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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Big Film
Old 08-17-2015   #1
Bill Pierce
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Big Film

Digital has increased in quality to the point that small digital cameras, full frame, even APS C, can exceed the quality of 35mm film cameras. Perhaps because of this, I have seen more and more film photographers turning to medium and large formats. In theory some of the many megapixel large sensors can outperform 8x10 inch sheet film. In practice, it’s not a significant difference. And the hidden advantage of large format sheet film is that if you want to scan it and inkjet print it rather than using a wet darkroom, you can get by with a relatively inexpensive scanner. I’m about as digital as you can get, but I still keep that 8x10 view camera (sometimes with a 4x5 reducing back on it) and a wet darkroom. Truth is, black and white sheet film and some trays is a very affordable alternative to a many, many megapixel medium format digital camera. Your experience? Your thoughts?
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Old 08-17-2015   #2
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What is this APS-C sensor you're talking about, that exceeds Copex Rapid?
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Old 08-17-2015   #3
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I'm thinking about this very thing recently.

For the last year I've been shooting 8x10, scanning on a $175 HP G4050, and ignoring my 35mm stuff. Just a week or two ago I pulled out my Leicas and fired them up, and I think I may have to switch from Tri-X to TMax 400 if I'm going to continue--the grain and sharpness of Tri-X don't seem to be keeping me happy now. My digital camera is pretty nice, but I'm still not considering going back to it.

Even more enticing, a sheet of 8x10 xray film costs 40 cents! That's like 1975 film pricing. For that money, I can shoot a whole lot of film.
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Old 08-17-2015   #4
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Another film bashing thread?

All of these talks about sharpness, resolution, dynamic range and else are gear and trades talk. It is irrelevant to the art.
It is same as someone will stay in front of oil panting and complain what it is not sharp at 100% crop.
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Old 08-17-2015   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Digital has increased in quality to the point that small digital cameras, full frame, even APS C, can exceed the quality of 35mm film cameras. Perhaps because of this, I have seen more and more film photographers turning to medium and large formats. In theory some of the many megapixel large sensors can outperform 8x10 inch sheet film. In practice, it’s not a significant difference. And the hidden advantage of large format sheet film is that if you want to scan it and inkjet print it rather than using a wet darkroom, you can get by with a relatively inexpensive scanner. I’m about as digital as you can get, but I still keep that 8x10 view camera (sometimes with a 4x5 reducing back on it) and a wet darkroom. Truth is, black and white sheet film and some trays is a very affordable alternative to a many, many megapixel medium format digital camera. Your experience? Your thoughts?
Could you define quality?
Personally I have quite a few reasons to choose film (35 and mf) over digital, but untill now quality is not one of them. All I know is that I have never been enthousiastic about my digital pictures (my fault, I know), now I'm happy back to film. So what is that quality that I'm obviously missing?
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Old 08-18-2015   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
Another film bashing thread?

All of these talks about sharpness, resolution, dynamic range and else are gear and trades talk. It is irrelevant to the art.
It is same as someone will stay in front of oil painting and complain what it is not sharp at 100% crop.
EXACTLY THIS!!!! Thanks.
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Old 08-18-2015   #7
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When folks get really serious about printing, 8x10 contact printing comes up because of the resolution capabilities. I have some friends (met through RFF) here in NYC that are thinking about it, but have yet to pull the trigger on the 8x10.

I dream of 8x10. Not because of printing but because of the draw of the image and the tonality. I'd be happy just to scan it
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Old 08-18-2015   #8
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What I'm finding with 8x10 is that my whole process changes so much that I'm getting a whole different kind of picture.
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Mostly 35mm: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdarnton
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Old 08-18-2015   #9
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There are lots of false purists about. Everything comes down to the look you want. I quite like 56x72mm (Linhof's 6x7cm nominal) enlarged 3x to whole plate: 168 x 216mm. Use Delta 100 and it looks like a contact print for sharpness and tonality. But I also like 8x10 inch (with a 21 inch uncoated lens) for portraiture, 12x15 inch for views, 5x7 inch for interiors -- and my M9 for travel. Or a Nikon F with a 200/3 Vivitar Series 1 and orange filter on HP5 Plus for dramatic B+W.

