Here's a book "of interest" (translation: one I haven't seen yet). Yesterday Colin Bradbury wrote:
Just been reading the reviews of a book called The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax. Fascinating look at the revival of interest in 'real' stuff like actual books, vinyl records and, of course, film photography.
Funnily enough my wife bought me a turntable for Christmas to play my old records and next to it on my desk is my Nikon FM2 (could never quite stretch to a Leica) on which I shot a roll of film yesterday for the first time in about 13 years. My 16-year-old daughter decreed that it was OK for me to play records and shoot film because I used them the first time round. That exempts me from the dreaded 'hipster' designation, apparently.
And on another topic, I had a Mazda MX-5 in the mid 1990s which I used to drive rather too quickly around the mountain roads in Hong Kong when I lived there. Magic. And yes, I am a middle-aged dude with a beard....
This idea fascinates me. My "unpedigreed hypothesis" on that score is this:
Analog anything always has the potential to be good enough, no matter how bad it is, whereas nothing digital is reliably ever quite good enough, no matter how good it is.
Let me 'splain. The reason for the hypothesis is that I've witnessed the same thing in digital photography that I witnessed in digital music. Somehow, electro-mechanical means of storing and playing back music always had their charms, even if they weren't "accurate." But as soon as Compact Discs came along, the hobby lurched into an orgy of ever-more expensive tail-chasing...suddenly no amp was quite good enough, no CD player was good enough...not only were no speakers good enough, no speaker wires were good enough. Digital music quickly surpassed analog by technical measures, yet somehow nothing, no matter how extreme, ever quite seemed to entirely satisfy. The hobby ate itself; it went straight down the rabbit hole, and is now in precipitous decline. Similarly, old analog snapshots can have great charm even if they were taken with poor cameras and were badly made; but once digital came along, it touched off a furious scramble for ever-better "image quality" that just doesn't seem to want to settle down. It's become the project of the entire photography world on the Internet. Not only are we not satisfied, but it's like we never can be. Why? A few people here and there did enjoy chasing endless IQ in the film era, but it's a hundred if not a thousand times more pronounced now, even though the increments of improvement are so slight in some cases that it sometimes takes a lot of work to even detect the gains. The culture of looking a pictures lags further and further behind the multifarious dweeby technical segments of the hobby.
Anyway, it's just an observation—a provisional one, at that—not an ideological position*. Please don't kill me, please. I'm just throwing the idea out there.
Anyway I wonder what David Sax has to say about these matters in his book.
...Which leads me to my problem. I read most books these days in the form of Kindle files on my iPad and iPhone 6+. But how could you in good conscience not buy an analog (paper) copy of a book called The Revenge of Analog? :-)
I'd like to read the book, but I'm in a quandary!
(Thanks to Colin)
*I've long freely admitted that I never would have become a writer if it hadn't been for the Macintosh. Steve Jobs said part of his mission was to free people to be creative, and I might as well have been Exhibit #1. Before the personal computer came along in my life, I literally used to cut and paste stories together by cutting paper with scissors. So please don't accuse me of a prejudice against digital!
P.S. I ordered the paper version.
UPDATE Friday: Colin Bradbury adds: "Had to laugh when you mentioned the dilemma of buying the Kindle version of a book about the joys of analog. Exactly the conversation I had with my wife (and yes, I'm getting the print version as well). Until very recently I wasn't convinced about the point of dusting off my film cameras but I'm actually going to do it. It's partly a response to something you wrote that perfectly summed up my uneasy feeling about photography today (or at least, photography as it is represented on the Internet today): 'The culture of looking at pictures lags further and further behind the multifarious dweeby technical segments of the hobby.' There are many ways to counter that but shooting some film seems like a good start. So I'm off to order some 120 B&W film for the Hasselblad and the chemicals to start developing at home again. And I shall be listening to some classic vinyl on the turntable while I do so."
UPDATE Saturday: Mike adds: One of the epigraphs to Sax's book is a quote from Marshall McLuhan from 1964: "A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them." Truer words; that has emphatically been my experience moderating discussions about new and old media. What I would want to discuss is the nature of the two without prejudice or assumptions or status-judgments or value-judgments or nostalgia or personal preferences obtruding into the discussion. Can't be done it seems. I suppose we will have to remain largely blind to the subtle differences in the nature of our media until they can be viewed in retrospect.
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Featured Comments from:
Geoff Wittig: "Re: 'Analog anything always has the potential to be good enough, no matter how bad it is, whereas nothing digital is reliably ever quite good enough, no matter how good it is.'
