back to article Mono Magic: Photography, Breaking Bad style

Digital cameras are cheap and convenient. But some people feel they also lack soul, or encourage us all to often to experience life through an LCD screen, firing off hundreds of shots we'll probably never look at, rather than absorbing our surroundings. Film, on the other hand, according to some, can lend itself to a more …

  1. Fihart

    Dust to (bloody) dust.

    As your kitty pic demonstrates, 'real' photography was/is blighted by dust. Try scanning old slides or negs and you'll appreciate digital cameras more. Add the weird issues with Kodachrome and you'll see why sales of film scanners never took off.

    The real joy of 35mm was that a good lens was all you really needed -- the rest of the hardware had little bearing on results. With digital there's a big difference between the output from compact snappers and professional gear, though I've yet to see a digital camera with the physical charisma of a 1958 Leica IIIG or a Nikon F.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Dust to (bloody) dust.

      The kitty pic also suffers from the film - Adox CHS100 - which is quite prone to spotting, I find, and even more than usual with the caffeine developer

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      1. Fihart

        Re: Dust to (bloody) dust. @1980s_coder

        One of the most pronounced differences is the use of cheap zoom lenses on budget snappers. Pros use a range of lenses. Perhaps explains why shots with phone cameras can be surprisingly good.

      2. Ian Michael Gumby

        Re: Dust to (bloody) dust


        You can get issues with dust on DSLRs when you have to change lenses.

        The only time you have dust and dirt issues is in the dark room that you don't have with digital.

        The other issue is if you don't load the film properly in to canisters for developing or you don't mix your chemicals correctly or use out of date chemicals. (The issue of loading film on to spools has become less a factor when the spools became plastic and not single piece metal which required you to pinch the 35mm roll. ( Yeah, I'm old enough to have mastered both)

        As someone who grew up doing B&W photography in the 70's and 80's, I prefer digital. Not because its better, but that its easier to work with and I don't have the $$$ for a good darkroom.

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Dust to (bloody) dust.

      "The real joy of 35mm was that a good lens was all you really needed -- the rest of the hardware had little bearing on results."

      Exactly. Or most any other film camera. The magic was, and still is, in the lens.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dust to (bloody) dust.

        Agree. I have a few point and click cameras (all Panasonic ones) with Leica lenses.

        Never had a bad photograph from them to be honest. I did get one without the Leica lens and it wasn't great.

    4. jjk

      Re: Dust to (bloody) dust.

      Film grain, too. Film actually has surprisingly low resolution.

  2. keithpeter Silver badge

    pinhole cameras are fun

    Just saying, if you can find a community darkroom and want a project for an afternoon.

    Using 35mm film as negative

    Using printing paper as 'negative'

    The wheelie bin camera guy

    Might dust off the old Nikon this holiday.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: pinhole cameras are fun

      Do! It was a proper holiday that inspired me to get back into film some years back.

      I'd been in Köln, and seen so many people in the cathedral just experiencing it through a three inch screen instead of actually looking. So when I set off for Sicily by train, I took the FG20 with me, and came back with some great shots.

      1. keithpeter Silver badge

        Re: pinhole cameras are fun

        @Nigel: I experience things with a pencil and a sketchbook more these days but may indeed dig the brass brick out. The apotheosis of 3 inch screen isolation must be the selfie stick. I may experiment with handing total strangers the Nikon and asking if they can take a photo of us. Sort of Richard Hamilton process.

        @Everyone: Retro analogue things are back in fashion (vinyl records, film cameras including instant, knitting, making stuff like furniture, cooking). Is this because we want to leave marks in some way through the process as a kick against the pixels? If OP wanted a crisp sharp colourful picture of his moggie, he would have just taken one on his iPhone. Instead, the image presented, dusty though it is, has a story and is a momento of time spent.

        Google 'William Christenberry box cameras' for an idea and a theme (change over time).

        The coat: off out before the downvotes start...

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        2. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: pinhole cameras are fun

          " Retro analogue things are back in fashion (vinyl records, film cameras including instant, knitting, making stuff like furniture, cooking). Is this because we want to leave marks in some way through the process as a kick against the pixels?"

          No. It's because it was (mostly) a lot simpler and more durable to use.

          When the high tech works it works great. But when it fails, it is non-repairable by the average person and often very, very costly to fix. Do not get me started about incredibly stupid interfaces, including mechanical ones. Black on black, anyone? 5 level nested menus? "Press 4 for more options"?

    2. Ian Michael Gumby

      Re: pinhole cameras are fun

      You know you can go out and buy a decent camera for under $100 USD.

      Fun cameras would be the old Roloflex twin lens reflexes that took 120mm film.

      Or an old Nikon body. Saw a couple of old Nikon F (original , 1950's) bodies for sale.

      In terms of film... I wonder if they sell technipan still.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't forget...

    Local Camera Clubs - many are filled with "old duffers", but they are old duffers with years of experience and are always willing to share that experience and the kit that goes with it.

    Leica Range Finders (and their Russian/East German copies) are great fun to play with and can be had for not a lot of money on ebay (although with the situation in Ukraine the supply may soon start to dry up).

  4. frank ly

    Ah, I remember ...

    ... developing slide film in the bathroom, after fiddling under the duvet, with a bucket of warm water as a temperature control bath and a small bucket of very hot water for topping it up. It's very easy if you keep to a procedure and I had good results from the first attempt. I thought they were good anyway.

    I used to take stereoscopic picture pairs and viewed them in two small hand-held viewers fixed side by side with a piece of foam rubber betwen them to enable fine adjustment.

    I've thought about trying that with my digital camera using two pictures side by side on the screen and using the cross-eyed technique but never got around to it. Has anyone done that?

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    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ah, I remember ...

      "[...] with a bucket of warm water as a temperature control bath and a small bucket of very hot water for topping it up."

      In the subtropics the water from the roof tank came out of the tap warmer than 68F. Ice cubes had to be used for temperature control.

    3. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: Ah, I remember ...

