Trying it both ways.

Photographers tend to be an "all or nothing" crew.  When we gear up for a shoot we focus in like lasers on the exact gear we presume will be the best for the job of the moment, then we pack it up and go.  But sometimes the license to experiment comes hand in hand with the job at hand.  I can't tell you why I packed up my Hasselblad 501 CM and the 120mm Makro lens along with my Canon gear on the morning that Amy and I went off to make portraits of scientists for one of our favorite technology companies.  It wasn't logical or rational.  And I can't tell you why I stuck a couple of 120 rolls of Kodak's venerable Tri-X in my pocket either.

We were making portraits of people against white that would become ads and posters.  We shot digital and tethered all morning long and paid close attention to things like white lab coats edged against the white background.  It was great to have some instant proofing.  The firewire connection had no problem matching my shooting speed.  It was a smooth but careful shoot.  The ad agency had no interest in experimenting with film.  But I did.

We had some time between sessions so I asked this scientist if we could take a few quick shots and she agreed.  I extrapolated the Tri-X exposure from the Canon 1DS mk2 ISO 100 exposure.  It should have been two stops different but I went with one and two thirds stops difference because I like a slightly thicker negative and I was certain that Tri-X could handle as much over exposure as I wanted to throw at it without blocking up.

I think my subject enjoyed a little foray into historic imaging technology.  I know I did.  We chatted about it for a few moments while I licked the little band that secures the backing paper around the exposed film, and then we were done.

When my assistant, Amy, and I got back to the studio and finished unloading I got straight to work backing up the digital files, creating web galleries and doing all the back end work we now take for granted.  A few days later I dropped the roll of film by the lab and asked them to "develop and contact."

The next time I was in the neighborhood I pulled into the lab and picked up the film.  A quick glance across the contact sheet and I zeroed in on two frames.  One somber and one smiling.  I scanned the smiling one and made one or two little adjustments.  I compared it with the digital file, painstakingly resolved from a big raw file and worked on meticulously in PhotoShop, and I must plainly say that the digital files rendering of skin tones in digital is not up to par with film technology from the 1960's and 1970's.  You can blame my technique if you want and you can direct me to countless thousands of people on the web who may have mastered black and white in the digital age but all stories are anecdotal unless you live them.

I can dump Canon files in SilverFX and create lots of stuff that's close but it's the tonal range that always seems to give it away for me.  The midrange always seems like gray mush.  I am consistently amazed that, with one or two little tweaks I can get wonderful black and white from the real thing (black and white film)  but the voodoo of manipulating color tones in relation to skin tones in relation to digital files seems so arduous by comparison.  Maybe it's just me.  I can accept that.

After I got this file back I had a husband and wife contact me about photographing them.  They wanted images showing her pregnancy.  I had the studio all set to do a digital session but when they showed up she remarked that she loved the look of square, black and white photographs.  I proofed with the Canon 5Dmk2 but I shot in earnest with the Hasselblad and Fuji Acros 100.  I got the contact sheets back today.  I am still in love with black and white film.  I don't care if it's less convenient.  It just looks better.....

So, for all the people who were getting bored with the writing about the Nikon V1.........viva la difference!

(If you are going to comment about print quality, please keep in mind that the image above is 1600 pixels wide and the original is capable of being cleanly scanned at 16,000 pixels wide. It's also been converted from 16 bits of grayscale to 8 bits of sRGB color. Just mentioning...)