Trading wood for metal, a difficult decision made.
Richard is a landscape photographer based in the wonderful scenery and industrial landscape of the Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire. He specialises in producing high quality images using a Large Format film camera and also digital equipment. Since starting out in 2004 his work has been published in books and the photographic press and also for a wide variety of marketing uses with clients including Ordnance Survey, Marine Resource Centre, Visit Scotland and National Geographic Magazine.
Below is an un-edited blog written by Richard about his experience of using the Cambo Actus and Sony A7 series camera.
Trading wood for metal, a difficult decision made.
After nearly a year of agonising and constant changes of mind I have finally made the decision (for now) to place both feet firmly in the digital photography camp. I’ve been fighting it but to be honest I have found myself shooting less and less film since investing in my Sony A7r and now I have the means to make my digital photography as enjoyable and engaging as Large Format has been over the last fourteen years.
During that time I have shot about 16,000 sheets of film, the emulsion (mostly Velvia) and the cameras (Ebony RSW45, Ebony 45su, Shen Hao and Chamonix 045F-1) whipping me into shape as a photographer throughout that time. I still want my photography to challenge me but I also need to be returning with usable images wherever I go and my Sony, now married up to Pentax 645 lenses via a beautifully made Cambo Actus view camera, is very much fulfilling these needs (and most importantly, making me very happy).
The signs have been there for a while. Last year I only shot 31 sheets of film, in 2016 I shot around 90. I process my own film and whereas I used to get through a five litre E6 kit every two months (therefore wasting none) I have in recent years had to throw away fifty percent of the 2.5 litre kits as it had exceeded its twenty or so week usable life.
So why didn’t I just hold on to all of my 400+ sheets of frozen film and use them when I feel the urge? Going back to the chemistry issue I could simply send the few I take off to a lab for processing but for the last ten years I have had complete control of my workflow from capture, through processing, post processing, printing and finally framing and I don’t intend to let go of any of these important elements. I don’t want to be pouring away wasted chemistry and I’m not really in the position to be able to invest in the 1200 sheets per year at current prices to be making images as I used to. I also get relatively few days out on my own with a camera anyway and have really appreciated in the last few years the ability to be making images when previously I had really struggled and often come back with nothing.
The comparison test.
Doesn’t the same image shot side by side with a sheet of Velvia look better compared with it’s Sony equivalent? Well, yes but I’ve only done it once and have been delighted with pretty much everything I’ve shot on both cameras over the last year. I’m not trying to recreate a Velvia look with my digital images (although looking back through my images as I save them to cloud storage I love the depth of colour in the shadows that my favoured emulsion provided) but simply carry on doing as I have always done and create dynamic images in camera that I can make relatively small adjustments to work well in print. I’m certainly able to make sharper images with my Sony now that I need to wear reading glasses to focus (being able to check focus before and after the act of making an image has proven incredibly useful, something I have always struggled with on the ground glass itself). Can’t you print bigger from your 5×4 scans? Yes, but I have very few customers who need anything larger than the 24×30 inch images that I have been printing from both my scans and my digitally captured files. I always scanned my transparencies at 1800dpi which gave me a 315mb 16bit file. Converting to 8 bit for print provided me with a 157mb file to work with and having now tried out a couple of successful stitched files with my A7r2 on the platform provided by my Cambo I’ve created 157mb files from two images stitched horizontally and 210mb files when I stitch vertically (vertical stitching allowing me more use of the lens’ image circle without vignetting). These files are ample for my needs and I can’t really envisage needing much more.
I think the most critical question has to be; Is photography as enjoyable as it was when I shot film and used my large format camera? The answer is a resounding yes. It’s not better, it’s just different. There are things that I miss; the ritual of setting up, the delayed gratification when first viewing your images days or weeks after their making, the feel of a wooden camera. There are certainly things I don’t miss; struggling under a dark cloth in a side wind when the ground glass and my glasses were both misting up having climbed to a location, those near misses that occurred because I just couldn’t set up fast enough, midges inside the camera! Much of what I loved about LF I have tried to carry over to digital although there is the inevitable increased use of my computer, a necessary evil albeit one that I am coming to appreciate more as I improve my Lightroom workflow for my Raw files (I’m even reworking many of my scans in this software as they seem far more malleable to a point where I feel like they have a wider latitude).
Will I ever shoot film again? Probably. I’ve kept my Gnassgear dark cloth which was the one piece of equipment I would have struggled to replace. I have a habit of stopping and restarting hobbies and I feel that Large Format would very much be a hobby activity in the future since it would be difficult to compete commercially with such an expensive method of making images. After all, an image library would pay me the same pittance for use of a photograph no matter what I’d taken it with.
To see more of Richards work click here or if you’re passing why not pop in to his gallery: Richard Childs Gallery Maws Craft Centre, Unit B1, Ferry Rd, Jackfield TF8 7LS