Did the “one hour photo” speed the death of film?

One Hour Photo
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One Hour Photo

The film and prints received from the local shop that still is able to send out film.
Shawn Steiner/In Focus

Recently, I had a roll of 35mm Kodak Ektar 100 processed at a local drug store. I was satisfied. There were 38 developed images (yes, it was a 36 exposure roll, I’m that good) and a set of prints along with a CD. The darkroom chromogenic prints, while appreciated, are atrocious. The scans were better, but still not good enough for my applications. Now, this was expected for my project.

My workflow was always planned to involve taking the negatives and producing my own scans and inkjet prints. The everyday person, however, may have a different reaction. I would image tit to be along the lines of, “This looks terrible!” or “My friend’s new point and shoot looks amazing compared to this!” Basically the person will come to the conclusion that it is time to move to digital.

Amelia Marino

My friend Amelia posing for a shot with some Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film.
Shawn Steiner/In Focus

The prevalence of these one hour photo shops proliferated a change in a desire for quality for the necessity of speed. Digital allows for the best mixture of each for the average consumer. They don’t have access to personal darkrooms to process their film in a timely manner, and they most likely don’t realize the capabilities of their film negatives.

So did these workflows lead to an increasing disappointment with the quality of film?

If I were to imagine being a normal consumer I feel like I would make the change to digital much faster if I thought that the cost of processing film was no longer worth it.

These prints are good enough for being a quick reference, but otherwise I can see this as part of why consumers moved so quickly into the digital realm.

The fear of digital noise

Ithaca College senior Erik Caron, center, belts out “Devil’s Coming” and plays guitar for the Erik Caron Connection alongside bassist sophomore Gabe Lefferts, left, and drummer Alex Cano ’12, right.
This photograph was taken at ISO 25600, f/2.8 and 1/125 second at 20mm.
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Ithaca College senior Erik Caron, center, belts out “Devil’s Coming” and plays guitar for the Erik Caron Connection alongside bassist sophomore Gabe Lefferts, left, and drummer Alex Cano ’12, right.
This photograph was taken at ISO 25600, f/2.8 and 1/125 second at 20mm.

Noise was never a good thing. But, everyone still seems to want to emulate the grain of film.

Pushing film two stops so that you can get a usable image was more important than the amount of grain that you may see. It was the norm to have to deal with grain. Now that we have moved to digital sensors it seems that we are afraid to see anything besides a perfectly clean image on the camera’s LCD screen. The immediacy of digital has let us know how we can change things to “fix” the image in camera, and see when we take unusable photos.

Why should we be afraid to push the boundaries of our cameras technology?

I support the ability of modern day cameras to reach these absurd ISOs. Years ago I never would have imagined being able to shoot outside at night and have a perfectly exposed image. Independent filmmaking would also still require a lot of startup money. Now, we can shoot for bare minimum and produce something of quality.

In the realm of photojournalism it means we can go new places with less equipment and get the shots we need. The other day I was shooting at ISO 25600 in a pub late at night. I took photos. That is awesome. No flash, no unnecessary lights, just capturing the mood as it was set up for the show.

At first glance I have heard shock at the ISO speeds I was shooting at. But then when I have shot video on the same SLR I have heard that it is too clean and sharp. Where are we going to finally accept the world of digital and accept it on its own, without thinking about it in the context of celluloid.

Many companies are even trying to produce the ability to add grain to digital footage.As much as I appreciate the nostalgia for film, I respect the advancement is technology that allows our industry to advance to incredible heights. Accept the look of noise and forget the look of grain. It is a part of the digital image making process and we should see it as such.