Baltimore Inner Harbor, a sunny day in November 2011

Baltimore Inner Harbor, a sunny day in November 2011

[Minolta 500si Super Tamron 28-300, Fuji ISO800 negative film, Promaster mcUV filter, ~F11 200mm effective, 1/750s handheld ~+1eV evaluative > CVS development > V300 scanner > Gimp]

I shot this on my way up to Manhattan over Thanksgiving weekend, riding up and stopping for gas heading through Baltimore. I had already put a roll of ISO800 film in the camera before I left (along with 5 others in the bag) because I had shot-up all my slower film…going through about 20 rolls of ISO100 & 200 each over the past year (I just ordered another 40 rolls of Fuji regular and Superia ISO200 off eBay for $50 including shipping). And I was running late and didn’t have time to stop for some ISO400 on the way up, and have you noticed that it’s nearly impossible to find ISO200 film in CVS these days? Anyway yes I could have bought some film up there (Penn Camera has a shop right there in the Inner Harbor and there are plenty of tourist-places there) but buying film at retail prices sort of defeats the purpose. It’s already bad enough at $1.50/roll (for 24 shots no less) and then $2.50/roll to develop it. Yes Virginia: it’s far cheaper to buy even an expensive fullframe not to mention a cheap point & shoot or old DSLR, than it is to shoot film, if you’re going to take a lot of shots.

…but if you’re only going to take a handful of shots now and then, it’s quite the other way around. Rather than drop $500 on a subframe, especially, especially now that they have reached their technological peak, really, and will be half-price in a few years…just buy some film or buy an older DSLR. As you can see above, your shots will still come out quite well if you know what you are doing.

Though literally it took me a year of shooting, scanning and post-processing film on top of many years of the same shooting digital to get my film shots to look even this good. If only someone would tell us exactly what to do 😉

…nah, really the best way to learn is by trial and error. There are so many embedded assumptions, it’s hard to break new ground by just taking someone else at their word, and parroting them.

…yes this could have been better and I can see a few well-known flaws but overall they are minor in the larger scheme of things. Sometimes, really, film actually makes things easier. Clearly there is some work that has to be done shooting film that isn’t required when shooting digital, but film gives me a large amount of DR to work with, and really the colors are a lot easier to manage for good results in the end. And I just rarely ever get that pasty overbright chalky/plastic look that is so common with digital shots. I really look forward to comparing my film work to work with the raw shots out of an A850 or D700 when I get one, if not both. It’s inevitable. It means at least $200 for another non-VC Tamron 28-300 plus filter and another $3k worth of fullframes, yes, but at $5/roll of film at 24 shots/roll (sure you can insist on 36/roll but 24/roll is a safe bet)? If I shoot them for another 20 years or more? They’re a lifelong investment in one of my major hobbies.

Plus I can always sell them and get most if not all of my money back out of them.

Really it’s either that or *only* shoot film. It’s really that simple. You either drop hundreds if not thousands of dollars on digital cameras that you will only shoot on occasion. Or you spend tens maybe hundreds shooting film, likewise. If you wish to caveat the fact that in the general sense it is harder to get good shots with film than it is with digital so the overall efficiency is lower with film and the guess-rate is higher, then you also have to accept the fact that it’s easier to get a good shot of an HDR scene with film than it is shooting digital, where you’re either going to have to blend exposures or get exactly the right exposure and then flatten-out the contrast. With film it is fairly-easy to deal with HDR scenes, given a decent exposure to start with. The bigger challenge here was in the unsharp-mask…I had to USM this three times to get it to look sharp overall without overdoing it. Yes on that note I wouldn’t really want to compare a 4×5" print of this to a similar print out of an A700 even, but would you really want to spend $500 for even a used 3-year-old A700 plus another $200 at least for a 28-300 to take shots like this? I really don’t need to be that close to the cutting-edge. Not with 35mm film at my disposal…and back in the days when I did have to be that close, I had no idea how to get a shot this good out of an A700 anyway, and they were selling for $1200 retail. Body-only. I’m not sure that I’d want to see an ISO800 shot of this scene out of an A700 anyway. It’s a little too fast and there’d be a little too much chroma-noise without any NR at all. So yeah comparing ISO400 film to an ISO400 subframe shot would be a fair comparison, here. You could probably get this handheld with ISO200 at F8+ but given the scene and the optical properties of the Tamron 28-300 > 100mm, F11 would be a good place to start [another reason why point & shoots sell so well], and at that F# and focal-length shooting handheld even in broad daylight like this, you’re going to need the extra speed for stable results shooting handheld. The thing is that with film the color isn’t going to suffer all that much especially if the exposure is good while with digital you’re going to lose 2 stops of color-response and SNR at ISO400 vs ISO100: you’ll pay a noticeable penalty in terms of color, resolution and noise shooting a subframe at ISO400 vs shooting at ISO100. You will get something "decent" shooting a subframe at ISO400 but probably not all that much better than shooting ISO400 film. If it’s better at all. A D700 & Tamron 28-300 at ISO400 (true) F11 would barely notice the difficulty of this shot and give you great results (albeit at about $2k for the camera & lens). That is why people shell-out the money for them…the question is whether the A850 (in trading low SNR and 14-bit colorspace-resolution for spatial-resolution and accurate ISO ratings) is better or worse than the D700 in these conditions, and if so by how much either way, and the only way to know for sure is to try them both, right?

