Film or digital…?

Like vinyl vs MP3, valves vs transistors, AM vs FM, the great debate between film and digital still occupies photography threads, blogs and podcasts around the world. So, is one really better than the other? Does it even matter? Do we actually care anymore? Well, it all depends… It depends on your style and subject. It depends on the story you want to tell. It may also depend on your budget or the process that you enjoy most. For me, I’m a film guy so there is nothing that beats the process of analog photography. But it’s 2021, is film still a relevant medium? ABSOLUTELY!

Don’t get me wrong, digital is reliable, versatile, technically brilliant and gives you instant feedback. Whereas film can be difficult, frustrating and expensive. But when you get it right, there is little that compares. Whether it’s the classic grains of Tri-X or the velvety tones of Fuji Velvia (sadly I’m not old enough for Kodachrome), I’ve never been able to get the same look on digital. There’s an artistic quality present in those images that is in my opinion, still unsurpassed. But that’s what a good image should do right? It should make you feel something. It shouldn’t matter how it’s made or what it’s made from, just what it does for you. And film does it for me.

Most photographers will say that using film forces you to slow down. They’re right and that’s not a bad thing. When I started out in film proper (circa 2009), I experimented a little but was ultra conservative often only using 1-2 frames per shoot. A 35mm roll developed and scanned was expensive back then (and still is). Then I got into medium format (645) and things really slowed down! But my photography and what I was learning went up dramatically. I suddenly found myself wedded to my Pentax 645NII, its grid focusing screen and the ultra-wide manual focus 35mm f3.5 lens. A fantastic combination for any landscape or urban tog. It taught me a lot. These days I’ll often have both film and digital with me but for different reasons. I use my Nikon Df (or iPhone…) to capture moments, documents things, experiment and sometimes meter with. Film however, that’s special. If I’m exposing silver halide crystals then I’m usually making an image that I’ve pre-visualised or want to add to my gallery. It’s a distinctly different feeling and process.

I also just love the cameras more. They are highly tactile and often come with quirks because of mechanical limitations or materials of the time. They had character, or as Jeremy Clarkson would say, they got soul! But film can also be the great leveler. Take the single digit Nikon F series. Incredible cameras each and every one of them. But it doesn’t matter which one you’re crouching behind a wall with or crawling through the jungle. What mattered was the film running through it. For me, all this adds up to a more connected and involved process. Not just the act of processing of film but the entire process of making images on film, from loading the camera though to scanning or printing. Film may not make the most sense commercially. In fact, unless you’re doing high-end fine art or have a really niche photography genre that is earning you a living then it definitely doesn’t make a lot of sense at all. But if you’re out there to make some art and enjoy the process along the way then absolutely go and shoot some film (and maybe skip the soy skim lattes to afford for it). And if you’re still not convinced, have a look at the most iconic images in photographic history. Think about how they make you feel, then look at what they were captured with.

Pre-production Nikon F3 Plates

I’ve been lucky enough to do a small run (lets optimistically call it a pre-production test) of some Nikon F3 camera plates, aka the ‘Nikovit’. I designed it a few years ago and had a couple of prototypes made as a favour. Needless to say they have lived on my F3’s ever since but I have long wanted to make a few tweaks (1/4″ accessory thread) and see if they could be made in larger quantities – why should I be the only one to enjoy this? Making something locally is not always easy or the cheapest way of doing things (the big tripod companies didn’t want to pick this up). Fortunately there are loads of specialist machining and manufacturing businesses in Adelaide. While pottering on some other projects at Sane Makerspace, I came across Singh Engineering. A few conversations and 3D model versions later, four more CP-F3 plates were a reality! They have been anodised black to match by another local company and now come with felt circles in the spare battery compartments (without which spare batteries can short). Needless to say I’m quite pleased with the result. But, is it economical… Well with only four made I’m not making any money. Even at $195 AUD (includes free postage) I’m barely breaking even. However, it has proven what can be done locally at about the cheapest rates I can find. So, hopefully this sparks some interest as I would like to have more made in the future but would need to do a run of at least 10 to make it worth it. So, if you are interested please get in touch (email or Instagram). I have three left to sell so don’t wait around for your friends to buy them.

Photography Podcasts

I’ve never really taken to podcasts or talkback radio as I have always preferred to listen to music. That is, until now! As I found myself getting back into photography, I stumbled across the unused podcast app on my iPhone and started listening to Light Minded by Christian Fletcher & Carwyn. Being a Perth boy it was quite refreshing to hear Christian talking about the South West of WA as I have always been a big fan of his work and that part of the world. Their unscripted/unplanned format, impressive guest list and endless humour make it a really easy but engaging podcast to listen to. I have learnt a lot in only a few weeks. Its also been much needed after taking time off from the craft. The other podcast I have been avidly working my way through is the Atkins Labcast, my local pro-lab here in Adelaide. I love these guys and really can’t say enough good things about them. I could listen to Paul for hours talking about photography, boats, land rovers… And of course Kate just rolls in like a storm of wit, humour and blunt applaud to create a perfect balance. So, get streaming!

