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Straight Out of Camera (SOOC)

Patrick's post got me thinking that the Straight Out of Camera (SOOC) philosophy is a modern phenomenon that seems to track closely with the growth in the number of people owning digital cameras. It's most active adherents are people for whom any work in the "digital darkroom" is anathema. I think some of these SOOC adherents are amateur photographers who admire the photographic work of well-known photographers like Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothy Lange, etc. but may not know enough about these photographers to realise that they often spent just as much time in the darkroom using dodging and burning and other techniques to create their images. It seems to me many of these amateurs want the look of these famous photographers without any of work. I like Partick's sarcastic phrase:

Ahh...the good old days of film photography, when all you had to do was click the shutter.

I sometimes like the JPEG images that are produced in-camera when using certain Fujifilm Simulations and recipes on my Fujifilm X-T2. However, I also know what emotion and story I want to tell with my images and sometimes the images the camera produces does not capture what my mind sees.

15 August, 2012 | Statue of Liberty | Nikon D40 | AF-S Nikkor 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 at f/11 | ISO 200

The image above of the Statue of Liberty is from a rainy weekday on a trip back from Ellis Island with my family. I wanted to capture the drama in the sky, and I felt that I could capture an image that matched how I was feeling about how the US treated early immigrants to the USA.

Quite often, these immigrants had abandoned their home and villages in Europe and under challenging circumstances arrived via crowded ships with just a few clothes and precious possessions. They had to answer a barrage of questions about their nationality, religion, finances, and endure humiliating mental and physical health exams. The sick were quarantined and many were refused entry. Some returned to their homeland. Some were so desperate for a chance at a better life that they attempted to swim against the currents of the Hudson River toward the New Jersey shore. Many drowned.

Between the play of the sun trying to force the dark clouds pouring rain on choppy waters of the Hudson and the people below, I imagined the anxiousness and despair of those early immigrants.

The original photograph, captured on my entry-level Nikon D40, was bland and had dust spots. I had to push and pull at it for a few hours in my digital darkroom to get what I wanted.

15 August 2012 | The Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, New Jersey | Nikon D40 | AF-S Nikkor 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ f/11 | ISO 200

I think the post-processed image captures what I was feeling.

I'm in the process of getting back into film photography after a nearly 21-year hiatus after switching to digital. I've got rolls of Ektachrome, Ektar, Velvia and Scala to shoot with my Spotmatic II. I don't have a dark room, nor do I want to use one at this time, so I'll have very little control over my images after I push the shutter. My images will be scanned to digital so won't be SOOC.

If you like the images your camera produces as-is, by all mean, I think you should continue doing so. But please, please, don't assume that people that shoot and post-processing RAW images are wasting their time or wasting disk space or can't get it right in camera1.

  1. I hate that one the most. 


For @macgeni's photo challenge. Day 6: Support. From a badly exposed roll of Kodak Ektar 100. The camera door doesn't close properly.

Kodak Ektar 100

I can speculate as much as I want about why the photographic film is making a comeback. It's one part nostalgia and one part a desire for a more challenging and hands-on medium. Still, this morning after reading a post on Japan Camera Hunter, I found myself perusing film-centric websites such as the Analogue Wonderland, filtr, 595 and clicking around the vintage lens sections of eBay.

Last weekend I mailed off a roll of Kodak Professional Ektar 100 to Boutique Film Lab in New York City for processing and prints. It was a roll of film I shot a year ago with my college Pentax P3. Until that roll of film, I had not used film since 1999. That's when I switched to digital, which in modern times is more flexible, more capable and has better image quality in the sensors and lenses. Notice I didn't write image resolution; I wrote: "image quality".

The other day, I was walking around a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition, and if there was one thing I was struck by in the 6×9 prints hanging on the walls, it was their resolution.Said no one, ever

Of course, my response would be, "Why would I restrict myself to ancient technology?". The next time I am ill, shall I consult the local doctor for treatment with leeches tonics? Why are these photographers scanning their film, post-processing the images in software, and then putting the results online and behaving as they've just created something magical? Why not just start with digital in the first place?