"Look" is far more important than "quality", and even harder to define.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 08-18-2015   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
Another film bashing thread?
I'm pretty sure if you re-read the OP's post, you will find this isn't the case at all. As someone with his own section here at RFF, BP tends to pose questions to get conversations started. If anything, people who have replied have gotten offended when there was no need to be offended.
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Old 08-18-2015   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
I'm pretty sure if you re-read the OP's post, you will find this isn't the case at all. As someone with his own section here at RFF, BP tends to pose questions to get conversations started. If anything, people who have replied have gotten offended when there was no need to be offended.
Well,if the op is only trying to get conversations started, there is no reason to "defend" him .
Just let reactions come, offended or not. That's the intention.
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Old 08-18-2015   #12
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Don't forget there's more than just megapickles and sharpness. 35mm (be it digital or not) just can't replicate the rendition of larger format negative.
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Old 08-18-2015   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Truth is, black and white sheet film and some trays is a very affordable alternative to a many, many megapixel medium format digital camera. Your experience? Your thoughts?
And yet some people think this is "film bashing" thread?

Knee jerk much?
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Old 08-18-2015   #14
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For me it comes down to process. There's lots of ways to record the light reflecting from a particular scene.

Using larger format B&W film is a process that I really enjoy because it's more manual dexterity and tactile intense, it brings back fond memories of when I started in photography in the 1970's, and the film/paper/chemicals gives me the experience of creating an image, one step at a time. And there's no beating the tonal gradations you can get in larger format B&W film.

Is digital better or worse, I really couldn't care less. I shoot larger format film because I love the process.

Just my 2¢ worth.
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Old 08-18-2015   #15
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I'm not sure that there is anything new in the phenomenon - MF & LF has always been all but universally been acknowledged as having the edge in IQ over 35mm. I think the trend Bill sees is not only due to the increase in digital IQ but also the ever-falling price of good MF & LF gear - it is now fully practical for photographers of very modest means to enjoy both high quality, convenient digital gear and the pleasures of shooting film at it's best, in MF or LF. I love being able to do both, as the situation (or whim) demands.

I'm fully in the camp that Bill references - I've all but abandoned 35mm for 6x6 & 6x7 since moving my digital shooting from Canon DSRL to Fuji X-E1, speed booster, and legacy lenses. Its still fun to pull 10 or 12 big negs out of the can and wet-print a few 11x14s, whereas 36 little frames to scan, evaluate, and print (wet or dry) feels like work, esp. as I am rarely satisfied with the quality of 35mm enlarged over 5x7. And even 645 is vastly more forgiving than 35mm on a cheap scanner.

Without being too panglossian about it, the truth is that most of us, shooting for pleasure, currently enjoy a time in photographic history with unprecedented opportunity for affordably enjoying as many of the myriad aspects of the art and science as we like. For me, when that means film, I choose big film.
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Old 08-18-2015   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
Is digital better or worse, I really couldn't care less. I shoot larger format film because I love the process.
It really comes down to this (no matter what one chooses to use).
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Old 08-18-2015   #17
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Where is exactly the same difference with digital FF and 135 film. The rendering.
I came back to 135 film from digital FF. I just looked at color negative scan and the difference was very obvious to me. It appears to be closer to paintings, which I consider as art.

Before this I went from digital cropper to FF first, because where is the difference, similar as 135 and LF. It isn't just tonal rendering and light gathering differences between 135 and LF. Most pronounced difference is in how subject in focus is placed and appearing in the perspective.

