Is film still relevant?

Is film still relevant? This is a very real question that will get different answers from different folks. I will let you judge at the end of the post. I get asked by the non-photography types if film can still be bought when they see I am still shooting film (or, where can you get it?). The advanced enthusiast with GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) will poo poo anything but the latest and greatest flavor of the month. It is all about megapixels, dynamic range and fluff. Many working professionals will give varying answer. There is no doubt with regards to detail alone, medium format (though this is changing) and large format film still reigns supreme however for most commercial practical purposes, things have shifted towards digital. So, for the sake of this discussion, lets hamstring this and leave the discussion to 35mm film. Already I hear folks clamoring that this is ridiculous, that their Nikon d800 has 36mp and the new Canon 5ds(r) has 50+million pixels. This discussion is not discussing resolution per se. Others tout dynamic range (usually those that don’t know about toe and shoulder with negative film) of digital. But here, we are going to look at the big picture (pun intended). No pixel peeping here. I am talking about aesthetics. So to answer my question: Yes! Of course film is still relevant. Examples to follow.

Over the 4th of July holiday, my little sister, niece and nephew flew in from California for our family reunion. She contacted me earlier about doing a portrait session with her youngest, my nephew of 1 years old and some of my niece and them two together. I intended to shoot mostly digital and only shot a quick 24exp roll of Fuji superia xtra400 as an afterthought. Shots turned out fine both digital and film. A few days later though, I decided to visit after work and brought my Olympus OM10 with zuiko 50/1.8 loaded with Kodak Portra 400. A minimalist setup for sure as I was there not to shoot photos but to visit. However, some opportunities presented itself while we were on the porch so I fired off a few shots.

Now this is where it gets interesting. You see, it was late afternoon with a strong side light coming into the porch which was covered. A huge shift from dark shade on the porch to bright, harsh light outside. A nightmare for digital without major post work and/or a flash (in a working mode, I will always have appropriate lighting with me). No fears. I opened up an extra 2 stops and metered on the subjects. The results were perfect. You see, film has a characteristic that digital does not. It has a toe and shoulder. The highlights roll off and make blowing them out almost impossible in normal situations. When they do, it is graceful, the opposite of digital. With shooting my Canon 5dmkii, I am always shooting with the thought of preserving the highlights. With film, I shoot to preserve the shadows (for negative/c-41) but even then, the latitude is so great, there really is no concern. You see, Portra 400 which is part of (now defunct) Kodak’s new emulsions, can be shot at iso 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and even 1600 without hardly any noticeable differences (some). No pushing or pulling necessary. Wow! Those of you familiar with film no many shoot iso 400 film at 200 or 100 anways because of the latitude and ability to retain shadow detail. A big benefit of film. But lets move past all this. Here are 3 examples of casually shooting on the porch with a disastrous lighting scheme. You be the judge.

Becky and Rae


Renick 2

Just so you know my workflow, these were developed by hand (mine) in the kitchen sink with a unicolor c-41 kit and scanned at home on a Kodak Pakon f135 Plus scanner. Almost nothing was done in Lightroom 5 but a little sharpening and slight highlight recovery (really wasn’t needed). Basically straight scans.

You be the judge. Is film still relevant? I think on my next paid portrait shoot, I am leaving the 5dmkii in the bag and shooting nothing but portra in my Canon elan 7ne.

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