      There's a cheap plastic splitter you can get to produce crosseye 3D images in a single frame. I have one and it produces surprisingly good results once you get your head around the changed aspect ratio you're working with. I use the Loreo Lens in a cap 3D that cost me about 20 AUD and works fine on Eos 30 film and D1X. They do subframe versions too, for your APS-C sensors, and although it's a bit of a gimmick, people still get impressed by them.

      As for film, certainly. There's a discipline that imposes itself when you have 24 or 36 frames rather than 1,000. Having to wait for the result also trains you to 'predict' the result, to actually see the image you want, rather than snapping off a couple of hundred frames blindly and hoping the money shot will be in there somewhere.

    4. AJ MacLeod

      Re: Ah, I remember ...

      (Re: stereo pairs)... Yes, I've quite often done that - you will generally need to sit quite far back from the screen to avoid too much eyestrain but the results can be good. There are also a fair number of good stereo images on Flickr etc - I actually find that my eyesight is slightly improved after a period of crosseyed viewing! (I'm a little bit short sighted)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I remember doing this with my Dad.

    As a teenager I used to do all this with my Dad, we had converted a bedroom into a Darkroom for both colour and B&W.

    Still remember the almost magic of B&W prints just appearing before my eyes in the developer tray, had to let it get 'too dark' as the red 'safelight' made everything appear dark.

    Still have most of the kit gathering dust somewhere. Including his quarter plate camera....

  6. Mage Silver badge

    Well, it's a hobby

    I started with a Zenit in 1970s after years of "toy" cameras and occasionally using my dads.

    I have about 4 or 5 film cameras including a big Olympus OM10 kit and a half frame range finder.

    In the later years (1990s) I got the films processed to "gold" archival Photo CD, (not the later rubbish over compressed poor quality consumer jpeg format Picture CD). This allowed the content for media projects and internet.

    Keeping the negatives and slides safe is a problem.

    I borrowed a prof. slide scanner to scan all my Dad's old slides, but most had deteriorated badly. Scanning old photo albums on the SCSI based scanner and repairing fade was more successful

    I'd not go back to film. I can backup my photos easily now. Colour balance is less of an issue too.

    Film is a hobby for people with lots of spare time and money.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Well, it's a hobby

      I won't dispute that it can take time, but I do think it can be a lot cheaper to develop film than people think, and if you shop well the rolls of film are relatively inexpensive too

    2. Ian Michael Gumby

      Re: Well, it's a hobby

      You know you have a serious hobby when you have an old drum dryer in your dark room. ;-)

      (Yeah and rolling your own film too. ;-)

      I've shot with a lot of different cameras and formats. And while I learned on film, going digital for me was easier. I started when I was 5, but got burned out by the time I was 18.

      I started to get back in to photography when I got a D70 back in 2004 for a friend's wedding and safari.

      I purchased a Nokia 1020. Sure the OS isn't that good, but it worked well as a phone, but was a killer camera that you could put in your pocket. And yes, the 24MP makes a difference over other phones.

      I just ordered a Nikon 810. Sure its overkill, but then again, I'm getting back in to wanting to shoot again.

      (They say its the last camera you'll need to buy) ;-)

      In truth, it doesn't matter how good your camera is. Its up to the photographer to make the shot great. Post work in either the darkroom or photo-shop can only make an OK photo better.

  7. Ole Juul

    Water issues

    All my Nikons are gone, but I've still got a nice collection of historical cameras including the Kodak No1. Otherwise there's a good 4X5 and a home made box camera that takes film up to 15" wide. I've even got a stash of film up to 8X10, lots of unused paper, and the fixings to make my beloved D25 developer from scratch, and piles of trays and tanks. So what's the problem? Where I live now I'm on a septic and I can't be putting my rinse water in there. It's nice in the country, but I really miss my old photography, and the many hours spent in the dark with that lovely smell of developer and other chemicals.

  8. TheProf Silver badge


    I bought some AGFA film in there yesterday. I've been running it through a Recesky Twin Lens Reflex I bought from eBay. It's a DIY plastic camera and it puts all the 'arty' bits in for you.

    I get the films developed at a local ASDA (because it sounds like AGFA!) I get the smallest print size and ask them not to to cut the negatives.

    As for not experiencing 'life on a 3" screen, I agree. When I saw a Space Shuttle launch I gave my camera to my friend and watched the whole thing with my own eyes.

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    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That was the principle used for old school panoramic pictures. The camera rotated and the pupils sat very still - apart from the one who sprinted to appear at both ends of the picture.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That old red dot..

      One tricky thing to do with digital is IR. But then again since Kodak stopped making their film, it's not easy the old way either. At least a digital camera can be converted for IR/UV if you've got a spare body.

      1. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: That old red dot..

        I still have a Canon 20Da (for 'astronomy') with an extended IR sensor, which produces excellent results on APS-C. If they could do it back then , I'm pretty sure these sensors would be available in more modern DSLRs.

        The 20Da will be coming camping with me at Easter for some low noise night shooting and interesing (I hope!) round the campfire shots.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: That old red dot..

          Modern sensors are normally already very sensitive to IR. But that itself is a problem since when taking daylight photos most people want to capture the visible spectrum only, so camera manufacturers put an IR filter right in front of the sensor. You can get most modern canons (probably other brands as well) converted by taking the IR filter out, but this makes the camera unusable for daylight photography (unless you put an IR filter on the lens)

      2. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: That old red dot..

        Rollei still sells a range of IR film (manufactured by Agfa), and there's also an Ilford IR film too

  10. LesC

    Can't beat medium format b&w film - even though I've got a Nikon DSLR it's more satisfying getting a good shot with my Agfa Isolette 3 and Ilford FP4 / HP5, believe this stuff's resolution can be measured in greyscale gigapixels as it's at molecular level?. And my trusty Leningrad - IV light meter to this day it's point this thing at the sky, ground then take the middle reading. Not instant results as with digital but cameraphone users havn't the anticipation of waiting for your shots dropping through the letterbox.

