Is CCD the New Film?

Are these about to become “hip?”

“A lot of interviews I read on photography sites end with a sort of adage about the best camera being the one you have with you or how film inspires you to just think and shoot rather than pixel peep. I think photography is more than just capturing an image though; it’s also about imposing your vision on it. The best camera is the one that’s right for the vision, with the right noise profile, lens distortions, etc. “

DPReview has a very interesting article about Sofi Lee, a Seattle photographer who shoots with “vintage” (read 8 years or older) CCD lower resolution digital cameras, essentially her reaction against the clinical excellence of modern digital photography:

At the time, I observed to myself that the re-emergent fascination with film was probably ephemeral, specific to the current zeitgeist and highly rooted in nostalgia. So I asked myself, ‘What will be the thing people look back to next, after film?’ I started digging through Flickr archives of photos taken on older point and shoot digital cameras, or ‘digicams’ as some people called them, and felt there was something different about them.

They stood out in a way apart from modern digital files: The dynamic range is narrower and the shadows have a character that looks different from those of modern CMOS cameras [due to the lower pixel count and simplistic noise reduction.

Apparently Ms. Lee studied at a “commercial photography trade school” in 2014 and watched many of her peers either shooting film or trying to recreate the aesthetics of film in editing. “There were definitely a lot of talks in class about photographs looking ‘too digital’ as well as instructions on how to add more of an ‘organic, analog’ feel to your images.” Her response was to embrace the technical imperfections of older CDD digital tech.

Ms. Lee is obviously of the digital generation i.e. her interest in photography dates to the digital age, which might explain her reflexive (and wrong) dismissal of film photography as “ephemeral” and rooted in “nostalgia.” She might want to read a book or two about the history of photography before she makes facile statements about the “ephemeral” nature of current film use. I suspect she’s never run a roll of film through a camera in her life and wouldn’t know what to do if she tried, which would explain her ignorance of, and antipathy to, film. One could obviously make the same criticisms about her fixation with dated CCD technology, the impulse being the same, the means simply being different. What’s interesting to me about the piece is that she articulates the same criticisms of digital capture as film partisans and does so in an articulate way.  I suspect as well that at some point in the near future someone will lend her a film camera and she’ll have her own Eric Kim moment. 

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12 thoughts on “Is CCD the New Film?

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      It’s interesting to me because I just bought a brand new in box Fuji S5 Pro (I know, I’m supposed to be shedding cameras, not buying them) for $230. Figured for that price, why not? 6mp “superCCD” sensor that has a reputation for being very “film-like.”

  1. Rob Campbell

    I’m using both, as embodied in the D200 and D700.

    Truth to tell, there may be some difference in colour pix, but as I generally turn everything into b/white as habit, it would be a stretch to say I feel differences in tonality etc. between them.

    The D200 feels lighter and turns the 50mm into a longer lens, if you see what I mean, and as a result, suits me better as a general carry around machine. It’s why a digital M with a 90mm would be where my fictitious Leica M setup would be.



    1. Evan Simko-Bednarski

      700 is a CMOS sensor. D200 was nikon’s last CCD. And I kept mine because, yeah… its colors are beautiful.

  2. sawantphotography

    I shoot with Nikon D300, Fujifilm X100 (original version), and Leica M Monochrom CCD. The files out of these cameras, can produce very filmlike results (which I like). Too many b/w photos today have a “plastic” feel to them, that I do not appreciate at all. A consequence of technological progress that is counterproductive to Photography???

  3. DarWmc

    I also shoot with a Fuji original X100. The b&w output also reminds me of film. I grew up shooting and developing film and I often miss its organic texture when I shoot larger digital MPs.

  4. Lee Rust

    This CCD romance can’t last too long. Aside from the naturally short attention span of hipsters, the old cameras will gradually die off as all electronic things must die. Digital imaging will evolve into unimaginable sophistication and complexity, but film photography will abide as a mature benchmark technology that is sufficient unto itself.

  5. Archiver

    It is interesting that Sofi seeks the imperfections of ‘vintage’ small sensor digital cameras like chromatic aberration, low dynamic range, luma noise in shadows and deep depth of field. These are the very hallmarks of lesser quality or older technology that companies have sought to eliminate. For her, photography is about imposing a vision as well as capture, so if she wants the imperfections, why not. There are a lot of vintage lens enthusiasts who like swirly bokeh, low contrast images and lots of veiling flare; Sofi’s preferences are of a similar ilk, just applied in the small sensor digital realm.

    There’s an irony to her statements about the desire for film-like images being rooted in nostalgia and ephemerality. The very nature of vintage small sensor cameras makes them far more ephemeral than film, and we are sufficiently removed from the cameras of 2001-2008 for their output to be considered nostalgic by some. Her work has a kind of neo-retro look that is not unlike contemporary music video directors who use DV tape to get that 90’s look.

    Is CCD the new ‘film’? I love my M9 and wouldn’t trade it for anything; having said that, the Ricoh GXR-M module has a very M9-like look to its images, and it’s a standard Sony CMOS with a microlens array and no AA filter, so it can’t just be about CCD.

  6. Skip

    While I still have my M9, it just never got me there (film experience and look) and not being satisfied, I went for an MP and started shooting film again. It’s crazy to still be talking and writing about this. Nothing is going to change: digital will always be digital and film will always be film. It might look and taste like bacon but its still tofu.

    1. Rob Campbell

      Are you also printing wet, or just going from scan to computer screen? I still have my film Nikon, but the thought of processing means too many problems. I did set up a darkroom here in Spain a long time ago but abandoned it for many reasons, mostly associated with the water supply.

      But another problem, today, would be that of making contact prints just to see what’s there. Only transparencies eliminate that glitch, and E6 labs are pretty much extinct anywhere close.

      All in all, digital holds all the practical cards and in truth, if you handle it well, you can make images just as satisfying, on a monitor, as if from film. But, when it comes to print, I think wet still holds the ace.


  7. lenshacker

    CMOS sensors apply signal averaging and a lot of processing to beat down the noise. CCD’s have no processing applied on the chip, and usually a minimum applied in the camera. Non-uniformity correction, hot/dead pixel interpolation- that’s about it.There is a difference, it’s in the math. Scientific grade imaging devices use CCD’s, and high-end devices use hybrid CCD/CMOS devices: CCD for imaging and CMOS on-chip A/D and processing.

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