Sunday, March 19, 2017

Film or Digital

Twice in twenty-four hours a few weeks ago, the concept of film photography flashed into my world. The first occurred in a conversation with someone at work and the second was a story on the Today Show that focused on photography through the ages and the possible resurgence of film photography.

What was your first camera? Was it a film camera?  My first was a Brownie. Remember those? Ever heard of them?  I eventually had a Polaroid, a fixed lens Minolta 35 mm, a Canon SLR with three lenses, two Nikon SLR bodies with a total of four lenses and numerous filters, a Sony digital that used a small disc drive, a pocket-sized Canon with an SD card and eventually my current Nikon Digital SLR with an SD card and two zoom lenses. The current one is nine years old, ancient by contemporary standards. The screen only shows pictures after they're taken; you still have to look through the viewfinder to take a picture and you have to put the SD card in a computer to upload pictures. The current version of that same camera can do all that right from the camera. I'll buy one someday.

Funny thing is this: like so many people I know, my most frequent 'camera' lately is my smartphone, specifically an iPhone 6s. Ansel Adams must be spinning in his grave. The iPhone specs are actually better than my Nikon but I can still do more with lighting and settings using my 'real' camera.

Dad's Leica and my Nikon
I first fell in love with photography while watching my Dad shoot with his 35 mm fixed lens Leica, his primary camera from the late 1940s through our early family vacations in the 1960s. I still have that camera but I don't know if it works.

Have you ever developed film?  Dad had a darkroom and taught me how to develop the film and print pictures. I had my own darkroom for a few years in my 20s. I loved the artistic part of manipulating photos in the darkroom but never fully embraced the tediousness or the toxicity of the chemicals. Photoshop would be the modern equivalent and I'm really just beginning to learn some of the finer points of that aspect of photography.

So what makes better photographs, digital or film?  Landscape photography is my favorite and in many ways film captures the images better. But most people can't tell the difference. I'm not sure I can either. Regardless of the device, a good photographer's best tool is his or her eyes. A good photographer can shoot a great photograph with a Brownie or a Polaroid or a pinhole camera (look that one up).

My single best series of photographs was shot with the Nikon film camera I mentioned earlier during a vacation in Arizona and Utah. The year was 2000, the subjects were Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Navajo Nation, Arches and Canyon Lands. The film was Kodak and Fuji slide film. I'd include examples but I only have one. The other 200-300 shots are in a box in my ex's house; time to bug again her about sending them to me.


I had a great conversation with a professional photographer last night and I’ve been thinking about my camera all day today.  I go through long periods of time during which I don’t even touch my Nikon; I’m in one of those right now.  Then I spend weeks or months taking photographs daily.  Maybe I’m about to start one of those photo spurts.

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