A recipe for aesthetic happiness
I have spent a lot of time recently walking around with my X-Pro 3, making images along the way. That is not unusual, except that I have been doing it exclusively with a number of different adapted vintage lenses and shooting only in JPEG. And not just any JPEG settings, but “film recipes” from an interesting website, fujixweekly.com
This very enjoyable exercise, walking and photographing with cool film recipes, has made me thoughtful about the curious situation I (possibly we?) find myself in, whereby I periodically upgrade to get the most recent features and tech in my cameras while intentionally altering the images to make the images look like they were captured with 40-year-old cameras and lenses and to create an aesthetically more pleasing appearance. In effect, striving for imperfection.
Although I photographed with film in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly during art school, and I have returned to film photography a few times since then, I didn’t earn a living as a photographer until well into the age of digital photography. I completely bypassed the painful switch from analog to early digital cameras. Instead, I began my photography career with very good-quality cameras and lenses (a Nikon D3 and Leica M9 come to mind).
Since then, an increasingly capable series of Fujifilm X and GFX-cameras have been my tools of choice. I know that if I had been working with any other brand that I would have also been very well served. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a professional camera made in the past ten years that can’t produce great results.
Like many of you, I tend to upgrade my work cameras every few years. In most cases I tell myself that I need/want some new feature (IBIS, a larger sensor, better AF, etc.), yet those five-year-old cameras I am replacing still produce great, sharp and detailed images.
Which brings me to the point of this post. With each successive camera upgrade, I can capture better and sharper images. So why am I trying so hard to make those photos look like they were shot on a 1970 film camera!?
That’s right, I spend a good portion of my non-working photography life making photos with vintage lenses fronting my Fujifilm X or GFX bodies, using JPEG film recipes, trying to create images that I might have made when I was in art school.
Of course, Fujifilm cameras provide users a great jumping off point with their film simulations. Well at least for those of us who want to jump into the pool of retro-cool, it-looks-like-analog photos. Fujifilm X-cameras have always been known for producing terrific JPEGs and their many film simulations are a big attraction in their lineup of cameras.
While I employ the various film simulations available with X-cameras, the images that they produce don’t actually look like film. They still look too perfect. So in an effort to push past this “limitation,” I sought out more aggressive recipes that would produce a truer analog aesthetic. The recipes available at fujixweekly.com seem to do just that.
I don’t want to argue about whether film or digital is better. For me, film photography is too time consuming and very, very expensive. My work requires that I photograph digitally and my personal life also benefits from working digitally. While I love the look of film, film photography isn’t for me. Therefore, I want to create that look in camera, without the hassles and expense of film processing, or by spending a tonne of time on the computer trying to replicate a film look. I want the photo to come out of the camera looking the way I want it to look and in this case, it is like it was captured on film.
I don’t intend to pass my photos off as actual film images. No, I am striving for a look, an aesthetic that digital cameras have come along way to obliterate. I am striving for the beauty of imperfection. That beauty which is created by a preset white balance, colour rendering and film-like characteristics which can’t be altered, or in fact created, after the image leaves the camera.
Of course this very long post doesn’t really address why I continue to upgrade to the newest/latest X-camera (only occasionally, really!) and still strive for imperfection. But I guess I’m OK with that.
NB: First the film recipes. Ritchie Roesch is a Fujifilm fan/photographer in Utah, USA. He has spent a lot of time creating his film recipes and promoting those of other developers, as well as running his website where he shares those recipes. Visit the site and enjoy.
Second the lenses. I have a series of vintage film lenses purchased at Camera Traders in Victoria. They tend to be in the 50mm range, as those are often both inexpensive and fast. In no particular order, here are the lenses adapted to make the photos in this post. Nikkor-SC Auto 50mm f/1.4. Nikon E 100mm f/2.8. C/Y Carl Zeiss Sonnar T 135mm f/2.8. Yashica ML 50mm f/2. Asahi SMC Takumar 55mm f/2. I also have a group of Mamiya 645 lenses adapted for the GFX. Old lenses really help create an imperfect aesthetic and the act of only manual focusing helps maintain the flâneur’s pace to my photo/walks.
Third the camera. I have always been a fan of the X-Pro series. They look great and work particularly well with old film lenses. The X-Pro 3 is particularly well suited for film recipes because of the number of settings that you can tweak in order to achieve the optimum state of imperfection. If there is such a thing.