    Smiley face as it's what you get when you've shot a good 'un.


    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      An unrepeatable roll of slides came back mangled. It appeared that the film had come off the developing process track - and the toothed transport had punctured the slides. On complaining the lab scanned the damaged slides and digitally corrected the holes before making a duplicate slide.

  11. JeffyPoooh

    "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

    If this is a genuine ambition, then for digital equivalency...

    Find an old memory card that has a capacity described in MB, not GB.

    In fact, some digital cameras have a tiny memory built in.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

      Many professional 35mm photographers in the 1970s used motor driven magazines holding hundreds of frames. They just pressed the trigger to take multiple shots. Out of this large roll of film they then picked the handful of good shots. A far cry from lugging 10x8 plates up a mountain in Yosemite.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

        Those backs were not so widely used - check old images of sport events or the like and tell me how many are in use. it's not difficult, they were large and bulky -, and could hold *one* hundred frames or so, not "hundreds", but very special versions made for some scientific tasks, and even more bulkier.

        Anyway, at 5 fps - the average max speed but for very special versions again - , they would last 20 seconds. Motors were usually separate from the film holder, you could still use them with standard film rolls, even if at max speed they would burn one in less than eight second. But an expert photographer could load a new roll in less time some now takes to change CF card ;-)

    2. Moonshine

      Re: "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

      That's luxury. In the 90s I switched to 10-expure medium format because I thought 36 exposures was causing me to be too slap-dash. Medium format (in my case a second-hand Mamiya TLR) was a great because developing and enlarging it was easier that 35mm (detail and tones was fantastic, dust was less obvious, handling it was easier).

      In the early 2000s I remember the great Usenet flame-wars about 35mm-vs-digital and later medium format-vs-digital.

      Nowadays my 20MP Sony Xperia Z3 Compact phone can probably pick out more detail than Fuji Velvia, but it still doesn't have a colour, tonality and veracity of film. RIP silver.

      1. druck Silver badge

        Re: "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

        The Fuji X series of cameras has a pretty good Velvia film simulation.

    3. beanbasher

      Re: "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

      Absolutely. Used an Oylmpus OM10 for years and learned to "look before you shoot." Now I find I get the shot I want first time (most of the time). While others take 10 20 30 shots and never really get good picture because they think I can always take another and never think.

    4. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

      36? Try 12 shots with 120 film in 6x6 format (Rolleiflex SL66). Or 8 shots with an Zeis Ikonta (6x9 format).

      Fortunately, I live a few miles from a major camera shop that caters to professionals with film and does 35mm and 120 developing.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

        Roll of 36 * 35mm? Two good shots.

        Roll of 12 60*45mm? Two good shots.

        Two sheets of 5x4"? Two good shots...

        Funny, it's always been that way for me.

        1. tfb Silver badge

          Re: "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

          This is something which someone should investigate, I think. If I'm lucky I get a good picture (something I'd consider printing) from a roll of 35mm film, while from 5x4 my rate is something between 1 in 3 and 1 in 2.

          1. Hugh McIntyre

            Re: "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

            Back when I did some medium format, the long time that it took to manually focus, meter, and compose a tripod-based shot meant that you spent a long time really looking through the viewfinder and then often deciding "no, this shot is not worth it" or correcting the composition to get a better shot. Rather than quickly click-click-click with a 35mm camera with auto-exposure. So it's not surprising the fraction of good pictures is higher for medium format, and 4x5 is the same.

            Whether 35mm is any better than digital in this regard is questionable though. And, you can take the time to check and compose digital shots too.

            Also, film was a big PITA in a studio if you were taking tons of shots with medium format and needed to keep switching 12-exposure film backs at a rate of knots all day :(

    5. Harmless

      Re: "Knowing you only have 36 exposures at a time can impose discipline."

      On the flipside of the argument, I can think of hundreds of things, people, places and events from my past that I'd quite like to have photos of, but I don't have any because film was such an expensive pain in the nethers.

      With digital I can *choose* whether to be lax about deleting the duds, and still have shots that cost virtually nothing, allowing me to record things for future nostalgia sessions. And they stand a chance of having more realistic colour than I ever managed with my 35mm old point-and-shoots. I'd NEVER go back to film!

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  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Secondhand prices

    Selling most 35mm cameras seems to attract no takers. A friend finally advertised her Nikon on a local "free" site and had only one reply from someone who was collecting old cameras.

    1. keithpeter Silver badge

      Re: Secondhand prices

      "Selling most 35mm cameras seems to attract no takers."

      Pop a card on the noticeboard in the local art school (the one that does degree level fine art) in your area. That audience seems to be interested in the possibilities and most art schools will have a wet darkroom tucked away somewhere.

    2. John 110

      Re: Secondhand prices

      When my son did a photography course at college some years back (2007), he needed a 35mm film camera with manual controls. My old Practika was too automated so we hunted for a Pentax K1000 (gold standard apparently) That's when we discovered that a Vivitar v3800N was A) a Pentax clone and B) only £60 new. Another £10 added a Pentax 50mm lens, and there you go.

      These are still availabe on ebay bytheway

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The ultimate for people who took 35mm slides was to print on Cibachrome paper in order to get the depth of colour and contrast. It was a very expensive lab process.

    In the 1970s there was a DIY Cibachrome processing kit for 10x8 prints that used an aerosol spray can of colour developer. The idea was that the atomised spray instantly acquired the room temperature. A drawback was that it was a colour process and therefore you had to direct the spray at the paper in pitch darkness.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Cibachrome

        Yeah, but anyone who had worked through the colour negative colour corrections invariably got their head confused when trying to work out which way to adjust the filters... and if they worked RGB in television at the same time...

        Lovely results, though, and pretty much fade-proof.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Holidays through the lens

    The worst offender for living your holiday through a lens was cine film. However on 8mm film that was a maximum shot of 2,5minutes. Modern video, or digital movies, have extended that period considerably.

