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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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Why do you use film:
Old 03-25-2012   #1
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Why do you use film:

Is the Leica a film camera? Many of the most enthusiastic Leica users on this forum are using Leica film cameras - many of those cameras are older models, many of them purchased used. Digital cameras, unlike film cameras, are evolving and improving rapidly and have a relatively short life at the top of the heap. The M9 had a sensor that was a bit behind the times when it was introduced, but my ancient M3 is still producing pictures whose quality is indistinguishable from its younger brethren?

It’s hard to use film. Darkroom equipment and supplies are becoming scarcer. Good film scanners are expensive. And,yet, even after I sold my digital Leicas, I kept three film bodies because I couldn’t put three old friends out in the cold. I know all the arguments against film. What I’d like to know from the folks on the forum that qualify is WHY DO YOU USE FILM?
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Old 03-25-2012   #2
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Hi Bill,

I like the feel of the film cameras. This is maybe what is most important to me. It so happens that while my wife likes modern things, she likes images made by film cameras more than images made by digital cameras.

I do not develop my film, so this is not a reason for me to keep using film cameras.
- Raid

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Old 03-25-2012   #3
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Bill, I am reading some implicit assumptions into your question. Like the expanded question is "why are you still using film, after all digital is better"

Now I do not think I am being defensive.

So my response would be: I am still using film for the reasons I have always used film.
internet forums appear to have an abundance of anonymous midgets prancing on stilts
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Old 03-25-2012   #4
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For two reasons: the process and the look.

The process: I slow down, pay more attention to my surroundings, and feel more connected to the scene when I'm using film. It isn't a binary function where I don't feel this way when shooting digital. It's just that the feeling is more prevalent when I shoot film. I also like not being able to see what I just shoot until hours, days or weeks later. I get excited when I either develop black and white or when color film comes back from the processor.

The look: It's just different than digital. Neither better nor worse, in my opinion. I like the look of grain. I like the tonality. I like the contrast.

I shoot digital and film; the film gets scanned (though I am right now re-learning how to print in a darkroom), and I print both at home digitally. Different tools for different looks and uses. I like them both, but there is something soothing about shooting film.

Just my two cents worth.

A lover of film and digital, of travel and cultures.
Images of all at Pixels & Grain
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Old 03-25-2012   #5
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In no particular order:
1. It gives me a break from my usual business messing with computers.
2. There's something special about being able to hold a negative/positive transparency – perhaps a sense of permanence.
3. Older professional level film cameras tend to be cheaper than their digital counterpart – I like to feel of smooth, solid (usually professional) cameras.
4. Despite what some say, film isn't cheap to me – it's not expensive, but it's not to be wasted. This makes me less likely to shoot off a load of awful shots that I'll likely hoard for no good reason.
With kind regards,
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Old 03-25-2012   #6
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I like mechanical things. My older film 35mm cameras, M4-2, OM-1, Pen F are all mechanical, feel nice in the hand, make soothing sounds, and don't require batteries. The plasto-blob Ni-Ca-Oly-Tax digital SLR's (no way can I afford an M9) have no appeal at all and as far as I'm concerned are completely interchangeable in their mundane dullness.
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Old 03-25-2012   #7
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I use film because I enjoy the process of bulk loading film into cartridges, developing it, and making traditional prints in the darkroom. When I post pictures on the web, I scan them from 5x7 prints with my HP printer/fax/scanner.
- Peter Schauss
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Old 03-25-2012   #8
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I like the looks of film, but I use digital cameras too.
If you are willing to look around and wait for deals, there are good film cameras and lenses to be had for relatively little money.
I love older stuff. Cameras, trucks, aircraft, guns etc. Most of that I can't afford, but older cameras allow me a tie to personal history and photographic history. And, I love history. Plus I'm a Luddite wannabe.
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Old 03-25-2012   #9
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I get a better end result using slow film and any of my film cameras than I get with my dSLR.
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Old 03-25-2012   #10
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Originally Posted by zuiko85 View Post
I like mechanical things.
I didn't think about this one, but I agree. Finely crafted mechanical things with moving parts have a soul. Not much aside from the shutter moves in a soulless digital camera.
Bender: I support and oppose many things, but not strongly enough to pick up a pen.

Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey-cage.” ― H.L. Mencken
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Old 03-25-2012   #11
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I dislike sensor dust.
And simple functions buried in menus.
And the look of overly processed files.
And love changing my "sensor" at whim.
And most of all, love that I can make photos, simply.



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Old 03-25-2012   #12
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One more rant.
Fer crying out loud! Why can't these stupid camera companies make a DSLR with a shutter speed dial, aperture ring and smooth manual focus ring, oh, and don't forget the DOF scale on the lens!

And, those dials and rings would perform that ONE FUNCTION ONLY! They can put the other controls on a button studded back if they want to but not basic exposure and focus. But no. We have cameras designed by computer geeks now. They have to load on every feature ever invented. I wouldn't be surprised if I hit the wrong command and a toothbrush sprang from the bottom!

OK, calm down...clam down...
Think I'll pop the cap on an IPA and chill.....
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Old 03-25-2012   #13
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I like the look of film, both B/W and colour, in my case, Ektar 100. I also really like my odd-ball rangefinder cameras from Russia, and my Yashica TLR. I enjoy the process of reading the light, both with a light meter and my Mk 1 Eyeball. I have fun processing my own black-and-white film. I have used film for 60 years, and whille I am also using digital, I'll continue to use film for my most important reason: It's FUN!

With best regards.

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Old 03-25-2012   #14
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I love the look of slide film. And I can't wait to project. I can't afford an M9 while I can afford a few dozen rolls of E6. Adox CMS 20 is fun to play with.
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Old 03-25-2012   #15
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Everything everyone has said above.
my little website: http://frankfoto.jimdo.com/

photography makes me happy
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Old 03-25-2012   #16
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Originally Posted by zuiko85 View Post
One more rant.
Fer crying out loud! Why can't these stupid camera companies make a DSLR with a shutter speed dial, aperture ring and smooth manual focus ring, oh, and don't forget the DOF scale on the lens!

And, those dials and rings would perform that ONE FUNCTION ONLY!
I feel like I'm reading my own post.
Bender: I support and oppose many things, but not strongly enough to pick up a pen.

Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey-cage.” ― H.L. Mencken
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Old 03-25-2012   #17
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For me it is an ESCAPE ... From the Frantic Pace of everyday Life
it's Simplicity in Ergonomics makes Shooting Relaxed & Simple

Even with All its Imperfections
it's Subtleties in Rendering the Play of Shadow, Light, Texture & Tone
makes me Drunk with Joy...
Featured in the 26th issue of 'Inspired Eye'...
30 Questions • 14 Photographs • Pages 83-91
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Old 03-25-2012   #18
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Because that's the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it.

My favorite question is "What does this button do?"
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Old 03-25-2012   #19
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Because ccd and cmos sensors don't react very well to fixer...
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Old 03-25-2012   #20
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From the image quality point of view, digital has provided with us an obvious advantage compared to film: Higher resolution. However for other aspects regarding aesthetics and artistic values, film IMHO is still holding its traditional place.

I have learned more by looking at the photographs of others than the ones I called my own. It was decades ago while trying to squeeze the most out of my photographic equipment and process I have realized that using a Linhof would definitely not be making a certain HCB any greater than what he was.. I have also learned that being so meticulous about fine details and accomplishing the highest fidelity in rendering of what he put on the canvas could not help Johannes Vermeer in ranking any higher than what Rembrandt or Renoir regarded as to be. Art and aesthetical concerns do not regard lines per millimeter resolution as a prime virtue.