Benro PP1 and Quad Lock

When travelling somewhere to create a particular landscape image, it’s often nice to capture a few moments on the side. Usually just back of the film camera/viewfinder snaps with my iPhone. However, I’ve only got one large tripod for serious work and lugging two of them around brings its own challenges. I’d been looking for a small travel tripod for a while and eventually stumbled upon the Benro PP1 as a small and fairly inconspicuous pocket pod. I bit the bullet and grabbed one and I’m certainly glad I did! While it has little to do with my film work, I can now set this up on the side and grab a time-lapse or video. Or if I’m desperate and need a slow shutter speed for one of my smaller cameras it can do that without too much hassle either. Heck, it can also hold a flash or video light if you really need it to. There’s a lot of little travel pods out there on the market but I have to say, for price and build this one stands out for me. Coupled with the Quad Lock photo attachment, it’s a great little combination that now lives in the front of my camera bag!

That Wanaka Tree

Looking at the date of my last post it’s been far too long since I’ve been on here! So much for a busy life… I’ve not long come back from a quick trip to the South Island of New Zealand, a place I could easily disappear to for a few weeks every year. It is also the first bit of film photography that I’ve done in a while and some of my images show it. The last time I was in New Zealand (2005 and 2012) was before Instagram started making places famous so I’d never actually seen that Wanaka tree. I was keen to change that but also expected it to be packed. In fact most of the tourist spots were busier and far more developed than I had remembered them to be. It didn’t disappoint, even if some of the tourists did. It’s a beautiful tree and an incredibly peaceful setting by the lake. If you’re keen to get up before the sun, you’ll have the place mostly to yourself. The same goes for getting off the beaten track (or the paved roads), there are many spots to avoid the crowds and most are worth the effort. Weather hampered some of my photographic endeavours so I have no doubt I’ll be back. Fortunately I still love Ferg!

The Paper Gallery

After a long time thinking about it, I’ve finally added a new gallery to the website, ‘The Paper Gallery’. Helped along by my recent dabbling’s with making Cyanotypes, this is where I can put everything analogue that doesn’t quite fit into the standard film group. Everything from prints and Polaroids to Cyanotypes, Solargraphs and maybe even Tin Types if I get the chance!

Heron Island

I have never been drawn to the oceans in the same manner as I have to the high mountains and the remote wildernesses of this planet. However, exploring the Great Barrier Reef, before the full impacts of climate change are realised, has been high on my bucket list for some time. Not more than 800m long and 300m wide, Heron Island is a small coral cay in the southernmost section of the Great Barrier Reef. It forms part of the Capricorn Bunker group of Islands and is a biodiversity jewel for both bird and marine life.

In a single snorkel I was able to witness more marine life than I have ever done so before. Just some of it included pink whip rays, cow tail stingrays, giant shovel-nose rays, spotted eagle rays, black tip reef sharks, sea turtles and an abundance of fish. It was also pleasing to see plenty of healthy coral, in fact canyons of coral as far as I could see. To be a guest in their blue world was an incredibly humbling experience and hit home just how important it is to protect this resource and how what we do on land is linked to the ocean. No phone reception and no computer were definitely welcome changes. A few days unplugged on a beach really does do wonders for one’s soul, I can’t recommend it enough. I could have stayed for at least a month! It was also a good opportunity to use my Nikonos V and 15mm which all too often sit on the shelf. I actually shot more film than I have ever done on a holiday. Overall I’m happy with the results but still have much to learn, underwater photography is very different!

With a new set of fins I can’t wait to explore more of Australia’s marine parks and underwater life. I suspect it’s not the last time I’ll visit Heron Island but for now I have the dearest of memories.

Back to Kodak

It has been far too long since I put a post up so here goes. Unfortunately I really haven’t had much chance to shoot a great deal of film in the last 12 months or produce anything worth while since my trip to the Arctic. Hopefully that is about to change with an imminent trip to the red centre! Now, back to what I really want to walk about – Kodak. I’ve been using a lot of Fujifilm Acros 100 lately, a beautiful film with a unique look. However, if you want fine detail it doesn’t compare to Kodak Tmax 100 or if you’re after grain then Kodak Tri-X 400 is unmatched. In fact the versatility of Tri-X 400 is unmatched in my opinion. I’ve ruined more than a few shots trying to use Acros 100 when I really needed a faster film. Add in the news that Kodak are beta testing their new Ektachrome 100 with photographers in the US with a release date of later this year and you have a recipe for change! Sorry Fujifilm, I love the reds and blues of Veliva but the quality control and reliability of Kodak film is more than enough for me to switch for good. C-41 film isn’t really my thing so I can foresee a well stocked fridge of Ektachrome and Tri-X. Besides Kodak made Aerochrome and that stuff is down right incredible.

Nikon F3 Plate (CP-F3)

After a few 3D printed prototypes and some refining, I finally have 2 CNC machined aluminium camera plates for my F3 cameras. They are anodised to match use the arca-swiss dove tail. They also have space for spare batteries, a motor drive cap and a 10c piece. I’m very happy to finally have a finished result that matches seamlessly with the lines of the camera. Less is always more when it comes to good design. I’ll be investigating how I can economically get a small batch of these made up should interest be sufficient. In the mean time, this is my answer to the Leicavit, the Nikovit!

Update

After 15 flights, nearly 60,000km and a 30th birthday all in this last month, I’m ready to sit down a relax for a little while. It’s also why I’ve been fairly quiet on here. I have about 200 digital images to go through from my trip to Svalbard and Norway as well as 4 rolls of film that are in for developing.