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Joey Terrill: from Hasselblad film to Canon digital - Continued

Canon began shipping the EOS-1Ds Mark II not long after we began talking to Terrill, and he has been eyeing it with cautious interest, partly intrigued by its possible advantages, partly unsure that he really needs anything better than what he has, and partly tired of running the upgrade treadmill that seems to be an inescapable by-product of going digital.

He does admit to being curious to see whether moving to Canon’s newest big-file camera would improve the tonality or overall rendering of the image. But, he emphasizes, he doesn’t need more pixels per se. Terrill’s interested, he says, "not so much in the file size of the 1Ds Mark II, but more the quality part of it, the subtlety. Some people really love the subtlety that you can find in film. And other people don't care, or don't know, or don't want to know. But there are some of us who like that extra five percent, that magical part that film possesses, and I can tell you that, for me, I'm still looking for that five percent. I want to see that in my digital files, and I don't see it yet. I see the other ninety-five percent.

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For Golf Digest. Canon EOS-1Ds, ISO 100, 1//125, f/11 (Photo by Joey Terrill)

"I think digital has a sweet spot. At the extremes it falls down. But in the middle, it's fantastic. Thinking of it like a histogram, below 20 and above 230 is where digital has its most trouble. In its sweet spot, it's just unbelievable, but where I get in to trouble with it is with shadow noise and highlights. Where I lose separation in highlights, that's the part where I say, I wish this was on film. If moving to the [1Ds] Mark II would mean an improvement in the photographic quality of the image, I’d happily pay the US$8000. Well, not happily, but I’d do it.”

Then, too, there is a small part of him that still hears the siren song of medium format. It's kept alive more than anything else by those nagging doubts about his Canon wide-angle results. He plans on testing the Mamiya ZD 22-megapixel SLR when it's available. "At $12,000 versus $8,000 for the 1Ds Mark II, it's worth looking at," he says, referring to the rumored price of the ZD. "But realistically, I'm sure I'll end up with the [1Ds] Mark II."

And he's hoping that may bring the upgrade treadmill to a welcome end. "I think we're very near the critical mass of how much resolution do you need," he says. "There's always going to be the person who needs the 200-megabyte file for some purpose. But when you hit about fifty or sixty megabytes, I think you're at the place where the vast majority of photographers' needs have been satisfied.

That will be both a mental and financial relief, Terrill says. "There's this sort of compelling need to keep up," he explains. "I had an almost stress-free life until digital became a big part of my life. Suddenly, I have become a dealer of a great deal of used equipment.

"I knew, particularly with my Hasselblad, that it would outlive me. To me, this is a really great change in photography, the dispensable nature of equipment. My Hasselblad was better than twenty years old, and it's every bit as good today as it was twenty years ago. My 1Ds, which I bought in April [was eight months later] worth some $2500 less than I paid for it. If you look at it the way an accountant would look at it, they'll say it's costing you about three to four hundred dollars a month to own that camera.

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For Sports Illustrated. Canon EOS-1Ds, ISO 100, 1/2, f/13 (Photo by Joey Terrill)

"The other part of it that's stunning to me is the way people throw these numbers around like they're nothing. I mean, people say, 'yeah, I bought a couple of 1D Mark IIs', and I'm thinking, okay, well, there's eight grand right there. That's one place where I think things are going to improve, is the pricing. That's what I'm hoping for. I mean, I don't mind buying a new camera every other year if it's a thousand bucks or fifteen hundred bucks.

"Here's the good news: [now I don't] own any camera gear except the Canon. I used to have to support the Nikon, the Hasselblad, the Sinar, the Fuji. I had four different systems, which meant all the stuff, plus all the supporting stuff. With the Canon now I can basically put all my eggs in the Canon basket and say, okay, well that means not only will I have zooms, I'll have primes, I'll have long glass, I'll have really ultra-wide glass."

Though Terrill makes that statement matter-of-factly, it's a startling one: a knowledgeable and successful advertising and editorial photographer with a top-notch client list believes that he can do with one 35mm-style digital camera what previously required four separate film camera systems in four different formats.

Can a photographer with years of experience shooting the very best film equipment truly be at peace with that thought? As he has said, there are many things associated with using his Hasselblads that Terrill will always miss, but he's not worried about the bottom line: the quality of the pictures that are published with his name on them.

"Golf Digest, one of my better clients, has terrific reproduction," he says by way of explanation. "I think they run a 150-line screen. [They] run a very, very tight ship. Their reproduction is stunning, and a number of my [EOS-1Ds] images have run full page and double-truck, and they're good all day long. I mean, no one would ever look at those images and say, 'Wow, that's not medium format film.' They'd look at them and say, 'Man, Joe's just doing it the way he always did.'"

Joey Terrill's web site is at

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