Cost per shot, convenience, prompt results, extensive manipulation possibilities of digital are not to be denied as I use the digital photography lovingly. However even all these conveniences, most of the time, fall short of duplicating the tonality, highlights and overall gradation of a frame shot on the HP5+ and developed in a formula available since 1927. That's why I will be shooting film as long as it would be available.
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Old 03-25-2012   #21
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Grain. I've posted this before from my PhotoKinesis.info "Glory of Velvia" gallery... Velvia 100 with 90mm elmar-M.

The lens provides wonderful contrast, plasticity and detail. The image cast by the lens is sampled by the film emulsion. I like the random grain which shows luminance-noise but not color-noise. I'd be willing to look closely at a large print with this grain characteristic (aside from the little hair!) Notice how the graininess displays the shades of purple, and also captures the glow in the yellow and the saturation in the pinks and reds. The shadow goes black with this high-contrast film, but there's no sensor noise in the shadow.

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Old 03-25-2012   #22
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I use film because that's what my cameras need...not trying to be silly here...I, as yet, still don't own a digital camera...
That being said...I love the whole film process...shooting, developing film, printing...
It's like Christmas morning when I open that film tank and see the images on the film...and there's something about seeing the image come up in the developer tray...
It's all the fuss over developing, rinsing, checking for any dust when printing, getting the right exposure time and seeing the final print and then the reaction from viewers of my images...

And you're right...It's hard to use film...
Knowing I have to get the exposure, composition, the timing, image just right when I trip the shutter takes years to learn...Yeah, I know even when using a digital camera I have to use the same experience but if I don't get it right with film it can get costly real quick and that is a great motivator to do it right the first time...
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Old 03-25-2012   #23
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Although I have never been a painter, I imagine that shooting film is quite the same. For me (and I know this is different for others) shooting digital is like running my dishwasher, nothing exciting or intimate but gets the job done. If I had an M9 I might feel different, but I doubt it.
Akiva S.

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Old 03-25-2012   #24
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Multiple reasons, but the two major ones are:

I get B&W results I like better from film and scanning than I do from converting digital files. I could probably work to get better conversions as that's probably a failure of technique on my part. But since I get results I like from film, I mostly think "why bother?"

I like old cameras - I like using them, and I like using different kinds of cameras. There are more different kinds of old cameras out there than there are kinds of digital cameras, and they can be obtained at prices I can afford. Those old cameras need film, so I use film in them.

These days getting colour film developed (especially 120) has become quite inconvenient for me, so I pretty much use digital for colour and film for black and white. That suits me fine. I just have to work on reducing/eliminating the drying marks I get on my film. I've made progress on that, but I'm not quite there yet... (Oh, and I have high hopes for the soon-to-be released Plustek 120 scanner: my flatbed is OK for scanning medium format but I'd like to do better.)

There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness." Dave Barry

My flickr photostream has day-to-day stuff and I've given up most everywhere else through lack of time or perhaps interest.
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Why do you use film:
Old 03-25-2012   #25
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Why do you use film:

I like it... works for me.
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Old 03-25-2012   #26
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Grew up on Panatomic X and Ethol Blue. Waiting on budgetary approval for a pair of D4's and I use digital professionally for work here and abroad in the newspaper environment.

So ironically, I use film because I like the 'forced' limitations placed upon me by 12 or 36 exposures per roll and that which goes with it. Hard to explain really. The look of film (read grain, tones) is not so much a thing for me anymore and the 'slowing down thing' I find is getting too tired to trot out as a reason, for me at least, so ymmv.
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Old 03-25-2012   #27
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I grew up with film and I am only 24... I stared with the high school yearbook with a Nikon N90s then an F100.... Doomsday came in the form of a Nikon D100 and I hated it. It was slow, laggy, and jammed a couple of times in really important moments. I shot my first and last paid wedding with it... It felt like a toy. However, it made it easy to update the website and that is what they wanted.

My father had a camera collection and like a bad stock advisor never saw the digital revolution coming. So I shot through his collection and discovered his Leica's.

The Leica's, specifically the M3, revealed a very simple approach to photography. I mean there were no settings other than aperture, shutter, and focus. No meter, but a beautifully manufactured and incredibly dense 50 mm summicron DR with goggles. I was hooked.