"That's a fascinating proposition, but I'm compelled to politely disagree, at least with respect to photography. I think the relevant measure of good enough depends critically upon the final presentation form for the images and the effect you're after. Back in the film era, (say) circa 1960s, if your final artwork was a large print, and you were aiming for subtle beauty, you really needed large format film, or exceedingly good technical skill with medium format, to get that result. Thirty-five millimeter film was just too grainy, the tonality too crude, to pull off the illusion. If your goal was W. Eugene Smith style grit and drama, then 35mm would suffice. To paraphrase John Szarkowski in Ansel Adams at 100, Adams's laborious technique was just sufficient for what he was trying to say with his prints. Photo books really came of age in the 1960s, and were I think the perfect venue for 35mm photography, because the limitations of photo reproduction for typical book sizes nicely matched the shortcomings of 35 mm film.
"The digital Tsunami from capture to Photoshop to printing has altered the imaging landscape, but I think the same principle applies; the format in which you view images determines what's good enough. That's precisely why cell phones are nuking the marked for point 'n' shoot cameras; if you're viewing images as JPEGs on a cell phone or tablet screen, then cell phone cameras are more than good enough. If your final photographic art is a large print, however, 'good enough' is higher up the ladder. For me it's a level of resolution and tonal smoothness that permits me to make a print that conveys the desired illusion that you could walk right into the image. I've found that (for me at least) 40–50 megapixels optimally captured with excellent glass (and very careful post-capture processing) are just sufficient to make a 24x36-inch print that carries off the illusion. I can't visibly improve upon it by stitching frames. So I seem to have hit the limit of image quality asymptotism.
"As digital capture gets ever better, it is gradually pushing 'good enough,' even for excellent large prints, further down the ladder. Micro 4/3 and APS-C mirrorless cameras provide much better files than the (heavy, uber-expensive) 8-megapixel Canon Eos-1Ds I used in 2002.
"I do confess to feeling a bit of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) when I read about the lovely new medium format mirrorless cameras like Fuji's lust-worthy GFX-50S. But I wonder if they will really show a visible difference even with fairly large prints, given how good we already have it. For me, at least, digital capture and printing are now 'good enough.'"
Mike replies: Great comment. Politely disagreeing in return, however, I suspect the very fact that you've pushed out to where you are now in terms of print quality augers against the idea that you will settle for what you have now and stop pushing forward in the future. But you might prove me wrong.
Jim: "I've been using film (along with digital) for the last couple of years. As someone in the Comments section posted (sort of), if your goal is technically perfect images, you will be disappointed with film. Digital, in skilled hands, even in most introductory cameras has surpassed medium format film. That does not mean however, that one can't produce beautiful and/or meaningful images with film. Being technical perfect is neither necessary nor sufficient to great photography. More importantly, however, the only way (I think) to really enjoy film photography is to enjoy the process itself. If you don't the frustration is endless. The good news is that the price of entry is relatively cheap and there is a huge resale market for film cameras and film (even out of date film). If I'm going to shoot a ton of images, I'll take my digital camera. But for an afternoon stroll, I prefer one of my film cameras. On driving trips I'll take both. No reason to limit yourself to one or the other."
JF: "I tell my kids that your life will be much happier if you are satisfied with what you have. I don't own the best or the worst of anything. Most days good enough is indeed good enough. I try to follow my own advice from time to time."
Paul Amyes: "Digital has enabled me to have so much fun. I've published 'zines, books, made audio-visual presentations, make films, put on exhibitions, and I sell my work and reach audiences that number in the tens of thousands. I'd have never been able to achieve all that with analog. I sometimes think about dusting off the old film cameras, but I quickly dismiss the idea as being too impractical, limiting and expensive."
Dogman (partial comment): "I was adamant that I would never give up my Leicas and medium format equipment, that I would continue to shoot HP5 and Tri-X, that the small room adjacent to the bathroom would continue to smell like fixer and that the spare bedroom would always be the room where prints would dry on the bed under the ceiling fan. I clung to this tradition despite not quite liking the available printing materials I was being forced to use and my printing ability was declining while there was increasing evidence that digital was improving in quality by leaps and bounds. Even when I purchased my first digital camera, I resisted and continued to shoot film for more serious photography. But eventually it became obvious to me that resistance was futile...."
Geoffrey Heard (partial comment): "That was then, this is now...."
[See the rest of Dogman's and Geoffrey's comments in the full Comments section. —Ed.]
Lee Rust: "Your hypothesis seems very insightful to me! As physical beings we are naturally accepting of material limitations. As intellectual beings we always want to know more. An analog model of anything is naturally restricted by the inherent qualities and limitations of substance and process. We are content with a pencil sketch or fuzzy snapshot because we expect no perfection from these media. With a digital model there is always another decimal place of descriptive information that can be quantified. The only thing holding us back is the sophistication and resolution of the measuring apparatus, so we keep pushing the technological envelope of detail because we know it's possible. Here is the tension between heart and head, emotion and intellect, experience and knowledge, art and science. Always interesting and never ending."