Celluloid Photography Anyone?

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mso489

Lifer
Feb 21, 2013
39,460
52,342
This isn't the Photography Forums, so I'm filing this under Discussion to get a push in the right direction. I grew up with cameras and used them in a ancillary way in my work for years and years, but always during the celluloid film era. I did darkroom work, black and white, on a summer internship in college, and always enjoyed photography as a hobby. The digital revolution in photography sapped my interest. I've taken some snapshots and travel photos on digital, and used my wife's iPad at her request to take photos of the garden and our cats. But for whatever reason, with the digital world, the thrill of photography is gone for me. I don't want to set up a darkroom, but I think I'd like to shoot a roll of film now and then. Are there any drugstore chains or camera shops that still process film and make prints? Is film commonly available? Can you still get Tri-X high speed black and white film? I am writing this with a quill pen on parchment ... or so it probably seems. Anyone work with celluloid film and get good results without having to work through the mail? Or am I just too retro? I figure if vinyl recordings can make a comeback, so can celluloid film with hobbyists.

 

bassbug

Lifer
Dec 29, 2016
1,089
800
Having spent decades in the photo industry both as a professional and amateur, I understand your nostalgia but the truth of the matter is silver based imaging is dirty and inferior to digital.
I have and can get good results with any number of traditional films but they are not at the core of photography. Neither are iPads or cell phones. I believe your loss of interest is not due to the medium, but the tools that you're using. Its very difficult to concentrate on the image without looking through a viewfinder. There are just too many distractions.
Get yourself on Kijiji or something like that and buy an older digital SLR. It does not have to cost a fortune and have a gazillion pixels. Focus on the process of seeing and composing, use all the traditional techniques of metering, focus, depth of field and light control. That, I believe is where the joy of photography comes from.

 

olkofri

Lifer
Sep 9, 2017
7,722
13,472
The Arm of Orion
Tri-X is still available:

Regina City Centre Viewed from the Legislative Building
I've found myself preferring Ilford films, though, but the point is that film is still alive and there are still labs that process it—even local ones, unless your city is too small. Mind, they won't do the work they once used to (pulling, pushing, cross-process, &c.) and many won't process anything but colour (or B&W that uses the C41 process, like Ilford XP2).

 

mso489

Lifer
Feb 21, 2013
39,460
52,342
bassbug, really good points. I hate composing on a screen with the glare and distractions. It kills the whole thought process of seeing and making an image for me. I did obtain a little digital travel camera that has (at least) a viewfinder window, and that helps. With film, I did occasionally shoot lots of frames for a purpose -- photographing action, photographing changeable expressions for a portrait, or animals, etc. But the concept of "spending" film was a pleasant tension and discipline. With digital, the art is as much screening your hundreds of shots as making them. bass', you have really good ideas. I may PM at some point to resolve and clarify. Older digital equipment more closely approximating the film experience might help. Your thinking on this is sympatico, though clearly more informed than mine. The scrappy aspect of film photos compared to digital is not necessarily in digital's favor; either can be used well, and celluloid's limitations, while clunky-seeming, can be a enhanced medium when used well. Love that old Tri-X film; it was a whole new world when I discovered it in my teens. 'olk, that's a striking cityscape, really captures the vibrance of film. Like a painting.

 

bassbug

Lifer
Dec 29, 2016
1,089
800
mso,
Feel free to PM anytime.
I loved my film and, at first, gave it up very grudgingly, but came to realize it was not the reason for my photography. I used it as an effect more than anything else. My go to films were tri x pushed to 400 and processed in Microdol X for the noticeable but tight grain and Ilford Pan F pulled to ISO 25 processed in Rodinal 1:50 for the extremely long tonal gradations. I can now achieve those long gradations (up to 10 stops) so much more easily with digital.
The only thing I miss from the film days is my Sinar 4x5 and the challenge of going out with 2 sheets of film for the entire day. It made me think long and hard before tripping the shutter.

 

bigpond

Lifer
Oct 14, 2014
2,019
12
There is a huge bias toward mobile photography endemic to older photographers that I find pointless and ultimately limiting. Shooting with an iPad is like using a view camera without the hood or the extensions. It’s liberating to move from behind the camera to be in the scene while having the ability to see every aspect of the frame as large as you like. Same goes for an iPhone which you can treat like a Polaroid, but has more in common with a rangefinder. The results are different of course, but really, but in places where it really matters you already know what you need.

