While I have been having a blast working with an old film camera recently, I think I am now convinced that at least for me, film is going to be a rarely used medium for photography.
Although I was drawn back to old school techniques for a certain look that I wasn’t seeing coming out of my current digital camera, there were difficulties, and at least one alternative I found to be quite convincing.
For beautiful color pictures at base ISO that can be printed up to around 11″x14″ to meet anyone’s quality standards, the OM-D E-M5 has been my go to camera for almost a year now. However, at higher ISO in tough lighting, I still prefer the look I can get from a Nikon F3 with Tri-X film pushed to 800. So, although working in Photoshop can get me close to the grainy and contrasty 8″x10″ or 8″x12″prints I get from film negatives optically enlarged as silver gelatin prints, it is tough work. On the other hand, getting high-resolution film scans requires several extra steps and often results in post-processing to get rid of dust spots and other niggles.
On top of all the hassles of developing and scanning film, and the work involved in post processing digital RAW files, both the Nikon and the Olympus systems are also still relatively serious chunks metal alloy and glass. I never feel totally comfortable just grabbing them for a family outing or night out with friends, or even packing for a plane trip when I need to fit everything in a carry-on.
After banging my head on a Wacom tablet for a while, I decide to try a different strategy. It was a bit of a risk, but I decided to buy one of the latest Fujifilm compacts – the X20. As far as I can tell right now, this is the smallest fully functional camera that could possibly meet my aesthetic needs and still be considered negligible for packing purposes.
One thing that worried me was that most of the pictures I saw online in reviews didn’t seem quite right. Either they were a little soft, or smeared by NR, or had ugly RAW conversion artifacts. A few, especially from pro-photographers using the bigger X-series cams from Fuji were quite stunning. What I wasn’t sure about was whether the smallest of the series, with a 2/3″ sensor and a tiny Fujinon zoom lens would really deliver the IQ I am used to getting with a larger micro-4/3 sensor.
The key was to figure out what output I really needed on a regular basis and leave the 1%
that I only need every once in a while for the days that I can justify bringing more equipment with me. This isn’t possible for a working photographer on assignment, but for an enthusiastic amateur traveling on vacation, hanging out with friends, or sharing photos with family, it is absolutely doable.
After some thought, I was willing to try to recreate the film look that I love with the Fuji tool that I can afford. I decided to crank up the ISO to 800 for anything other than bright sunlight, dial down the in camera NR and select the B&W mode with yellow filter to match what I want as a signature look.
I still need to do a little tweaking in Photoshop to get everything perfect, and the print size is going to most likely be limited to 12″ on the longest side to maintain perfection for someone inspecting the print with a loupe or at 100% on a retina display. Assuming all that, I went into my first 24 hours with the new camera with trepidation. However, I was not disappointed.
I’ll come to grips with color vs. monochrome output next. Hope you like seeing my first attempts here. I am really enjoying the awesome functional design of this camera, and none of my friends and family are complaining about the results.