Film vs. Digital

Was having a conversation with my good friend Dav yesterday over coconut juice and samosas, when he said that he was contemplating not buying an M6 (since he already has the M9) and getting a digital or film compact instead. And it got me thinking about something that has been swirling around my head for quite a bit. This whole debate on film vs. digital that’s been going around. I’m not talking about the crop body digital vs. film, but just something that is relevant to the full frame M9 (or any other full frame camera) vs. a film one. I’m not even going to go into the whole rangefinder vs. slr vs. compact discussion cos its also irrelevant here.

From a rational point of view, shooting on digital is way more practical. You have a whole range of ISOs to shoot on, and the fact that it’s almost free is kind of great. I mean yes the initial outlay is crazy high, but after that you can shoot to your heart’s content without worrying about development or printing or chemicals and the big motherlode of timesuck – scanning. And with post-processing (don’t shoot me), you can replicate a whole range of films and look too. You want grain? Move a slider around and BAM! You want it to look like Astia, Provia, or even Superia, move some sliders around and BAM! You have it. There are even presets for it. Yes yes it’s not the real thing, but for the 99% of the people who are going to see your pictures, they won’t be able to tell the difference.

I mean, sometimes I honestly think people use film because of some romanticized notion of film. Yeah with film you get full frame for cheap (but remember that’s not what we’re saying here) but seriously, not many people can tell if you used film or digital. Admit it, how many of us process our digital files to have more of a film look? Why? Because we somehow just prefer the look of film. What is this look? Organic? Grain? Or just something within our hearts that makes us want to emulate film?

To summarize, I think the digital vs. film debate all boils down to this – convenience vs. that irrational, romanticized notion of what it means to shoot film. Sure you can argue that with film, one is more selective with shots since its only 24 or 36 frames (and I do admit, I’ve become way more selective with what I shoot since I started using film), but that self discipline can be self imposed with digital too. One can also say with film you can’t chimp and have to rely on your own gut and skill to take the shot, but hey you can do that too with a digital one. Switch off the damn screen or preview. With a little self discipline, you can simulate the act of shooting digital as if it’s on film too right?

At the end of the day, we just have to ask ourselves, why do we shoot on film? After all that talk, I have to confess that for me, its cos a full frame digital camera is just way out of my budget. I might say that I just like the look of film too, but honestly its cos I can’t afford a full frame camera. Haha!

-edit-

I guess what I’m really trying to say here, is that many of us use film because we just “prefer” it. We can’t really articulate why, but it’s just something we “prefer” [Thanks Kiely (who incidentally writes a blog called Film Wins) for helping me clarify my thoughts!]

-edit 2:-

Since I wrote this, I’ve realized that my article is rather shallow (for that I apologize). I’ve received lots of comments from friends on FB and Twitter on my post. With their permission, I’ve included those which I feel add to the discussion.

Callan: “Even at the small size of an 8″x12” print, the difference between film and digital tones, especially in black and white, is blatantly obvious.

It is also an artistic “handcuff” if you will, basically restricting myself to specific conditions. It enforces a certain discipline that most people who have stuck to digital does not appreciate.

Is it better? No. Horses for courses, as the Brits say. Unless a client demands film, which has never happened thus far, I use digital for work. It’s convenient, and fast, and very controllable, provided you know how the camera will react and capture that scene.

It still boils down to preference of aesthetics, and familiarity with your chosen equipment. That matters more than the false dichotomy of film vs digital.”

Eric Kim : “Still find with film it is easier to separate the shooting/editing portion. Makes it a lot easier to work on projects. And having an M9 – the fact of having an LCD will cause you to chimp (or have the urge to chimp). Film has totally eliminated that for me. And also it is nice to not worry about not having enough megapixels ;)”

Jing Wen “it is really about the experience and look as well”. He also shared a couple of really great reads online. I encourage you to read them up.

Ken Rockwell on film vs digital and Oleg Novikov  on film vs digital  and also on character.

Thanks so much everybody for your comments. Feel free to add more if you want to add to the discussion.