 

mso489

Lifer
Feb 21, 2013
39,460
52,342
Really thinking through the composition and camera settings and lighting, artificial or available, and shooting highly selectively and sparely, made the concept of the image evolve and grow. I have a hard time recapturing that with digital means, though I know photographers my age who have adopted it totally and are disgusted with any complaints about the "new" technology, needfully in the profession. They ignore the differences and go for the possibilities, and if I were in the business, I would too! The old process, and waiting to see and consider the results, and that mental involvement, seemed invaluable. I may yet get there with digital, but it takes some work. Composing an image on a screen glared-out by sunlight or viewed while the camera is held over my head just offends me to the core. If you grew up with this gear, you don't even notice. I do struggle. The camera/eye/brain intimacy of a viewfinder, optical or SLR, makes my heart sing.

 

bigpond

Lifer
Oct 14, 2014
2,019
12
My first camera was an M3 and I was developing negatives at 11. It’s not a hardware issue. A friend of mine wrote a book called Art with an iPhone, (I think). Check it out, it may help you to see the creative side of the new...gulp...photography. The Author is Kat Sloma.

 

jpmcwjr

Moderator
Staff member
May 12, 2015
22,568
22,063
Carmel Valley, CA
Pretty sure even the newest DSLRs can all be set in manual mode; certainly the older models can. So, set your ISO at 200 and keep it there. Use shutter or aperture priority. Spot metering. If you take multiple captures of the same thing, delete the duplicates and poorer exposures/framing in camera. This will get you most of the way there.

 

warren

Lifer
Sep 13, 2013
10,481
11,433
It takes a different "eye" with digital. But, one can't beat having the histogram in front of your nose as soon as you trigger the shutter.
My photo experience ranges from large format film, 35mm film, a mix of digital formats. I've processed E6, B/W and spent 10 days awaiting return of Kodachrome from Palo Alto to see if I indeed got the shot. I'm opposed to spending time in post when I could be shooting. I'll do it when necessary but, grudgingly.
Digital versus film is apples and oranges for me. They are different, each has is pluses and minuses, and it's place depending on what the final product is to be.
Lots of commercial labs process film that I am aware of. A quick "google" brought up page after page. I have a lab in Anchorage I use predominately for printing big enlargements. They still do a lot of film processing.

 

mso489

Lifer
Feb 21, 2013
39,460
52,342
warren, I especially take your point that celluloid and digital are just different animals. If not totally true, it is at least a useful way to divide the experiences. In a sense, it's like going from drawing and painting to film photography, with entirely different demands. If I pushed to do a lot of work with digital tools, I'd learn that medium and, I hope, do fine. It always helps to arrive at any given art or technology in your teens when you soak up the concepts like a sponge and don't have preconceptions. But old dogs do learn new tricks all the time, and sometimes pretty well. If I could get in the habit of using digital with an eyepiece of some kind, that might do it. It seems like a small thing, but it would translate the process somewhat for me.

 

olkofri

Lifer
Sep 9, 2017
7,722
13,472
The Arm of Orion
mso: I use a DSLR and rely on the viewfinder 95% of the time. I have it permanently in manual mode, as I want **me**, not the camera, being the one making exposure decisions. I do use LiveView for product photos of scenes that must be minutely composed, but for the most part it's viewfinder all the way. I don't care for histograms, either: I use a handheld lightmeter, or spot metering off a mid-tone when I don't have the meter with me. My camera is a now-ancient EOS 5DII, which thank God still works superbly. I do want to replace it with a newer body, but it's mostly due to age, not because I need hundreds of AF points or touch-screens (I hate those).

 

sablebrush52

The Bard Of Barlings
Jun 15, 2013
17,234
34,439
SoCal
jrs457.wixsite.com
Film has it's own quality, inherent in it's granular structure and using that as an aesthetic element was part of the charm of working with film. That can be duplicated digitally. A lot of the plasticity that could be achieved through choices of emulsion, developer and processing can be achieved with the proper digital tools, perhaps much more so. A lot of my work as a matte painter involved an intimate knowledge of the working characteristics of the various films I used in the pre-digital era. Technically, it's much simpler now.
Some of that feeling of black magic I always experienced in the darkroom when I watched a print appear in the developing tray is gone as I haven't done traditional printing for a long time, and I'm curious about how one would go about producing a Platinum or Palladium print from a digital original.
One of my closest friends shoots stills for films and TV, as well as product photography. A couple of years back, Canon hired him to photograph some of their product line. He's very very good at what he does. When we're out on the trail, he shoots with his phone. It does a great job for most situations. But it's not the best tool for all situations such as extreme lighting and it's not the equivalent of a DSLR with a set of lenses.
Use the best tool for the job.
Ultimately it's about your eye for making an image and less about the equipment. Kind of like smoking a pipe! 25% equipment and 75% technique.

