Shoot Film And Scan; One Photographer’s Approach To The Digital Dilemma

Stymied by all the buzz about megapixels, dpis, ppis, and what-have-you? Should you use a digital camera? Or shoot film? And which is really better? Well, yes, it's a veritable jungle of competing facts, pseudo-facts, and ideologies out there. Then there is the obsolescence factor. As someone who bought a Nikon F Photomic in 1968, a Linhof 4x5 in '70 and proceeded to use them for the next three decades with little concern they might become passé, the prospects of investing in the latest piece of digital techno-wizardry only to have it relegated to the status of a Model-T by the end of the year is a bit daunting.

New Mexico Rainbow: Next to fleeting shadows on a landscape, rainbows are one of nature's more ephemeral phenomena. They can disappear in the blink of an eye, thus quickness is primary. It can also be raining at the same time, so a small camera that can be shielded with a hand or the brim of a cap is very helpful.
All Photos © 2005, William Davis All Rights Reserved

Although I have been deeply involved in black and white fine art photography for more than 30 years, before that I had an abiding interest in color. Indeed, I began shooting Kodachrome and Agfachrome slide films in the '60s and was enthralled with their luscious colors. Ultimately photography is a print medium, though, and when I began converting those transparencies into prints in the mid-'70s, I was rarely happy with the results. Only dye transfer prints did them justice, but those were either very expensive to print commercially or extremely tedious to produce oneself. Eventually I put color on hold for 25 years--until now. For me, the answer to my color printing needs arrived along with digital.

Besides my interest in color, I also have been intrigued with the pictures people are taking with digital point-and-shoot cameras only slightly larger than a deck of cards. For years I've lugged bulky cameras fastened to sturdy wooden tripods all over the Southwest, bags of lenses and/or film holders slapping against my side as I trod canyons and mesas in search of a moment of truth. I achieved many striking results and attained wide recognition for my work, but in recent years I have begun asking myself if this is really all that photography is about.

Urban Street Scene: Neo-classical meets urban cubism. The visual impact of the lime green pedestrian walkway is incalculable. Cartier-Bresson built his entire career on the Leica camera and a 50mm lens, I just happen to prefer the 35mm. In street scenes like this, spontaneity is everything.

More and more it has not been fun, but drudgery. And if I am shooting 4x5, then others are shooting 8x10, 11x14, 12x20, etc. Bigger is always better. What I have wanted is a recipe for enjoying myself. Five years ago I bought a Contax 645 medium format camera, and suddenly things changed. It was my first automatic camera: autofocus, exposure, film advance, etc. But more than that I rediscovered the joy of just taking pictures. After years of shooting everything (even 35mm) on tripods, I soon found myself getting great shots with the Contax--handheld!

Then, two years ago I bought myself a true point-and-shoot camera, an Olympus Stylus Epic. This $80 camera (with case and battery no less) does not have a zoom lens, just a 35mm f/2.8 fixed lens--but a critically sharp lens, it turns out. It has automatic exposure, focus, and film advance, both averaging and spot metering, something like five different flash settings, and does acceptable close-ups down to 14". But what it really excels in are pictures in the 4 to 20-foot range. Pictures in this "middle distance," as I refer to it, come out with an awesome clarity. All this from a camera that costs 1/100 the price of a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II!

Pelican Frenzy: Again, this is where spontaneity counts. My wife and I were walking down a waterfront street in a small Mexican seaside town when we came upon this feeding frenzy at a truck where someone had left a bucket of fish parts in the back. It only went on for a few minutes, but was great while it lasted.

So what does this have to do with digital? Well, the Olympus is not really made for black and white. There is no exposure compensation and its clamshell on/off design makes using filters awkward at best. Knowing color negative film has a broad exposure latitude, which makes it perfect for point-and-shoot exposures, I began shooting what turned out to be a gem of a film: Fuji Reala. While the majority of photographers shooting color these days are using chromes such as Fujichrome Velvia or Kodak VS100, you rarely hear much about Reala. Even people at the photo labs where I have it processed ask me where I get it because they rarely see it. Indeed, many people think it was discontinued years ago.


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I have never been good in taking photos and moments captured. But I am willing to learn one step at a time and thank you for helping me. - Carmack Moving and Storage