This is the one of reasons why those who compete on the photography modern market (commercial photogs) might choose MF and LF. Because it looks different and it helps to compete most. While "quality" is next to irrelevant.
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Old 08-18-2015   #18
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Over the last year i have sold all of my large format gear.
8x10 and 5x7 with more than 30 lenses, Jobo processors and everything needed to make beauftiful prints from a large negative.
The tonal scale from an 8x10 sheet of film will take a very gifted craftman to replicate from a digital camera if even possible.
There are so many advantages to a view camera but there are also some disadvantages and it was the disadvantage that in the end made me deside to sell.
The time it takes to set up and make an exposure is not a problem if there is nothing moving in the scene to be recorded so for landscape and arcitecture it is near perfect.
I tend to like images that have more life in them and documentary is really what i have always found more captivating to look at.
The less staged and the more impulsive reaction to a scene is difficult to capture with a view camera and with the rapid advance in digital technology i now find that i can get what i need from a digital file.
Prints from an inkjet printer is still not at least for me the same as a real silver chloride or silver gelatin print but the computer have a huge advantage when it comes to less than a perfect negative that needs work.
With a digital printed negative is is also possible to make larger alternative process prints such as Platinum Paladium prints.

All these considerations eventually was enough for me to say that i no longer had any need or desire to use large format cameras.
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Old 08-18-2015   #19
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If I had an 8x10 camera, I'd immediately get some Impossible Project 8x10 film and go shooting.

Now how much are we talking for the camera ... ?

G
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Old 08-18-2015   #20
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For me, its the perfection of imperfection- the more MP's that digital camera output, the more sterile digital seems to get the more I yearn for organic imperfections in the image, I seem to achieve that more frequently, from a fine art stand point with 35mm film….. though I too would like to add a medium format to my tools…...
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Old 08-18-2015   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
For me it comes down to process. There's lots of ways to record the light reflecting from a particular scene.
Here's another vote for this conclusion.

I don't understand how a film-digital hybrid workflow has any benefit except that it enables one to use the camera(s) and. or a process they enjoy using. Enjoyment is important.

The inherent problem with digital imaging is present whether the digitization occurs in the original media or a scan of analog media . And non-analog printing is not exempt either.

Converting continuous information to discontinuous information requires a mathematical model. The models happen to be very good. At the same time the models are inherently flawed. The information on the analog side can not map perfectly onto the model.

In practice the flaws in digitization do not necessarily impede the creative intent of the photographer. However this assumes the entire process is optimized from beginning to end. The optimization requires understanding and and attention to detail. While the issues are quite different from those required for excellence in a pure analog process, both processes are demanding to achieve the very best result.
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Old 08-18-2015   #22
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Quote:
Now how much are we talking for the camera ... ?

G
Starting around 1k for a decent used camera but then comes the lenses and a large tripod, film holders and film and all the other stuff.
A quality sheet of 8x10 film will set you back at least 7$ today.
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Old 08-18-2015   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
If I had an 8x10 camera, I'd immediately get some Impossible Project 8x10 film and go shooting.

Now how much are we talking for the camera ... ?

G
If that's a serious question, I decided what I wanted and lurked Ebay several times a day, eventually landing an Agfa-Ansco 8x10 for $120, then a lens for $200. Film holders can be had for $25 each. I already had a tripod that worked for it. I bought some developing hangers in a batch for about $50, and a set of tanks for $150. So I was in for about the cost of a new Voigtlander lens for my Leicas. As I mentioned, I'm shooting xray film--$40 per 100 sheets.
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What? You want digital, color, etc?: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stradofear
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Old 08-18-2015   #24
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Good topic, Bill.

I *very much* want an affordable 8x10 camera that has decent quality.

I don't even need the fancy tilt, shift, yaw, roll, skate, dance, hip-hop... capabilities.

Just give me a basic view camera that takes 8x10 film holder.