 

akfilm

Can't Leave
Mar 2, 2016
309
1
I still shoot film from time to time. I actually have a fridge shelf half full film. I'm fortunate to still have a lab in town so I can have a very hands on approach to the developing, I have had some luck with sending out film as well. I really like 120mm film but still break out the old 70's Minolta a lot, it's a beast that keeps on delivering great shots. I'm one of the last filmmakers to be trained in shooting true motion picture film, so for me it's keeping a tradition alive. It's also starting to become more expensive than digital, and since you can't immediately check your work, you are forced to slow down, frame and expose with no second chances, that's what I love. I do believe shooting on real film will make someone a better photographer because of the discipline it creates.

 

bassbug

Lifer
Dec 29, 2016
1,089
800
I do believe shooting on real film will make someone a better photographer because of the discipline it creates.
Just to give the other side of the coin....
I do believe digital will make a better photographer because it allows you to expose more variations on any given theme and making thousands of exposures is key to learning how to better see.
The real discipline is quite often the ability to be ruthless in critiquing your own work and then go back and reshoot the ones that you want to improve.

 

pappymac

Lifer
Feb 26, 2015
2,891
2,948
I am going to respectfully disagree with bassbug. I learned photography as a military photojournalist back in 1975 and was a good shooter and darkroom technician through out the remaining 19 years of my military career. I designed and supervised the building of 5 photolabs and upgraded two others. You name it, I did it when it came to photography. Near the end of my career we started switching to digital cameras. I hated digital and stayed with film for another 10 years as the editor of a monthly magazine.
Making thousands of exposures is NOT the key to learning how to better see. Making thousands of exposures is the key in finding an adequate shot because "even a blind squirrel finds a nut." You don't have to know exactly what you are doing because most digital cameras do everything except point itself in the right direction - it auto zooms, auto focus and auto exposes. Basically, people are spending hundreds of dollars to do exactly what people used to spend 5 or 6 dollars for - buying an instamatic camera.
Of course, times changes and "progress" is made. But like I said, I learned photography 43 years ago. I was taught to shoot action events and aerial photography with a 4x5 speed graphic and had two chances to get the shot.

 

warren

Lifer
Sep 13, 2013
10,481
11,433
Oh, they're different animals all right. Even though, with Nikon, I could use older lenses I'd be a fool not to use the ones developed for digital use. I can get an acceptable shot, even a great shot but, digital cameras/lenses handle light for the sensors. Older lenses handle light for film. I can now shoot HDR (High Dynamic Range) in my digital cameras should I need to, little need for post editing. I can set up automatic bracketing, choosing the range of steps. RAW and JPEG with one shutter release. The cameras are much more expensive than the old top of the line film cameras and much more versatile.
For those that shoot in a studio, it must be lovely having total control. :worship: It's been a long time since I shot heads, kids and products. I've never thought of asking a bear to sit while I meter the available light. I can meter with my camera when time and subject permit then, manually select all settings when reasonable to do so. Not possible when the subject is moving rabidly in and out of different lighting.
Then, after uploading a days worth of birds, bears, double breasted sweater stretchers, or what have you, instant access to the meta data is invaluable. Nope, I'm wholeheartedly in the digital camp no days. Big, data collecting pixels in full frame cameras have it all over film these days. If Kodachrome 64 was a favorite, you owe it to yourself to try a latest generation full-frame digital. If the range of certain older black/white film" Try HDR in new digital. It's not the number of pixels, it's the number of big pixels.
Sixty years ago for me, first camera a age twelve. Then I was lucky enough to marry a woman whose uncle was one of the original members of the Art Institute of Chicago, teaching photography very early in the last century. I was in my thirties then and benefited greatly from learning from a "master."
The better photographers excel in either film or digital because, in the end, it's not the media or the equipment. It's what's between the ears. Hard to beat vision (physical and imagination), experience and knowledge. What little teaching I do, I avoid it like the plague, I stress patience, getting the shot right in the camera, not planning on "saving" it in post. But, I do appreciate 14 frames per second when needed and being fairly well assured I "got the shot."

 

agnosticpipe

Lifer
Nov 3, 2013
3,105
2,255
In the sticks in Mississippi
I totally understand your feelings about film photography mso. I've had a black and white darkroom for over 45 years. I tried to get into digital when I bought a Nikon D300 a few years ago. I sold it 6 months later because I didn't enjoy the digital process. I do understand the beauty of digital as a work tool, and for business applications, but for personal artistry, I find film more enjoyable. I'm not going to argue the points of either process, as I figure it's a personal choice. I have to mention though, that celluloid film hasn't been made for a long, long time because it's highly flammable, which resulted in a lot of movie theater fires. Film made in the last 70/80 years is made on acetate. Yeah, now I'm that anal person that has to mention a minor point!

However, mso if you want to see what's happening in film, go to Freestylephoto.biz and look at all the things they have film wise. You can check out Lomography.com too for a fun time looking at all that is still going in with film photography. There are lots of sites dedicated to the fun art of film photography. It ain't dead yet!

 
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