Black & white film/format musings

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valdez

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I have been thinking about my experiences over the past few years with black and white film photography. Whenever I look at negs/prints from my Rolleiflex, I am consistently pleased with the image quality/tonality, even with very fast film. Yet more often than not, I am disappointed with my 35mm prints. It's hard to describe - the prints just lack something compared to medium format, regardless of the type of film used. I do not have similar experiences with E-6 or C-41 color films - 35 mm prints look quite good in general (although still not as impressive as with medium format). I realize that there are some situations where one clearly needs the 35mm format (e.g. fast moving low light situations). So my question is, how many of you black and white film photographers who have both 35mm and medium format cameras continue to use 35mm regularly alongside your medium format equipment. Although I don't have a digital camera and have no short term plans to get one, it seems to me that digital capture technology is rapidly rendering 35mm film based photography somewhat obsolete. I think that medium (and larger) formats still make sense for film based capture, particularly for black and white photography. Your comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks very much.
 

Ole

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I have 35mm, MF and LF (and L'er-F). I continue to use MF...

Sometimes I want grain, and might use 35mm. But that's about it.
 
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valdez said:
...it seems to me that digital capture technology is rapidly rendering 35mm film based photography somewhat obsolete. I think that medium (and larger) formats still make sense for film based capture, particularly for black and white photography. Your comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks very much.

It depends on many variables, and I feel they are suited to each photographer individually.

One of the biggest groups of photographers to jump into digital with full force were MF shooters. MF equipment prices dropped as a result of a flooded marketplace. So is there still room for MF film based image making..? Absolutely. But I don't feel it has the status or importance it once had in the professional world.

Now, many wedding photographers are shooting digital as well with pro-sumer type 35mm digital cameras... Not to mention the gadget freaks and new parents... 35mm film shooting is drying up as well. How I've seen this is the one generation turn around... My wife is a school teacher, many of the kids in her class own digital cameras and don't know what film is... How many future film users do you think will result if they've grown up with digital? How many of us grew up with vinyl records, but now own CDs? How long has it been now since you bought your last record? For me, it's probably been 10-15 years...

Large format is becoming more of an art format in my mind... Catalogue /commercial product photography has moved to digital workflow as well... What has become of LF (IMO) is people that WANT to be in the darkoom, want a slower pace, and want to be involved, and want to get their hands dirty if you will.

So can/will all formats survive?? In the short-term yes... But only as long as we keep buying film, paper and chemistry.

Just my $.02

joe :smile:
 

Nick Zentena

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I use 35mm when I want something quick and cheap. There are times I don't want the hassle of a LF tripod. The times I want the smaller camera then my MF bodies. Or times when I'm just grabbing a shot and want a camera in the car. Something that I won't be upset about if it walks away. I don't do it if I want a good photograph. If I'm planning on something "good" I use something else.
 

Tom Stanworth

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I love shots of my kids using 35mm. Speed being important, that 'moment' looks great whatever the format. 35mm hp5 has a distinct but pleasant grain on an 8x10, but seems to suit this sort of photography. I print such shots fairly low in contrast and love the results (more than I would were the grain invisible). For landscapes I would not entertain the idea of 35mm, feeling that MF is the minimum.
 

rbarker

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I shot everything from 35mm (both rangefinder and SLR) up to 8x10, and still regularly use the 35mm gear. Just depends on what I'm shooting, under what circumstances, and what my objectives are.

As they say, whatever floats your boat. :wink:

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Leica M6TTL, 50-year old 50mm DR Summicron, Ilford FP4+ - makes a lovely 11x14.
 

brimc76

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I rarely use my 35mm equipment any more except for shooting slides and that would include Agfa Scala. Most of my shooting is now B&W 120 or 4x5 negative film.
 

Loose Gravel

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I'm using all formats from 35mm to 8x10. Not as much 4x5 as I used to, but that is because the 5x7 is being used more. In my MF bag, I always carrier a 35mm. After years of not using in favor of LF, I've been surprised how good it can be when done just right. It's so good for quick pix of the kids, picitures in the dark, stealth pix, etc. 35mm gives more spontaneity than the other formats, although I can do pretty well with the MF rangefinder. For 35mm, I use either a Contax G2 or a Hexar AF. Always film and always B&W.

I also 35mm and MF to take test photos for possible 5x7 shots that I might come back for later.
 

rogueish

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I have a 35mm Nikon and a MF Yashica TLR. I generally use both, with maybe the 35 getting a slight edge. The Yashica takes 120 film which I prefer and has very sharp optics. The Nikon SLR currently has a 28-135 macro zoom, which is handy.
I have started looking to eventually replace the TLR... well ok maybe not exactly replace it, :wink: just have another more versatile option.
(Nobody tell the Mrs' OK!)
 

