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Dave Does Digital

From 5x4 to 1DX via Iceland

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David Ward

David Ward

T-shirt winning landscape photographer, one time carpenter, full-time workshop leader and occasional author who does all his own decorating.

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As some of you are no doubt aware, Fuji’s decision to cease production of Velvia 50 sheet film has caused me considerable anxiety. Back in August I wrote an article that set out my dilemmas in looking for a future path for my photography. Would I start using Kodak’s Portra? Or would I re-mortgage my house (again!) and buy a Phase back and all the new kit that I would need? To be honest neither option filled me with joy. The former would entail a huge change in my post-production workflow and the latter just seemed out of reach. I didn’t appear to be getting anywhere near a solution, oscillating between two answers that I really didn’t like.



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  • Nice write up David although it has fuelled my desire to get a 90mm TS-E a lot more!

    Lovely images I particularly like “Blue Ice” Orange light reflected in the blue textured ice works very well.

  • Douglas Griffin

    Great article, David.

    Would be interested to hear your thoughts re. aspect ratio. I think I’m right in saying that most of your work is taken in ‘portrait’ mode. You mentioned that the image from Vik was composed with a subsequent 5×4 crop in mind. Did you find yourself doing this a lot? I ask because this is what I find myself doing virtually all of the time. I’m loathe to throw away pixels, but to my eyes a 3×2 vertical generally looks a bit too narrow. (Maybe it’s because I spend so much time looking at LF images by people like your good self!)

    With All Best Wishes.
    Doug.

    • Hi Doug,

      I too feel that 3:2 is often too narrow, though perhaps I have 5×4 eyes (as Alan puts it) after 30+ years of using the Linhof.

  • Alan Rew

    Very interesting write-up, and some breathtaking photos. I’m glad to see that you’ve dipped your toes into digital a bit more, and actually enjoyed yourself. The 3 x 2 format works fine, although you’re probably still seeing the world through 5 x 4 eyes (never mind the Velvia retinas!)

    Vik beach, Black Pebble and Bu∂ir dawn all look like classics in the making. WRT your comments comparing exposure times, Bu∂ir Dawn is the best wave photo I’ve seen for a long time – the shorter exposure makes it dynamic & explosive, and converts the water to spikes of ice instead of milky mist (an effect which has been flogged to death IMO). These should make excellent prints as well.

    I like the ambiguity in Black Pebble – looks a bit like an underwater shot of a pebble being dropped into the sea, leaving fine streaks of turbulence in its wake. Think I saw what you did there 🙂

    Please do carry on with digital SLRs, and show us the results.

    Kind Regards,

    Alan

  • John Dominick

    Interesting read David, I’ve been shooting with the Nikon T/S lenses for a few years now so relate entirely to your thoughts and experiences. A very enjoyable set of images, a refreshing change from green skies, as wonderful as they. I have had the privilege to share a good few hours in the field with Sean Lewis and Gerry Gavigan who have both recently made the move from Ebony to Nikon and T/S, so fully appreciate the trauma of severing the LF umbilical, although Sean stubbornly insists on hanging onto his Ebony (to his credit of course). We have discussed the pros and cons over a pint or two and to be honest the best solution is to run both systems if your budget can stretch to it, mine doesn’t. The problem I now have is that I’ve been trying to convince myself I don’t need the Nikon 85mm but your inspiring set of images makes me rethink that one.

  • Richard Earney

    A really interesting read.
    I’d love to see a side by side of an image you’d shoot on the 1DX and one on 5×4 where you think it is better (maybe a future video?)

    • Hi Richard,

      That sounds like a really good idea, I’ll put it to the management!

