBay and bought it, it was in mint condition, got an 18-35/4 Sigma lens, bought EIR in the UK, bought filters, books, etc! The photo bug had started again!

Then I found Flicker, where a group on Yashica Electro recruited me and I was able to find a technician to repair my first camera, after almost 35 years in oblivion.

Now I am learning on Leica's M3 and their lenses. This is a process that will take a while since I have a Mamiya Standard 23 Press camera and I am fixing the film backs. Thanks to a group on these cameras I found the parts to fix the film backs that leaked in light.

I have bought quite a few Kodak Technical Series books and a book on The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnaum. I am enjoying thoroughly this new stage in life!

My question is, will I outlive film?

Last edited by RBruceCR : 05-04-2012 at 05:31. Reason: Completion
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Old 05-04-2012   #160
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You already have outlived film.
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