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Going back to film, why??

Like the remembered romance of years ago, the lure of the “experience” of film calls like the mythical siren.  The whole relationship with the camera, the visceral feeling of experience seems so good. Of course you forget the limitations of the media, the tedious process and having to wait to see if you have captured what you visualized.

But still I wanted to go back to try film again. I had always wanted a medium format camera since I was in Vietnam. A Hasselblad was too expensive, but I could dream about a Bronica or a Mamiya. Then there was the Pentax 6×7. So last year I found a Mamiya RZ67 ProII on a forum for sale. It was a complete kit with 4 lenses, many backs and accessories.  Then of course, I had to get a light meter & a decent scanner.  I promised myself if stayed with it for year and took at least ten rolls that I would explore a 4×5 experience.  I have taken it to the Eastern Sierra and Yosemite a few times, not to mention several local venues.

So, what’s the verdict?  First the camera is a beast. With a wide angle lens, it weighs about 6 lbs.  The sound of the mirror & shutter is something to behold.

The process of focusing takes a little to get used to & remember not to expect the AF beep!  Exposure settings were a little troublesome at first. I am fairly retentive so I double checked the metering with both the camera as metering & an external light meter. I also would check it against my DSLR. As it turns out, the Mamiya’s metering was pretty close and the use of a DSLR as a spot meter would have been adequate.  I still ended up bracketing a few shots to have some coverage.

My best results were with evenly lit scenes. Contrasty images are a compromise with film.  Slide film blows out easily and negative film muddies up the shadows if not careful. My best shots were in the Eastern Sierra, a few in Yosemite and some local venues.  When I get it right, the images are quite nice.

The other side of the story..  Without doing the full darkroom process, you have to scan and post process to get your final image.  The first thing I discovered was that dirty negatives are worse than dust on a sensor.  Not easily seen when placed on the scanner, it can take 5-10 minutes to clean up with the clone tool in Photoshop. That is after spending about 5 minutes using film cleaning techniques, fluids & a blower.  Getting the color right was the next challenge. Negative film is worse as the gamma curves are offset and have to be corrected in either the scanners software or the image scanned as a positive, converted & corrected in Photoshop.  I had a lot of trouble with color casts. Being color blind doesn’t help either!

What became obvious on the best images, was that the shadow detail was lacking when taken very carefully.  Looking at 100% crops there was no comparison between the medium format, 6×7 cm film and the 16mp images from my 1DsMkII. Digital clearly had the advantage in this comparison.  To be fair, I was using a higher end flat bed scanner.

I could have squeezed out a bit more detail & micro-contrast using a wet-scan technique, but this is another $200 commitment to do that experiment.  Drum scans are way too expensive to try on a regular basis too.  While struggling with making a choice, I found an article on Luminous Landscape that echoed my experiences exactly.  I was somewhat relieved but also disappointed.  The film look would never have that level of critical sharpness I was used to.

Here are a few of my favorite images from this journey.

San Jose Rose Garden, Porta 160VC Negative film

Barn, , Porta 160VC Negative film

Easter Sierra, Lake Sabrina.  Ektar 100 Negative film

Yosemite Falls, Reflection in flooded meadow. Ektar 100 Negative film

Sycamore Grove, bench in shadows, early morning.  Fuji Velvia 100(new)  Slide film

Leaving Film behind, maybe!

 Well after about 9 months and almost 20 rolls of B&W, slide & negative film, I have decided to part with the MF gear. I ended up selling it for a bit more than I paid for it.

It was kind of sad.  If I had the money to spare , I would have kept it around, but I only have so much capital to go around for camera gear.

I will print a few of the better images that I really like. I have toyed with getting the best one drum scanned. We’ll see on that one.

But I still want to experience the larger format, 4×5. A family in-law has loaned me his 4×5 gear. If I like it, he will cut me a deal. Still trying to find the time to try it out yet..

I don’t want to rush it though. I want to at least have a rote understanding of the major steps.


About Dan Swiger Photpgraphy

Enthusiastic Amateur Photographer Landscapes, child photography & events


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