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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Kodak VR35 k12 35mm

I was excited about this thrift store find.  A like new Kodak VR35 k12 35mm point and shoot still in it’s original box.  All for the low price of $2.99.  This price tag was next to the original price tag of $149.97 from KMart.  Some research shows this camera originally retailed for $200.  The Chicago Tribune noted in 1986 that this was Kodak’s grand return to the 35mm format after a 17 year absence.  I was hopeful on my ride home that this neat little camera with a seemingly fast 35/2.8 lens would prove a rightful place among my Nikon L35AF, Olympus mju and mjuII.  The bonus is that this camera looked cool.  All I needed was a roll of film and a battery.  First I noticed that it took a proprietary battery (no doubt long out of manufacture) however a 9 volt would work as well.  Put in a fresh roll of Kodak ultramax 400 and a new 9 volt battery and I was ready.

Let me just say, this camera is utterly craptastic!  I mean it is so crappy that it is fantastical that Kodak chose this piece of excrement as it’s heralded return to 35mm camera format.  First I notice that it is on the chunky side.  I mean chunky.  Like bigger than my Nikon fg-20 with 50/1.8 attached.  I am not opposed to a well built camera being on the large size however this hunk of plastic is just that, a hunk of cheap plastic.  It reeks of it.  The shutter button feels cheap, focus never locks on the first attempt and there are no manual overrides of any sort.  No backlight compensation button, no manual shutoff for the flash, nothing.  Forget shooting into the sun.  Forget choosing not to use the flash.  This camera just does one thing and that it does poorly.

I would love to share some images from the roll of film I shot.  I was hoping the lens would be the one saving grace.  Alas this was not to be.  The film would not rewind even though the rewind motor spins and spins and spins.  I opened the back thinking surely it had rewound after several minutes.  Opened it up and there was all the exposed film, no ruined by light. In fact, it is still in there 2 weeks later (today).  This led me to use it as my first film review due to being completely amazed at how crappy this camera is.  I have a bunch of old point and shoots from the 80’s and 90’s, some better than others but none as utterly disappointing as this one.  What I want to know is, how much did Kodak pay the writer for the Chicago Tribune in 1986 to write such a B.S. article praising this camera?  Many, many, many better options in the cluttered field of auto focus point in shoots in 1986.  The field of fast, fixed lens P&S’s yielded many superb performers.  This was not one of them. The Kodak VR35 k12 35mm is (my) winner of the worst camera I have ever used awarding it a place at the top with distinction as my first film camera review.

kodak vr35

kodak vr35

UPDATE: I was wrong, it does have two features to change things up. A self timer and a fill flash button. Still a useless piece of cheap plastic.

Walls of Jericho

The Walls of Jericho is an interesting geological place straddling the Alabama-Tennessee border nestled among the southern end of the Cumberland Plateau. It has been called the Grand Canyon of the east but it reminds me more of the slot canyons of the American west but instead of sandstone walls, the walls are slick limestone. Instead of the gorgeous reds, the rocks are a pasty white stained by water and speckled with moss and lichen. It is a brutal day hike to get here and a place I have attempted to photograph numerous times. It is a finicky place to shoot. Fall is hit or miss (usually miss) with water flow, summer is too brutally hot with early spring being ideal due to the wildflowers dotting the landscape and the water flowing. However, afternoon is out of the picture due to day hikers interrupting your composition. It is 3.5 miles and 1000′ down to get there leaving a 3.5 mile, 1000′ climb out. Not to mention the last half mile is pretty treacherous hiking. I decided to awake early and attempt to get there before the sun was high. I wanted to avoid the day hikers. I wasn’t too worried about sunrise due to the high cliff walls blocking the early sun until mid morning. This proved to be fruitful. An ultrawide is a must and the thoughts of the new canon 11-24 being an ideal lens for this place. Alas, my 17-40L would have to do.  In addition, i shot some Kodak TMAX100 on an old canon eos rebel body with a canon 50/1.8 lens.   I was happy with the images captured and believe I finally was able to successfully capture this place after 9 years of trying and 11 years of hiking to this place.  Hope you enjoy a few of these images.