    However the video longer running times do mean that the results have less artificial behaviour from the subjects. I gave a bystander my 8mm cine camera to film our first parachute jump. When it was developed there was about five seconds as we left the plane - and about the same as we approached the ground. It hadn't occurred to me to tell them to do a near continuous shoot as the drop would only have been about 2 minutes. Nowadays a Go-Pro strapped to your helmet would capture your eyes' view of the plane appearing to soar away from you before the 'chute opened. There would also be the strange effect of grass clumps expanding sideways rather than rushing to meet you.

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  16. Truth4u


    Digital cameras lack soul as you put it, because they contain a bayer filter or some other kind of colour filter array (CFA) on the image sensor.

    Foveon make triple layer image sensors. 3D chips if you will. Exploiting the fact that different wavelengths of light will penetrate deeper into the silicon.

    Only Sigma make cameras with this sensor. So I bought one that I could afford on eBay, the DP3 Merrill. It has almost no features, a poor battery life, and is not even comfortable to hold.

    But when things are working in your favour it takes stunning photos without chroma aliasing or that weird demosaicing algorithm stink you get when you zoom right into a digital photo. The images from this camera are exceptionally sharp and can be very natural looking if taken properly.

    1. Steve Todd Silver badge

      Re: Foveon

      Bayer filters aren't the problem that you seem to think. They mimic the way in which the human eye works, with less sensitivity to colour data than intensity. Foveon sensors are worse at colour discrimation and accuracy, plus they don't even come close to matching Bayer type sensors for detail (divide Bayer pixels by about 1.6 to get equivalent Foveon (real, not counting R, G and B separately) pixels.

      1. Truth4u

        Re: Foveon

        I'm not really sure where you got your information or how you drew your conclusions if it wasn't by ignoring the evidence. In fact your post seems like fragrant misinformation, have you even looked at the comparison photos? It's almost like you sell bayer filters or something.

        1. Steve Todd Silver badge

          Re: Foveon

          I started using film cameras over 35 years ago. I've used medium format and 35mm, B&W (which I did my own darkroom work for) and colour. I've been involved in digital photography since the days of the Kodak DC1, have had a DSLR since the Cannon 20D and have seen and compared Foveon images with conventional Bayer. Foveon sensors still need an anti-aliasing filter to prevent Moiré effects, but look less ugly than colour Moiré that you get from Bayer so Sigma cheat and don't use one. The result is a sharp looking image (with Moiré if you look) but poor colour discrimination (it tends to confuse reds and orange for example). Reduce the size of a Bayer image by about 20-30% along an axis (with sharpening) and it looks at least as good, and you still have more pixels.

          The only manufacturer who tried Foveon (Sigma) seems to have given up the battle (last updated over 2 years ago IIRC), and their cameras were slow, clunky and unable to handle above 400 ISO equivalent.

          1. Truth4u

            Re: Foveon

            I guess you miss the point. It's not a holy image sensor that creates divine images. It's just a different way of imaging colour. If you'd consider going back to film, with all the cost and tedium involved, because you want a particular aesthetic, then you might at least consider trying a different type of image sensor.

            If Bayer is so great, then I guess this whole article is just pointless rubbish then right? He could have taken the pics on a digital camera and the amazing Bayer sensor would have created those filmlike images full of soul and life that the author wanted? Or maybe they would just be the same crappy Bayer images we've all seen.

            The lack of an AA filter in Sigma cameras isn't a cheat This isn't a video game we're talking about. Multilayer sensors don't need your crappy algorithms and that's why they produce images that look like film.

            So I guess the Foveon sensor produces colour distortions and noise. Well boo hoo, Stop your crying. Those distortions and noise are what makes the photos look good and not like your average soulless, dick-less, skinny jean hipster selfie.

            1. Truth4u

              Re: Foveon

              For example, I have taken pictures of buildings where the blinds in the windows cause luminance aliasing. It's not the end of the world, that's what it looks like with the naked eye. Not everything is a defect that needs to be filtered out. And maybe that is why these Foveon sensors have a small cult following.

            2. Steve Todd Silver badge

              Re: Foveon

              Firstly that's a 180 degree about face in your position, you claimed that Foveon sensors made all the difference between film and digital.

              Secondly he IS wrong. Take a digital image, add the right contrast, saturation and curves, add grain effect noise and you'd be hard pushed to spot the difference between film and digital. You can take sublime photos on a cell phone, never mind a modern DSLR or film camera.

              Thirdly the lack of an anti-alias filter is a cheat in any analogue to digital conversion (sound, images or whatever) as any detail above 1/2 the sampling frequency will produce false artefacts. Go look up Nyquist's limit, this explains the problem. The lack of the filter produces false lines and repeats when you get close to or above the limit on the Sigma. You don't get blotchy colour, but it's still wrong.

              Distortions and noise are easy to add. Not so much to remove. A good camera system concentrates on getting as close to perfect as possible, and lets you do what you want with the images afterwards. There are many great photographers of the past who relied on the printing process and what they added there to lift their work above the ordinary. Digital makes this faster and easier.

              1. Truth4u

                Re: Foveon

                Well I think my Foveon camera is pretty damn good and if you don't like it then that just leaves more opportunity and fun for me. It's a bit like Linux in that respect.

                In any case I'm not going to buy another digital camera until a new type of sensor is developed without a CFA. Foveon is the only commercially available alternative right now. There will be better technology in the future.

                You argue that human eye is more sensitive to green, so why would it not be better to detect the level of green at every photo-site instead of just half the photo-sites? It's almost like you don't want image sensors to improve.

                1. Steve Todd Silver badge

                  Re: Foveon

                  In photography there's no arguing against someone who says "I like it". It's a personal preference and you can't say someone doesn't have it. What you can do is to point out when their reasons given for liking something are incorrect. I've never come across colour Moire patterns on a conventional DSLR, but far more objectionable are chromatic aberrations and lens distortion. Both of those can be corrected out by a decent RAW converter, but the only converter available for Sigma Foveon cameras is lacking in those facilities, is slow and badly written.