Kodak Professional Ektar 100 Color Negative Film | Pentax P3 | SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

The lab did its best with the role I provided, but I was unhappy with the results. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the back cover of the Pentax P3 had a faulty latch, which is apparent from the scans I received. I inspected my camera and discovered the back cover was never fully closed. The film had been exposed to light. This problem is unique to film cameras; however, I wasted film, development, scan, and shipping costs because I could not immediately see the results of my photographic efforts. With a digital camera, I would have discovered any problems immediately. I abandoned 35mm film photography in 1999 due to this lack of immediate feedback.

Now, some photographers will put on airs about film photography. They will speak and write as though the deprecated medium lacks some magical quality in modern digital photography. A few will admit it's a matter of preference, but many others create a false narrative about the film. They will write as though their opinions are a matter of fact as though the qualities they are discussing are inherent to the technology, not personal preference.

Kodak Professional Ektar 100 Color Negative Film | Pentax P3 | SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

They will argue that they like the look of the film while not acknowledging their personal bias. I sometimes like the look of some film stock. But I can buy dozens of excellent film simulation presets online that reproduce the look of photographic films from the last three decades. Heck, Fujifilm, the makers of much of the classic Velvia and Provia film that these film adherents use, makes a line of digital cameras with [film simulation presets](' s-film-simulation-modes) that can produce film-like images in-camera of the same films. The use of film is just one way to get that "look", whether that look is Kodak Professional Ektar 100, Fujifilm Velvia 50, Ilford HP5 Plus or something completely new.

Of course, the so-called look of the film print depends on the development process used, whether the film was pushed/pulled or under/overexposed at capture, or whether the print process involved dodging and burning. All of which can be accomplished with modern digital imaging software.

The aesthetic – and not the process – is the thing that is appreciated by the end observer of the image, and a considerable percentage of the time, the end observer should know and care little or nothing about how or even why that aesthetic was achieved, but instead what that aesthetic evokes in them.Hamish Gill

Some film photographers will claim that because they can only shoot 24 or 36 frames per roll, using film slows them down, forcing them to consider every shutter button click. I don't disagree that all photographers can benefit from taking time to think about their photography. But this discipline is not an essential feature of using film. It's a necessary behaviour born out of the limitation of the medium with applicability to specific genres of photography, e.g., street, landscape, and architecture. I would argue that some photographers lack discipline when shooting with a digital or analogue camera. This limitation is because of the photographer, not the technology.

Kodak Professional Ektar 100 Color Negative Film | Pentax P3 | SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

The film-biased folks will argue that their film camera doesn't need batteries but ignore that the most popular film photography cameras of their time either had built-in light meters or required a hand-held external light meter for proper exposure. Light meters use batteries. Later film cameras had auto-focusing and film winding mechanisms that required batteries.

To get around the need for a light meter, some photographers used the "Sunny 16" technique. This technique requires the photographer to set the exposure to the inverse of the film ISO (e.g. 1400 sec at ISO 400) when the lens aperture is set to f/16. Need to shoot ISO 400 film at f/11? Reduce the exposure time by half. Some photographers were good at mental math or had memorised the table of possible values. What if the best exposure was 1600 sec instead of 1400 sec?

When I was looking to set up my Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II film camera1, I discovered that the batteries for the light meter were difficult to source because the chemical used in the batteries was banned; they are environmentally unsafe.

The film photographers snobs will say, "There is some special about the Asahi SMC Takumar 50mm f/2 that is lacking in modern lenses ". Ok. Maybe. I'll use this adapter to attach that lens to my "modern" digital camera. I should get the same "special" results. Right?

When (or if) I shoot a roll of film, I will be doing it with a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus or Kodak Professional Ektar2 or Fujifilm Velvia 50 in my Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II. When I load the film, operate the knobs, press the shutter, wind the film, etc. I will spark fond memories of my adventures with my brothers, Mom and Dad. I will be doing it, not because the film has some magical property not present in digital photography, but because I get to time travel. Also, it's just fun to experiment with the technology.

We're not talking about morality here. We're just talking about the properties of photographs. No property automatically makes a photograph better. No property automatically disqualifies a photograph from being good. Being bigoted just closes us off to a greater range of possibility in our own work, and to a greater and more subtle range of possibility in the accomplishments of others.Image Virtues by Mike Johnston in The Online Photographer

Kodak Professional Ektar 100 Color Negative Film | Pentax P3 | SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2

  1. My father died earlier this year. I inherited his unrepairable Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II, and I felt nostalgic for my dad, so I bought a used one on eBay. 
  2. Because Kodachrome is no longer available.