Sunday, August 3, 2014

A day in the Leica

I'm four rolls in to shooting film again, and it's a struggle—a miss-exposed, out of focus, wrongly-timed-moment struggle.

Although film is relatively forgiving of the exposure mistakes, an out of focus image seems even blurrier on film than a digital version. (Bokeh like you've never seen!) Once upon a time, I could manually focus a lens while a motorized Nikon F3 ripped the film through at 6 frames per second.  Years of using autofocus cameras apparently has eroded that skill. The Leica's focus point is singular and small, and while the lens focuses smoothly enough, the finger knob is unnatural in my hand.

Static scenes are easier to capture, and a walrus skull is definitely static.

Likewise with exposure. I used to be able to gauge a scene well enough, and merely tweak with the internal light meter. Now I struggle to translate the M6's red arrows into an appreciation of the actual scene—constantly trying to determine whether the meter's white dot is seeing what I'm seeing, all the while fiddling with an aperture setting that I can't see in the rangefinder, requiring me to glance at it to get my bearings.

The M6's meter uses a white dot on the shutter curtain to measure light.

These impediments add up to time spent preparing for the shot instead of timing the shot, leading to ill-timed (read: missed) moments. A few of those and suddenly I'm rushing shots instead, which leads to better moments—but only if you ignore that they're out of focus and the exposure is off a few stops.

Ironically, it's easier to see the moment through the Leica. The uncluttered rangefinder is more like holding one's fingers together to make a frame, except that with a push of a button you can also capture the vision on film.


Film's auto white balance handles mixed light with aplomb. 

The Leica is refreshingly clean and clear and unpolluted with multicolored displays of information and histograms. I see faster and get the camera to my eye faster. Now I just need to relearn focusing and exposure.

With a bit of preparation, moments can be grabbed faster with a Leica than with a digital on full auto.

And then there's the issue of translating the film to digital. That part of the process is currently a puzzle. The negatives look like they're supposed to, but again there's a gap in my ability to anticipate how that negative will invert into a final image. Once upon a time (there's a theme here, did you notice?) I could look at a negative and know the exposure time for the print within a second or two. Now I look at the scanned negative and struggle to grasp what needs tweaking to get it into final form. This is particularly frustrating because I've honed my ability to look at a RAW file and know what needs doing.

However tempting, I'm not willing to end it all just yet.

Despite these frustrations, I'm very energetic to tackle each issue because each one is a path to making better images. Focusing is, literally, about attention. With digital cameras, my attention has gone to other parts of the image making process, and it's just a matter of bringing it back. Likewise, exposure is about seeing the light again instead of seeing how an EVF displays it. Film demands the photographer to do the histogram's work, and my mind is rusty. Evaluating light in my head instead of with the EVF will only improve both film and digital images. And likewise with learning how a scan needs to be developed. Paper had it's own brightness, white balance, and noise reduction settings built in, and developers handled contrast. Figuring out how the details of film are best developed digitally will lead to a greater appreciation for the Fuji's images as well.

Film has warmth and texture unmatched by digital sensors.

There will be bumps and bruises along the way, and each missed shot is painful. The fuel for the fire, though, is the beautiful image quality film captures, which is so much closer to the mix of sight and emotion that takes place in the mind when we perceive a moment than what a digital image can yet capture. Film is definitely not dead.

Cloudy, with a forecast of unlimited potential.