That "film look," are we creating a false memory?

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by Tim Tucker 2, Jan 20, 2019.

  1. Tim Tucker 2

    Tim Tucker 2 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    It has struck me after reading threads on other forums, and this one, that our ideas of what film looked like seem to be somewhat distorted.

    To create that "film look" the filters almost invariably seem to go for the faded/cross processed/tinted/overly grainy look. On many photo forums they talk about the flaws in film, old lenses.

    It is true that images are faded by leaving them out in the sun too long, faded slides that are 50 years old can impart a sense of something that is a more distant rather than recent memory. But that's not accurate of how film looked at the time. But also it's as though many photographers want to believe film is flawed and that their digital photography is better simply because the cameras are better in ways which you can measure with a number. (I'm still flummoxed by equivalence as for all it's maths in working out the relationships it is fundamentally a way of comparing shot noise, and yet the one thing it can't tell you is how much noise will be in any one shot. Only that shot B will have *2 stops* more noise than shot A, whatever 1 stop of noise is... ;);););) ). Many photographers on digital forums seem to buy into the *nostalgia* and the old film look as being faded and flawed with far too much ease and willingness. As I said it's as if that's what they wish to believe, a view that fit's with how digital is so much better.

    It is getting to the point that if you want to make an image *look* like it was made on film you have to artificially, (and digitally), add these flaws to it to convince an audience. To be film it must have visible grain yet HP5 on 35mm exposed and developed well then printed on 10"x 8" and you would be hard pressed to see any grain without a magnifier.

    Don't get me wrong here, film does have it's limitations. But it was never as bad as a fair few of the digital crowd want to believe. Personally I find that a lot of poorly exposed and over-processed digital shots show far worse artefacts in noise/noise reduction, halos, colour flattened and thinned by tone-mapping/saturation and poor WB than well exposed film. Sure you can stick your digital camera into dark places and shoot a subject in shadow while capturing the sunlight on a distant mountain peak made minuscule with a UWA lens. But I never found that sort of photography very compelling even if you can prove that it has 2 stops less noise than *camera A* would've done... ;);););)

    Film is still a viable proposition to those who wish to pursue it, it has bright and vivid colour, sharpness and detail. It also captures an honesty that a reliance on Lightroom sliders rather than vision has subtracted from digital.

    I was just shuffling through a few holiday snaps, below is one of the rare times I put colour film into the Nikon F2. Shot on basic Kodak negative stock and processed in one of the many *chemist* developing shops that used to litter the high street. Its a scan of a 20+ year old 6"x 4" print. There was nothing fancy about it, I just used to halve the ASA and use a basic reflected meter reading. It's what I had, what I used, and to be quite honest I would still be happy with the result if I took it again tomorrow. If I brought up the shadows (don't read too much into the DR of film as the shadows are lit by light reflecting off the white sandy beach), upped the contrast and saturation, sharpened it, and cloned out the scratches I could make it look like a digital shot and receive plenty of equivalent advice... ;);););)

    ex-1.jpg


     
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  2. Ysarex

    Ysarex Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Don't get me started.... You left out light struck. No half decent film photographer missed the step of opening the camera back with film in it.

    Joe

    And don't forget the dust and lint -- good film photographers dropped their negs in the vacuum cleaner bag for a shake before they printed them.
     
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  3. Ysarex

    Ysarex Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    This showed up on DPReview yesterday under the title "Great new film look:"



    Joe
     
  4. AlanKlein

    AlanKlein No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Digital does seem to be sharper with more clarity and resolution than film. Soap opera look? Film has a more relaxed look. You tend to look at the content rather than the technique. But I could be wrong. I do enjoy shooting medium film format. It;s so slow and relaxing and contemplative. Digital tends to be staccato manic. That could be wrong as well.
     
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  5. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Lordy...that video...how tedious. I watched a good six minutes of it before I had to switch it off. As far as film goes, and the title of this post, I think that YES, indeed, now two full decades into the digital photography era, we are creating (well,some people are creating) a false memory of how pictures made on film looked. More accurately, I think for the most part, the false memory is designed to emulate/evoke the way badly-stored color prints looked; faded colors,mostly, but also with film grain, perhaps processing flaws that lead to image quality loss,and so on. In other words, I think the so-called false memory under discussion is an effort not to belittle film,but more designed to evoke a sense of nostalgia, of age, of the image having "lived" in the real world, for some time. A similar effect, the adding of noise and scratches to video images, to invoke the idea of old, aged motion picture film, is another similar endeavor that some people have done.