  • adrianw

    Good to read an erudite commentary on the use of these great lenses. it was more than a fair ask to compare to the Linhof! I very much like the way you explain the focusing. I have just sold all my Canon gear, which included these lenses, because it is all too much to fit in a plane here in Oz without excess, and I have forwarded your article to the lady purchaser who has not thought of using them before. I am sure it will help her. I am down to Leica M9 in size, shortly M I hope when I should be able to indulge in a TS lens again

  • jfzander

    Great article. I work with TS lenses and a DSLR too. Beside the Canon 17,and 24 TS I also use the Zeiss-Hartblei 40, 80 and 120mm. Those lenses are as good as lens can get, and I think they are nicer to work with than the Canon lenses. I always had problems on focusing the Focus Plane, which especially with longer FLs can be very frustrating. I didn’t find this method any where, and I am glad you published it here. Sony has a focus peaking mode on its NEX which comes in very hand with TS lenses. Magic Latern has that feature. too, though it doesn’t work that well. A split screen would be nice, but quite hard to achieve. Focus peeking would just do the same thing, it is here now, and I am sure it would just be an software update away. Maybe that could be a message to Canon.

  • jfzander

    One question…

    DOF is achieved by tilting and not by stoping down.

    So what aperture would you use on a DSLR and why?

    • DOF is achieved by stopping down as with any camera (though it is a different shape, narrow near the camera and deeper further away), the plane of focus is achieved by tilt or swing. Hope this clarifies things!

      • jfzander

        Yes, it does. Thank you.

  • AJ de Montjoie

    Fascinating insight into your experience of digital, David. I am not sure I fully understand the Tilt/Shift phenomenon … and it’s not something I want to get to grips with just yet. I agree with you about the overuse of long exposures and Big Stoppers (I am not without guilt on that front but I have only just learnt to use filters!). There is something beautiful about the movement of water being captured as the force it is, rather than misty softness. I also agree that being able to take more frames when capturing a dynamic sea is driven more by the composition than the cost of the film with digital. Hope you’re bring the digital camera to the Gower!
    Best
    AJ

  • Babak

    Hi David,

    Nice article and very articulate as per usual. I hope however this is not going to be your solution to the problem of the demise of Velvia. No pressure, but you know we are all ( Velvia addicts) waiting for you to solve the problem(Velvia replacement).
    I too shoot both digital and Film, but much less digital in the last few years. For me the feel of the LF camera and the processes that goes into developing a shot are important, different and interesting. It may be that I can take exactly the same shot in both formats, but the longer and more arduos process of developing the film and seeing the transparency for the first time, is a feeling that does not compare with seeing the preview of the image on the back of my canon.

    • Hi Babak,

      It seems that Fuji haven’t entirely killed off Velvia 5×4 after all, more details here.

      For me the most important difference is not whether the image is captured digitally or on film but is rather whether a DSLR or a view camera is used. The latter invites a more measured, almost ritualistic way of working. This slowing down allows me to really connect. I’m not saying this is impossible with a DSLR just that these cameras invite a faster way of working and over the course of the week I did find myself making different images. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I wouldn’t want to give up the view camera.

      They do say that delayed gratification is psychologically healthy so maybe that’s why you like using a view camera and film 😉

  • herb1815

    Very interesting article, whether film or digital David is still a master, will definitely have to start saving for a couple of T/S lenses, i’ve been interested in them for a while but until now found them a bit scary. after reading this I think I could probably get to grips with them.

    • Hi Herb,

      Glad to be of assistance! I’m contemplating running some one day T/S workshops as I think there are a lot of people out there who don’t understand the principles or how to get the best out of their lenses.

  • candron

    David, many thanks for sharing your experiences from working with a DSLR and T/S lenses. I am also very keen on starting using these lenses with my DSLR (I also carry a Canon) and your article provides some excellent background information. Not to mention some very inspiring images as well (my preference goes to Vik beach and Black pebble)!

    • Hi Candron,

      It’s interesting to me that you chose those two images as they were made on my first outing with the camera and for me are more like my view camera output than later images in the trip…

  • Patrick

    The change to colour neg film represents to big a change in workflow but using small sensor (albeit full frame) digital doesn’t. As one about to embark on 5×4 colour, after a few years of B&W, what am I missing?