When my graduation college graduation came up, I had shot a lot of film and I was very poor as a college student hell bent on staying as independent as possible. Film is expensive... but upfront digital is way more.

I knew what I wanted, a small, well built, high performance digital camera but they did not exist. Right around graduation came the Olympus Pen series: a revelation. Upon holding with it, I just couldn't fathom composing via an LCD or EVF; Sacrilege!

The Oly Pen series with a good lens and VF was equivalent to an M6 TTL.... I got an M6 TLL... I figured it will last longer, and I'll just bite the bullet and pay for the film till I get a real job and can afford a digital camera that ticks the boxes. Not that I really mind... I could live with Portra and TMAX for the rest of my life...

However, I will never sell the M6. Nothing beats a true optical wet print on real paper. Nothing. Nothing beats the process. Dodging and burning is not like dodging and burning in the darkroom. The immediate gratification of digital is never as good as waiting for those prints from the lab.

It is a hassle to travel with film internationally.... but man nail the exposure and focus, and just wait a couple of days to see the results.

All that being said.... I have serious uncontrollable GAS, in fact flatulence, for the Fujifilm X100, because other than a digital M or some other unobtainable or outdate digital body it is the only digital camera on the market with a shutter speed dial and aperture ring.... A revelation. Can't wait to shoot it as my wide body next to the M6...

I guess I really don't know why I shoot film, but when a student of mine asked me if I knew anything about photography I unleashed my passionate opinion and tried to explain to him why he need not spend $1500 of his hard dollars on the an L series lens and body because the internet told him to do so. He told me he was interested in the "art" of photography, so I suggested KEH.com and a cheap manual SLR with a roll of film. To convince him of my logic, I am even going to let him borrow my FM2 so he can learn how easy the art is when you don't have to worry about sRGB color space, white balance, RAW vs. JPEG, 12500 ISO, lightening speed autofocus, mega zooms, lightroom, photoshop CS 9, and weather sealing.

Exposure, composition, and thought. That is why I like film.
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Old 03-25-2012   #28
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I use film, because I have negative files going back to the mid-60's - and they have never been "re-formatted"- occasionally re-filed, but thats all.
I also started with film, more years ago than I like to think about (50+) and I am used to it.
I tried digital, beta tested RD1 and M8 and however impressive they are, they did not do it for me. Not so much the end result which is quite good, but in the process of "thinking" about a shot. With digital it is too easy to shoot too much - with film you have a natural limit - usually 36-37 frames!
I also like processing and the anticipation of hanging up a batch of films to dry and quickly look at them.
All this works for me - BUT if I had to go back and do this for a living - I would shoot digital, particularly color where I think digital can do an equal or better job than film.
So far I have not found digital bl/w very satisfactory - and printing technology still lags behind a good fiber based prints.
With something like 10 000 ft of film in the freeer, I dont think I will switch soon either.
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Old 03-25-2012   #29
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I use film because (for me) its intuitive & much easier than learning digital camera menus. Most of the time only 2 of 3 variables operate- aperture & shutter speed. Maybe I'm lazy..
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Old 03-25-2012   #30
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I like my film cameras too much to give them up, plus I still haven't gotten this film shooting & developing bit down to a science yet & won't ever switch til I do. Besides digital camera's have too many settings I don't understand or care to fool with.

"when you shoot film every exposure is connected to the next. I have 36 shots to tell a story on one roll. So each roll is a short film. Photography & filmmaking are brothers" Khalik Allah
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Old 03-25-2012   #31
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I will say that the look of film is becoming easier to emulate in post production, so soon that will matter less. Presets, people, presets.

