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Old 08-08-2007, 11:55   #1 (permalink)
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Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

Photography magazines - and forums - endlessly debate film vs digital, and sometimes get into the technical details of how to imitate fine art monochrome prints using digital cameras, Photoshop, specialists papers and inks. But I've not yet seen a considered view of whether digital monochrome really matches - perhaps surpasses? - the achievements of classic B&W prints. Apart from the technical feat of trying to copy an older photographic process, it it a sensible goal for contemporary digital imaging, or should we celebrate the difference? Much as negative processes started by competing with daguerreotypes and then found their own vision?

What I'm hoping is that Pixalo is the kind of forum where it's possible to discuss the visual culture of photography beyond the "how to do X" or "wonderful pic"!
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Old 08-08-2007, 14:04   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

Well you raise a valid point but many people have different opinions and choice is not necessarily a bad thing. The challenge of how to imitate fine art monochrome prints using digital cameras is one that some people strive to achieve while others just embrace the new technology and the extra options it brings. I don’t see the challenge as being negative in any way and at the end of the day, if you don’t fancy it you could always stick (or turn) to doing it the old fashion way with film.

It may not be the latest technology but that doesn’t make it any less relevant in my eyes.
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Old 08-08-2007, 14:49   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

I have family that has used film processes for years, but has embraced digital too. I personally haven't used these film processes but I love to hear the stories of how and what they wanted to achieve and all the effort they would put into an effect. it makes me try a little harder to make a good shot right from the camera. Would love to hear your stories as you sound like you have a solid background.
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Old 08-08-2007, 14:51   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

One way I think of digital vs film is in much the same way as typewritten to handwritten. The goal is still the same: to provide a pleasing, challenging, interesting, etc image or a pleasing, challenging, interesting, etc piece of prose.

Cameras, PCs, film, typewriters, pens - they're just tools!

Whilst I appreciate the care that went into some of the past film processing (which may or may not be apparent in the finished image) I don't uphold the methodology over the result!

So, whether it be imitating a production system or breaking new ground with new techniques, I can't say I'm too fussed - nice to know how it's achieved but not the be all and end all!
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Old 08-08-2007, 15:36   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

Depends if you see fine art mono as something linked to film. I suggest, however it started, it is an artistic style which along with other styles may now be produced using different media. If you visit a good international mono exhibition, in may cases, you will have difficuty determining which prints are digital and which are darkroom certainly when viewed from a normal distance.

Also, those coming into photography more recently, may be unaware of how film photography differs from their own photography.
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Old 08-08-2007, 17:59   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

On the specific subject of Monochrome fine art , from personal experience I would have to say Digital has now surpassed film, mainly due to what can be achieved from a RAW file through to completion in Photo Shop. It would take a highly skilled darkroom person with years of experience, to be able to emulate what someone of medium Digital skill can achieve these days in PhotoShop.

I see this as a positive for Photography as a whole, as it has allowed people like myself to start producing reasonable shots on a regular basis, that I would have struggled to do the same with film.

About 20 years ago I tried the whole darkroom setup, desperately trying to get the dramatic monochrome prints showing deep blacks through to clean whites.....but to no avail. I then left photography for about 15 years, until Digital gave me a glimpse of hope to get what I wanted

Now don't get me wrong from all the above. There are some excellent photographers out there who create incredible prints from film, but I would say I have seen more decent images coming from Amateur Digital users these days, than film users of say 10 years ago.

Just a personal view of course
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Old 08-08-2007, 18:11   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

There is something about film that simply cannot be easily copied with a digital image. I'm not at all saying film's better as thats a terribly dull opinion. The grain on film just lends a quality to photographs that is very difficult to reproduce digitally. I suppose this comes from people being accustomed to seeing the world through film photographs for 99% of the last hundred years!