    • Hi Patrick,

      I guess for me the main difference between using neg and film or digital is that with neg in a sense there is no ‘original’ to match to or use as a starting point. Colour neg needs to be turned into a positive and completing this process satisfactorily relies not only upon a colour managed workflow but also upon one’s colour memory. Having used film for a very long time I have to an extent learnt to see colour in a similar way as the emulsion. I can’t see how this would be possible with neg. Maybe it won’t matter but I still foresee more complications than at present as one more step with many variables has been introduced.

      • Adam Pierzchala

        Relating to this topic, “seeing” with a Velvia filter in your brain isn’t necessarily the same as what your eyes saw in situ. I think that you David have a highly developed ability to interpret the scene as the emulsion will render it and so what you see is very different to what another photographer might see standing next to you. Velvia imposes its own colour gamut which will be different to a “standard” digital sensor, or any other film for that matter. I wonder David how much your processing of the Canon digital files was influenced by wanting to achieve the Velvia look.
        In fact Patrick, for me the switch from predominantly transparency to colour neg wasn’t that much of a problem, because I have not the same affinity to a particular emulsion. And if you feel that you do need a note of the colour of a particular scene, you can always take a snap with a small digicam to guide your post-processing of the 5×4 transparency.
        I did find Ektar a bit difficult at first, mainly because of what I perceived to be a slight yellowish cast and slightly cyan blues, but I think I’ve learnt how to process that and in any case I have started using Portra a lot more and enjoying the results. Not to mention a growing interest in digital (but don’t tell David…).
        I’m finding it more difficult to accept the fact that there is no original at all. It’s a just a collection of electrons whizzing around a hard disk. That’s too surreal… Have a good Easter, Adam

      • But isn’t processing a raw file much the same as processing a colour neg after it has been inverted? In both cases colour information has been lost and/or transformed and it’s down to the photographer to interpret what’s left accordingly.

        • Hi Julian, I agree with you about the similarities between digital and colour neg, as I stated above but for me the inversion is the problematic step. It seems to me that to do this well one needs not only a highly developed sense of colour but also a high degree of technical ability. I currently struggle to get my scans of transparencies looking how I want them to but at least I have an original to work too. That point of reference has gone with neg. Perhaps I just need to let go of that comfort blanket but after almost 35 years of working with transparency that is hard to do. The digital file is superficially closer to a transparency and so seems in some ways a more attractive solution. More experimentation is needed before I can make a final decision but I suspect the answer will be “and” rather than “either/or”.

          • Of course. Digital and film together is the way to go for us ‘filmies’ who want that bit of extra flexibility that digital provides without totally giving up on the ‘old’ methods we love.

            As regards neg inversion, I use the method that Tim developed which I saved as a PS action. Occasionally I may need to tweak things a little after that but at least it allows me to get a basic reference quickly. For a quick look, I do a pre-scan with a canned profile and this is usually enough to tell me if a shot is worth bothering with or not.

            Like your digis from Iceland, by the way. Some of them could almost be 5×4…

          • Alan Rew

            David,

            I know you like large prints (e.g. 5′ x 4′ at Oxo gallery), so you might be slightly anxious about how large you can print from your DSLR shots. What are your plans WRT printing? I’m sure you know some technical wizards in this area, who can show you what’s possible.

            That would make an interesting article in itself, by the way! Tim please take note.

            • Hi Alan,

              There is something magical about a perfectly rendered (thanks to my printer David Whistance!) LF image printed at many times life size. Viewing it is almost a hyper-real experience, one can see detail and colour rendered in a uniformly sharp way, something that would have been impossible to apprehend at the point of taking. But I’m not in love with large prints simply for the sake of boasting rights – “Mine’s bigger than yours, nah-nah-na-nah-naaa!” – there has to be more to it than that. A bad image printed big is simply a bigger version of a bad image! 😉 I was blown away by Michael Kenna’s jewel like small prints so I image that I may well take that route if or when I stop using the LF. I used to be indecisive but now I’m not sure 😉

              • Alan Rew

                David,

                Thanks for clearing up the size issue.

