Sometimes, change has much to recommend it

I sympathize with Roger Ebert in not wanting to see the end of celluloid. But the truth is, I didn’t even realize it was gone to this extent in the movie world — which I suppose argues that it’s not all that great a loss.

Here’s an excerpt from what he wrote on the subject yesterday:

The sudden death of film

By Roger Ebert on November 2, 2011 8:49 PM79 Comments

Who would have dreamed film would die so quickly? The victory of video was quick and merciless. Was it only a few years ago that I was patiently explaining how video would never win over the ancient and familiar method of light projected through celluloid? And now Eastman Kodak, which seemed invulnerable, is in financial difficulties.

Many of the nation’s remaining mail-order company that processing film from still cameras has closed, even though stills are having a resurgence in serious market. New 35mm movie projectors are no longer manufactured, for the simple reason that used projectors, some not very old, are flooding the market…

Until fairly late in the game, however, I was a holdout. I persisted in preferring the look, the feel, the vibe of celluloid. Film had a wider range–whiter whites, blacker blacks, richer colors. Besides, I explained, satellite projection of theater-quality digital would involve a footprint containing every hacker and pirate in the world. Studios would never risk it, I promised. Yes, but why did I assume studios would use satellites to distribute first-run films?

And on and on. I insisted, like many other critics, that I always knew when I was not being shown a true celluloid print. The day came when I didn’t. The day is here when most of the new movies I see are in digital. You and I both know how they look, and the fact is, they look pretty good. We’ve shown a lot of restored 70mm prints at Ebertfest, and they look breathtaking. But 70mm is no longer a viable format. (When any industry says a format is “no longer viable,” that means “it may be better, but it costs too much.”)

We live in a time few people could have foreseen on that day in Hawaii. I now view movies on Netflix and Fandor over the internet on my big-screen high-def set, or with an overhead projector on a wall-sized screen, and the picture quality pleases me. The celluloid dream may lives on in my hopes, but digital commands the field…

I have a wonderful SLR — a Nikon 8008 — in like-new condition, and it just sits in a drawer, and has for about six years now. It’s a vastly better instrument than the little point-and-shoots that I’ve used since 2005. It gave me much truer focus, and much greater control over exposures. But now, I put up with random focus and over- and under-exposed images, mainly by the strategy of shooting so many shots of everything that I usually get one or two that are pretty decent. Because it doesn’t cost me a dime, and I have the images immediately (so that I can keep trying until I get a good one).

I used to be a very serious film photographer. I had my own enlarger and tanks and trays and chemical bottles and dryers and print-cutters, the whole nine yards, for doing it all at home. But I haven’t broken that stuff out in years. I might sometime, just for old times- sake. But it won’t be a regular thing.

Someday I’ll get a good digital SLR. But I don’t foresee ever going back to film. I find that kind of sad, but hey, the new stuff looks good.

2 thoughts on “Sometimes, change has much to recommend it

  1. Burl Burlingame

    My degree is actually in photojournalism. I too have a closet full of film SLRs and darkroom equipment. When one of my kids took a photography course, she needed a light meter, and you simply couldn’t get one. The other kid, I gave her an SLR camera set and a half-dozen lenses — and she spent her own money on retrofitting it with a digital back.
    OK, she’s smarter than I am.

  2. Ralph Hightower

    Having brought my Canon A-1 out for the final Space Shuttle launch, I’ve gotten more active in photography. It was a long lapse from the time I used the camera last. I had to order ISO 100 speed film from New York; I couldn’t find any in Columbia. Florida Today’s photography suggested I shoot 100 speed for the launch.

    I was probably the only one shooting film for the launch and landing of Atlantis. At a post launch party, one woman asked me “You shooting film?”; “Yes”. She said “Cool!” and we exchanged fist-bumps.

    I can’t buy new lenses for my A-1. Canon has a new lens mount for their EOS cameras.

    I’m thinking of buying Canon’s current film camera and buying a mid-range DSLR. HDR photography (High Dynamic Range) is a digital camera technique, something that film does naturally.

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