The nine lives of film

140With Kodak filing for bankruptcy the press has been full of proclamations about the death of film. But film is still profitable for Kodak:  The shame is that many in the press seems to equate the company’s troubles with the manufacture of film and the rise of digital imaging only, when the truth seems to be more complex

Some of these statements have been extreme, implying that no-one uses film any more. Film is far from “dead”

What’s more interesting perhaps is the desire of many to proclaim the death of film.  What drives this? There may in part be a commercial interest.  Camera-making companies obviously have some interest in encouraging people to buy new kit, and one way of doing this is to introduce a must-have new technology, especially one that is constantly being updated.  But I suspect that there are also some who like the drama of announcing the death of one kind of technology, simply for the effect.

Another concern I have with the stuff about Kodak, is that there is little discussion about actual values and quality.  One thing I have lived long enough to see is that new technologies are definitely not a simple exponential improvement on what they replace.  Analogue sound is a good case in point.  There is no way in the world that a CD is better in terms of sound than vinyl played on a good system.  Every time I listen to vinyl records now, I wonder how I was ever persuaded otherwise back in the 80s. Sometimes we confuse convenience and improvement in the outcome.

As the owner of two high-end digital cameras (including a Leica M9), I’m not

I bought my Canon 5D four years ago with considerable enthusiasm.  I was excited about this new medium, and went mad taking photographs after I got it. I jumped into Photoshop and loved the convenience of “dry” processing.  And the clean surface you could get was at first quite entrancing.  But I soon realised that I really wanted to go back to film.  At first I couldn’t really explain this to myself.  It was a gut feeling that something was not quite there in the digital images.  I bought a Canon ESO 1-V and began taking – I don’t shoot, I never shoot! – black and white.  An there again was the magic I’d first seen a few decades before with my dad’s camera.  The subtlety of the light as it shifted from highlight to shadow, and the feeling – and this I think is it – that there was a layer beneath the surface, like the darker undercoat a painter uses to create depth beneath the brighter surface.

Both the wonder and the problem with digital photography is precisely that it is all surface.  Clean, sparkling and transparent surface.  Of course that can have its own beauty, but if given the choice, I would still prefer the deeper, richer perhaps even muddier image of film.  And you can see the difference instantly.  Look at images on the screen and you can tell if it’s digital or scanned film.

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