    I shot a lot of Tri-X 400 in the 1980's...and a lot of Kodacolor Gold 200, and Kodachrome 64 and 64 Professional, and also a good deal of Ektachrome 100. I can and could easily see the grain of Tri-X, or HP5, with no magnifier needed; the difference between 400-speed B&W and 125-speed B&W was easily,easily seen. I can STILL recall my first two rolls of T-MAX 100...WOW!!!! Medium format-like resolving power, minimal grain, and from 35mm size negatives. I think that the old Panatomic-X, Plus-X, Tri-X black and white trio from Kodak, of slow-speed,medium-speed, and fast panchromatic B&W was pretty much fine-grain,medium-grain, and acceptable gain with amazing tonality. The T-grain films in B&W were another story,entirely.

    As far as COLOR film...400-speed color negative was invented when I was in high school. Color negative film of consumer type, in the late 1970's, was actually....kind of crappy in the hands of most people,when processed by many labs and later, mini-labs. There were hundred of millions of CRAPPY images made,and developed and processed, on consumer-type color negative film in the 1970's,1980's,and 1990's; color print processing (I worked for a camera store chain that had 13 stores, our own in-house developing and printing lab,and a high-end lab we outsourced to for trickier or more-advanced film and printing needs) was all over the map, as were the cameras, and the people who used color neg film. I saw,with my own eyes, some amazingly crummy images shot in the late 1980's, and so....the idea that accidental light exposure was not a thing is erroneous: MANY people had problems with the first frame on rolls being light-exposed; camera backs DID pop open: people opened camera backs before rewinding, first/last images were I.D. flashed and numbered on many rolls, by accident, etc.. Scratches and dust were legion....rolls left in pockets and purses for months before developing lead to a lot of dust getting into developing equipment,etc..

    Anyway...I dunno...film was what it was, and now is what it is...a capture medium. There are many types of film, many types of developers,B&W, negative,positive (reversal),etc. It's sad that we lost Kodachrome, that's one thing. Overall, today's digital cameras offer easy image capture, and no essential need to outsource the developing to a lab that might,or might not, ruin the film, or the prints. High-end, quality film shots were always good, but hey, I worked at stores and literally SAW how dismal many peoples' film pictures were. For the rank and file, non-photo-enthusiasts, today's smart phones yield better pictorial results, just because one can SEE a bad shot, and re-take it, immediately; opening up film processing envelops was, for many people, an exercise in disappointment. And for many today, with digital images, I think they're trying to re-create some of the common flaws that millions of film-based photos suffered from...scratches, bad exposure, etc, as well as to make images look "old", as if they are old prints that are now 50,40,30 years of age.

    We need to separate the idea of film and "prints"...prints were, often times, poor to average, and there are hundreds of millions of old,faded,bad-condition printed pictures all over the world. High-end,skilled work and regular-person work, done on film--the two are and were very different things.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2019
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  6. Tropicalmemories

    Tropicalmemories No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Agree - I try to use my digital camera and prime lenses to create a 'cinematic' look, using strong colors, high contrast, ultra sharp subject and blurred backgrounds.

    I want the image to be the same or better than what I saw with my eyes, I don't want to recreate the limitations of an old, chemical based technology.
     
  7. AlanKlein

    AlanKlein No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Derrel, I seem to recall that photographers back then mainly hated grain. That's why Tmax and other finer grain film were developed. Each improvement was greeted by the photo community with applause. It followed, pretty much, digital's higher resolution development for sharper clearer pictures.

    I shoot medium format film for fun. It slows me down, allows a little contemplation. You can fidget more with the equipment, scanners, and light meters. On the other hand, I shoot cellphone or 1" camera shots and video when I'm around town, or on vacation and make digital "slide" shows for UHDTV playing at home from a flash drive connected to the TV. They're different processes done for different reasons and results. It's like owning a pickup truck and a sedan. Both will get you to where you want to go more or less. But it's a different drive. Nice to have both.
     
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  8. jcdeboever

    jcdeboever TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    I shoot a lot of film and I like the look. I don't get the pre set thing...I've tried the Nik film sets and I don't think they look anything like TriX or at least how I develop. Acros is pretty close on Fujifilm to actual Acros but that has been the exception. I see a few professional photogs doing some real interesting edits on their fine art stuff but they are not telling how they get the look. Nor would I. I suppose software technology will figure out at some point but all this other stuff, scratches, distressed looks, are gimmicky IMO. The real unique stuff in film, that I see, is coming from wet plate photographers.
     
  9. Tim Tucker 2

    Tim Tucker 2 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    This is an odd one to get your head around, and I've been thinking about it a lot. I think many have got things a little back to front... ;);););)

    No, not that film is better than digital but in the belief that digital is better and so it not only does more but also can do the same.