-edit 3-

Dav: “At the end of the day to me, it’s still about the photograph. If it’s a great shot, it’s a great shot, regardless film or digital. For others, people love film because it might be the color, rendering or the process etc etc. Perfectly fine with that. Everyone who is into photography should try both film and digital, then decide what is their preference or use both mediums. Have fun with photography. That’s what it’s supposed to be when we first picked up the camera.”

Adam: ” isnt it about the difficulty too? Be it price, or the general time consuming nature of develeoping and scanning. When you put in all the effort, say shooting full manual on film, getting that perfect exposure, composition, developing it, scanning it.. everything. Doesnt it just feel so much more fulfilling? Thats why I love film now”

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Darkroom Army presents: Tara McPherson & The Cotton Candy Machine Show!

Remember the Fed 5B that we looked at a few days ago? If you recall I loaned it from the wonderful guys at Peek! What’s more, they’re turning two! To celebrate their birthday, they’re expanding their retail space on the second floor to include the brand new Darkroom Army Gallery Store. Other than the Fed 5B ONE that I received last week, they carry a whole line of Fed 5Bs, like the Patone Collection.

Darkroom Army aims to create revolutionary analog photographic equipment, by combining art with the cameras. By collaborating with the world’s finest artists, Darkroom Army creates highly collectable and functional pieces which are designed and engineered in sunny Singapore.

To further commemorate the launch of their brand new store and Peek’s birthday, they’ve brought in Tara McPherson, to launch her brand new book “Bunny in the Moon: The Art of Tara McPherson Volume 3” and also, the very first ever Cotton Candy Machine Pop-Up Store.

Not only will she be launching her book and new store, but her very own Special Edition Fed 5B – Love Blows too. Its a special collaboration between Tara McPherson x Darkroom Army.

But that’s not all! There will be an exclusive meet and greet for her fans in a series of autograph session and she will also be giving a lecture at the inaugural Darkroom Army Lecture Series.

So where and when will all these be happening?

Launch of Darkroom Army Gallery Store & The Cotton Candy Machine Pop up Store

Date: 18th February 2012, Saturday
Time: 12noon – till late
Address: Peek! 36 Armenian Street, #02-04, Singapore 179934

You can also pre-order Bunny in the Moon: The Art of Tara McPherson Volume 3 by dropping your name and contact details to info@darkroomarmy.com and they’ll point you in the right direction.

For fans of Tara McPherson, her Meet & Greet Sessions are as follows:

18th February 2012, Saturday 3pm – 5pm
19th February 2012, Sunday 4.30pm – 6.30pm

If you want to attend the inaugural Darkroom Army Lecture Series feat. Tara McPherson its on:

19th February 2012, Sunday: 2.30pm – 4pm

Do note that the lecture series is a ticketed event and you would need to RSVP to rsvp@darkroomarmy.com to book your slot.

If you guys have any other questions, feel free to drop me a comment below, or send your emails to either Ming Lim (ming@darkroomarmy.com) or Jackson Aw (jackson@darkroomarmy.com) and they’ll help you out.

Fed 5B: First Impressions

I’ve always wanted to get a Former Soviet Union Rangefinder (FSU RF) ever since I started street photography, as I really wanted to know what all the hype of Rangefinders was all about. Since I cant afford a Leica, I thought an FSU RF was the next best thing. Luckily, I received a Twitter message from a friend Michelle, asking if anyone wanted to take part in an event collaboration between Darkroom Army and Peek. I immediately jumped on the opportunity and said “Yes!”. Long story short, I now find myself holding an awesome Fed 5B. More on the event later, but for now, some first impressions of the camera itself.

The first time I took it out of the box, I was like “holy crap this thing is a BEAST!” It feels like a tank, which is really nice and reassuring that if I drop it, the pavement will crack. Some product specs for the nerds out there:

  • Produced from 1975 – 1996 in Ukraine
  • Uses your normal 135mm film (thanks woosang for the clarification on the proper geek term)
  • Comes with the Industar-61L/D – 53mm f2.8 lens
  • Has shutter speeds from 1s – 1/500s and B mode
  • All manual, meaning it doesnt need batteries!

