Saturday, August 12, 2006

Technology, Progress & Regress

I got the idea for this blog from Christian's latest post. He closed his discussion of his new Tivo system with the statement, "Don't you just love technology!"

If one were to consider my latest technological purchase, one would think my response is a resounding "NO!"

What is my latest gadget (aside from the new cell phone I just ordered)? It is - sit down, hold on tightly to your chair and do not consume any beverages unless you want to expel them through your nose - a 35mm FILM camera!

"What?!? Are you insane?
Nobody uses film anymore!
And certainly not anyone
who has been shooting
digital for 3 years!
What's up with this?"

Pictured above are my two primary photo tools. On the left is the digital camera that has been the staple of my photographic arsenel for the past 20 months or so. It is a 5-megapixel Panasonic Lumix FZ20 with 12x superzoom capabilities. It's a great camera that has enabled me to learn the craft of photography much faster than I would have if I'd been shooting film. I'm not a great photographer, but I have acquired a decent working knowledge of the theoretical, technical and expressive aspects of photography with this camera.

The camera on the right, which I've had for less than a week (I'm still waiting to see the first prints, which I'll get on Monday) is a Canon Rebel T2, 35mm film camera. It's hard to judge the quality of this camera until I see the prints, but so far I've loved the way it handles. It uses the same processing chip as Dave's 8-megapixel Canon Rebel XT. The primary difference between our two cameras is that mine records images on film while his records them on a memory card.

So, why in the world did I buy a 35mm SLR instead of a digital one?

1. Price - For the past several months I've toyed with the notion of buying a digital SLR camera sometime in the next year. Dave bought his in June (his first new camera in 5 years) and has thoroughly enjoyed it. I got my film equivalent of his camera for less than 1/3 of what he paid for his. Yes, I'll be paying for film and developing, but it's still a pretty sweet deal, financially.

2. Compatibility with Dave's lenses - I got lucky here. As I researched the film SLRs still available (unfortunately, they are a dying breed), I decided that the Canon models had all the features I wanted. That worked out nicely, because as Dave and I expand our systems we will be able to share lenses.

3. Creative flexibility - In some technical and creative areas, digital technology is still trying to catch up with film technology. The gap is closing fast and at this time there's very little that can be done with film that can't be closely approximated by digital. Undoubtedly, the day is fast approaching when digital technicians will be able to look back at film techniques and say - honestly - yeah, we can do that too, and we do it better. That's already true in some respects. For now, however, I will be able to use the digital camera for the tasks at which it excels and the film camera for those tasks for which it is the superior choice.

4. Freedom from my photo editing software - Digital cameras are very good, but most digital images still require tweaking before they are ready for presentation. Before the film purists get on their high horses, I want to point out that lots of film photos are tweaked in the darkroom before they are presented publicly. Ansel Adams was famous for the amount of time he spent developing one image, and also for the number of times he developed one image before he was satisfied. The "desktop darkroom" is pretty much the equivalent of the "wet" technology of film darkrooms. The difference for me is that, when I want to do so, I can pay someone else to do the grunt work instead of doing it myself all the time. Working in a photo editor has been one of the best ways by which I've learned the art and craft of photography. I just don't want to be tied to the computer for every image I make.

5. An opportunity to learn "wet" darkroom techniques - I recently discovered that there are several short courses in black & white photo processing being offered in our area. I love good black and white photography and have always been interested in learning darkroom processes. There is also a community center nearby with darkroom facilities that can be rented by the hour. So, if I want to, I can develop my own photos without setting up a darkroom in my bathroom.

Will my digital camera be covered in mothballs or sold on ebay? No. It will be part of an overall system. I will undoubtedly use it a lot for marching band photos, etc., because it gives me the freedom to take hundreds of photos at no financial cost. There will, however, be a cost in time as I review each image on the computer and decide what to do with it. The digital camera also gives me the freedom to experiment because failure won't cost anything. I'll simply review the image on the LCD, analyse what I think I should do differently, delete the poor image and shoot again. I can keep doing this over and over until I'm satisfied that I got it right.

In contrast, I'll be much more selective about the photos I take with the film camera because every image is going to cost money. I'll also be much more careful in setting up each shot because every image has to count. I can't afford failure, sloppiness or laziness.

I anticipate that by using both digital and film cameras, I'll find a balance between playful experimentation and discipline. Hopefully, this balance will make me a better photographer in any medium.


Daejeon James said...

I wish I could afford an SLR anything. I think photography is a therapeutic past time...I think when I'm older I'll pursue it with more vigor.

Barbara said...

I love my Canon Rebel. I'm not ready yet to make the leap into digital. I've been taking photography classes and have really enjoyed playing in the dark room. can't do that with digital. I think my main reason for not going digital is that I haven't liked the prints from digital as much as film. ... but then I haven't seen any from the D-Rebel so I'm sure I would be pleasantly surprised. For now, I will happily play with my film camera. of the other reasons I like film is that when you get your pictures back, it's like Christmas. I look at them over and over again and examine every aspect. if I could just force myself into the manual mode more I'd be happy.