Does anyone know why with today's manufacturing technology, we still have to pay thousands of dollars for an decent 8x10 camera?
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Old 08-18-2015   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mdarnton View Post
If that's a serious question, I decided what I wanted and lurked Ebay several times a day, eventually landing an Agfa-Ansco 8x10 for $120, then a lens for $200. Film holders can be had for $25 each. I already had a tripod that worked for it. I bought some developing hangers in a batch for about $50, and a set of tanks for $150. So I was in for about the cost of a new Voigtlander lens for my Leicas. As I mentioned, I'm shooting xray film--$40 per 100 sheets.
I did that, and I ended up with a grey B&J with red bellows. Very pretty and a good showpiece at home. But it's too heavy and bulky for me to bring on trips where there could be scenes worth shooting. Not a problem really if I'm traveling by myself, but with family in tow, it gets complicated
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Old 08-18-2015   #26
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yeah, i've noticed the same thing. a few years ago, before the x100, e-m1, etc. came out, people on this forum were talking like film die hards, but they are now much more catholic in their attitudes. 35mm film is not quite as worth the "extra trouble for the image quality you get," while medium format breaks even, and large format is still a good deal compared to medium format digital. nevertheless, i still shoot 35mm because nobody has made the 1" sensor camera that i want, and imo it doesn't have satisfying dynamic range and exposure latitude yet.
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Old 08-18-2015   #27
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Does anyone know why with today's manufacturing technology, we still have to pay thousands of dollars for an decent 8x10 camera?
Ilford Titan 8x10
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Old 08-18-2015   #28
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I still use large format, but I now use only in the studio and almost only for my own fun. I also like digital. In fact I think I enjoy all the techniques I know. Yeah, I have been a film, LF, RF, whatever you want to mention extremist, but one eventually moves on and just takes pictures: "Some (of the pictures) are bad some are good some are just the best I could...", it is never the fault of the camera.

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Old 08-22-2015   #29
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Ilford Titan 8x10
The pinhole camera?
With apology to those who love pinholes, I personally prefer the ability to focus when I take pictures
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Old 01-10-2016   #30
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I use both digital and film. I do not shoot 35mm color anymore. I cleaned out my freezer 3 months ago and sent all my 35mm color film to my brother who still shoots 35mm color, mostly C-41. I only shoot B&W film in my 35mm RF & SLR cameras.

In place of 35mm color I use digital, most a Four Thirds DSLR & a small Lumix 7mp that does a great job for web photos.

10 years ago I got rid of my LF camera, a 5x7 view. I still use a Cambo 23SF 6x9 view for B&W and color. I use mostly 120/220 film with it but I do use some 2.25" x 3.25" sheet film in it. To do so I had to have SK Grimes adapt a Crown Graphic SFB to it as the Cambo only took roll film holders.

My main focus is MF - 645, 6x6, & 6x9. I even have a Pentax 6x7 being overhauled right now and I have the 45mm and the 135mm macro lenses for it. My 35mm RF & SLRs do get a good bit of B&W film run through them.

I considered a digital back for my Hasselblad but passed. Too expensive for a crop sensor. When they make a full frame 6x6 back I might get one so for now it's develop and scan the 120/220 color film. Wide angle lenses are still wide angle.

Digital is quick & cheap & good for 4x6 or 8x10 prints. B&W film is more rewarding to me so I use them both.
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Old 01-10-2016   #31
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I agree with the OP, BP. I think it all depends upon what you're shooting and even more on the mood you're in. I've spent the last 5 years shooting, processing scanning close to 2,000 rolls of film. I'm feeling a bit spent. I plan on shooting digital for a while. I do love sheet film - but it doesn't suit what I'm shooting. However, sheet film and a flat bed scanner is a very workable combo.
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Old 01-11-2016   #32
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Big Film

Quote:
Originally Posted by shadowfox View Post
Does anyone know why with today's manufacturing technology, we still have to pay thousands of dollars for an decent 8x10 camera?

Well, considering the size, they typically need to be overbuilt especially if you want precision. But I think more than that, the folks willing to spend an hour (plus or minus) on one image are also willing to spend a pretty penny to make sure the equipment they are using doesn't waste their time.

