Film camera fanatics often extol the virtues of film over those using digital cameras, claiming that film is more “realistic and organic” and the only true type of photography. They berate digital camera users for producing clinical pin-sharp “plastic” images that have no “soul” and are only obtained by shooting 100 shots to get one decent one. I take a more pragmatic approach to photography, seeing the camera (film or digital) to only be a tool to achieve one’s vision -if it looks good, it looks good, regardless of how it was taken.
This week I took delivery of a used 36 MP Sony A7r body which I intended to use to “scan” negatives rather than use a traditional scanner, but prior to that needed to test the camera to ensure it worked. I borrowed an old 50mm Minolta Rokkor lens from the 1970s and ,with a suitable adapter took the Sony out to a much loved location, Cashens Hut near Orange. To be honest I didn’t expect much as I read these old lenses were not very sharp, produced a lot of flare and lacked contrast. I got to Cashens around 730 am and made 8 exposures on the Sony, taking time to compose, carefully measure the light and of course focus manually, as these old lenses don’t have autofocus . Returning to Orange I processed the images in Photoshop, spending no more than a few minutes on each image. I have to say I was totally blown away by the subtle colours and beauty from this old lens -it produced images very close to what my eye saw that morning.
Had I shot the same scenes with modern digital lenses, the results would have been clinically sharp but totally lacking the character and natural appearance from this old Minolta lens.
This begs the question – is it film that makes the difference or the actual lenses ? .I personally think it’s a bit of both .If modern film shooters could put modern lenses on their 1970s and 1980s film cameras, the results would be more clinical. Reasonably modern film cameras like the Mamiya 7 produce images/prints that are pin sharp but have a digital quality. Some modern films, notably Fuji Acros100 ,to me has a digital look , whereas old traditional films such as as Ilford FP4 and Kodak Tri X clearly identify as film images.Even converted to Black and White, these images have a timeless quality to them that do not identify as being either digital or film.
I will still be using the Sony to “scan” film images but will also use it as a camera- this week I bought my own 50mm Minolta lens ( cost $85) and am looking forward to shooting with it more.
Cashen’s Hut is a special place both to myself and others that know and love it. It was the subject of an earlier blog – https://peterlee100.com/2017/08/27/the-cashen-photographic-project/. I have a number of 20 by 16 inch prints of it on my walls, shot with my large format camera and am in the process of making a 33 by 16 inch print this taken with my Sony earlier this week to mount above my fireplace .It’s not the usual documentary image I take with everything in focus but for me it has a sense of mystery and emotions that depict my personal feelings about the hut.