Walls of Jericho-waterfall into cave

Walls of Jericho-view out of the cave

Walls of Jericho-view up

Walls of Jericho-B&W film of waterfall

Walls of Jericho-Clark Cemetary B&W

Walls of Jericho-B&W tombstone at Clark Cemetery

Walls of Jericho-Clark Cemetery color


The Best Camera…

…is the one you have with you.  And no, I don’t mean your cell phone camera.  Megapixels be damned, that itty bitty, teeny tiny sensor behind that little piece of plastic just doesn’t cut the mustard.  Those ill fated apps to make your images interesting by turning your image into something from a light leaking camera with expired film, well, I can just do the real thing with one of my old light leaking cameras from 40 years ago and some expired film out of the drawer.  Now to move on.

The best (real) camera is the one you have with you.  Now I don’t care if you shoot digital, film or both (I shoot both), but I make it a point to keep one handy.  Practically speaking, it does no good to keep a big DSLR with me at all times.  Too bulky.  Not going to leave one in my car either, too expensive.  That is why I troll the flea markets, thrift stores and goodwill stores for old film cameras.  For example, in my glove box sits a Nikon L35AF.  Back in 1983, this was THE camera to have as a (semi) compact, auto-focus point and shoot.  It came with a real lens, a nice 35mm f2.8 aperture sonnar designed lens.  It is reasonably fast, very sharp and takes filters (what compact P&S in the last 30 years has done that?).  It has a nice, big and bright view finder, takes 35mm film (full frame goodness for you folks brought up in the digital relm) and runs on AA batteries that can be found ANYWHERE (no chargers needed here).  Plus, it cost less than 5 dollars at the thrift store.  Who cares if it gets stolen?  Hence why it lives in my glove box.  So to illustrate my point of the best camera is the one with you, I will relate the story of a recent roll of film.

So, I just happened at some point to toss a roll of consumer Fuji 200 speed film into this camera, placed it in my glove box and do what I do, forget about it until it is needed.  So one day I am driving home from work and at 75mph crossing Nickajack Lake, I notice the sun parting through the clouds illuminating the lake in a most beautiful manner.  Quickly I reached in my glove box, grabbed the L35AF, flipped the on switch and pointed it out my window as I fly across the bridge.  This is what I captured:


Sometime this winter, my wife and I decided to go for a hike at the local state park.  As we go there, I grabbed this camera out of my glove box for the “just in case” I ran into something interesting.  Well, that is what happened.  Towards the end of the hike, I looked over my left shoulder and noticed something somewhat unnatural related to the landscape and went to investigate.   This is what I saw:


fisherman and rocks on log

Last month I was driving home from work when, after talking with my father whom was out of town, asked me to check on his house (it is on the mountain) due to the recent ice storm.  While there I drove out to the bluff quickly as I knew the light was fading.  I captured this:

Warren's Point

None of these images would have normally been captured.  I had not planned these images.  I just happened upon them and happened to have a easy to use, simple to operate, quick to grab camera with me in my car.  Often, I have 2 or 3 in my car but I always have at least one camera with me.  If I am going somewhere where lugging a camera around my shoulder/neck is not convenient or appropriate, I will grab my Olympus stylus epic or Olympus XA and stick it in my pocket.  Better to have something than nothing and both of these cameras are super compact and sport a great 35/2.8 lens.  Both Olympus cameras are getting a little pricey but the stylus epic can still be found for under $5 at Goodwill all the time (millions were made and sold).

Point being, if you are passionate about capturing moments, be prepared or those moments will come and go, fading into memory to be gone forever.

