Half-Frame (and Other Half-Baked Thoughts About New Film Cameras)

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

I think it’s great that my readers schooled me about half-frame after I put it down the other day, citing people who used it and books made with it, and even W. Eugene Smith appearing in ads for it.

Y’all rock.

You have to remember I used to be a custom darkroom printer. One of the constant battles custom printers had to wage was educating clients as to how large their prints could be. Imagine someone coming in wanting a tiny little section of a 35mm negative made into a 20×24-inch print, and you can see the nightmare. I don’t believe I was ever hired to print large prints from half-frame negatives, but I know I wouldn’t have liked it.

Furthermore, I don’t agree that liking APS-C or Micro 4/3 ought to translate to liking half-frame. Consider that prior to 2000, six megapixels was considered the magic number at which digital sensors would draw even with 35mm film. (The parity was approximate, but will do for comparison purposes). Compare that with modern APS-C cameras with 24 megapixels or current Micro 4/3 cameras with 20 MP. Both have much more information than half of a 35mm negative, especially if you’re using fast film, which you probably would be.

I’m sure some people will do good work with them.

I do agree that Pentax is approaching the problem of new film cameras in an enlightened way. I only hope the products don’t fall victim to the “novelty” syndrome that sports cars seem to: that is, lots of pre-release enthusiasm, a surge of sales when they’re new and just released, diminishing into lack of interest within a pretty predictable, and pretty short, span of time. I hope that won’t be the case. Long live film! Long live photography!


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Featured Comments from:

Simon: “I can understand the appeal of half-frame for young people. My daughter is now 20 and she and some of her friends are enamoured with lo-fi film photography and the novelty of instant and film-based images and prints. Lens sharpness and big prints are not what she and her contemporaries care for; they like the imperfections, the fuzzy corners and skewed ‘retro’-style colour palette. I’m sure Harman’s new Phoenix film is aimed squarely at people looking for those qualities. I told her it would be a lot cheaper and far easier to use an Instagram filter to get the same kind of result. But I’m also a little pleased that their generation are helping to keep 35mm film sales alive.”

Stephen S.: “When film was all their was, medium format was desirable because it was less grainy than 35mm. Now, if you want an image without grain, digital does that perfectly. One of the reasons people enjoy shooting film these days is because of the grain, and the imperfection. For many, 35mm is more desirable than medium format, because medium format looks too perfect—too digital. Therefore, half-frame will actually give them more of what they want from film, in comparison to digital!”

Mike replies: A similar thing happened in furniture-making, as explained by Prof. David Pye in The Nature and Art of Workmanship, one of my favorite books. Prior to machining, a high degree of perfection in finish was prized. But as soon as machines could create a high degree of regularity and perfection of finish, roughness (such as tool marks), the imperfections of the materials, and the telltales of manufacture by hand started to be valued increasingly highly.

Kye Wood: “I have no dog in this fight, so having used half-frame Olympus Pen or Trip or whatever it was for a number of years…half-frame is crap. And trust me, I’m being kind. Yes yes yes. Someone over there did this or that with it and blah blah. Just like you can make a billboard print from an iPhone. But…given a choice, why would you? As soon as I found out about the half-frame decision, I lost all interest. Unless Pentax can change the laws of physics, it’s going to be a dog.

“I’m hoping that as Pentax is not a person who posts here, and that my lack of grace and circumspection will not preclude my post from being considered acceptable.  🙂 “


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