Apart from the nerdy specifications, for those unfamiliar with rangefinders, its different from your ordinary Lomo scale focusing or SLR focusing using a split prism. Wont go into the technical stuff (which I admit I dont even understand), but basically you look through the viewfinder, and you will see a rangefinder patch (either circular like in the Fed 5B, or rectangular like in a Leica). What you have to do is focus the lens, till the image in the RF patch aligns with the image in your VF. One thing to note for those with glasses, the VF tends to scratch your eyeglasses, so don’t put the camera to close to your face!

The top plate is really clean, with a dial on the left for ISO (its just for your own reminder, doesnt do anything since it has no meter), the rewind crank, flash hot shoe, shutter speed dial, film advance crank and film counter. Set aperture on lens, set shutter speed, and you’re good to go!

Loading it is pretty easy too. Twist the knobs at the bottom and the back plate and bottom plate slides out. Load the film as per usual and slide it back on. Easy peasy. It even has a tripod mount for those long exposures.

I’ve had it for about 3 days now, and shooting with a Fed 5B has been a real blast. Already burned through 1 roll of film (for those who know me, I’m usually a conservative shooter) cos its just been so much fun!

More on the event in a later post, but that’s it for my first impressions.

Oh and one more very important tip: DON’T FORGET TO COCK THE SHUTTER BEFORE CHANGING THE SHUTTER SPEEDS! (yes this deserves a caps lock because its very very important or you might break your Fed 5B)

What’s in my Bag

I submitted a bag post to the great Jpncamerahunter a while ago. you can see the entry on his site here. 

My bag is an army surplus bag I got from eBay for $20 (I think I got cheated for it) but it’s good enough for my usual walkabout kit. It’s quite small but since it doesn’t have a shape, you can actually stuff quite a bit in it. I usually carry my cameras (you can fit both in it, but it’s a tight fit) in separate soft neoprene pouches (the black rectangle in the top right) that I got from this $2 shop from Japan called Daiso.

Left half of the picture: from left to right, top to bottom.
-A plastic bag for me to bundle everything up in case it rains
-My notebook and pen for me to jot down my field notes and eureka moments for my thesis
-Lens tissues and keys in 1 front pouch
-Lip balm and tester capsule of some perfume (Singapore’s really humid so you need something to keep you smelling fresh)

Top Right half:
-Gatsby facial wipes and blotter paper because my face gets really oily as the day goes by
-My Olympus mju ii camera. I just got it for a great bargain a few days ago. My first test roll is in it.
-Generic iPhone earbuds
-Another great Daiso buy – my $2 wallet
-All these sit on the neoprene pouch I was talking about

Bottom right:
-My iPhone 4. That’s a picture of me and my lovely girlfriend as the wallpaper.
-My trusty Minolta X-500 with the 50mm f1.4 mounted on it. It’s usually that or the 50mm f1.7 or 35mm f2.8.
-I made that wrist strap out of my girlfriend’s head band. Couldn’t justify paying money for a wrist strap so I stole her head band and made my own.

Thaipusam 2011

Thaipusam is an annual procession by Hindu devotees seeking blessings, fulfilling vows and offering thanks. Celebrated in honour of Lord Subrahmanya (also known as Lord Murugan), who represents virtue, youth and power to Hindus and is the destroyer of evil, it is held during the full moon in the 10th Tamil month called Thai, which falls during mid-January each year.

Devotees cleanse themselves through fasting and prayers for 48 hours prior to the festival. On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi, ranging from pots of milk to elaborate chariots and canopies. Some also pierce their flesh or tongues with hooks and spears as they believe that the greater the pain,  the greater the God-given merit. Some devotees enter a trance during the piercing and procession.

Markets in Singapore

Markets like the night bazaars and wet markets have been a timeless part of the Singapore landscape. Night bazaars tend to spring up every few months in the housing estates or during special occasions like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Deepavali.

Haggling and elastic pricing are part and parcel of shopping at these places.

They’re filled with all sorts of colorful characters hawking wares from carpets, savory snacks and traditional costumes.

Loud hailers and playing dress up are de-rigueur for many stallholders during the bazaar to attract patrons to their stalls.

In recent years in cookie cutter Singapore, wet markets are being phased out in favor of supermarkets. These chain supermarkets offer a larger variety of goods, and sometimes at cheaper prices too. But why lose the allure of the wet market?

