Tag Archives: noise reduction

Why I Shoot Film


It may seem strange to most photographers today why anyone would shoot with film when digital is so much more convenient. The quality of digital images has already surpassed 35mm film and, with the release of Nikon’s D800, may finally surpass that of medium format film as well. These are valid arguments but they do not stop me from shooting film and here’s why …


The main reason I shoot film is to preserve my most memorable experiences. Memorable does not necessarily mean best. Family travel photos won’t win awards but they are very important. By shooting film, I get three copies, in three different media, of the photos that mean a lot to me: the film strips, the prints and the film scans. Film has very long archival life. Same goes with cheap Fuji archival paper. I still have the negative strips and prints of my childhood years. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for digital images. After losing 95Gb worth of data when my hard disk crashed, I became paranoid and started investing in external drives. My important digital photos now have triplicate copies in separate disks. Yesterday I managed to chat my with friend whose house got broken into a few weeks ago. All his disks got stolen. He did have backup copies online but they were encrypted and the encryption key was in one of the disks that got stolen 😦 Really bad luck. Thieves will never run away with your film. OK, that’s a bit of an extreme case of bad luck but it need not go that far for you to lose access to your photos. I still have lots of photos stored in one of my IDE drives but modern computers do not have IDE controllers anymore. They all use SATA. Of course I can still recover them if I have to but that’s not the point. Digital technology moves too fast that storage becomes obsolete in just a few years. CD/DVD drives are now becoming useless as you might have noticed in laptops. Digital storage technology is like a dog trying to chase its own tail. You have to keep up or lose everything.


Shooting film does not make you a better photographer. Anyone who says so is just being boastful. Anyone who advises a beginner to shoot film to become better needs a serious reality check. It will force you to think a hundred times before clicking and that’s about it. Your skill won’t magically improve in an instant. The quality of your film shots are a good indication though of how far you have progressed in your photography. It shows that you can capture your vision in a single take without the need to chimp on an LCD screen. I have far greater percentage of keeper shots in film than my digital captures not because film made me better. I didn’t magically improve after 36 frames in a canister, but rather, I was just being conservative. It’s just human nature that if something seems inexpensive then we tend to abuse it and that translates into our digital photos quite clearly.


In terms of image quality, digital photos are superior. Digital images are very clean, almost grainless in low ISOs shots. Nearly perfect. However, that is just one aspect of image quality. There is another aspect where I think film is better and that’s character. It’s quite difficult to describe it. It has got something to do with the way film renders images. Here’s a bit of an experiment: Go through your childhood photos or any photo captured with film. Now go to Facebook where you find thousands of the same ordinary snaps of you and your friends. Do you notice how lifeless the digital images look? They look dull and boring. Film, on the other hand, has so much life in them. This is why I use film to capture family travel photos. I don’t care if the photos weren’t properly composed because they still look fantastic. Lomography is not just the hype that “elite” photographers poke fun at. Aside from being fun and care free, true Lomography photos have this character that digital lacks. I’m not just referring to the wild colors of cross-processed shots but every single one of them. Here’s another experiment: Do you know that you can buy the infamous Holga lens for whatever digital camera you have? It’s just $20. It was meant to let digital photographers enjoy the Holga without spending a fortune on film. The general feedback I have read was that “the lens is terrible”. Sorry but I think it’s not the lens but rather the medium. Digital is already dull and boring without the help of filters and photoshop and when you attach a crappy lens, image quality (whatever that is) goes south pretty quickly. Real Holga shots though have won several international awards even with their quirky exposure, bad vignette and softness.

I have only recently captured with slide film. To be exact, I have just finished my 72nd frame of Kodak E100VS. My reaction? WOW!!! How could I have missed this?! Every single frame looks stunning. The colors are so vibrant. There is so much depth that the photos look three dimensional. I’m sold! You’ve got to see it for yourself. Scanning slide film won’t cut it. I think that’s almost blasphemous. Scanning is no better than capturing the photo with a DSLR. So I bought five more rolls of slide film, this time another discontinued emulsion, the Kodak EBX. Not only that, I got myself a Mamiya 645 Pro TL and five rolls of Fuji Provia 100F. The camera is still in transit from the US as I’m writing this and could not wait to shoot with it.


Reciprocity failure of film is both a problem and a blessing. A problem because it could introduce weird color shifts in long exposures (10 seconds or longer). A blessing because it means you can do very very long exposures without introducing more noise or completely ruining the shot with ugly blown highlights. Think of star trails. You could literally expose film for hours. Try that with digital 😉 Film behaves quite differently. The exposure response is not linear but tends to flatten at the extreme shadows and highlights. What this means is that film will not have that ugly clipping that happens to incorrectly exposed digital shots. I have overexposed negative film by three stops and still managed to get acceptable results. Don’t even try it with digital. The obvious advantage is that if you shoot in difficult lighting conditions, say in snow, it is easier to push two stops higher and be assured that your highlights are in control.

