Tag Archives: 35mm SLR

Nothing’s Changed?–Digital/Film Analogues

As I said in an earlier post, several years ago I resumed shooting and printing a lot. With some review at the Worcester Craft Center I went back out with my cameras and into the darkroom with less pain and more joy than ever. I changed formats from 35mm to 645 medium format when I bought a used Bronica ETRS.

There are parallels in digital photography. Point and shoots in general make nice images fairly automatically; that’s a big selling point for them. However, trying to edit nice looking images for fine art prints is not always successful.

second-growth-P3060086A combination of factors may account for this. if we say a pixel on a camera sensor and a grain of silver on a negative are equivalent, 20MP or more is approximately equivalent to the resolution of a 35mm film negative. The size of a small camera sensor in a low price camera might be 1/2.5″ or smaller; that is about 2 percent as big as a 35mm negative. The electronic noise that leaks from all those pixels on a small surface area can be thought to be equivalent to grainy film.

Film as a rule records a wider dynamic range of tones than a camera sensor. More contrasty imagery with detail and texture in both shadow and bright zones was possible in a single click of the shutter with film. Electronic noise has been suppressed or reduced in successive generations of digital cameras; and dynamic range has improved–greatly improved in HDR captures which combine multiple exposures for dark and bright regions in the frame.

Another consideration is the file format in which a digital camera saves its image capture. Many point and shoot and fixed lens cameras save in a lossy compressed format called JPEG. In simplified terms, the file is saved in a smaller space by first applying all the optional and automatic camera settings, and then tossing out other data that the sensor recorded but is not required for the picture. It’s like we made a print, and threw out the negative. We can still make some editing choices, but not as many.

The situation may be remedied in the digital world with the right choices. Get a larger format camera. Cameras have been manufactured to utilize many sizes and formats of film from 8mm x 10.5mm frames on disc camera film to 8″ x 10″ large format cameras and even bigger ultra-large formats. In the digital market, point and shoot and fixed lens camera sensor sizes range from say 2 percent to 100 percent the size of one frame on a roll of 35mm film. Their prices range around $80 to $2700 roughly in parallel with sensor size. Lower priced, higher sales volume cameras benefit from economies of scale; higher priced, lower sales volume cameras benefit from better build quality, more durable components, and superior optics.

We get the equivalent to a film negative in cameras that are capable of saving images in camera raw format. Everything the camera sensor recorded gets saved in raw. Some fixed lens cameras have this feature, but many only save in a compressed format such as JPEG. I’ll work up a selected list of camera sensor sizes and post it next time; and another list of selected fixed lens cameras that feature raw capability after that.

Prehistoric Photography

When I was a kid, somewhere in high school, I probably thought sixty-somethings were from prehistoric times; I also bought my first serious camera, a Mamiya-Sekor DTL 2000(?) 35mm SLR (Mamiya only makes medium format nowadays)–on lay-away from Denholm & McKay. Before recorded history cities mostly had local department stores; and Macy’s was in New York–you had to go there to go to Macy’s. My best friend got a Nikkormat. That was Nikon’s economy brand–a solid, quality SLR none the less. I usually tell people I have been a photographer since about 1973, the year I began learning to work in the darkroom, but that’s just a convenient time to label as my beginning.

It was a step up from a long growing interest. I enrolled in a continuing ed course in black & white photography at the Worcester Art Museum (worcesterart.org) for two semesters. Dennis Wixted was a patient, encouraging, and thorough teacher who, in addition to technique, taught photography’s history and the contempory scene. At his wake I was just one of many who shared their appreciation of his teaching and friendship with members of his family. I labored with the camera to do assignments and take personal shots, thinking about the camera settings, the light, the film… I think I thought more than I shot. It was a job for me to expose all the frames on a roll of film. Eventually, I started buying 24 exposure rolls of 35mm film, 36 exposures being the other common packaging, a little less challenging to finish.

BRONICA ETRSFor most of my later film photography before I changed to primarily digital cameras I used a Bronica ETRS. Here’s one of my images from that camera. The maple trees in the background were at the height of their blazing orange autumn foliage. I used an orange filter on the front of my lens to brighten the leaves that were in full sun to nearly white in my print.


Next time I go over to the dark side and start using digital cameras. Eveything is the same if you think about it.