Dusting off the digital

Everyone in the UK has been totally amazed with the recent long spell of amazing weather, and one evening I made the most of it by heading up to one of my local hills for a wander.

It was also the first time I've used my X-T2 for a long time. I'm taking it on holiday with me next week, so it was a good chance to check it over, especially after the recall of the recently released v4.0 firmware. 

All images taken the the 35mm f/2 lens.

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St Kitts and Nevis

When you hear there's an upcoming trip to the Caribbean for two weeks, you aren't exactly going to say no! I've been lucky enough to have visited a few places in the Caribbean for work, but like many of my trips, they were only brief.

On an island this small, you're never far away from the beach, and I was staying at a great little resort in the Frigate Bay area. From my room it was only a 2 minute walk to the beach itself, and there were plenty of restaurants and bars that lined the beach itself. Life on the island moves at a very different pace, and that's what I love about the Caribbean. Some things are so simple, especially the food. I'll definitely miss that for sure! For me, most mornings started out with a leisurely stroll along the beach, among the locals taking their routine morning walk and dip in the sea.

Even the drive to work was something I looked forward to each day, driving the main road that meanders along the coast, and you soon get used to the absolutely insane local taxi drivers in their customised vans. Some of the scenery reminded me of Jurassic Park, with a huge volcano in the centre of St Kitts itself, that despite how sunny it was everywhere else, was always covered by thick low lying clouds. Each day was full of little surprises, like a lovely lady visiting us at work most days selling delicious home made cakes. Her banana bread was amazing, and it was even still warm from coming out the oven. 

Despite being there for work, I did manage to visit quite a few restaurants, and see a few things around the island. If you ever visit St Kitts, these would be my 'must visit' places:

  • Bobsy's Super Wings - Quite possibly the best ribs I've ever had. They also do great wings in a variety of different flavoured sauces. It's not the most picturesque location, as you're served the food from a shipping container at the side of one of the busiest roads in the area, but if you're after amazing simple food, it's definitely worth a visit.
  • Mr X's Shiggidy Shack - One of the many bars/restaurants that line Frigate Bay, this was pretty much my local for great food and a few drinks. The setting is beautiful, and you can have dinner right on the beach itself. They have a great selection of local food including freshly caught fish. If you're there at the weekend, they also do a great full English breakfast! They frequently have live music each evening too, so it's a great place to relax in the evening.
  • Timothy Hill Lookout - If you ever visit St Kitts, you're bound to end up in the Frigate Bay area. This lookout is a right near it, and provides fantastic views back across the island, or over to neighbouring Nevis. You can also watch the stark contrast between the rougher Atlantic Ocean and the calmer Caribbean Sea in one view. Walk to the top to make the views even more rewarding!

 

For the first time in a while, I decided not to take a digital camera and only bring my two 35mm film cameras, one for colour, the other B&W. Despite having lots of photo opportunities, I really didn't want to be snapping away like mad, but only have a limited number of shots for the two weeks I would be there. It worked out perfectly in the end, finishing my last roll on the flight out.

Leica M6  //  50mm Summicron  //  Portra 400         Olympus OM4-Ti  //  50mm 1.4  //  Tri-X 400 (+2)

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Film vs Digital

First things first, despite the title, this post is not intended to be a pixel peeping, full detailed analysis and comparison between film images and digital images. This purely started because I had quite a few similar shots taken on both film and digital, and I was intrigued to see how they compared. Not long after I bought my Leica M6 film camera, I still took my Fuji X-T2 with me on a few trips, mainly as a backup. I took way more photos on film than I did on the Fuji, but in many places I had quite a bit of time, so I chose to take the same photos with both cameras, mainly to satisfy my own curiosity. 

These are the cameras and settings I used for the various images:

// Film

Camera -  Leica M6 and 50mm Summicron lens. Colour images shot on Portra 400, black and white images shot on Ilford HP5 400.

All photos are un-edited, and with the exception of some simple cropping and straightening in some shots, they are as I received them from the lab.

// Digital

Camera -  Fuji X-T2 and XF35mm f/2 lens. 

As I shoot RAW, I had a lot more flexibility when it came to editing. My usual workflow in Lightroom is to apply various presets, and then adjust the white balance, contrast etc as appropriate. For all the digital photos in this set, I applied the corresponding VSCO film preset, and then adjusted only the WB and contrast to achieve a similar look to the corresponding film image.

This comparison was never designed to a super accurate test. I didn't ensure I was using the exact same aperture etc for each photo. I simply took the photo using the setting I felt best for each scenario. 

I'll share my findings at the end of this post, and also reveal which images are which. For the entire set, either the film or digital images will always be on the right or left, bottom or top throughout.













So........for the portrait comparisons, the film images are on the right, for the landscapes, film are the bottom images.

Overall I think it's pretty easy to tell which images are which, even for someone not familiar with film images. The first thing that struck me when reviewing the images is that the digital images, despite looking sharper, look much 'flatter' and more sterile (I did tend to shoot with much wider apertures with the Leica, hence the difference in sharpness in some of the comparisons). Maybe I needed to bump up the contrast a little more on the digital images too, this might have geven them a bit more of a punchy look. I also find the colours in the film images to be much more pleasing, and generally have much nicer tones. Of course, I could change this in the digital files but fiddling with the various colour channels and saturation etc, but I was really surprised how much more I liked the film images, even after editing the digital files. If I set-up a comparison between the RAW files and the film images, the differences would be even more profound......but I guess that wouldn't really be a fair test. 

Another interesting point was that the colours and tones of the film images were pretty much as I remembered them when I took the photo. That is to say, they look more 'real'. I had to edit the digital images, quite a bit in some cases, to look like the film, and therefore match the 'real scene'. 

I guess one obvious question, especially considering how similar and comparable many of the images are, is why shoot film? If I can manipulate the digital image to give that film 'look', why bother with film at all? For me, the answer is two fold. I never thought I would say this, but I really do prefer shooting with a film camera. The fact that you only get 36 images (or 12 with my Hasselblad) really does force you to concentrate on the scene, rather than snapping away like crazy, only to keep 10% at most of those images. Film cameras, especially the Leica, are also such a joy to use, and incredibly simple. 

The second reason is that no matter how much you edit the digital images, you can never fully re-create that film 'look'. Some of these images are probably not the best subjects to compare, they just happen to be most of the images that I took both on film and digital. Even so, for most of the images posted above, I do prefer the film images. So much so that for a couple of big trips I have coming up, all I'll be taking is the Leica and a bunch of Portra 400 film. 

If only film were cheaper to buy and process....... ;-)