Monday, January 25, 2010

Nail in the Coffin?

click for a larger view

In a continuing theme from this post, i would like to speak a little more about high ISO shooting.

So, we all know that film is dead, right? This is not a new story to be told. The question then is, do you know WHY its dead? You could blame the economic value of digital or the instant gratification factor. There are countless reasons for an immeasurable number of consumers as to why we just refuse to buy film. How about professional use? Why dont pros buy film anymore? Film is great, right? Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, Ilford, and Polaroid have spent more than half a century developing today's film technology to make it just the right color and contrast, just sharp enough yet still aesthetically soft. Film is, you might say, tried and true. Now before you try to argue that digital capture is hardly a new thing, lets think back a bit as to how long we have been efficiently shooting with digital. Five to Seven years, maybe? Kodak turned the corner in 2007 when they recorded more profit from digital based product and service than from film. It was not until larger sensors became affordable and widely available did pros box up the film cameras. This was thanks, in large part, to Canon's 5D, the first sub-$4000 SLR with a 24x36mm sensor. You can now buy a Sony A850 with 25 megapixels and a full frame sensor for $2000. Medium format digital systems (larger than 24x36mm) used to set you back a cool $20,000 plus, you can now purchase a Mamiya 645AF kit for just a hair under $10,000.

To the crux of the matter: it really comes down to what can be accomplished with today's cameras. What, where and how we can shoot today has changed the photographic world. I hear a complaints weekly about noise in high ISO digital shots. Most hobbyists or consumers never shot 3200 or even 1600 ISO film as 800 ISO was "bad enough". This seems to be the primary factor that leads to all the hubbub about noise. Though it's not all about the grain structure of the emulsion, high ISO reduces color saturation and contrast in addition to creating grain/noise. The latter being the primary reason for the loss of detail in a photograph.

Two weeks ago i shot a few rolls of film. After knocking the dust off my Nikkormat i grabbed some Ilford Delta 3200 and Fuji Velvia 100 out of the fridge, packed my gear and tripod then ventured out into the blustery winter night. The meter pooped out awhile back on the Nikkormat, so i brought along my D700 with the intent of using it to meter and shooting film for the end process. Once on site, i realized an interesting comparison that could be achieved. We regularly read comparitive reviews of today's equipment, but not many people seem to realize how far we've come in a very short timeframe (at least, we seem to forget how far we've come).

Typically, i wont shoot high ISO with night landscapes unless i am concerned about motion of subject matter. The only black and white film i had with me was the Ilford Delta 3200 which prompted my thought of the true difference between film and digital at higher ISO values.

I really wasnt surprised much by the grain structure of the Ilford, but the lack of tonal value and the extremely low contrast was a little bewildering. The comparison between the two prints (yes, i made prints) is startling to say the least.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flipping Faces

Target ingeniously created a "Flip and Clip" coupon book. The book is split into three coupons per page with people's faces printed on the back of the page. I'm sure, or at least hope, they realized how much fun it would be to flip the pages to positions other than originally intended. Hopefully, you will enjoy this as much as i did.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Better Than Daylight

I do a fair amount of higher ISO rated shooting with my photography these days and there is no doubt that the capacity to which we are capable to shoot this way has literally changed the realm of photography. Its a game changer as much as roll film or Polaroids or the advent of digital photography.

Camera sensors are rated for a range of sensitivity, my Nikon D700 shoots from 200ISO through 6400ISO. Then you have the option of pushing beyond the sensor's ratings into "High ISO" or, essentially, push processing (remember that?). Push processing was rating film at your camera for underexposure then "pushing" the film back to its original rating during the processing of the negatives. This was tricky to get just right, unless you did the math. Let's be honest though, the math sort of ruined the fun; I'd rather just guess and see what came out the other end. This was akin to shocking your film with a cold water rinse just before the fixing stage or cross-processing chromes in color chemistry. All these options, with so much left to the unknown, often resulted in blase or undesired results, but ever once in awhile strange and happy photographs would greet you on the other end.

I know a lot of photographers that wont budge over 800ISO on their fancy pro DSLRs. 3 years ago i was more inclined to agree with them as the loss of detail through noise reduction or the overwhelming amount of noise produced in the image made it near impossible to see what was what. Put simply, as a photographer, all we do is chase the light around. Today, however, if you're not venturing down the higher ISO road, you're missing out on some great light.

I love night photography. The color cast from lights at night are anything but normal. The strong shadows and eerie light patterns are a draw to my photographic eye. Normally higher ISO ratings aren't a necessary tool with night photos, a sturdy tripod is, however, a must have piece of equipment.

The image above (click for a larger view) was shot without a tripod, because i can't find my quick release plate for my tripod head. i know, i know... =/ so the thought enters my head, lets see what light is out there. With my D700 and my 70-300VR lens hand-held (lens hood pressed against the glass door) i looked across the backyard, dialed the ISO to High 2 (25,600 ISO, this is two stops above 6400 with each stop acquiring two times as much light), set the aperture to f/11 (the sweet spot on that lens) and the shutter speed to 1/2 seconds. This metering set is equivalent to 200 ISO, f/11 at a 60 second exposure time (shutter speed). Keeping in mind VR in your lens can compensate the same 2-3 stops regardless of what shutter speed you start from, i braced myself against the back of a chair for a little extra stability.

B/W picture control was set at the camera. The image was processed through Nik Capture NX2 for sharpening only. NO noise reduction was applied (NR was off in the camera, also).

I don't normally venture above 6400 ISO on my camera, but i didn't often cross-process slides either. Some days it just feels right to be a little abnormal.

Go shoot something differently tomorrow.

Get outside your comfort zone.