I have several reasons to still use film. I feel my film camera is ergonomically perfect, and all controls are simple and clear. Shooting with my rangefinder is a careful and precise process, probably because I use film (I should learn to be like this all the time though). Finally, spending three hours in the dark in peace and quiet developing film is incredibly calming.
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Old 03-25-2012   #32
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Because nothing consistently does B&W like B&W film...
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Old 03-25-2012   #33
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I grew up with film and have been using it for close to 50 years. I've used and own Leicas, Nikons and Canons, Fuji's, Mamiya's and more recently, a 500c (not crazy about it). I also have a lovely Pentax DSLR with outstanding color fidelity. When I'm shooting a wedding or an event, I'll use the Pentax--it's more economical and I'm not limited to 36 frames. When I'm shooting for the sheer joy of it and self expression,I use film. I process my own B&W and color (C-41) and love my results. I love pressing the shutter on my Leica or Mamiya and it simply works--it doesn't beep at me about focus points, or exposure or anything else. If the shot doesn't come out, I can only blame myself. I love having negatives of my images that do not deteriorate , even after 40 years or so. I wonder if in 2052 whether my digital files (or cameras) will still be around. There is a permanence in film that is inescapable. I sometimes feel sorry for those photographers who have never experienced the singular joy of "reading" a negative without the assistance of a histogram. Basically for me, film with all of it's accoutrements is just plain fun!
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Old 03-25-2012   #34
... likes film.
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Why I still use film ?

... because there is still no satisfying alternative for me.
- Gabor

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Old 03-25-2012   #35
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i like what i get with BW film.
i like the simple cameras i use to shoot film.
digital is good in its own way - with color. but the cameras ain't simple. they are so needy ...
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind ...
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Old 03-25-2012   #36
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Why do I use film? Well first I must say that I have turned to film in the past year or so, in part because I discovered b & w images and realized that film gives me the chance to express feelings about how I see the world that I cannot manage with digital images. I say "chance": I am still learning, which is nice in itself. Film is subtle, film is textural, film is tactile, film is real. Using film is a statement.
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Old 03-25-2012   #37
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I chose film when I was 19 back in '08 out of bitterness from an Ex-girlfriend who cheated on me. She always use a 40D on auto. I vow to be better than her.

One thing I didn't count on was that I would fell in love with Rangefinders
I saved (and oftentimes starved myself :P) to get my current M4-P

Friends who use digital say I could switch to the X100 [M9 and X-Pro 1 is financially out of reach ]. Tempting but the lack of negative, advanced lever, and rangefinder patch is off putting

So I guess I'm sticking with film because I'm used to it until an actual affordable digital rangefinder comes out that is :P
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Old 03-25-2012   #38
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I really don't know. Nostalgia, maybe, and just for a change of pace.

I don't have the best scanning rig (Plustek and V700) so it's not like I can pull all the detail out of a B&W negative, and I don't have any of the feelings associated with film being 'more rounded,' 'deeper,' etc.. Mostly I remember slaving away in a darkroom the night before a project was due and how much washing and drying fiber prints in a gang darkroom sucked.

I've got ~75 rolls of 400-speed B&W and 25-30 rolls of Portra 400 in 120. I aim to shoot them all by mid-summer. After that, I don't know if I'll shoot film again.
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Old 03-25-2012   #39
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Originally Posted by craygc View Post
Because nothing consistently does B&W like B&W film...
+ 1. The main reason for me too.

Above that i prefer the whole workflow: especially not knowing what you have got till development.
As a person who spends most of his working day behind a computer screen i also enjoy shaking some film in the bathroom! Time spend on computer for scanning and applying some curves in PS is minimal compared to the efforts necessary for getting a half way descent looking B&W picture out of a digital fiile.

Last but not least: I enjoy using full mechanical analog camera's like Leica's or Hasselblads much more than digital camera's with all their menu's and buttons. It's a completely different experience for me.
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Why I use film...
Old 03-26-2012   #40
George Bonanno
George Bonanno is offline
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Northern New Jersey & Vũng Tàu
Posts: 573
Why I use film...

No. 1... I'm a lazy thinker.
No. 2... I'm a moron.
No. 3... I don't know why.
No. 4... Gerald Slota is my friend.
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