This week we had a speaker, Matt Bigwood, photojournalist for sixteen years on the Gloucester regional press and a freelance for very nearly as long who took us on the transition from mainly monochromatic film through to full colour digital and along with it the death of the profession of employed photojournalist. It is, as they say, what it is. Very little point in being overly nostalgic about it, film is now a hobby, an artistic statement, a curiosity or a course of academic study and digital is all.
Some of the effect of that we discussed in the last post. There is no denying that digital has made photography more accessible. A double edge sword that has proved to be as unsettling in its own world as any other technological “disruption” for in that accessibility has come a loss of a sense of it being special, of the combination of art and alchemy and with that some of the mystery some of the magic. And a lot of the expense, as least as far as news organisations are concerned.
For a time there were those who sought to hold back the tide of course, on grounds of technical inferiority, dynamic range, colour rendition, ability to enlarge, but when the pixel count got to the point of where it was good enough for the front page it was game over. But this pitches film v digital, one or the other, take no prisoners. A good way to lose what motivates us. If film floats your boat AND gets you out there taking pictures then go with film. Ditto digital. Unless we are making a living out of it, in which case this is an interesting question (maybe). Our customers want digital? Guess what we are going with.
So, we end up with having to scan your negatives anyway as a way of displaying and storing them and that on top of a process that was never cheap. That said there is a niche market and rumours of come backs of old film stocks abound (fantasy almost entirely, Kodachrome ain’t ever coming back in my far from humble), but the truth is the machines to make film are very old, there are no spare parts manufacturers for them and some of them are huge: We’ve used this link for the production of film before (part 2 here), but it is well worth revisiting just to take in the sheer scale of the manufacturing problem.
We might miss it, may even still use it, but film is and will remain a niche market. Digital has yet to match the look and feel of film (amazing on how many photographers seem to have forgotten just how grainy a Kodachrome 64 slide could be when projected) and when it does we will run into the same problem different clothing. It was a look with limited variation, because there were never that many manufacturers on the market in the first place. Digital has looks of its own but we weren’t viewing slides on 4K televisions, lap top screens, mobile phones, tablets, just projectors. The only question is do you like the look?
And let’s not forget that single lens camera sales are down by 84% 2016 over 2011.
And as already stated here and in Matt’s talk and the videos he brought with him that ship has sailed. He admitted to being nostalgic for film but not to the point that he is considering running his business on the model, for though there is most likely a market it is considerably less likely sustainable.
A little more perspective on the 35mm film angle. The last time there was a comeback for 35mm film was in 2011. Sales disappointed in 2012, this might be a cyclical thing but if it is it is not clear what is driving it. Dixons/Currys stopped selling 35mm film cameras of any type in 2005. Yet by the summer of 2016 film was making a “Stunning comeback” mainly driven by those new to the medium. Film was even projected to go away totally by 2020, according to some, though that seems unlikely now. The actual figures, the units, are not going to match the height of film – around 2001 when 19.7 million SLR’s were sold.
That is really something of an empty argument though and really the domain of the hobbyist and occasional professional artist. With the need for time consuming processes disappearing the need for the number of press photographers to cover events fell – memory cards could be plugged into computers. With the growing ubiquity of cameraphones the photographs of dramatic and not so dramatic events are taken and uploaded to social media often before the press are even aware. The final nail in the employed photojournalists career prospects. Now it is not unusual for media groups to have none whatsoever. Now it is all self-employment and whereas the need for the expertise in photography and, increasingly, videography still remains the nature of how that relates to the occupation of commercial photographer, as most are today, has changed.
Last meeting was the territory of club member and treasurer Steve Hallam, talking through some of his digital history. Steve is an Olympus fan and has been for over ten years. Micro four thirds, the name come from the diameter of the sensor in inches, is the invention of Olympus and as Steve pointed out, the first system to be designed exclusively for digital from scratch. The first Olympus Steve owned had a 5 MP sensor , which when compacts these days can pack 20 Mega Pixels, sounds restrictive. In reality most people would be largely untroubled by 5MP sensors, the key being the quality of rendition not the size. More Mega Pixels give you more room to crop and still get a reasonable image. The ability to resolve reasonably accurate colours and the capacity to restrict noise at higher ISO’s are generally bigger factors in most peoples’ photography . The bigger numbers in terms of Mega Pixels are something driven more by perceived marketing needs (bigger must be better) than actual customer requirements.