Lee Shively

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I share your views on the quality of medium format black and white compared to 35mm black and white and I am shooting more medium format these days than ever, however, I continue to use 35mm.

I like being able to carry a camera most of the time. I like being able to grab quick candid shots of people. I like being able to shoot without interferring with what people are doing. I like shooting in low light without flash. A 35mm camera works best for me in these situations. Under these conditions, a medium format is too big and heavy, a little slower and more prone to grab attention. Even a TLR is big and cumbersome compared to a Leica rangefinder--my favorite 35mm. I can also drop an Olympus XA in my pocket when I don't want to carry anything else.

Both formats work great for me but I don't expect to get the same results out of them.
 

fhovie

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35mm is for snapshots, low light and sometimes travel - photos that will be 4x6 in an album. MF is overkill for these little photos. If I want an 8x10 or larger print, it has to be MF or LF - the bigger the better. Now that I have an Iconta, I doubt the 35 will go with me many places. The 6x9 folder makes pretty nice negs and is smaller than any of the 35mm SLR cameras. I have some 35mm negatives that are "art" - no matter how good the glass and how solid the support - there is no comparing to the MF negative in richness. I makes it hard to carry the 35mm. This is one of my better 35mm images made with HP5 developed in D76. Camera was a Contax with a Zeiss Planar lens. I have an 11x14 print of this at a local gallery.

boats.jpg
 

etriplett

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I use both 35mm and MF. I use my Contax G for walking around. Depending on the situation I'll load with Delta 3200 for night time and overcast day shots and rate it at 1600. Sunny day time shots get hp5+ at 500.

The MF camera is used for my long hikes in the local mountains for landscape/nature. I tend to shoot Delta 100 or Maco IR film (still playing with this stuff)

Each camera has it's own purpose for what I'm trying to achieve. Interestingly I don't really favor one camera over the other. They are just the tools to get the "job" done.
 

TPPhotog

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Come on guys, being a mostly 35mm format shooter I'm beginning to feel like I shoot digital reading this thread :sad: Excuse me whilst I crawl back under my rock.
 

Paul Howell

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35 mm can do many things much easier than MF or LF. The range of lens, good depth of field when using long lens, close up work, and shooting on the fly of course come to mind. In my early days I had to shoot a football game with a baby speed, even with a roll back it was a chore. In terms of expense you can shoot a lot 35 for the cost of MF and LF. Many of the great photos of the 20th century were made with 35 mm. If for some reason I lose my mind and return to photojournalism I would need to go digital, but I would still carry a manual rangefinder as a fall back camera. MF and LF (I shoot both) provide excellent tools for subjects when large negatives and and the advanced controls of a view camera are needed. One size does not fit all.

As a side note the local photo editor for a local paper (no I cant mention which paper) is concerned that when the photographers are shooting digital they now they spend too much time looking at what they shot and are missing some of the action.
 

Flotsam

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Don't worry Tony, you're not alone.

If grain size is the ultimate difference between a good or a bad photograph then all ULF photographs are automatically better than all photographs taken with smaller formats.

Every format has it's own strengths and weaknesses, each is especially suited for different subjects and styles of shooting. That's what makes photography the rich and varied creative medium that has kept me fascinated and fulfilled over the decades. But if you were to sneak into my bedroom in the middle of the night and shake me out of a sound sleep and shout "Neal!... Neal!... What's your' favorite film format?" I'm sure that I would mumble "35mm in an all manual SLR" followed quickly by "Now get the *&%%#^ out of my bedroom and let me get back to sleep before I call the Cops".

As far as digital imaging rendering film photography obsolete, that has been discussed to death already but IMHO it hinges on, what your' personal criteria for "better" is. I like film and darkroom.
 

TPPhotog

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Neal I'm very much with you on that posting and some of it made me laugh so much about waking you in the night thank you :D Interestingly on the "all manual SLR" I've been playing with what was my sons, but he wanted something smaller Centon K100 this week. Considering it's only got spot metering and cheap (inexpensive) 50mm plastic lens I love the feel and freedom of it much more than my F100 LOL Shot Delta 3200 rated @ 1600 with it today and souped the negs in Rodinal, I can't wait to get the time to print them :smile:
 

Nige

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I used my 35mm gear the other day for the 1st time in ages and it was fun! click, clack (MD12 motordrive!) click, clack... I was chasing our new puppies around the yard. Run through 2 30exp rolls in a flash.

