The background current of film pushing against the digital torrent seems to be continuing unabated. An notable new twist is the increasing interest in, or at least marketing push, of film emulation software, of the likes of Alien Skin Exposure or DxO Filmpack. Personally I’m not that interested in faking it - I don’t see much value in disassociating the result from the process, and anyway I’m not that impressed with the results. I can understand the value to illustrators and publishers, in particular for some of the more extreme effects like aged 1962 Agfa consumer prints, but in general if you want it to look like Ektachrome, why not use Ektachrome ? It’s not that hard!
Michael Reichmann recently reviewed DxO Filmpack, and didn’t lose the opportunity to give film a bloody good kicking.
I respect Michael’s experience, although I have some reservations about the direction he’s been heading in since - apparently - money became no object. His photography seems very inconsistent these days, which is a pity. Ten years ago it could be inspirational. Now, despite his protests to the contrary, all he really seems to do is to test cameras, just with a limitless travel budget. Anyway, my point is that there are other photographers who I respect who seem to have a rather different take - from famous ones like Michael Kenna, to emerging stars like Bruce Percy, “alternative” web gurus like Kirk Tuck, Robert Boyer, and seemingly the entire readership of Great British Landscapes.
I could point to Bruce in particular as a clear example that Michael is just plain wrong. Using film - Velvia and Portra I believe - seems to have helped him to develop a very distinctive and personal style. Do his photos suffer from any of film’s perceived weaknesses ? I don’t think so. In fact, when you see so many landscape photographers piling on contrast, blocking out shadows and pushing contrast to (usually, unwittingly) squash down to get that Velva effect, it is a touch ironic. Especially when the same ones spend hours hurling invective at each other in flame wars on who’s (digital) camera has the greatest dynamic range. Then again I don’t much care for Velvia - classic Velvia that is - myself.
Reichmann again “My second impression is to once again confirm how truly poor film based imaging is / was compared to todays’ digital capture. Using a variety of images I went through every available colour transparency and negative emulsion looking for one that appealed to me more than the original processed with my usual workflow. Not a single one even came close.”. Well I beg to differ. Unless pixel peeping comes into, I can easily recall a handful of classic Michael Reichmann film images. I can’t say that so much of his digital work has stick in my memory. Maybe it’s because of the diluting effect of the avalanche of images.
From my own perspective, the image below is one I took a very long time ago, on Kodachrome 64, before I was really into photography. I’ve been trying to recapture that quality of light ever since. The closest I’ve got on digital, I think, is with the Olympus E-1’s Kodak sensor.
But digital seems to be unable to record my impression of subtle gradations such as those in this sky. It has a tendency to turn pinks into yellows or indigos, or just sees blue. Digital doesn’t get it. Probably it has something to do with white balance software. Possibly - probably even - it is representing the “truth”. I’d never argue that film is better than digital. Then again I’d never argue the opposite. But dismissing out of hand just makes so sense, in the context of anything either than throw-away photography.