Alas for Analog

Meta information: Nikon D70 Raw capture, AF-S VR-Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED at 78mm (117mm 35mm equivalence); tripod mounted and VR (vibration reduction) turned off.
Exif: ISO 200, 1/5 second, f/2.8.
Focus: Manual, at infinity.
Post: Raw file processed twice (once for sky and once for foreground) and combined using a layer mask and gradient, minor cropping, routine level adjustments and sharpening, a dark blue gradient overlay used to enhance the sky.

I took this picture last night with my camera mounted on a tripod on top of Indian Rock, one of a sequence of photos taken as sunset faded into dusk, and then dusk into night.

Taking these photos somehow led me to muse about reciprocity failure and analog photography.

Here’s the connection: Many serious film photographers bemoan the loss of analog (film) photography, just as some serious audiophiles miss analog high fidelity sound.

In the realm of photography, my opinion is certainly that the gains in the digital toolset more than make up for the loss of the delicious quirks of analog film–but it is fair to recognize that there have been losses. One of these is the bizarre (and sometimes beautiful) effect of reciprocity failure: when making really long time exposures, the color balance of film can shift to create unreal looking effects because a given film stock (such as Kodachrome, or whatever) was only rated within specified time exposures to provide accurate color renditions.

This “reciprocity failure” could be a royal headache when precise results were called for, but it could also produce (unpredictable) spectral and dreamlike effects, particularly in night time photography with light sources of varied color temperatures.

Well, it is goodbye to all that for reciprocity failure and other analog effects. A digital camera sensor is essentially a scanner, and to this scanner a pixel is a pixel. If the pixel is there to be recorded, it will be recorded, using whatever color balance the camera thinks is right (or that you’ve told the camera to use). You can always adjust the color balance later.

The photograph I’ve illustrated this story was taken at too brief an exposure for reciprocity failure to kick in even in the bad old days of film, but a couple of implications do come to mind:

  • If you want an old-fashioned analog effect in your digital camera, you need to meticulously recreate it using post-processing
  • There’s no longer any evading responsibility for the way a photo looks by saying “I just took the picture, and here’s how it came out.”

A digital photographer is responsible for all aspects of the way the final image looks.

This Post Has 3 Comments

Leave a Reply

Close Menu