I’ve just carried out quite an interesting experiment.
During my photography at this year’s International Beatleweek Festival in Liverpool I challenged myself a little and was keen to seek people’s opinion on the outcome. The subject matter was a comparison between photographs taken on my modern pro digital SLR and similar images created on film on my ’68 vintage Bronica S2 medium format camera.
One camera has an electronic brain, capable of assessing hundreds of parameters about every image and then tailoring the image to perfection. I choose to take control of a lot of aspects of the picture making process – I use the camera’s light metering capability alongside my own judgement and usually manually select a combination of ISO, shutter speed and lens setting. I also usually allow the camera to focus, albeit on the point I’ve chosen – so it’s a combination of my brain and the camera’s brain doing the work.
Alongside that camera though, I’m also a huge fan of getting back to basics and shooting with one of my vintage film cameras. In this case it was my Bronica – a square cube of chromed metalwork and leather dating back to the mid sixties (or ’68 for my particular camera). It dates back to a time when cameras were mechanical, there’s no exposure meter and no autofocus – just some marks in the viewfinder to help get the image in focus (more of a challenge than you’d imagine). Just to add to the fun, the image in the viewfinder is reversed left-to-right, so moving the camera to the left means the picture moves right – usually the opposite to the way intended.
The other thing about photographing on film of course is not being able to get that instant gratification. On digital I can shoot, check, adjust settings and reshoot – but on film there’s at least a few days until I can develop the film. If I don’t get it right, the moment is gone forever. On the medium format film there are just 12 exposures on each roll of film, with each exposure being a 60mm square section of negative.
So – why do I do it?
To step out of the modern age into a simpler world? To prove I can? To keep an art form alive? The truth is, I do it for quite a number of reasons.
One of the first reasons I started photographing on black & white film inside The Cavern was after seeing an exhibition of photographs by Paul Berriff, photographed in there in the sixties. Yes it’s possible, although I really suspect the modern LED lighting isn’t as intense as the old tungsten lighting – it’s not easy to get any detail in the shadows without washed out faces.
Another reason (and I’ll be bluntly honest here) is that so many people have a half decent camera and just about know how to switch it on, just enough to allow its brain to catch a half decent picture – and they’re my daily competition. It might make no difference to my clients, who only care about the result and not how it was achieved, but at least I know I can deliver the result from first principles.
Anyway, back to the comparison…
I ran a couple of rolls of film through the Bronny’ as it’s known alongside my digital cameras during this year’s International Beatleweek festival in Liverpool. I’ve then posted pairs of images on Facebook to a Beatleweek fan page, asking them to declare their preference ‘Brain’ or ‘Heart’.
The results were interesting… The first thing to note is that people view the images on face value as they see them, so there’s no point in me being precious about the technicalities – the black and white images could have come from a roll of real film, or could have just been some instagram effect.
Of the results, there were a couple of votes for ‘Brain’, in other words the modern digital images, but they were offered by people also pointing towards the ‘Heart’ film images, the main comment being it would depend on the context of the image. Describing the black and white images comments included comments about nostalgia and atmosphere.
“For me it depends..if it’s a beautiful outside day,I go with Brian..loving the color,but wanting a nostalgic look like inside the Cavern,heart looks good..I also like heart for close ups of one or 2 people.”
“Here I prefer black and white. it depends on the pictures.”
“As others have said both are great depending on the photo but I think I would go Heart for depth & atmosphere.”
“Heart, more depth & resonance as an image.”
“Heart…..there is a magic with B/W.”
“Heart – you can see Brain every day of the week.”