                  1. Truth4u

                    Re: Foveon

                    I don't care which weasel words you use or how many sock puppet accounts you use to thumb me down.

                    If you can't see how detecting the colour value at every pixel is better than a CFA, then you are a complete no hoper. You're either mentally handicapped, which I don't think is the case, or you are invested in CFA technology, which from your weasel words and lawyer talk here, is looking increasingly likely.

                    Stop dodging the question: Do you or do you not think CFA image sensors are perfect and that no other design could improve on them??? It's a yes or no question Steve, I don't want any more of your weasel words.

                    I like Foveon because it's good, I use the camera regularly, my pictures look awesome, and your claims to have compared the images come down to lies at the end of the day. Unless you can link some real evidence instead of constantly asserting things without any proof, you are just another internet troll.

                    Every claim I've made is documented in the Foveon literature. I have conceded the sensor can create noise and colour distortions but the issue must be pretty damn minor, because my photographs look fantastic.

                    Have fun trolling. peace out.

                  2. Truth4u

                    Re: Foveon

                    "but far more objectionable are chromatic aberrations and lens distortion. Both of those can be corrected out by a decent RAW converter, but the only converter available for Sigma Foveon cameras is lacking in those facilities, is slow and badly written."

                    Obviously you have NOT looked at any Foveon images. The lenses Sigma use on their Foveon cameras are fantastic. If you can find lens distortion on one of their images, be my guest and post a link. I'll be right here buddy.

                    So which camera maker do you work for?

                    1. Truth4u

                      Re: Foveon

                      Let me summarize my argument again so there can be no straw men:

                      Image sensors detect colour by filtering out two channels of light from every pixel. If it's a green pixel, the filter is blocking red and blue light, sending it to /dev/null if you will. That is light that was reflected from the scene you are trying to photograph. It carries information about the scene. How could it not do? That information is absorbed in the filter and never gets to reach the image sensor. The filter is removing detail from the image, and sophisticated software is used, in post processing, to give the illusion that the detail was not removed.

                      Pretty easy to understand right?

                      It's not really possible to see the loss of detail in an image that has been scaled down anyway, which is why digital cameras these days have such high resolutions, way above the pixel count of our monitors. But what if you want to zoom to 100% of the photo and crop another smaller one out of that? Then you are missing the colour detail. Foveon is the solution today, and some other sensor will be the solution tomorrow.

                      This is a fantastic tool for creatives, and I'm not going to let you rain on my parade!

                      1. Truth4u

                        Re: Foveon

                        I have a mild form of colour blindness anyway, so the accuracy of the sensor is not an issue to me as far as colour rendering is concerned. What is an issue for me is being able to get the maximum amount of colour information possible so I can make the best use of the vision I do have.

                        CFA sensors make assumptions about how "people" see colour. I don't see it the same as most people, so the assumptions they make might not be the best ones for me. I like the subtractive colour system in a multilayer sensor.

                        I'm not an expert by any means but I believe it works by subtracting the output of each layer from the layer above to separate out the three channels of colour information. The resulting values probably need to be scaled or something like that, amplified maybe, I don't know. But no filtering needs to take place in hardware or software.

                        1. Steve Todd Silver badge

                          Re: Foveon

                          You're assuming that Foveon sensors are perfect also. They are not. There's a lot of crosstalk between Red, Green and Blue. The blue channel contains large red and green components. Green contains a lot of red etc. It's this crosstalk, plus manufacturing variations, that cause the colour inaccuracies that I was talking about.

                          Modern CFAs deliberately introduce some crosstalk between adjacent colours themselves, so each photodiode gives more spacial information, plus the filters are formed into lenses to increase the amount of light hitting each photodiode. The result is higher light sensitivity and a more predictable colour response than Foveon types.

                          Use your Sigma and be happy, just remember that there are reasons that most of the photographic world uses CFAs and are happy with them. (And no, I don't work for a CFA manufacturer, nor any photographic company. Nor do I employ other accounts for down/up voting)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I sold all my dslr gear a few years back and bought a Leica M6 and a 50mm summilux. I've shot only Fuji Acros 100 b&w or Velvia slide film since then.

    Not interested in the relative technical merits of either medium...but a few things really stand out.

    1) the camera and lens are pretty much the pinnacle of engineering of their type, and they are worth at least as much now as when I bought them

    2) shooting full manual is a pleasantly more involving process and forces you to think more and be a better photographer. My shots are so much better now I stop and think carefully about the exposure (especially with Velvia, tricky stuff).

    I scan negatives and slides with an Epson V550, with a bit of care the resolution and quality is easily on a par with mid range digital slrs. Slow and time consuming sure :) but the results are great

    There are few greater small pleasures in life than the action on a Leica winding lever.

  18. Ruli Manurung

    "It's not just trendy techno-luddism either"

    ...I'm still waiting for the point in the article where this assertion is explained.

  19. Herby

    On picture taking (digital or otherwise)

    One the biggest problems with picture taking (on whatever media you chose) is the composition. The "old school" people who took pictures on silver based emulsions typically has some composition skills, having them passed down through the ages. The more modern silicon image sensor people are more concerned with "selfies" and the background (not very significant) and the composition is VERY lacking.

    Note to the cell phone picture takers: A lesson in composition is very helpful!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On the flip side....

    ...with my digital camera's playing "happy snapper" I've taken a picture of the kids, that was blown up to 1m wide on acrylic which everyone that see's it asks what studio it was taken at (our bedroom, on the duvet) and an image of St Ives that once again people are convince is a "pro" shot that I've bought as a full size image.

    Often great thing about banging out 500 shots is you get that amazing one that blows people away.

  21. Novatone

    It is techno-Luddism

    The Minolta 4 MP camera I bought in 2002 produced as good or better pictures than my 35mm SLR and now quite affordable DSLR or mirrorless APS cameras produce amazing pictures.

    Using film in 2015 is just as stupid as using vinyl records in 2015 there is just no good reason for it other than nottalgia.