Many of us surely remember waking up on Sunday mornings, going for family breakfasts at the neighborhood coffee shop and trudging to the adjoining wet markets. Our parents would arm us with a few 10 cent coins so that we could ride on these ‘kiddy ride’ machines to distract us while they shop for groceries.

Smelly, wet and noisy, these are the things that make the wet market what it is. We have been buying our groceries from the same people for years. It has evolved from a simple weekend business and financial transaction into a personal relationship. It is this personal touch that makes the wet market truly special in most of our hearts.

Without needing us to say anything, the fishmonger will know to cut the fish into 4 slices (for our family of 4) just the way my mum likes it. He remembers which fish my mum prefers and will actually dissuade my mum from buying fish that he thinks my mum won’t enjoy.

The butcher usually greets us with “daging 2 kilo as usual eh kak?” (the usual 2 kilos of meat?). On special occasions, he takes pre-orders from us without the need to pay a deposit. He goes out of his way to order special cuts or marinated meat for us if we inform him a week in advance.

Night bazaars and wet markets hold a special place in many of our hearts because they’re so quaint, with the cacophony of dialects and bantering being tossed around and the personal touch of many of the stallholders. The thrill of haggling for lower prices, the smell of cooked food while mingling with the throngs of other shoppers makes shopping at night markets such an experience. It’s such a departure from the clinical and orderly side of Singapore that stepping into a market feels like taking a step back into the past.

SC3224 Mid Term

Disclaimer: I don’t have a Leica camera. And I wrote this a year ago before I met anybody who actually owned one. My observations were purely gleaned from the Leica subsection of a local photography forum. I deduced my conclusions from their posts, which seemed to center mostly (about 80%) on gear talk and limited editions and what not. Hence it may seem like a misguided and highly inaccurate post describing Leica users. For that I apologize to my friends who actually have a Leica and actually use them for photography instead of to admire and stroke and show off with it. I guess my post is actually talking about gear nuts and collectors.

Plus this piece was actually written for a mid term essay for a class I did. I got an A for this. 🙂

edit 2: I hope you get a sense of sarcasm in this whole post. I do not subscribe nor approve of this mentality at all. Leicawanker I hope you don’t misunderstand. 🙂

Introduction to Leica

The Leica camera is seen as the pinnacle of photographic standards. Their cameras and lenses are hand-assembled in their factory in Germany.

One doesn’t simply own a Leica; he is seen as embracing a way of life, a culture, owning a piece of history. Its history is instrumental in attaching a romanticized view of the camera. The Leica community is a very exclusive tight knit community. The official Leica camera website explains this in the section History and Culture of Leica.

The company publishes its own lifestyle magazine Leica Fotografie International and has worldwide societies like The Leica Society in the UK and Leica Historical Society.

So what makes the camera so unique that it fetches an exorbitant price that is not reflective of its function? This blog post will attempt to trace the romanticized notions attached to the Leica camera, using mainly Baudrillard’s (1983) object value system, Veblen’s (1994) conspicuous consumption and Bourdieu’s (1984) emulation and distinction argument.

Value of the Leica

Following Baudrillard’s object value system theory, there are four aspects that influences the value of an object.

1.       Functional value, similar to Marx’s use value. In this case, the Leica camera take’s pictures.

2.       Exchange value which is the economic value, similar to Marx. The most advanced Leica film camera, the M7, is worth at least SGD$7000 brand new, without lens.

3.       Symbolic value, value assigned to the object in relation to another subject. The camera might symbolize a gift for a birthday.

4.       Sign value, its value within a system of objects. Amongst other cameras, the Leica has a position of quality with superior craftsmanship.

For Baudrillard, an object’s final value is influenced by its symbolic and sign value more than it’s functional and exchange value. What the Leica camera does is to take pictures. Any other camera is able to take pictures. In essence, a camera is basically a light tight metal box that holds a lens.

The reason for the Leica camera’s exorbitant price tag lies in its sign value. The Leica, while purchased for its functional value of taking pictures, is also purchased for its sign value – to signify superior quality and precision.