                I too was blown away by Mr Kenna’s prints, when I saw them at Banbury a few years ago.

                With the 1Dx quoted as producing images of 5202 x 3533 pixels, then ‘jewel like’ prints are easily obtainable: about 14.5″ x 9.8″ at 360 ppi (better than a ‘retina display’). I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good your images will look when printed (be sure to try glossy paper as well as fine art paper, by the way).

                Your prints will sell on the strength of their photographic content. An old photography friend of mine, who alas is no longer with us, exhibited & sold prints of his photos for many years. He pointed out that serious collectors of fine art prints will tend to already have walls covered with prints, and so will often be looking specifically for a small print, and avoid large ones. Give it a go!

  • Carlo Didier

    Excellent, well written article. Makes me long (once again) for a T/S lens. But I haven’t got the budget …
    Gorgeous images too.

  • Simon Miles

    I’m in two minds about T-S lenses. They do give you some of that view camera magic, but my experience is that tilt/swing movements are largely unnecessary on small formats with wide-angle lenses. I know lots of people will disagree with me, but I just don’t see a significant IQ gain (particularly in prints) compared to stopping down hyperfocally. Not so with long lenses, where there tilts and swings are game changers. The Canon 90mm TS-E, incidentally, is one of my all-time favourite DSLR lenses. But I don’t see much reason to invest in anything wider. As to the ‘view camera experience,’ somehow peering into an electronic screen is not the same as viewing a ground glass under a darkcloth. You don’t get the same sense of isolation from the outside world and it’s not as ‘meditative’. On the other hand, you don’t have to contend with a darkcloth flapping around your head in the wind. And not having to hold my breath to stop my glasses constantly steaming up under the darkcloth is, for me, one of the joys of Live View focussing! As a light-hearted aside, I’m so short-sighted I don’t need a loupe for ground glass focussing. If I just take my glasses off, my inherent myopia gives me ‘natural loupe’ vision. Pretty nifty, eh? Well, yes, until I fall over my tripod, camera bag or the nearest tree root because I can’t see anything when I come out from under the darkcloth! So, on balance, I’m of the opinion that Live View focussing is ‘the future’. What’s needed, I think, are bigger, better screens, more aids like focus peaking and, as David rightly points out, better zooming/scrolling. In the meantime, I’m very pleased for David and others who still use film that Fuji is not, after all, calling time on Velvia. It’s good that we still have choices. Long may it continue.

  • John Dunne

    Great to hear your insights on shooting digital David. So often articles are written from the other perspective – DSLR to MF or LF. This has further convinced me of getting some T/S lenses although my plan is to use the Mirex Adaptor and a set of 35, 55, and 80mm Mamyia 645 Sekor’s. slightly more affordeable 🙂

    Would you consider a Part II to this article where you would discuss your thoughts on your post-shot workflow. Sharing your thoughts on the quality of the digital files vs your extensive 5×4 experience – colour, range, faithfulness, etc? I’d love to understand your thoughts in this.

    Cheers
    John

    • Hi John,

      I’ll have a think about writing a Part II, I can certainly see differences in the colour and the amount of information and detail is hugely reduced… I just need to get my head around how I would present that and what proportion of the “differences” are real as opposed to a bias of perception.

      • John Dunne

        Thanks David, I think we have enough pixel peeper discussions out there. Understanding you experiences in print between the two formats would be very insightful.

  • Bert Vliegen

    Thanks for this well written article. I just want to say that ‘despite’ the 2:3 format, the images you made are very pleasing! Although there is less velvia50 magic perhaps), the second picture Vik Beach is a very good example of a great composition.
    Best regards, Bert.

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