Oh wait: I can pretend to be an "expert" and *tell* you, and because I am a certified "expert", you have to either accept my "expert opinion" or admit that you have "problems with authority" and shouldn’t be trusted, that you’re a "risk to the public" and should be arrested and incarcerated in the name of public-safety. Well anyway you should have your "rights" restricted and be watched closely.

Kinda like these guys.
"‘MythBusters’ cannon ball accident caused by ‘unforeseen bounce’"

…now exactly why they were firing cannons *towards* a residential neighborhood I don’t know. But they found out something about kinetic-energy and momentum. I like that note about how the cannon "had been fired hundreds of times before without incident", as if that meant that it was inherently-safe. *Proven* safe, even.

Ok so the big lessons that I have learned shooting film, just sticking to getting good shots with film:

1) when shooting evaluative overexpose by at least a half-stop if possible, a whole stop if you can get it. Bright sky/dark foreground, at least a stop over. Rarely if ever will the shot actually suffer from this and most of the time it will benefit significantly. Funny how this actually works with digital a good part of the time.

2) disable anything resembling sharpening in the scanner software. This is very similar to disabling anything resembling sharpening in the raw-conversion path when shooting digital. Because the sharpening is rarely intelligent and usually will screw-up the shot more than it helps. Sharpening is something that really has to be done with a fine level of control, a fine brush not broad swipes, for best results. You might look at this shot and think oh I can use a big brush and sharpen quickly that way. And if you do that you will get halos around the transition from building to sky, somewhat less on the transitions from objects to water in the background. Trying to keep the halos under control will mean a reduction in the sharpening, which basically defeats the purpose of sharpening in the first place. Especially with Bayer-sensor raw shots you want to use strong sharpening where sharpening is called-for, and no sharpening at all where it isn’t called-for. Film is just a bit better than digital in this regard, the Bayer-blur is not all that significant overall. For best results one has to use strong sharpening away from the sky and then taper it down to the object-sky transition, and hope that the background noise isn’t too strong or else it will leap-out with sharpening. In extreme cases a light NR touch may be required to get the noise under control…this just means more mask-work. Automatic tools just won’t cut the mustard once you figure out what is going on.

It took YEARS for me to figure out what is going on with regards to all this. Years and years and years and lots and lots of time and effort. But now I feel ready to work on the last remaining hurdle between me and the results that I imagine that I can get: getting the goddam color to look natural instead of all pasty and chalky. Hopefully without sinking thousands of dollars into better monitors. I got rid of the plasticky look by shooting film. But I still see a certain "chalky" element in the color. The white-content is too high, the gamma not quite right.

All this zips through my mind in a few seconds, now, when I look over a photo. Just takes time to write it all out. The subject changes but the technical themes are mostly the same. What does it take to make progress on the latter regard? It’s so easy to walk around taking photos but when your thoughts of them are the same, technically? It’s easy to lose interest if you’re not technically happy with the results. But as you can see here, the results don’t have to be *great*, technically, to be acceptable. You do not have to spend millions on digital gear to get acceptable shots. You do need to know why you are not happy with the shots that you are taking now. Otherwise you will essentially begin to cast your lure into a wide lake hoping for a lucky strike.

So, a short guide.
Shooting digital?
Shoot raw. Shoot at the lowest ISO that your camera supports if at all possible, maybe a stop or two up from that in a pinch. Use dcraw to convert your shots, Gimp to post-process them, save your jpegs at high Q values if you don’t want to stay in 24-bit bitmap. Learn what histograms are and how they work, learn how to apply sharpening in a mask. Avoid any noise-reduction. Learn what happens when you vary things like the USM radius, strength, threshold, the angle of the lens relative to the horizontal, the f#, the exposure, the shutter-speed, the focal-length, the various settings used by dcraw.

Haven’t said a thing yet about buying an expensive camera.

If you are quite willing to play with film and deal with slightly-more post-processing work in terms of cloning and cleaning-up dust marks, and of course, getting the film developed and scanned in the first place…remember most if not all of the above and you’ll be fine. If you get a lens that can be shot on a digital camera as well as a film camera, you can play with film and digital both and learn the strengths and weaknesses of each. It’s really not that hard, once you remove the bullshit like "if you buy the latest most-expensive gear you’ll get better shots easily".
Computers get better over time, not cameras.
Photos are photos. At most you will get better features, not better photos.

That plus it’s much easier to buy new gear to play with when it’s cheap. And if it’s cheap and good what more do you really need to get good shots.

