Film is not dead

June 12, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I shoot with a Canon 5d and 7d and use Photoshop, Lightroom, and a variety of plug-ins for my post-processing. Most would consider me an all-digital photographer. I also own a film scanner, however, and have been scanning and restoring old black and white negatives and color transparencies.

A few days ago, something possessed me. I pulled my Canon EOS Elan7E from the shelf, installed new batteries, loaded a roll of Kodak Professional Elite Chrome Extra Color 100 Film, fitted a macro lens, and headed for the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon. The results? Decide for yourself. Fifteen keepers out of 36. Not bad. Here's one of my favorites. 

I scanned all the slides on my now venerable CanonScan FS-4000US using Ed Hamrick's Vuescan, which I have profiled using an IT-8 target. As a result, most of these images needed no curves adjustment. After taking them into Photoshop, I cropped the few on which it was necessary and used the spot healing brush to remove dust. (There was a surprising amount of it despite the fact that I took the slides individually from the box as soon as I returned from the lab.) I applied varying amounts of high pass sharpening. That was it.

I imported them into Lightroom to organize them, and applied only standard output sharpening to get them onto my website. Nothing more. The results in most cases match and in some cases surpass those I took with my Canon 7d during the same session. 

Where will I take this? I think that color slide film will return to being a part of how I shoot. Nothing beats the convenience and low incremental cost of an all-digital workflow. Scanning your own slides is a lot of work, though I can skip that step by having the lab give me a high resolution disk. But when I'm working on subjects with a lot of color saturation, I will take the 7E along and use it whenever I think it will bring a more pleasing tone. Kodak has discontinued this emulsion, but I've purchased a few rolls while it's still to be found and there's still Velvia available. 

Finally, what I enjoyed about this process was the discipline it imposed. When using my film camera I simply could not afford to shoot six shots of every flower. I had to compose carefully, think about the light, and get the right focus. That's the way we used to work, remember? An all-digital workflow has allowed too many of us to get sloppy. I see it all the time in others and, I hate to admit, in my own work.

Because I must be more thoughtful while using film, I believe the reimposed discipline will improve all my photography. 


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