Film is not for everyone. It is quite expensive, especially the cost of developing. Some photographers develop their own shots to save money and that’s next in my todo list. I hope film stays forever but who are we kidding. For the mean time, I’ll just keep on shooting with it while the cost is not yet very prohibitive.

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Olympus E-P3 Review

This review has long been overdue and I think it may no longer be relevant especially that the E-M5/OM-D has been released. I mean what’s the point of reviewing old technology? Nevertheless, I’ll try to write about this camera in terms of my own experiences.

Just a bit of background about my other cameras. I have a Nikon D700 which I use for portraiture and event photography. I also have a Pentax K5 which I use for landscape and travel. I still shoot film and I absolutely love my Nikon FM3A and FE2 cameras. My iPhone 4G is for almost everything: events, candids, landscape, travel, basically anything that interests me.

So where does the E-P3 fit in considering that my other cameras have got everything covered? It’s the camera that replaces the iPhone when I expect to capture something worth keeping/printing where the DSLRs might seem awkward. So just like my iPhone the E-P3 is for everything.

The E-P3 is the camera I bring to work everyday, to birthday parties, to gigs/concerts, to everywhere. What I like about the camera, and m43 cameras in general, is their size. Big enough sensor to rival the image quality of DSLRs while small enough to carry everywhere without being awkward or intimidating. The camera can literally fit in my jacket’s pocket.

Last night we had dinner in a restaurant and it was very dim; just enough light to set an intimate mood. The E-P3 had no problems capturing the moment at all:


These are all unedited JPEGs shot at ISO 1600 with the kit 17mm/2.8 lens. The in-body stabilization is very effective in allowing me to shoot handheld even at 1/8s. The highlights and shadows are kept at acceptable levels. The grain doesn’t look bad at all. It actually looks like film grain which to me is pleasing. With a better set of lens such as the Panasonic 20mm/1.7, handheld shots should not be a problem in similar conditions. I could have used the pop-up flash but that would totally ruin the mood of the photo. I can’t imagine bringing my Nikon D700 in this occasion.

In good light, the E-P3 is superb. Here’s a shot of Adelaide Street in Brisbane using the plastic 40-150mm kit lens taken during mid day:


I opened the lens to f5.6. Again this is a JPG image processed in Photoshop. I like how smooth the E-P3 handles the highlights while maintaining details in the shadow areas. Some cameras are really bad at handling high contrast situations but the E-P3 managed to capture the scene quite well.

Another shot captured by the plastic 40-150mm lens at full zoom, ISO 800 at f5.6:


Camera in one hand while my other hand was trying to hold my umbrella against gusty winds. My D700 and 70-300mm lens would be almost impossible to use in this situation. Notice how the film-like grain adds character to the shot.

Here’s a different shot taken at dusk on the way home from work:


Here I used a flimsy tripod and captured multiple JPG frames for the stitched panograph. I really wished I had a wider lens. The 17mm (35mm in full frame) wasn’t wide enough even in portrait orientation and my back was already leaning against the wall.

I would say that the E-P3 is capable of handling just about any situation you throw at it.

Other features that I like in the E-P3 are the preset banks (none in my D700), fully customizable AEB (again, better than my D700), black frame subtraction to minimize hot pixels during long exposures, in-body stabilization that works, dust reduction that works and arguably THE best JPEG rendition in the industry. Autofocus with the 17mm kit lens is still hit or miss though but newer lenses are really quick. The kit lenses are really good. I have only used the 17mm, the new 14-42mm and 40-150mm plastic fantastic and they all produce very acceptable images even at their widest apertures.

Why did I choose a micro 43rds camera? I purchased the E-P1 with 17mm kit when it went on sale at 50% off. I gave it to my brother together with the 14-42mm when I won the E-P3 in a proper photography contest (proper meaning my friends didn’t vote for my photo). For me, Olympus’ implementation of the m43 format is the most logical carry everywhere camera that you could buy now. Other “compact” systems don’t make sense to me. The Sony NEX series have gigantic mediocre lenses, the Nikon 1 and Pentax Q really are just glorified point-and-shoot cameras. Of course there’s the Fuji X series but without proper zoom lenses, you could hardly call them walkabout cameras. They are also expensive, huge and have really buggy implementations. The Canon G1X looks really nice but I think it arrived too late. I won’t mind the fixed zoom lens of the G1X because I rarely change lenses even with my DSLRs. When I go out, I usually carry just one camera and one lens and concentrate on taking photographs.

With the release of the E-P3 (and the new E-M5/OM-D) together with superior lenses, Olympus has finally proven to the world that the 43rds format is here to stay. They have managed to build a stronghold in a unique position in the industry. I’m wishing them all the best.

Two-minute editing for landscape photography

Some of the techniques I use to edit my photos. Nothing fancy. Just basically brightness control and contrast adjustments.

The sample photo was chosen from a set of bracketed exposures in an attempt to create an HDR image. Instead of creating an HDR, I have chosen to use the -2EV exposure because that shot has managed to preserve the highlights. The Pentax K5 has this amazing ability to pull lots of details from the shadows.