George Sarant

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PHOTOGRAPHY: LEGACY FILM TO DIGITAL

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Major changes have occurred in photography in recent years, and what follows will primarily interest those who are enthusiasts in the field. Everyone knows that the greatest change has been from film to digital photography, and the impact is even deeper on the equipment we use. Until shortly after the turn of the century you could count on higher-end photo equipment  to last indefinitely. For example, I have a Canon F1n, one of the best cameras ever made, that still work fine after more than four decades.

When digital finally provided acceptable resolution, though still nowhere near that of film, it was time to buy. We had long been treating  photos digitally anyway via Photoshop.  In addition we had virtually unlimited shots without film and didn’t have to pack thirty rolls of film on a trip or project while begging airport security not to x-ray them. There is also the almost too easy access of photos on computers and electronic devices which can evaporate into nothingness if they are not meticulously backed up. Then there is the trend towards lower, rather than higher resolution through jpg compressed files and online storage that does not support anywhere near the capabilities of most cameras today. While not as sharp as film, the best cameras are getting close enough, at least in terms of what the eye can discern unaided.

But these days  good digital SLRs sell for nosebleed prices, and worse, have a pretty limited lifespan and appeal since every year new cameras are introduced with ever higher resolution, making last  year’s model seem suddenly obsolete as well as steeply depreciated. Thus your 10-15 mp camera is blown away by a newer 20 mp version and there is unfortunately no upgrade path. Value really resides in the better lenses now because they at least are transferable.

Once photographic work is digital we then face the problem of digitizing everything we did before, by scanning slides and negatives. I’m pretty much up to date on this, but unless it was for a project I’ve left a lot of casual, family photos, etc. untreated, the result being there are boxes of slides that no one has seen in decades. Scanning thousands of slides is tedious, and I’ve tried just about every method conceivable. There are plenty of scanners selling for around $100 but they all suck if you’re serious about photography. The other low-cost method is to buy an attachment for the front of your SLR which enables you to copy each slide quite well but is totally impractical if you have a large quantity to digitize. The next alternative is to spend several hundred dollars on a Plustek converter, which does a good job, but also has an unfortunate tendency to stop working after around a thousand pictures. Since there is not a large or ongoing market for such devices there isn’t much competition, so the best are very costly and can run well over a thousand dollars. Even used Nikon scanners are in that range since the company no longer makes them. There is a company that still makes scanners for this market; Pacific Image, one of which I’m currently using to convert batches of slides automatically, although I have to use it with a PC because the Mac version doesn’t work. It’s also clunky, noisy and made of too much plastic considering its hefty cost but the results are good so far. It’s not worth it if you only want to do a few slides, in which case another alternative is to use a service, but you need this kind of thing for large volume.

I’m processing some slides now that are more than forty years old, and the results vary with the film type and processing. Those from cheaper labs are faded with a red cast. Many can be restored, but require considerable time and effort. On the other hand the results from Kodachrome slides are stunning. They look as though they were shot yesterday. It is sad that this film is no longer made due to market conditions, for its superb results prove it to be the best film of all, this side of Technicolor. Serious photographers in the past gravitated towards Ektachrome or comparable films from other manufacturers which could be developed by anyone, whereas Kodachrome was considered more of a “consumer” film, processed only by Kodak. With digital the “processing” is, of course, within photo editing programs, with limitless possibilities. Unfortunately there is a tendency towards dumbing down here too. Apple recently introduced a simple program called Photos, while incomprehensibly ending support for their pro-level program called Aperture, which I will continue using as long as possible. Apple clearly wants total integration with the IPhone and IPad which now dominate the company. The Mac is almost an afterthought, forced into emulating these devices. It is shortsighted considering that most creative professionals use the Mac, and few are gravitating to the new MacPro “garbage can” cylindrical design. The previous MacPro was one of the best computers ever made, which is why there is such a strong aftermarket for five+ year old machines whose capabilities have yet to be exceeded.

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Written by georgesarant

November 15, 2015 at 10:10 PM

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