    If you want to be disiplined, just be disciplined. Set the camera on manual and think about your shots.

    1. Dick Pountain

      Re: It is techno-Luddism

      Seconded. Who wants to wait a day and spend a fortune developing rolls of film that only have one worthwhile pic on them, again? Just take your digital SLR (or probably buy an old Sony Alpha as cheap as a film camera), set its P mode to Black & White, then like Novatone says, think about your composition as if you only have three tries.

      1. Ruadh

        Re: It is techno-Luddism

        It is. But film developing is an interesting "historical skill" to play with and doesn't cost much. Which I think is the thrust of the article.

        I found a Canon AE-1 at the dump and developed a process for black and white transparencies (reversal) in the kitchen sink, using a developing tank that belonged to my Dad and information found online. It revived my interest in photography, which had been lost to a series of disappointing digital compact cameras (plus I got to play with sulphuric acid). These days the Panasonic G1 which shares the lenses gets more use; it provides a similar experience and results with the convenience and flexibility of digital. The AE-1 is still in the photo bag and I sometimes shoot off a roll, only to find the developer has gone off...

    2. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: It is techno-Luddism

      Is it Luddism to want to have that sense of achievement from doing the whole job yourself, taking the photos, and processing them? Others have alluded to the 'magical' feeling of seeing prints appear as you develop them.

      Picking the film you want to use, deciding on how you'll develop it, doing the processing - these are all things from which people derive pleasure, and end up with something that they feel is all their own work.

      I think that makes the whole process pretty rewarding, and that's a perfectly good reason for doing it. Just as some people enjoy cooking, when you can get a perfectly good ready meal, or building their own bookshelves instead of going to Heal's (or IKEA).

      And, though the decent DSLRs are cheaper now, I've still probably not spent as much as I would have had to to buy a Nikon DSLR that would be be fully compatible with my old lenses. Yes, I could pick up a digital compact, or CSC, but this way I don't have perfectly usable kit just sitting gathering dust.

      1. Steve Todd Silver badge

        Re: It is techno-Luddism


        Unless you like the smell of the chemicals (which I found moderately unpleasant) and have the space for a dedicated darkroom then you're better off learning how to use RAW format on a DSLR (or on of the better bridge cameras). This gives you full control over converting the data from the sensor into a displayable image with nothing needed but a PC.

      2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: It is techno-Luddism

        I have to agree with Nigel here: the challenge is not to make a picture, it's to understand how you have made the picture within the constraints of the medium.

        I can solve a crossword by looking at the answers, or I can solve it by looking at the clues...

        It's interesting that so many images are actually spoiled by the lack of control by the photographer. I recall a not-too-long-ago exhibition of images which were all stunning, but all subtly *wrong* - over-chromed, over sharpened, over-contrasty, and in a couple of cases it was immediately obvious that an autofocus had selected the wrong part of the image on which to focus...

        But what do I know? I use a fairly basic digital camera for run of the mill record shots, and most of the time it does a pretty decent job. But when I want to play at the art of photography, I prefer to use a 4*5 camera (sometimes a home-made one) with emulsions developed seventy years ago and developers from two centuries ago.

        p.s. Novatone has come up with wonderful neologism: nottalgia.

  22. Mark #255

    Manual control is the key

    Rather than digital vs film, I think the real distinction is between point-and-shoot against the ease of customisation that a "proper" camera gives.

    I briefly dallied with a Fuji bridge camera, which incorporated the worst of all worlds - indeterminately slow shutter release, nested menu controls, an over-abundance of special modes, and an "Aperture Priority" mode which gave two stops.

    An entry-level D3300* does give you PASM modes, but you're still reliant on scrolling through on-screen menus to ensure you're changing the parameter you want.

    Whereas even a D200* has enough dials and customisation that you can have one dial for shutter speed, the other for aperture, and you're basically sorted. And of course, if you want snaps rather than photographic art (or you're handing the camera over to an uninterested spouse/friend), then full auto is available, and the instruction generally goes:

    • Yes, you need to look through the view finder.
    • No, you can't display the picture on the screen and hold a kilo of camera+lens a foot away from your body. It's not comfortable.

    • Half-press the shutter button [yes, that button there, just under your index finger], wait for the beep, squeeze until it clicks

    • Yes, it is a satisfying clunk isn't it?

    * Other makes are available, but I grew up with a Nikon, so everyone else's focus rings Go The Wrong Way.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Manual control is the key

      "[...] indeterminately slow shutter release [...]"

      Several years ago used my new digital camera for a gymnastic display - only to find that the images were "too late". In the end I had to use "motor drive" mode in anticipation of the required moment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Manual control is the key

        I ran across a lot of people having this problem with digital cameras, most of them hadn't realised you could half press the shutter button to trigger the cameras light metering and focus and then hold at that position until the time is right for your shot, pushing the button the final bit releases the shutter near enough instantly

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Such a complex subject

    I've been an amateur photgrapher for decades, and while I was uncomfortable with the "progress" model of early digital gear (you know, wait 6 months, and the new version has so many more features) this aspect seems to have plateaued a little recently, and this article reminds us what could be achieved by the mature model of phtography just prior to the digital era.

    But I recently did a module on visual research for a degree (rather late in life) and it got me thinking about whether the early pioneers of photography would have been quite as purist as we can be. For example, they were restricted to monochrome by the state of the art, but I am sure would have rejected monochrome for anything but very specific expressions of art had they had the ability to do colour work.. Our thoughts these days on monochrome are much more complex, conditioned by an expectation of an authenticity in a black and white image.

    Myself, I miss the beautiful engineering of the film era. Where is the joyful silkiness of an OM1, the re-assurnace of a quick range-finder or the sense of permance that comes from using a two-and-a-quarter-square? But that's nostalgia, and maybe we need to work at finding the joy of the digital era too. For myself, something like the Fuji x100 may be close, but who can afford that? I want the equivlant of my little Olympus Pen half-frame, that was my constant companion for close to 20 years.... But then I am sure I'd miss my Nikon D3100.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Such a complex subject

      I've used the same OM-1 for nearly forty years... it is indeed a lovely thing in the hand.

