(Pre-war Zeiss Contax III, via Peter Hennig)
Thank you for your feedback and thoughts in my previous article titled, “Why Digital is Dead For Me In Street Photography“. The post I written has sparked a healthy amount of discussion and debate. However I would like to clarify some points which I made in the article which I feel was misinterpreted.
1. This is not an article on digital vs film (and whether either is better)
This is the most common confusion I have gotten in terms of comments. This argument is not whether film or digital is better- it is about my personal experiences in shooting both mediums- and now why I personally prefer to shoot film.
I still own a digital camera (an Olympus EPM-1) that I use for my snapshots of friends, family, workshops, etc. I am only making the full transition from digital to film for my personal street photography projects. I don’t shoot any commercial work or editorial. If I got a commission, of course I would probably borrow a Canon 5D Mark III and shoot it with that.
2. I’m not suggesting for everyone to sell their digital cameras, but to experiment with film for street photography
About a year or two ago, I never understood the hype of shooting film vs digital. I would make many points saying that if you trained yourself enough, you would get all the benefits of film (while shooting digital). For example, not chimping, sitting on your images for a longer time before editing your work, as well as processing your film to ‘look like film’ using Silver Efex Pro 2.
However after actually shooting for film for several months (around 4 months to be exact) I now know the differences. I feel that photographers cannot make a judgement on the benefits of shooting film until actually having tried shooting film for a certain period of time. Otherwise you are not speaking from experience – and more assumptions.
For example, one may have the determination and will power not to ever chimp or review his/her images for an entire month – but I would argue that the most of us don’t. Even having the temptation will make the editing process far more difficult. One can also make the argument to only use a 512mb or 1 GB SD card when shooting on the streets – which can make one more selective. But even in that case, it doesn’t “cost” you anything upfront to process your shots- which will mean you are ultimately more selective when shooting film.
Once again, the purpose of this blog post was to encourage people to experiment and try out film if they have never. If people don’t like film – no problem. I don’t discredit photographers just because they shoot digital. I myself have shot digital the last 5 years, and just have recently shot film myself.
3. “The camera doesn’t matter” argument is a bit flawed
I used to always say that “the camera doesn’t matter”. In a nutshell, it encapsulates my feelings quite concisely. I hate people putting down others because they don’t shoot with a full-frame camera, have expensive lenses, or shoot with a Leica. However some caveats below in how the camera does matter- to a certain extent.
For example, if I want to be mobile and shoot on the streets- I physically couldn’t use a large-format camera or a pinhole camera. Using a more compact and portable camera would allow you to do that.
To me the importance of using a certain a certain camera is in the handling, ergonomics, and appearance - not the image quality. If you put an image of a photo shot wide open with a Canon 5D Mark III next to a Leica M9 I couldn’t tell the difference. If you did the same with a micro 4/3rds camera shot at f/8 vs a Leica I couldn’t tell the difference. If you put a b/w film photo next to one processed in Silver Efex Pro 2 I probably couldn’t tell a difference either.
You want to use a camera you are comfortable with. I prefer shooting with a Leica- not because it is expensive but because it listens to my personal preferences. I rely heavily on zone focusing, like having a camera with a quiet shutter, and one that doesn’t look menacing. I have found in my personal experience that someone is less likely to be threatened by a rangefinder than a DSLR. I am also more comfortable with the simplicity of design when compared to other rangefinders.
Once again, having an expensive camera won’t make you a better photographer. But find a camera that fits your personal needs (not the needs of others).
4. Yes, I contradict myself – and pride myself in it
I contradict myself all the time. I don’t agree to points what I wrote a year ago. I am constantly changing, evolving, and transforming as a photographer. I experiment with different cameras, with different mediums, as well as different approaches. I started this blog to also share my personal experiences shooting street photography to help others, not to paint things black and white.
It is important to contradict yourself. Otherwise, you become close minded. Think of all the scientists who said the earth was flat for hundreds of years. Once there was scientific proof that the Earth was round, they refused to say it was the truth. This is because they didn’t want to contradict themselves.
I encourage everyone to try to contradict yourselves. Don’t be stuck to one position. Otherwise, it makes for a quite boring world.
I am currently shooting purely film for my personal street photography – but who knows, I might end up switching back to digital in the next few months. Nobody knows (not even myself).
5. Photography is the most important thing
I don’t care if anyone shoots digital or film. I just want to spread the love of street photography with as many people as I can. Honestly in the end I have become quite annoyed when people try to debate what street photography is and what it isn’t.
As Nick Turpin eloquently wrote,
“Street Photography is Photography and … the future of Street Photography is intrinsically tied to the future of the medium itself, while there is Photography there will be Street Photography because it is the Prime Mover, the evolutionary inheritance of all Photography.” – from “Undefining street photography“
I drool when I see alligator-skinned Leica MP a-la-cartes, love the build and creamy bokeh of the Leica .95 Noctilux, and fall victim to G.A.S. all the time myself. However I am aware of my weaknesses- as I am only human and flawed myself.
Remember that in the end- just focus on the photography and go out and shoot, a lot.
For your reference, check out my old post I wrote about a year ago titled: “Which is better: Film vs Digital” in which I said that I still preferred digital at the time.
Some nice op-ed’s below in response to my “Why Digital is Dead For Me In Street Photography” article (I have also written replies to both articles in their comments section):