    [Caveat: Digital blows film out of the water with resolution and colour editing, though this is also it's Achilles' Heel as nearly all the pre-programmed sliders are subtractive in nature and therefore subtract differences and equalise values whichever way you move them. For example colour is either moved towards grey or the pure hues with saturation/vibrance/contrast/tone-mapping it never moves towards the beautiful neutrals and semi-neutrals you get when mixing pigments.]

    Digital when it was being conceived naturally avoided many of the pitfalls of film photography...

    @Derrel, oh yes, I think the main problem with nearly all the very poor film shots was under-exposure and over-compensation. Nothing kills film more than under-exposure. Film requires light, energy to form a reaction and density, and light that matches the characteristics of the film. If there's one thing I've learnt with film it is that if you start with a poor, flat negative then you end up with a poor, flat image.

    Let me float this:

    I've tried to simulate film with digital and always found it elusive, and I don't consider myself a slouch in PS or observation. What I've found is the opposite of what many photographers, especially on some forums, wish to believe. What I've found is that it's almost impossible to recreate the *flawed* look of film on digital with a well exposed image, and that it's actually very easy to re-create the flawed digital look with a well exposed and developed film. Again this does not say that film is better, but it does indicate that the design and evolution of digital was successful in that it avoids the common flaws of film.

    John Sloan said, (I've tried to find the quote but after a glass of red with dinner and a belt of scotch my speed reading has gone the way of under-exposed Kodak Gold... ;);););)), something along the lines of; art is not about capturing the visual reality of something but it's visual essence. You do not need to re-produce the visual reality of film with digital but only evoke the memory. But it still fails...

    There is something about digital that makes it almost impossible the edit in a deliberate *accident*. And that is what is sometimes so appealing about film, not only the accidental but the way it is indiscriminate of global colour/contrast/acutance in a way that digital can never be by it's controlled nature. In fact I've found my most endearing failures to be ones where I've resorted to drawing *flaws* by hand with the graphics tab. Perhaps that's it, the random and indiscriminate nature, digital is too precise.

    Film can, in the right lighting, produce stunning results and when pushed in the wrong lighting, (or darkroom by the wrong hands... ;);););)) can also produce that happy accident of *human* flaws rather than precision inconsistency. Does that make digital better, or does it just make film harder to understand and use? Perhaps that's why we refer digital, because it's more consistent than film. It certainly produces more consistent results than film.

    If that's it's strength, then why do we want to believe that it also does random and unplanned as well? I think many are turning back to film in search of that *happy accident* rather than the programmed consistency of the LR sliders.

    Below; it is the nature of negative film that you can expose the subject correctly and just take pot luck on the flare and highlights when shooting a subject in shadow against very bright backlight. To do it with digital you have to compromise the exposure on the subject and adjust. What can I say? The two will always look different. And as for the scratches all I can say is that I find them far easier to reproduce in a makeshift *backroom* darkroom and a dodgy squeegee than I ever have with a digital filter... ;);););)

    ex-1.jpg

    I bet they are mainly doing it by hand, for instance adding scratches is easer to do if you have a pure white layer and paint them in on a black mask with a graphics tablet and a ruler. Inconsistency is a human habit not a computer trait... ;);););)
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2019
  10. Dave442

    Dave442 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    When I was last at the camera store the Olympus gal was there showing off their new model and how they have custom curves and all sorts of other in-camera settings, pretty soon the salesman was showing me his favorite way to dial in his digital reincarnation Tri-X. Between that and Fuji with their film settings, the camera makers know many of their customers want to get that "film-look" from digital.

    I don't have any problem with it, if that is what gets someone interested in photography that's fine with me.
     
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  11. Tropicalmemories

    Tropicalmemories No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I'm guilty of that one - Despite what I posted earlier, I'm partial to the Fuji Acros black & white film simulation.

    The shot below was just a jpeg available- light snap when trying out different settings with a second-hand manual lens I'd just picked up at a market.

    The Acros film simulation gave a classic 'Hollywood" look to what was just a test snap in a bedroom.

    2018_0828_23594400_20190122044857634.jpg
     
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  12. mrca

    mrca No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    How about shooting a half dozen shots and going to remove the film to discover there was no film in the camera. That film look? My pentax had a dial on top of the film spool that I learned to automatically watch as I advanced the film. If the film spool dial didn't rotate, red flag. That only happened a couple of times and I ran between 2 to 8 rolls a day through that camera for 15 years. I liked it because it had a meter and if the battery failed it shot without a battery at 1/125 sec. That saved my butt on location no where near a store twice. We don't forget those oh sh t moments. Now, when I shoot with my mamiya medium format that has no battery, it is strange going to shoot without checking or charging a battery first.
     
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