How about some B&W? digital interpretations at Big Bend National Park

Sooooo, I believe I am finally through processing the images from this winter’s trip to Big Bend National Park.  I know, I know; one is never really through, but I am at a stopping point.  I am also finding some of my favorite work I captured digitally, I prefer presented in a traditional monochrome format.  Somehow, the desert atmosphere feels more authentic (to me) in B&W.  BBNP will be the theme for the next post or two as well, followed up to this with color work.  I hope you enjoy these and feel free to comment (they are welcome).
desert hills

all things will stick you in the desert

morning light awash in dog canyon

dog canyon

into the Chisos


Chisos range

Mariscal Mine

We spent a week out in Texas at the beginning of this month and made a return trip to Big Bend National Park. The park is so vast that there is little hope for us to view it all and we are planning to return again next year for our 3rd trip (my 4th). This year, we decided to attempt the River Road, a dirt road only suitable for high ground clearance vehicles.  This is a 56 mile road that will take all day to travel (7+ hours).  We came across an old abandoned mercury mine in the far reaches of the park. It is accessible but in a remote location of Big Bend. The park itself is very remote so needless to say, we were a long way from civilization.

I was shooting a lot of film, B&W and color and was striving for a certain look. I wanted an authentic portrayal of this mine and film was my obvious choice.  Vintage and grainy for the B&W and color using a 65+ year old lens on a 45 year old Leica  to portray the feeling of time gone by. The isolation, the remoteness of the area led me to choose Tri X as opposed to TMax100 for B&W. TriX is an old emulsion giving that “classic” black and white look. Color was Kodak Ektar, my go to film for daylight landscapes. Though usually a contrasty and punchy film, on the ancient serenar 50/1.8, I knew colors would come out with a pastel look with low contrast giving the appropriate vintage look.

The mine is Mariscal Mine which was abandoned in 1942. From 1901-1942 it produced approx. 25% of all the mercury in this country. Amazing considering in the early years the ore was packed out by mule around 60+ miles to the nearest town of Terlingua on a rutted out dirt road. The workers were all from Mexico (the Rio Grande is a short, couple miles away) and all suffered severe health problems as a result of the mining. Apparently the brick still contain quicksilver and there was a warning to not touch the bricks. Mine shafts were still visible, dotted through the hills but thankfully secured by steel grates.

The feeling of isolation in BBNP is intoxicating. To be out all day and not see another person, to look out over the vast desert and mountains and feel completely alone, in a timeless state is very appealing. This abandoned mine are like the skeletons of a by gone era. I hope I convey the feeling I am attempting too through these images. Enjoy!

mariscal mine1

mariscal mine2

mariscal mine3

mariscal mine4

mariscal mine5

mariscal mine6

mariscal mine7

mariscal mine8

mariscal mine9

mariscal mine10

mariscal mine11

mariscal mine12

mariscal mine13

mariscal mine14

mariscal mine15

mariscal mine16

Big Bend redux

My wife and I returned a few weeks back from our 2nd and my 3rd visit to Big Bend National Park.  I plan on blogging more about this fantastic park when I have completed the laborious task of editing the library of images I came home with.  However, I need a place to post some previous images, both digital and film, from my prior 2 trips and a few from this time.  Sooooooo, without much fanfare, BBNP revisited.


Boquillas overlook at dusk

Chisos Mountains

Chisos with rare snow

Rio Grande at dusk

Grapevine Hills road

Mule Ears

southside of the Chisos Mountains

Taj Mahal

ocotillo and chisos

desert art


Rio Grande Sunset

I’m back!!!

Sometime in the past 6-8 months I have lost about 3 years of blog content from my last blog.  Apparently my hosting company discontinued their product and phased in a WordPress blog.  Thanks to an email my brother in law Bob sent me, I have finally been prompted to begin anew.  A basic design has been implemented with much needed changes coming to this very (comedic) basic blog.  Basically, I needed a place to muse about all things related to photography and the adventures involved in this passion of mine as well as a place to display some of my work outside of my (in much need of an upgrade) website.  So here it is with a fresh start! -Jon