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Old 01-11-2016   #33
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8x10 is a good size..small trays for contacts..nice viewing size..
Get a nice Pinkham/Smith or fast Dallmeyer or other SF..for the front end..and you are in business..
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Old 01-13-2016   #34
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It is still going to be several years before any commercially available digital camera can outresolve sharp film shot with a sharp lens on LF - Ralf Sanger has been making these tests with Adox CHS20.
The point is another one: the rendering. You simply get a very different look on your pictures.
Personally, I prefer the middle way, with high quality MF film cameras, where I get sufficient resolution for my enlarging needs, and great rendering of film and lenses.
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Old 01-13-2016   #35
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Originally Posted by willie_901 View Post
I don't understand how a film-digital hybrid workflow has any benefit except that it enables one to use the camera(s) and. or a process they enjoy using.
I think you're wrong on this point. For architectural photography, hybrid workflows (like film-digital-digital RC prints) have huge advantages. You can

- take a 6x9 negative shot with a good lens,

- scan it up to 100+ MP,

- correct the perspective in ways that you simply can't in a darkroom (due to edge degradation and diffraction),

- manipulate tone curves outside the constraints of contrast grade and development adjustments,

- throw away most of the resulting data by down-sampling,

and still have a superior result to tilt-shift cameras or pure digital workflows. You also get way more range with TMY than with pretty much any digital camera. These advantages may diminish as mainstream digital cameras start to top 50mp or the dynamic range starts exceeding a real-world 11 stops, but right now that's not the case. I would agree that the 35mm hybrid workflow is getting to be a little challenged in light of the high iso performance of small-format digital (and things like the Leica M 246).

Your point about mathematical modeling may or may not be true at a theoretical level, but variable-contrast papers tend to cut down the number of discrete tones as the grade rises above zero (as I recall, it's almost like the old posterization function on Photoshop - 32 values discrete values are what is generally necessary to look like continuous tone). So no matter how "continuous" your negative, arguably it's still getting mathematically crushed at the end.

Dante
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Old 01-13-2016   #36
aoresteen
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dante_Stella View Post
I think you're wrong on this point. For architectural photography, hybrid workflows (like film-digital-digital RC prints) have huge advantages. You can

- take a 6x9 negative shot with a good lens,

- scan it up to 100+ MP, ....

Dante
I agree! Precisely why I use my Cambo 23SF 6x9 view camera and film.
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Old 01-14-2016   #37
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My favorite 4x5 has been an old metal bodied Toyo Field with Fuji 125W and a 250W lenses. I have had the camera blown over by a big gust while photographing in Big Bend with no damage. A wooden bodied camera would not have survived. There is a whole kit for sale on Ebay right now...just search Toyo field. Cameras alone sell for less than $300. The older models (gray metal) take Graphic lens boards.
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Old 01-14-2016   #38
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My favorite camera by a mile. The 8x10 Sinar Norma. The Leica M2 of View Cameras. If you are patient you can buy the pieces and put one together in nice shape for about a thousand dollars, give or take. Worth every penny.

001 by Nokton48, on Flickr
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Old 01-15-2016   #39
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I love large format, and shoot 16x18 (wetplate), 8x10, Wholeplate, 5x7, and occasionally 4x5. After shooting 35mm in the Navy, I slowly adapted digitals for family shots. In the late 90s we no longer shot film. I got back into film in a reverse historically chronological order. I started shooting wetplate, and learned about the cameras and holders. Then I started shooting paper negatives in them, then film. Finally after shooting only LF for several years, I went back to 35mm cameras, rangefinders only.

I really like shooting LF because it's so different than a handheld, no movements camera. Once you contact print a 8x10 black and white negative , or hold up a 5x7 sheet of color Velvia, you'll wonder why people ever wanted to shoot a postage stamp negative. But each has it's advantages.

Here is one of my cameras, and a color transparency shot with it. Kodak 5x7 2D, with Golden Dagor.



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Old 01-15-2016   #40
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Don't know. It attracts me like a light does moths but then I look at the size of those things and the issues I have lugging medium format around.
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