      Colour photography happened very shortly after black and white; ignoring hand tinted daguerrotypes, the early developers were using colour through a number of impressively complex procedures: triple exposures through three filters; triple simultaneous exposures; random-scattered filters on the image (Autochrome using coloured starch grains as a filter screen was available from around 1907).

      But until Kodak and Agfa started producing subtractive colour films, years later, any colour method was either prohibitively expensive, prohibitively complicated, or both, for the run of the mill user. It was also often much slower - in exposure terms - and that tended to be an issue too.

      I suspect that given the chance, many photographers both professional and amateur would have leapt at colour - but they didn't really have the chance until the 1940s and so what we remember from the first century of the art is largely black and white.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Such a complex subject

        > Colour photography happened very shortly after black and white

        Yeah, I meant for practical purposes. Even now, doing film-based black and white work is far more do-able than colour work.

  24. Bob AMG

    Ken Rockwell laughing stock.

    I think you fell at the very first hurdle here. Ken is well known by photographers as a very very hit and miss site. He was an engineer so knows quite a bit about camera production, however he does not know about photography. Be very careful when reading his site as many of his ideas are incorrect and may not be obvious to the beginner. For example shooting in JPEG, because he always gets it right in the camera very misguided.

    A quick search will show you that he is not loved by all.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Ken Rockwell laughing stock.

      Indeed, he's not loved by all (I'm sure I'm not, either), however I didn't suggest that site for photographic advice, but for info to help compare some of the older secondhand kit, and I do think that - notwithstanding that it's personal opinion - the info there will help people work out a bit more about things like which secondhand film kit on eBay will be a good idea, and which won't.

    2. Mark #255

      Re: Ken Rockwell laughing stock.

      Shooting in RAW has its place, and with today's gigantic sizes it's a no-brainer (my smallest card is 8GB, and fits over 300 frames in RAW+JPEG Fine mode), but I hardly ever even look at the RAW files, because (as Ken says) the camera gets the JPEG right virtually all the time.

      But scroll back to when a 1GB card was the pinnacle of flash memory - that's under 40 frames, and you're back into shutter-release-as-a-scarce-resource territory.

      Where Ken's site is strongest is in his technical appraisals of lenses and bodies. His recommendations for settings are just that (and helped me change the hilarious old Nikon default of squashing all JPEGs to constant size, rather than constant quality).

      1. Ian Michael Gumby

        @Mark Re: Ken Rockwell laughing stock.

        No, the camera doesn't get it right all the time.

        As others have said that if you learn on film, you have the discipline to frame and take your time on the shot. So I take raw+jpeg all the time. I carry multiple cards and download to the computer ASAP to free up the cards.

        There are times when you want to clean up the image and working with RAW is easier. Plus if you want to hand it over to someone who's doing a lot of digital work in touching up shots, the rawer the better.

        1. Mark #255

          @Ian Re: Ken Rockwell laughing stock.

          No, the camera doesn't get it right all the time.

          Hence my use of the phrase "virtually all the time".

          I shoot in raw+JPEG too, and I've needed it once - for contrasty shots in a very sunny Caen. I carry cards with enough space for about 1800 frames of raw+jpeg (ie 50 rolls of film equivalent), so memory is not a scarce resource.

          But my point was that Ken's advice stems from the days when shooting in RAW meant that effectively, 1 card ~= 1 roll. I wouldn't wish that on any budding photographer.

  25. Peter Simpson 1

    One more reason to use real film

    Your grandkids can see how it used to be. Film negatives are physical. Digital bits only last until the next hard drive crash. I'm about to help my daughter drive across country. I'm taking my Nikon F3 and a roll of Ilford HP5 to document the journey.

    // stainless steel tank and reel in the pocket

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The earliest use of colour film in our family cardboard 120 roll film black box camera would have been about 1959. Given the simplicity of the camera's exposure mechanism the pictures came out surprisingly well.

    The only print I still possess was taken in 1962 - showing me holding my father's treasured transistor radio which had replaced his Vidor miniature valve one. It needed two 9 volt batteries for the push-pull OC72 audio stage. I often adapted it for 160 metres by retuning the ferrite rod coil to the high side of the oscillator frequency.

    In my twenties I used 35mm slide film. My Agfachrome 50 slides are still a higher definition than my scanner can reproduce - the same with my B&W Ilford Pan-F negatives. Agafachrome Professional gave a tungsten light colour balance so that studio shots didn't suffer the reduced speed of a blue filter.

    The cost of producing prints from the slides was exorbitant - while high street colour negative developing and printing became very cheap. Unfortunately using high ISO rated films for faster indoor shutter speeds meant that any enlargement looked like an Autochrome mosaic of primary colours.

    One of my slides was turned into a 30x20 inch enlargement at a very reasonable price by one of the bulk print companies. They had to dodge and burn to reduce the high contrast from the slide. They tried several times - refusing to give up as it was a challenge to their rarely exercised skills. I do wonder if the rejects ended up on employees' walls.

    Shortly it is going to get printed again in the local high street print shop. I'll do a digital scan and adjustments - then for £20 get an A2 print. When I asked the shop about contrast limitations they thought I was stupid to even think about such a problem. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There was me thinking that a good photograph is determined by things like shot selection, framing, understanding light ... etc. It's not about the kit, it's what you do with it.

    That said, if you want to take pics on film do so. There's something romantic about film I find appealing - but it's not a better medium than digital (these days) - it's just different.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      I'm not arguing that it's better than digital at all. It's different and, yes, romantic to an extent, I suppose. Or some people may just love messing around with chemicals. As other commenters have mentioned, the limitations may encourage people to think more about those such as selection and framing than they do when they can fire off loads of shots in an instant. Of course you can think about those with digital too, but perhaps film gives you a nudge in that direction.

      Ultimately, I hope the various links and bits of info in the article might inspire some people to give it a go; it really is a lot cheaper, and a lot simpler, than many people imagine to process your own film.

