This book has been published online to take advantage of the technology and as a matter of convenience. For some people, the print itself, an artefact you can hold in your hand or view on the wall, is the be all and end all of photography. Not for me. I was first exposed to photography through the newspapers and magazines of the 1950s and '60s; the print quality was poor, but the image, and frequently a single image, was enough to carry the story. Personally, I find the message lies in the image content as icon, as an idea not as an object.
As it happens, I rarely print on paper. It's usually enough to shoot the film, scan the negative and post it online since the current generation of monitors has excellent rendition of tones, enough even for a Zone System aficionado. People sometimes ask why I bother shooting on film, but since I mostly shoot in black and white it is often simply that the equipment is more suitable.
Shooting in black and white is an aesthetic issue about tonality, line and shape, and there is a quality of visual literacy that comes into play with black and white images that is different to our response to straight colour photography. Perhaps the fiction of the photograph becomes more persuasive as we move further away from direct representation. Form and shape are amplified in monochrome, and good greys offer an interesting palette for defining shape, whether they are found in the curves of the human body or in the clouds above a beach.
Digital cameras, whether SLR, rangefinder or compact, have their own limitations, among them the viewfinder and the lenses. One of the most successful and long-lived cameras of the 20th century was the twin lens reflex developed by Rollei and frequently copied by others. A TLR is not suitable for all types of photography but it excels in its own area of specialisation. No digital TLR models exist.
Even though a modern computer-designed lens might have the sharpest resolution and optimal contrast, older lenses are also rather special in their own way. The Zeiss Planar formula was originally designed in the 19th century and gradually perfected over the years. Other lenses with a similar history are still perfectly good now if a lower contrast or specific aberrations are more suitable for the subject. Although again, if the lens was fitted to a Bakelite body or designed for a folding camera it is going to be very difficult to use it with a digital sensor - film is the only practical option.
What is true for the TLR and the classic lens is even more the case when considering the movements of a large format view camera. View cameras can be used to resolve a number of photographic problems, from avoiding converging verticals in architecture to maximising focus in product photography, but they can also be used for selective focus, defocusing whatever might detract from the subject. Digital backs exist for view cameras and tilt/shift lenses can be used on a DSLR, but they are not without their own limitations.
Film has become very expensive in just the few short years since the digital revolution began, while inevitably the value of second-hand film cameras has collapsed. A huge amount of ex-professional equipment has become available as news and fashion photographers have followed editorial requirements. And with so many cheap consumer cameras made between 1940 and 1990 coming onto the second-hand market many of them have developed their own cult following among creative photographers.
This has even led to entirely new low-fidelity cameras coming onstream, as well as an upsurge of interest in pinhole and wet-plate photography. For amateur or experimental uses, film and other traditional photographic techniques can offer a broader range of options than the somewhat predictable output of the standard digital sensor.
These are interesting times to be shooting film. At some point in the future the critical mass of film photographers will disappear once and for all and the film manufacturers will say enough is enough and close down the coating plants. Film is not going to disappear just yet, for the simple reason that as each major corporation stops production some smaller company will pick up the slack and manage to remain profitable. We should enjoy it while we can.