I shoot a high volume and am always trying to turn things around as quickly as I can, so I’ve been on the digital train since the bad old days of terrible color, low resolution, and insanely high prices. Digital has come a long way and turned film into a niche market … but it’s a beautiful niche.
dSLRs have come a long way with dynamic range in particular — the D800 is startlingly good, in particular. But when you reach the very ends of it, you’ll always come down to the ones and zeroes that make for harsh roll-offs. So, when I was faced with the extreme contrast of this scene with Kelsie — direct Boise sun beating on the light sand with her face in reflected light and the background in shade — I turned to film, with the Mamiya 645 and the 80mm f/1.9. The sand is overexposed by more than two stops, but film retains the information.
This is as good as I could get the scene with the D3s:
Not horrible, but the highlights are still garish. The D3s (and the D800 even more) keeps a remarkable amount of dynamic range in the shadows, so if I’d really wanted to get the absolute best out of it, I would have exposed for the highlights, underexposing her face by as much as three stops, and then dodging it back in post (*very* different than the optimal way to shoot the scene in film). But in a scene like this, that would take a lot of work to make it look right, while film nailed it in one shot.
Film is on a bit of a downward spiral — getting more and more expensive as less and less people use it, which causes even less people to use it, which makes it more expensive — but I do hope the niche stays more active than, say daguerreotype enthusiasts.