      Or even if you just buy a single roll of a cheap film like APX100 and send it off to develop and print, you'll have spent around the same as four pints of beer, and who knows, you might decide you like it enough to experiment some more. If you've got an old camera in a cupboard, buy a roll of film, take it on holiday alongside your digital, and save it for that moment when you go "wow", and then see how you feel when the prints drop through the letterbox.

  28. BobChip

    Film is still the best way to learn and understand photography

    Once you had picked your film and loaded it (i.e. set the ISO in stone), the only other exposure control options you had were shutter speed and aperture. You learned to understand what Exposure Value meant, and how it influenced the final image.

    In spite of the enormous computerised complexity of modern digital cameras, this is still essentially all these program modes do. And in doing so, they distance you from what is essentially quite a simple but fundamental decision - once you have decided what sort of image you want.

    Although I own a mid range DSLR - and yes, I do use full auto at times - I revert to manual mode in anything I recognise as a difficult or "non average" scene, and choose my own aperture and exposure time. Or when I want to produce a specific exposure effect.

    That said, one undeniable advantage of digital is the instant result, which (mostly) allows for immediate adjustment of an unsatisfactory exposure. Ansel Adams and Cartier Bresson could never do that, and they still managed to get outstanding results by fully understanding the basics. I still have my old Canon F1 and lenses, and I won't be throwing them away for a very long time.

  29. Stevie Silver badge


    A word of caution to the would-be film camera newbie when looking at that neat second-hand camera the camera-shop guy wants to sell to you at a "snip":

    The built-in light meter and exposure computer in my old Minolta uses Mercury batteries - no longer available where I live. Simply subbing in a non-Mercury battery of "the same size" won't do as the voltages are different enough to affect the readings which govern the exposure recommendations. In order to get the thing working an after-market "slug" must be used to correct the overvoltage (in this case). This is a specialist electronic doodad that must be costed for.

    As in the IT game, it's knowing what questions to ask that is the bugger.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Bah!

      Yes, that sort of thing can be a problem - but as I mentioned, you can also use some phones as a meter too, which can solve some of those problems.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Pookietoo

      Re: specialist electronic doodad

      I taped a Schottky diode to the battery, which produces a suitable voltage drop, at a cost of pennies each on eBay. But no old camera collection is complete without a few vintage light meters, and some of them still work well.

  30. imanidiot Silver badge

    Have some old cameras

    I rescued some old cameras from my grandpa's estate. 3 Pentax cameras with corresponding lenses (not that great, but workable) and a Zorki 4. For those that have no idea what a Zorki is, picture a Leika II camera. Then imagine a russian company making a copy of that. Then imagine a different russian company making some improvements. That is a Zorki. And as far as I can tell the thing is still light tight. I should really get around to loading some film into it and try it out.

    At one point I had a chance to gain a load of old Kodak cameras including top end lenses from a high school teacher. Because I didn't have much room at the time I passed on the offer. I'm still kicking myself on that one every time I think about it.

  31. Admiral Grace Hopper Silver badge

    I love the smell of fixer in the morning

    I spent many happy hours of my youth in a dark room sniffing chemicals. My Durst enlarger is still in the loft because I can't bring myself to throw it away (there seems little point in trying to sell it). It took me a long time to switch to digital and then an even longer time to invest in a camera other than a compact as anything that came close to my old Minolta was either too expensive or too large. Now that I've found a camera that does the job I'm having fun applying old darkroom techniques in software, but I'm not sure that I'd go back to chemistry for any reason other than nostalgia.

    I found that old Minolta recently, alongside my Dad's Voigtländer, both with half-exposed rolls of film in them. I finished the 120 film in the Voigtländer and got that processed and scanned and I'm going to do the same with the film in the Minolta, but that will probably be the last time it gets used before being put on a shelf for the last time.

  32. Compression Artifact

    I have a Pocket Kodak No. 1 that looks just like the one pictured, except that it has an f/7.9 lens. The patent dates inside the camera range from 1913-1921. Both mine and the one pictured are the "Autographic" model, which has a slot with a movable slide on the back so the photographer can write on the back side of the (pressure sensitive) film with a stylus. The stylus is stowed in a holder next to the lens. This is the long knurled silver thing you can see in the picture.

    I found in it in my grandparents' attic back around 1980 and they gave it to me to play around with. After having it restored with a new bellows, I discovered that it took better pictures than my 35mm SLR--just because of the bigger (2-1/4 x 3-1/4) film format. This is how I got into large format photography.

    What I'm waiting for now are digital backs for 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 and 4x5 view cameras that have as much resolution as film and cost less than a car.

  33. Phuq Witt
    Thumb Up

    Digital + Retro = Best of Both Worlds

    Having 'served my time' in the darkroom as a callow 'yoof' I'm afraid I've got to go along with "digital is better" argument. It's just inifinitly times more convenient and so much easier to get a perfect 'print'. I can still remember the anguish of spending ages in the darkroom; doing test-strips, cropping, burning in and masking out, exposing, developing and fixing... only to find I'd got some bloody hair on the negative and having to go through the whole palaver again! [and for nearly every print too].

    However, I can't deny that some of the old cameras were lovely pieces of machinery, in the same way that an analogue watch will always have more 'soul' than any digital one.

    There is one way to almost enjoy the best of both worlds though. Anyone out there with a Canon DSLR: the lens mount is wide enough that it can take old M42 and Nikon manual lenses via a cheap [£5-ish] adaptor. Whilst old Nikon manual lenses tend to hold their value a bit, other decent brand M42 lenses are dirt cheap on eBay [I recently scored an absolutely immaculate Sigma 75-210 macro zoom for £16].

    You can fit a classic old piece of 'glass' to your modern DSLR and enjoy all the convenience of no-darkroom-required digital image recording, through classic optics –and for the purist/masochist there's even the fun of having to do stop-down metering calculations too, as the adaptors can only calculate exposure with the kens fully open.

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