Are Sony Bayer Digital Sensors destroying Creative Photography?

Leica M7 - Voigtlander 10mm - Agfa Vista 200 Colour Negative Film - Epson V850 film scanner

There is no doubt Sony know how to make a sensor. There are a lot of cameras that use them. And for me that is a problem. True there are alternatives, Canon, Sigma and Leica either make their own or source non-Sony sensors. But that Sony 'look' does seem to be becoming almost all persuasive. And yes it's sharp, it allows for lots of pixels, low noise and lots of shadow detail. But what if you don't want ultra clean, high resolution images with lots of shadow detail? Photography is supposed to be an art form and a means of expression after all. Do all musicians use the same instruments, do all painters use the same brushes and paints? No of course they don't, but it seems many photographers think that it's so important to achieve technical perfection in their images, at the expense of diversity. And for me that's the complete antithesis of what I want to achieve with MY photography.

I can immediately see that the image at the top of the page isn't shot with a Sony Bayer sensor. It has higher contrast and cooler colours than most current digital output these days. And yes there are plenty of blocked out shadows. But this is precisely what I was trying to achieve. Shot on film, the scanned image won't have that digital 'bite' in terms of sharpness, using 35mm film it can only achieve a resolution of around 12MP and of course there is film grain. But all of that is precisely why I have returned to film and now shoot very little on my digital cameras. 

And though the actual content of my digital images was different I have slowly become disillusioned with what I see as a 'conformist' look and no matter how hard I tried in Photoshop, I couldn't totally replicate the results from my film scans. I therefore decided to stop trying and return to the ways of creative images I used pre-digital. And it seems I'm not alone in this. Below I've tried to isolate some of the reasons for this.

  • Film is less predictable than digital.
  • Film can create interesting 'serendipity' effects.
  • Film is harder and more time consuming to work with.
  • It requires more photographic knowledge and experience to shoot on film.
  • With the cost of buying, processing and scanning film, photographers have to be more circumspect about what they shoot.
  • There IS a distinctive 'film look'. In fact there are several distinctive 'film looks'. 
  • Film photographers seem to be far less interested in the technical aspects of what they are doing than the 'artistic intent' of their images.

And yes you would be right in thinking that many of those themes on the list above are what I've banging on about for years. And I have to say that after years of searching for an individual approach in terms of what I shoot and how I shoot it, going back to film feels like I'm 'coming home'. Certainly if anyone asks me what kind of photographer I am, I can answer 'I'm a film photographer' an answer that would have been meaningless 20 years ago, but in 2017 DOES demonstrate a point of view.  

But isn't this merely pretentious twaddle and a way of inferring 'art' when in fact it's nothing of the sort? Well yes, I won't deny that there may well be an element of that in it, but I also know that I haven't been so excited about what I'm achieving photographically for years. And the reason for that is I'm back shooting film., despite all the frustrations it creates. And it has to be said there are plenty of those. Loading and changing film (Be warned - getting a film out of camera and loading a new one on a winters day with cold fingers is a real skill. And one I haven't yet mastered!!), finding a film processing lab and scanning. It's all a time consuming and expensive process. And while I'm in the middle of all this I wonder just what I'm doing it for. But then I edit and produce images that don't look like they were shot on a Sony Bayer Sensor. And for me that's what it's all about.