For so long full frame, as Steve pointed out a tag rather than a technical term of any enlightening feature. The 35mm (actually 36 mm but that is a spurious accuracy) was of course the film size in most SLR’s and has carried over to the digital age as the most common “professional” size. I will come back to the need for the inverted comma’s shortly. In the film age, especially from the late 60’s onwards, 35mm was pretty much everywhere. Unless you were doing advertising or studio work then the frame size went up to 6 x 4.5, 4 x 5, 10 x 8 and so on. Hasselblads used 120 roll film (6 x 7 cm). Just like the Box Brownie. Only there was a bit of difference price wise. Also, it has to be said, there is a slight difference in quality too.
The reason for the inverted commas around professional above is that there is no such thing as a camera by which one becomes a professional by being in possession of. There is plenty to be said for the idea of a larger sensor – and some people bang on endlessly about it – but, as been said before in this blog, unless it is predicated on an actual photographic need then there is no reason why a professional has to shoot with a 35mm sensor. Damien Lovegrove doesn’t, as he explained when he visited us back in July 2014, he uses APS-C (among other formats I am sure). Any argument based on the logic of sensor size would have that a 6 x 4.5 medium sensor format has to better than a 35mm and so on. The question always has to be “At what”?
Lugging a D800 across Antarctica to photograph polar bears in the wild may seem like hard work, it is, after all a sizeable chunk of Bakelite in its own right. Adding in the heavy duty lenses adds even more bulk and that’s before you realise the nearest wild polar bear is 12,500 miles to the north (it pays to do your research). You had better have a really, really good reason for packing it in the first place. Well that would be weather sealing, shock-proofing, reliability given that it’s 2,500 miles to the nearest camera shop to replace that broken lens (assuming both that you are going North and turning left(ish) and Punta Arenas has a camera shop, otherwise it’s 3,700 miles in a completely different direction to Auckland). You may require very large blow ups at a high dots per inch count, there are any number of reasons you need a full frame camera, but , logically, not one of them is because you are a professional. Steve pointed out the main advantage of the Micro 4/3rds format is the capacity to build smaller, lighter cameras.
Smaller lighter cameras with smaller sensors, yet we still think of lenses in 35mm equivalent terms and that does make things easier for comparison reasons, but allows for some confusion. When we talk of crop sensors we are talking about the size of sensors relative to 35mm and as most sensors are smaller than this then we are seeing a smaller image given the same focal length of lens.
A confusion creeps in with the idea of “magnification” which a lot of people assume to be a telephoto effect because a 100 mm lens on a 35mm camera shows the same as a 150 mm lens on an APS-C or a 200 mm lens on a micro 4/3rds and the logic goes (off at a tangent but it’s easy to see why) a 200 mm pulls in the image twice as much as a 100 mm lens. Well when you double the focal length on the same size sensor it does, the mistake is to not factor in the change in the size of the sensor. If an image is made with the same lens, but a smaller sensor, it shows a smaller area. Enlarge both your 35 mm and you crop sensor images to, say, 10 x 8 inch print and the degree of enlargement, the magnification if you will, will be greater for the smaller sensor than for a larger one. Hence you might get an inkling of why more Mega Pixels on this year’s sensor than last sounds attractive – you can make larger prints without a loss in quality. Well sort of, as, after a point, those extra pixels start to get in each other’s way.
So, our thanks to Steve for bringing up some interesting topics and for sharing his images with us. Much appreciated.
N E X T W E E K
NOT AT THE CLUB. Light trails, meet at the fountains on the centre. Bring cameras and tripods we are going to be taking some light trails. 7.30 commencement.