"The optimist says this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears he is right." -- J. Robert Oppenheimer

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On The Cutting Edge

Lately, I've been working on digital B&W conversions.

Before I went digital, I thought of such concepts as absolute heresy; after all, Henri Cartier Bresson shot TriX with his Leica for his whole career, and he was (in my mind, and the minds of many others) the greatest photographer. I have a little Leica, which I tend to load with TriX: If it worked for HCB, it would work for me!

But then I had to ask myself: WWHCBD? (What Would Henri Cartier Bresson Do?) Back in the 1930's, he was among the earliest pros to use what was then cutting-edge technology, a small handheld camera of extremely high quality, using very fast (for its time) 35mm movie-film. Due to the resolution of those Leica lenses, image quality could rival that of large press-cameras such as the Speed Graphic.

Were HCB starting his career now, it's quite likely that he'd do the same thing he did back in his day: he'd equip himself with the latest, most convenient equipment out there, to allow him to do his job in the most efficient manner possible.

I have to admit, I've been bitten by the digital bug. I thought that my pixelization would be a gradual conversion, continuing to shoot film for a long long time. It hasn't been that way, though. I haven't shot a roll for months, and my Pentax *istD (that's in answer to your question yesterday, Frejus!) has constantly been at my side. Now that I'm learning a bit about B&W conversion (there's still a lot to learn), I'm even less inclined to return to the hassle and expense of film.

Fortunately, the Pentax first-generation digicam that I have is a very compact DSLR, with a very bright viewfinder (one of the few SLRs left that actually has a prism, rather than a cheaper mirror-box). Its size makes it ideal for street shooters, while the bright viewfinder and backwards lens compatibility (long a Pentax hallmark) allows for a wider variety of lenses than other companys' DSLRs.

I've now come to the conclusion that a photo is a photo, and that choosing to shoot digital and subsequently convert to black and white is no more "artificial" than choosing to shoot monochrome film over colour. Am I right? Or is there even a right or wrong to this dilemma?

Whatever the case may be, above is a conversion of an earlier photo presented here, Who's Minding the Shop. It's not perfect yet (I want to give it more "pop), but it's getting there.

In the meanwhile, that shot reminded me of an older film photo that I took with the old Leica loaded with TriX, and I suppose that it's most appropriate that I show it today, as someone I showed it to years ago told me that the (apparent) father reminded him of a Rabbi. I believe that in Hebrew, "rabbi" means "teacher", and this man seems to be teaching the young boy. The man's hat rather completes the perception.

And, of course, this evening Rosh Hashana starts, the Jewish New Year. L'shanah tovah!


La Gatita Gringa said...

And Ramadan starts tomorrow - Ramadan mubarak!

knarf said...

Somewhat ironic (or something like that).

La Gatita Gringa said...

I don't own a digital camera and have no great desire for one. Doesn't mean that I'll never use one, only that it's not in my foreseeable future. I like the randomness and capriciousness of film photography. Sometimes the best-planned photos don't turn out but then you end up with gems that you can't even remember taking.

Personally, I like looking at a photo and thinking that "I did this" without any manipulation and without taking a gazillion photos to get that one perfect picture.

Perhaps the process for me is more heuristic but I don't think I would derive as much personal satifaction with a digital camera.

knarf said...

"Personally, I like looking at a photo and thinking that 'I did this' without any manipulation and without taking a gazillion photos to get that one perfect picture."

First of all, one need not "manipulate" a digital photo. I don't. I don't to anything to a photo that couldn't be done in a wet darkroom. I sometimes crop, I do the digital equivalent of dodging and burning, I mess around with contrast and brightness, and that's about it.

I set arbitrary rules for film ("no cropping"), and I do so with digital ("do nothing that couldn't be done in a darkroom"). The only difference is that for film someone else does it (Robert the Lab Guy) and with digital I do it in my computer with Photoshop.

There's also nothing in digital that says one must take a "gazillion photos to get that one perfect picture". The reason I take more photos is that the "cheapness" of digital (all the cost is up front: buying the camera and the computer - after that it's mostly free until you print) means that I have my camera with me more often, but I rarely take more at any particular event than I would otherwise: Usually the equivalent of a couple of rolls of film.

The reality is that if one shoots more, the chances that you'll get those unanticipated gems is much higher.

Don't get me wrong. I love film, and I'll continue to shoot it, and I'll be very sad when it goes away. There are things about film that I prefer over digital: I do like holding a strip of film up to a light and seeing what I did with my naked eye. I don't like the idea that a computer can crash and I can lose all my work.

There are some things that film does better than digital: it handles highlights better for one thing. And for me, yes, no matter how well digital works, there's nothing like the look of TriX through a Leica lens - perfect contrasty prints every time!

Like you are now, I was extremely skeptical about digital, and I expected to remain primarily a film shooter for the rest of my life. I'm simply surprised at how quickly I've fallen for the siren call of digital.

You may remain different from me on this issue, but honestly, until you've owned and used a digital SLR for some time, you really don't know how (or if) you'll take to it.

I'm not trying to convince you to go digital - not at all! Shoot with what makes you happy. Lord knows you get amazing photos with film. I guess I'm saying to keep an open mind. If, like me, you get an unexpected opportunity to go digital "on the cheap", go for it, try it out, and see what you think.

Thanks for an interesting, thought-provoking comment!

La Gatita Gringa said...

I have nothing against digital cameras & I don't think I said anything to that effect. But it holds true for me - and now I will quote myself - that "I don't think I would derive as much personal satifaction with a digital camera." That's all.

knarf said...

I didn't mean to say (if I did) that you're against digital cameras or the digital process.

I'm not doubting that you derive great satisfaction from shooting film.

I'm simply saying that until I tried digital I felt the same way as you, and that having "made the move", my opinion changed quickly - much quicker than I ever imagined it could. Your experiences will likely differ from mine...



Blog Archive