About Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas is a professional fine art photographer and writer specialising in photography related instructional books as well as travel writing and street photography. 

Film, A Journey Back in Time

Film, A Journey Back in Time

Years ago I only shot on film. Ok, that might seem like an obvious statement considering that years ago,  film was the only option for shooting on, but let me clarify that a bit. I was one of the latecomers to digital. I had some early experience with digital cameras, notably the early models from Kodak and olympus and I was not impressed. The image quality just didn't compare to a good quality scan of a transparency or negative. I was a huge film fan and I still have a degree of respect for the medium. Having said that it's been a long time since I've shot anything on film. To be honest, digital has come so far and film processing has become so expensive that I just don't bother any more. I still have a very large pile of negatives and slides lying about though. They've been sitting on a shelf for the longest time now, and yesterday I decided to dust them off and get back to scanning them. Actually, it was answering a reader request over on the Aperture Blog that made me take out my old scanner and go through my pile of film.

Film hipstamatic 3 I bought this scanner years ago and it's long since been discontinued. Amazingly enough I was able to get it to work again. It's a pretty good scanner considering it is at least 10 years old. Unlike scanning with a flat-bed scanner with a transparency adapter, this is a dedicated film scanner. As it used an LED light source (quite impressive at the time) the build doesn't die and so it still works perfectly today. The software was a bit of an issue mind you. The scanner driver has long since been discontinued, and the only way to get it to work with the official driver was to use an old version of Photoshop running under rosetta on my iMac. Unfortunately rosetta is no longer supported on Lion, so that was a dead end. Luckily, the excellent Vue Scan from hamarick software supports the scanner and I was sorted.

Unfortunately some of the film was badly damaged. the stupid paper folders I had it stored in somehow got wet and stuck to the backing. It's a real shame because I have some great shots from years ago. I will probably try to physically clean them at some point in the future, but I'm annoyed at myself for not taking better care of them.

Anyway, technical issues aside, it was interesting to look back at my photography beginnings. In some ways, I can see that my style hasn't changed that much. In other ways I can see how much I've improved. I wasn't as serious about photography back then either. It was purely a hobby but I was still obsessed by image quality. I shot almost everything on transparency film. Much of it was on fuji sensia or Kodak Elitechrom (which I loved). Occasionally I would splash out and go for a roll of velvia.

Wicklow harbour film scanned 7

Wicklow harbour film scanned 4

I have to say, there's still a look about film that you just can't replicate with digital. There is a beautiful organic feel to it that makes even the best digital images look sterile.

Would I ever go back to shooting film? Sure, for the odd project. The look is unique and appealing, but for general purpose I don't think I would. It's nice, and it has a nostalgic look to it, but compared to the clarity and oomph of my D700 it's a trade off of look vs clarity, and for the majority of projects I shoot it's not worth it. Don't get me wrong, I still love the look of film, but digital has come a long way.

It's very hard to get film processed properly any more too. Most places use mini-labs or other automated processing and that usually results in badly scratched negatives. It has become very expensive too. A roll of velvia or elite chrome - if you can still get it - costs about €10 and getting it processed is another €10.  The scanning process is somewhat long winded too. It took about half an hour to scan these couple of images (it was at 4000 dpi mind you). At the end of the day, I'm just not sure it's worth it for what you get. If I had a medium format camera I might think differently mind you, but for me, apart form possibly shooting the odd roll of black and white, I think film has had its day. For some reason that realisation makes me kind of sad and emotional. Perhaps in other countries the infrastructure is still there, but here, it's almost all gone.

Still, there is something about the medium that makes even boring images look interesting. Perhaps that is why so many faux retro photography apps are so popular on the iPhone right now.

These shots were all taken on Kodak Elite Chrome, and they were shot sometime around 1998 on a Canon Eos 5 (Which I still have and works perfectly I might add!)

Wicklow harbour film scanned 3

Wicklow harbour film scanned 1

Wicklow harbour film scanned 2

Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed this somewhat short trip down memory lane. I'll post more at some future point so stay tuned!

Wicklow Harbour, Circa 1998