Digital or Film?

I’ve been keen on photography for many years – you may have picked up some hints at that throughout the 238 posts I’ve published since I started blogging. When I first started taking photos, there was no digital photography. In fact. I remember seeing one of the first digital sensors during my last year of college, when we were shown one as part of the ‘what’s coming next’ part of the course. As I recall, it was being developed for satellites to use instead of film.

Over the years, digital has replaced analogue everywhere. Cine film gave way to video, digital tuners replaced analogue and even switches and volume controls have gone digital. Now digital cameras have replaced film cameras and movies for the cinema are being made using digital equipment. Every time that’s happened, there has been a outcry from the analogue users and it tends to follow a pattern:

  • Digital will never replace analogue.

It has. The driver for this is the camera buying public, who want a cheap and easy means of recording their memories. It seems that nothing has actually happened and no one has actually been anywhere unless there is a photograph to prove it. More photographs were taken this year than in all the other years since photography was invented added together! This huge group of people finance and therefore influence the market. If you doubt that, look at how many new models of compact digital cameras are available, how often a new model is brought out and how prominent the advertising for the camera part of a mobile phone is. Film delivered more quality than the average compact camera user ever wanted, with none of the flexibility and immediacy of digital. As soon as they saw what they really wanted, the camera buying public abandoned film.

  • Analogue is much better than digital.

The key thing here is ‘what do you mean by better?’ In terms of image quality, there may be some circumstances in which this is true today. I can’t think of any, but I’m not all knowing. In any case I’d argue whether it was ‘much’ better. And there is also an argument to say that users of film have, in the main, been users of film for many years and so they are bringing a wealth of skill and experience to bear, which often makes a difference to the final product – prompting the question ‘where does the ‘better’ come from?’ But look at the names in photography – in my sphere of interest Colin Prior and Andy Rouse for example- – who have moved from film to digital. In Colin Prior’s case, he was using 6x17cm panoramic film cameras for stunning landscapes (check out his work here).

In terms of usability, there is no doubt that digital cameras in whatever form are much easier to use if you consider the picture taking to picture viewing process. And they provide instant results that you can share with ease, print from a box in your local supermarket or view on your computer. There is a huge range of cameras from the simplest point and shoot (does it get simpler than the mobile phone camera?) to complex medium format sized digital SLRs. This is what the majority of users want. It’s good enough for them, which may make you splutter your tea all over the screen, but it’s reality.

As a film user for more than 20 years (longer than I’ve been using digital), I finally accepted that digital gave me the quality, control and convenience I was looking for and I haven’t looked back. There is a nostalgia for film (being a bit of a kit head, I do like cameras in general, and I have a Nikon FM2 35mm SLR) but that’s not the same as regretting it’s demise. I hated the darkroom (apart from that magical moment when the image started to appear on the paper). I hated the smell of chemicals (and more importantly, my asthmatic chest hated them too) and I was often frustrated at having the ‘wrong’ film loaded in the camera.

  • Digital doesn’t require the same high skill level as analogue.

This last argument can usually be heard from die-hard film users who, unable to conclusively deny the previous two points, resort to the classic ‘it was better in my day’ approach. This says that because digital photographers can review images instantly, re-take pictures that haven’t worked and shoot hundreds of frames to guarantee a usable result, they aren’t as good as film users. It also misleads by claiming that film users never manipulated their images in any way. By implication, no film using wedding photographer or press cameraman ever had an anxious moment wondering if that never-to-be-repeated moment had been captured. And remember, we only ever see the moments that were successfully captured from history, giving film an artificial 100% success rate – think D-Day or the assassination of JFK and ask whether there would have been more and better quality images had digital cameras been available. Motor drives for 35mm cameras were essential items of equipment for press and sports photographers, so they could shoot as many frames as possible to guarantee one or two usable images. Fashion and portrait photographers machine-gunned through hundreds of frames too. Why wouldn’t they? In their budgets, film was one of the cheaper elements and as their job was to get the image, they would have been irresponsible not to.

The argument that it is easy to edit a photo on a computer falls flat too. It is no easier or quicker to work on a computer than it is to work in a darkroom. The practical skills are different (although the pre-visioning and planning remain the same). But to do a decent job, you need to spend a decent amount of time regardless of medium. Where the computer adds a benefit is in initially setting up (remember ‘dilution 1:17 – divide the amount of developer you want up into 18ths?’) and being able to reproduce the effect consistently. Nothing wrong with that and, of course, the option is there for the die hard post production fan to manually go through the steps each time anyway.

Digital or film?

In my mind, this depends on why you take photographs. My experience is overwhelmingly as an amateur who enjoys the whole process from finding a subject, taking the photo, processing it on the computer and sharing it. In that respect, I love digital as I find I can learn as I go by trying something, checking it instantly and making changes there and then. I use the camera display as a means of learning and improving. My experience of professional assignments has been that I would not have been happy using film as the jobs were too important and unrepeatable to risk mistakes; out of respect and responsibility, I would choose the medium that was best suited tot he job. This attitude arises as a result of having digital equipment available; in my film days I did some band portraits and as there was no alternative, I used film.