Soup the Delta 400 in XTOL 1:1... make a couple of enlargements... hmm, wish I'd used the Mamiya 645 for that one... wonder if I can get them to sit still in front of the 4x5, probably not, I had enough trouble getting my sons to sit still long enough!

Actually, I do like taking a little Yashica ME1 (zone focus compact) along on bike rides and walks loaded with 400 film. Very occasionly I need the 300mm of the 35mm, and I do like the 24mm, options I don't have in MF and LF formats. I think I'll keep it (the 35mm gear) for awhile yet, it just won't get used as much as it once was.
 

Bob Carnie

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From my labs experience I have seen a drop in film processing with my commercial clients, all formats.
With my fine art clients I have seen an actual resurgence or increase in all formats of film. 35mm has not dropped in my opinion.
I do think that because we held to traditional processing while a lot of the larger labs moved with the digital flow, we now are one of the only choices when a photographer wants good black and white, other than process themselves. (therefore increased processing , rather than decrease)
As well if you are a serious photographer working on long term projects that span years of work, the decision to move away from film , would jeapordize the whole project, For some of my clients I have been processing their film (all formats) for 10years .. To change now would be critical error.
I think that some manufactures will drop film , but I do believe others will continue for a long time into the future. (all formats) can't beat a Leica or G2 for sharp crisp detailed images.
 

Mark Layne

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I use all formats up to 8x10. To Barbados for Christmas I took a Contarex bullseye, an M3 and a Rolleiflex TLR. Enjoyed using them all. No apparent problem with Tri-X with three passes through the X-ray. There are some nice looking negs there especially from the slow films.

My children run around with these nasty little plastic digital things which I usually have to bring back for repair because the humidity in the tropics has done in their circuit boards or whatever makes them work for a while. Thank goodness they fail within the warranty period.

My wife complains that there is no room for food in the freezer, so to explain the problem to her I ask her to phone the dealer and check on the order for Polymax FA C surface and the gallon of Selenium toner which I placed before leaving. She comes back with the reply 'the Polymax is discontinued and they can't get confirmation on the toner. But they are still both in the catalog though!'

Pity that color labs all print digitally now-can't evaluate a lens that way anymore.

Mark
 

Loose Gravel

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Paul Howell said:
As a side note the local photo editor for a local paper (no I cant mention which paper) is concerned that when the photographers are shooting digital they now they spend too much time looking at what they shot and are missing some of the action.

As I understand it, this activity is called "chimping", because of how they look gathered round a camera looking down at the display.
 

Thomas Wagner

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I have almost the same stuff as roqueish now (got the Yashica this weekend). If I did not have a good 35 mm with good lenses I would be lost. Shooting from a boat makes it a bit of a problem for MF. Cheap camera 35mm camera with cheap lenses would be worse than useless. It has been my experience that the smaller the format, the higher the quality required.

Now, having said that, I am returning to MF to get the proper values of detail and lattitude. As well, I like darkroom work in both B/W and colour. Something that has always been more fun with MF stuff. I have read a number of comments here regarding how surprised MF and LF folk are with the results compared to 35mm. It stands to reason that the bigger the negative the better the result.

Want a surprise? The average digital camera has a pickup window less than 1/4 inch. Now that is definately SF. It is much smaller than the old 8mm camera image, and we all know the quality we got there.

So, conclusion... Action and awkward situations I will use Nikon. For quality and composition I will rely on the old Yashica till I can afford a Hasselblad.

Tom
 

modafoto

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I use 35mm primarily, too. I am quite happy with it though MF would be somewhat better. But I do not have the money for a MF camera. I have tried a Rolleiflex which gave me ok result, but compared to 35mm it wasn't anything better. So if I am to enter MF I would go for a Hassy, Mamiya RB/RZ or Bronica.
I like the result I get with 35mm enlarged to 12x16, so I see no reason to change right now.

35mm is certainly for serious stuff, too!
 

argus

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Loose Gravel said:
As I understand it, this activity is called "chimping", because of how they look gathered round a camera looking down at the display.
Great! I had a good laugh at this.

I'm also one of those 35mm-wankers. I hope to got MF once but the budget doesn't allow it at this time.

But this thread was about BW quality and formats so I can't compare yet but from what I read here, I must definitely make the move.

Geert
[homervoice]must sell those options soon[/homervoice]
 

rbarker

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Loose Gravel said:
As I understand it, this activity is called "chimping", because of how they look gathered round a camera looking down at the display.
I always carry a banana in the bag when I shoot digital. :wink:
 
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