Still I want to buy a D700 and an A850 not because I want to get better shots but because I want to see, for myself, what the advantages of these digital full frames are relative to 35mm film. Aside from the obvious like "no need to put film in them", etc. And let’s face it: they may be expensive relative to an old film SLR but they represent a fixed cost with a relatively-high probability of a good return on resale. I don’t expect to get vastly-better results than the one above. I do expect to get *different* results, "significantly-different yet still good" results. And I want to see "how, so". And for $3k, what the fuck, and for each dollar I spend on them I save at least dollar on film.

At $5/roll for the film & development plus the time spent in getting the film developed and scanning the film, the break-even on $3k worth of fullframe gear is a measly 500 rolls or so. If you shoot 20 rolls of film in a year, that’s 25 years worth of film, 5 years of intense amateur shooting at the very least and that requires that you burn through 100 rolls of film in a year (which is a *LOT* of shooting and scanning for an amateur). But that’s strictly an economic perspective. Photographically-speaking, how is one to know if one would rather shoot those rolls in digital or on film without having both types? And the same for the D700 vs the A850.

The economics vastly favor film if you’re just a casual amateur, if you count years instead of counting shots. But that just gives you more time to wonder how your shots would look if taken with the latest & greatest digital gear. And inquiring minds want to know these things. And to even rent a D700 for a weekend, why that’s better done through eBay as renting one from a rental shop is outrageously expensive and you still basically have to pay for it through the deposit. You’d be better-off just buying one on eBay and selling it in a few months. I could easily buy both an A850 and a D700 and take shots on them both plus my 500si and my N80, sell the fullframes a year later losing maybe 25% on each on resale, and that wouldn’t bother me one bit. By then I’d *know* which ones I’d rather shoot. Instead of just letting the economics threaten me into either a cheap subframe or film and spend the rest of my life wondering what I would have gotten, what I could be getting, out of either a D700 or A850. *That* is the kind of "experimentation" that I like.

And let’s face it: if you’re heading on a trip overseas somewhere you’re not going to be all that happy with film as your only choice. No more than with an expensive fullframe as your only choice. A DLSR rig is heavier and at least as big as an SLR rig but rarely will you run into shots that will truly require a great DSLR rig if you know what you’re doing. A few, yes, but it is all because you need to take the shot, no one is forcing you to do it. And you are the only one who really needs to be happy with the results. And…good landscape shots of any really-good scenes are already on Flickr somewhere. So no really you are spending big money (and time) to get good shots of scenes that you probably *won’t* find on Flickr, right? An SLR, a halfway-decent lens and slow (Xray-proof) film is plenty good enough for most travel-shots, shots you’ll look at once in a blue moon anyway. And even if you’re traveling on points you won’t want to lose your $2k DSLR rig to hotel thieves or travel accidents. I am thinking that if some lazy baggage-handler bangs-up my 500si and Tamron 28-300, I can replace them both easily on eBay for $300 at most. Probably while I’m overseas. Would I want to pop into the overpriced "duty-free" store or a retail shop on the street and buy a Nikon or Canon p&s at local prices plus the VAT and exchange-fee? Not really. Not on many levels.

We need to keep things in perspective when we spend money.
We have money, we can spend it. But after we have spent it, we have plenty of time to think about how we have spent it, and to regret what we have done. It is rare that we really enjoy having spent it afterwards, given all the options that we will have from that point on. When one has no money but plenty of time, then all one can do is to think of how one will spend money once they get it, and how they would rather have spent the money that they have already spent. And those who think that there will always be money to spend, that they can spend their way out of regret, are banking on the fact that they *will* always have money to spend and will *eventually* not regret spending it. I can tell you from long experience that there is always some regret in how one has spent money. It’s never a guilt-free or regret-free experience.

Still, you can’t make pancakes without breaking some eggs.
And experience is useless if you can’t build on it without regret.
We can double-down on our previous mistakes. Or we can do an even better job of succeeding in ways in which we have succeeded in the past. Or we can strike out in new directions where hope abounds (that might even be right). I’ll take the last two and try my best to avoid the first, that’s all I can ask. Photography has done good things for me, the D700 and A850 are much-better deals now than they were 4 years ago when they first came out, and at least technically I am a much-better photographer than I was 4 years ago. That risk I will happily take; those eggs I will break with a relatively-clear conscience. Let’s talk about all the other money that I have wasted, over all the other years. What do I have to show for it, today?

You do realize that 20 years from now you will ask yourself the same question about the past 20 years as a whole? Elections have been won and lost on this very question. Some of us blame ourselves, and some of us blame the government. Well at least here in the Land of the Free we can only blame the government for so much. Of course it is much easier for the government to blame us for *its* problems than it is for us to blame the government for *our* problems (because the government can simply declare that it is right and such declarations are legally-binding), but that’s a side-road we need not go down at the moment. Let’s move on. At least we’re not…in debt to the tune of 100% of our pre-tax income.

Closer than I care to admit, but still not that bad yet.

And hell on *that* note, I’m doing pretty good.

Posted by touristguy87 on 2011-12-10 16:49:41

Tagged: , Baltimore Inner Harbor December 2011 Fuji ISO800 negative film Minolta 500si Tamron 28-300 V300