But as photography is a hobby for many, it’s about what you enjoy doing. I still fondly recall using medium format kit to take landscapes in Scotland. I’d drag what seemed like a ton of kit up some windswept hill, set everything up, spend ages getting the (manual) exposure and (manual) focussing right, wait for the light and snap. 8 or 10 exposures later (I’d always bracket with slide film, so 2 or 3 ‘scenes’) I’d have to reload. I enjoyed that too.

Which is best? Two answers. Does it really matter and which ever one you prefer. But don’t preach to anyone that your preference is definitive.

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Welcome to the future, Dave

Just a quicky to test out a post from my phone. I indulged in a gorgeous new smart phone today. I’ve resisted for a while now whilst secretly coveting them from afar.

After a delivery experience that wasn’t the best, I finally plugged into the PC (you need a PC or you can’t sync) and minutes later I was up and running.

I have to admit it’s a very stylish piece of kit. Even the packaging is gorgeous and sexy. And it works just like you expect it to.

Will I ever be able to put it down?

IT is nothing to be scared of.

Many years ago, in a different life, I used to train people on IT software packages. Word processors, spreadsheets, presentations, internet browsers and email software were all part of my curriculum. I enjoyed the job, particularly when people who came in to the classroom nervous and afraid of the computer would leave with a new found confidence. It made me feel good to think I’d made a difference to these people and given them some skills they could use in the workplace and at home.

But I was always curious about why people were afraid or nervous. Although I can’t say I grew up with computers (my school started offering IT ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels in my final year there, too late for me to enrol) I embraced the opportunities they offered.  When I was unleashed on a PC in work (the first one I’d seen) I made a point of learning the new software by playing around with it, pushing buttons and seeing what they would do. After all, I’m an activist, so it’s how I learn best.

Because I was prepared to push a new button, try something different or experiment with settings, I became the IT ‘expert’ in the office. I didn’t know much more than the people I worked with, but I didn’t give up so easily. For my efforts I was placed, against my will, on a new software project because I was the IT ‘expert’ (a monumental episode of misunderstanding). My first meeting was three hours of almost indecipherable IT speak. The others present were IT professionals – real experts – and I had no right being in the meeting.  Within a few weeks I had managed to get transferred onto a thread of the project that involved skills transfers and the development of the user interface. Much more suited to my strengths.

I ended up in the training branch where I continued to encounter people who were reluctant to use PCs. Some had a genuine fear, others didn’t want to learn. I was happy to help the former. The latter proved hard to manage.

It is now 2011, a date that wouldn’t look out of pace in a science fiction story, and yet there are still people of my generation for whom the computer is a source of trepidation, fear and loathing. Everyone I work with and the huge majority of those who work in this organisation have to use PCs as part of their daily work, and yet that lack of knowledge and the unwillingness to learn for themselves hinders them and is the source of much frustration. If the same attitude was applied to driving or cooking or any other everyday activity, there would be a deafening outcry. But it seems it is okay to hate computers.

On the other side of the argument, technology that has been created and developed to make life easier seems instead to make life harder. Today I have lost access to most of the files I use on a daily basis. The servers are slow, as they have been for the last few months. Some of the software I use on a regular basis has an overly difficult user interface. There is no information about how and when these things will be resolved. There is some question as to whether it’s the technology or the people running the technology that are at fault. Despite all these setbacks, I don’t hate the technology and although it frustrates me sometimes, I don’t fear it.

After all, I know where the off switch is.

Ego Search

Have you ever tried to Google yourself? It’s not an ego thing – well, not necessarily. You can see it as an interesting experiment, a fascinating revelation, a search for distant relatives or, as I did, a check on identity theft. I read an article suggesting that if you have an online presence, you should regularly Google the name you use to see who is linking to you and to check that no one is pretending to be you. I often check for unauthorised use of images – I changed my Flickr image status away from Creative Commons last year because too many of my photos were turning up on little sites without the courtesy of a request – but people still assume they can use them for free.

If it’s a genuine not-for-profit site, I’m usually happy to oblige. But ultimately, Creative Commons affects those who make a living from photography, so I’m not prepared to blanket label my photos as such.

I typed in my name and pressed the button, with a little trepidation. What if I was a known criminal?

I expected some entries. I have a presence on Flickr, Facebook and Geograph, and now here. Years ago I had a personal website and occasionally in the past I have come across references to that. I even have a brief presence on Wikipedia (a photo of an old WW2 relic at Pembrey airfield). So I know I’ll get some hits.

But my search also threw up some unexpected results. There are 5 people in Swansea with my name. In addition to those multiple personalities, I am:

  • A ‘PowerYoga’ teacher
  • Building society manager

    Dave distorted by scanner

    Could this be the real me?

  • A musician in Germany (yaay, big in Germany)
  • An Australian ex Big Brother contestant
  • A teacher
  • A fundraiser (well, actually, I am that)
  • A Moto Cross racer
  • A commercial manager in a local council office
  • A football poet.

Way down the list, I found the first reference to me – a photo from my Justgiving site from when I went to Everest Base Camp.

If you don’t know me, you are free to pick which ever one you want to picture while you read my blog. If you know me, maybe you don’t really know me?