Film vs. Digital - Pentax 67ii & Nikon d810

As a digital retoucher I’m on the computer 24/7 retouching client photos (and I love it), but it often leaves me with little time to retouch my own work. From observation, I knew film color usually better forms the start and I could use that as an advantage to cut down on editing time. While I was fortunate to learn B&W film photography in school, I haven’t had the opportunity to explore much with color negative film or medium format cameras. After researching film photography, film types, cameras and film labs I finally made the jump and got my first medium format film camera! The beautiful, solid Pentax 67ii!

Nikon d810
50mm f/1.4 
35mm 
$2,800 new body

Pentax 67ii
105mm f/2.4 (50mm equivalent) 
6x7 (4x larger than 35mm)
$1,180 used, great condition body. Prices vary greatly depending on condition.

Some things I learned while researching and shooting:

  • Colors are better from the start.
  • Quality bokeh and shallow depth of field is easier and cheaper to achieve. In fact, you can purchase old Schneider Cinelux projector lenses from the Bokeh Factory that have been modified to fit the Pentax 67 such as a 120mm f/2 which in 35mm format is equivalent to 60mm with a f/1.0 field of view!
  • 6x7 medium format film is 1.5X larger than any medium format digital camera available (6x4.5).
  • Film labs are just as important as finding a quality retoucher. 
  • Film labs can be expensive and can take what feels like FOREVER

    3 film labs I have tried:
    www.thefindlab.com - Based in Utah, I believe this is is the best film lab in the U.S. Pricing is more expensive but well worth it. They’re happy to provide feedback and advice. Offer multiple services: Drum scanning, digital photo editing to match film, etc. I paid for the rush service and received scans on time. Quality is by far the best I’ve received. (Last two photos of this post.)
    www.thedarkroom.com - 3 business days after film was received. No rush service available, but not needed. Most affordable lab, but I believe they do what you call, “straight-scans” where a machine basically does all of the scanning work, while other labs have a human perfect the scans 1 by 1. Sharpening appears to be applied to all scans. I don’t like it, but I think most people wouldn’t notice. This is the lab I used for most examples shown here and I’m pleased with the results.
    www.photovisionprints.com - I was excited to try this lab because they have great reviews and are local in Oregon, hoping I could get scans much sooner than sending off to a lab in another state. Quoted 6 business day turnaround time after film is received and did not receive scans for 8 business days. Rush service is available. TIFF format is not an option. “Scans in jpeg only.” High prices. Lower resolution in comparison to other labs. Scan quality is nice, but I can’t think of any reasons why I would use or recommend them.

  • Film cameras are much more enjoyable to shoot. 
  • People will often want to look at the photo on the back of the camera, and it’s hilarious!
  • Film can get damaged in hot cars, so I find myself questioning whether I should leave the camera at home, or walk around all day with the camera.
  • Scan resolution appears to be pretty much on-par with my Nikon d810 resolution. 
  • Drum scanning is an expensive option where resolution can easily rival digital. 
  • It is possible to scan negatives with a macro lens and it can actually top drum scanning when stitching multiple shots together, making it the best scanning option!
  • Highlights are almost impossible to blowout. Don’t be afraid to overexpose.
  • There are a lot of awesome film types that will give you different colors, looks and feel.
  • 120 medium format film DOES NOT have a container like 35mm film. Therefore, you DON’T REWIND it! It rolls off of one spool and onto another. The spool it rolls off of (your new roll of film) is left behind for the next roll of film to roll onto. I was worried as hell about light leaks while changing film in bright sunlight, but there were none thanks to the tightly rolled waxy paper like film.
  • Pentax 67ii is known for having vibration from its huge mirror, so I was worried that some of my shots would be blurred at slower shutter speeds, but somehow every single shot came out sharp, even at 1/30 sec handheld!
  • Legendary photographer Mario Testino is often seen shooting with the Pentax 67!

Maybe not fair to compare 35mm and 6x7 medium format as there is a huge difference in size, but with the price, why not?

Here is a few side by side straight out of the camera shots using the Nikon & Pentax with Portra 160 film: 

And a few more random snapshots with the Pentax 67ii.

In the end, I’m cutting down on retouching time significantly and I’m in love with the colors. 

What are your thoughts?

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