It's a reason I keep several film cameras.
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Old 09-08-2007, 11:33   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

Well Im a big fan of film although I can't remember the last time I picked a film camera up. My main reason for this being the ease of use of digital. The reason im such a big film fan is that it's what I grew up and learned with. I found film a great teacher!!!!! you would have to think about things before taking the image instead of just snapping away and then deleting it if it didn't work. You only had to be told once about how f-stops affected dof and you would know what an f-stop was. some of the effects that you could get by push processing etc and the different characteristics of differing film types were fantastic and although people say "Ive got a plugin that makes it look like that" I would say "Not quite". I do think that digital has de-valued the photographic image.
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Old 09-08-2007, 13:16   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

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I do think that digital has de-valued the photographic image
Oh yes, think it has devalued - in the same way as with Desktop Publishing on PCs, so everyone became a graphics artist; now everyone's become a photographer. Luckily there still remain some institutions/businesses who realise there's just a tad more to taking a picture than owning a camera!

Another example of devaluation is the nude. Now we have a mass of naked bodies but remarkably few nudes (tho' I'm sure some think they're being 'arty', the majority are tending towards pornography)
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Old 10-08-2007, 10:18   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

This news item shows that the industry is well aware of both the differencies between the technologies AND where they can not only meet, but also complement each other.
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Old 10-08-2007, 14:24   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

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Oh yes, think it has devalued - in the same way as with Desktop Publishing on PCs, so everyone became a graphics artist; now everyone's become a photographer. Luckily there still remain some institutions/businesses who realise there's just a tad more to taking a picture than owning a camera!

Couldn't agree more. Also, while I understand and accept people who have the opinion that film produces finer image quality, and is more of a skill, I think that it is really both subjective to what you are used to, and the feeling of nostalgia towards the sense of achievement gained by processing your own film. As for me, I feel just as pleased with myself for producing a quality image with digital enhancements, especially monochrome, which is more difficult than other digital processes.
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Old 10-08-2007, 16:16   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

Perhaps we all remember the good things about the film era and forget the bad.

The fact is that more techniques are now available to more people though few of them will put in the effort to really learn about photography and post processing. Of course those of us who used film and cameras without auto focussing/metering do have an advantage that we had to learn these skills. Some more recent photographers are trying to learn these skills by using their cameras on manual and experimenting with settings to gain this valuable experience. I also know some digital photographers (who missed the film era) obtain a film camera for a period just to go through the experience.

I think digital photography is much more interesting now due to the greater opportunities. It is amazing the number of older Camera Club members ,who had finally hung up their cameras, who have since bought digital cameras and come back with a vengence and renewed interest.
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Old 10-08-2007, 16:39   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

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It is amazing the number of older Camera Club members ,who had finally hung up their cameras, who have since bought digital cameras and come back with a vengence and renewed interest.
I guess that I fall into this category. I never had my own darkroom and had to join a club and started City & Guilds principally to get acces to a darkroom. After quite some time in the doldrums, I bought a Nikon Coolpix 885 in 2002, and it brought me back to photography.

Much as I enjoyed the darkroom, wet processing is very time consuming and the satisfaction I got from producing a good result was enhanced due to the number of prints that were not quite right, so the wastage was high or could not be easily and reliably reproduced even with care. Also the set up and clean down time has to be added into the equasion, and you had to store and dispose of chemicals, dry the prints, and there was nothing more frustrating than running out of paper just when you had cracked it.

I think that for most, digital is just so much more convenient, cleaner and quicker.
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Old 11-08-2007, 10:56   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Can (or Should) Digital Emulate Silver?

I personally think that 35mm wise, digital is visually on a par with silver.

I like the fact that processing is virtualy realtime speed, I don't have to wait for the film to be processed.

Where before I used to spend hours in the darkroom I can now knock a decent print out almost instantley.

I love the various plug ins that emulate the film processes.

I love the fact that I can now easily experiment with different styles etc.

I have and still use Medium format for "best quality" shots. But if I could afford a digital MF I would definitely go that route
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