The phrase “the Leica is handmade” is frequently bandied about to justify the high exchange value. It is a nod to the skilled craftsmen of past – a romantic view of skilled labor. Although Leica’s latest digital cameras, the M9 and M8 were plagued with problems, many loyalists still swear by the reliability and precision of Leica cameras. The sign value of the object is ingrained into the hyper-realities (a term coined by Baudrillard) of the Leica loyalist. Their constructed realities overshadow the actual realities of the camera. They embody the object with the idea of superb craftsmanship even though there are many documented cases of Leica digital cameras failing.

Leica as Identity

Using Baudrillard’s analysis of value, we have established how Leica cameras attain their exorbitant exchange value in light of their high sign value. This brings us to our next question, why then do people still purchase these Leica’s despite their price tag? Veblen (pg 28) is handy in providing an answer to this question. Possession of goods, according to Veblen, is the “conventional basis of repute and esteem”. So how did the Leica attain its reputation?

One reason could be its rich history. The Leica brand is marketed not just as a camera, but as a lifestyle and culture. It is seen as a key to the entry of an exquisite world of precision engineering. Its capabilities are “legendary” and the quality a “class of its own”. It helps “transform vision into personal creative fulfillment, in many cases nurturing a fervent passion for expression that spans the decades.” These statements, although grandiose, can be found on the Leica website under the heading “culture”. The very fact that its history and identity is packaged under culture shows how Leica sees itself as not just a brand, but a way of life.

The Leica camera has captured many iconic documentary images and many award winning images were taken with Leica’s. Almost all the photographers in the renowned Magnum Photos agency use a Leica. Thus we can also see how many users of the Leica wish to emulate the photographic elite by using the same tools, in the hopes to also capture award winning images.

Baudrillard (pg 123-4) informs us that consuming a commodity means that we use its “sign value” as a way of differentiation. It also aids in forming social relations with members interested in the same signs. For the Leica cameras, in addition to having a sign value of superior craftsmanship as discussed earlier, it also represents prestige. It connotes Veblen’s (pg 73-74) “gentleman of leisure”, who consumes goods which are the best in its class as “an evidence of wealth”. In a sense, his identity becomes defined and expressed by what he now owns – a Leica camera. His status as someone with the taste (of photography and the arts) and the means (to afford a Leica) is cemented with the possession of the camera.

Owning a Leica allows one to differentiate oneself from those who cannot afford one becoming a distinguishing factor in marking in-group access. This fits Bourdieu’s argument on distinction as a way for social groups to mark themselves off from each other. With almost everyone being able to afford a camera to take pictures, owning an exclusive Leica is one way which photographers, pilots, dentists, creative consultants, doctors and executives in the case of the Singapore charter, can distinguish themselves from another.

An extension of Bourdieu’s framework can also be applied in this case. Many Leica owners not only distinguish themselves from non Leica owners, but further distinguish themselves from each other through the purchasing of limited edition cameras.

Leica as Lifestyle

Leica is renowned for releasing limited edition version of their cameras. They usually collaborate with renowned prestigious fashion brands like Hermes and Neiman Marcus and other luxury brands like Audi. For example, Leica recently teamed up with a designer for Audi to create 500 pieces of the Limited Edition Titanium Leica M9 which costs a whopping $29 000 seen below.

In 2009, Leica and Hermes collaborated to release 200 pieces of the Hermes Leica M7 with calf skin, costing $14 000.

Limited Edition Hermes M7

Limited Edition Neiman Marcus

Neiman Marcus partnered with Leica to release the Limited Edition 50 pieces M9 costing $17 500. For a Leica user, these collaborations are a further proof that his camera of choice is a marker of a luxurious lifestyle.

I hope that I have successfully demonstrated using Baudrillard’s object value system how a product of very normal use value (taking pictures) has acquired an elevated exchange value through its sign value. The Leica camera is steeped in historical traditions and marketed as a piece of engineering precision, which helps to increase its exchange value. Furthermore, the Leica camera is a status and prestige marker to distinguish the owner from others. Lastly, the partnership Leica has with other luxury brands further intensifies the link between the brand and the prestige attached to the consumption of the product.