« Groundhog Day (OT) | Main | Random Excellence: Dorothea Lange »

Friday, 03 February 2017


"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"

If the internet was around in the glory days of film, I guarantee you it would have been a thousand times more pronounced then too.

>> Why?

Geekery, full stop. Get beyond that and digital is great.

My 15 year old daughter refers to the time I was her age as the "sepia years"! She's all in on the digital age but , small mercies, still prefers to read "real" books!
I bought this book ( through the internet link :) we'll see if I can get her to read it!

Is digital vs. analog about "good enough" or is it really about having more (illusion of) control?

I'll never enjoy a camera as much as my old Stylus because if I got a good shot I was happy and if I got a bad one, I said "eh." Now, when I take a picture with a digital camera, I look at good shots and say "oh, if I had only opened it up a stop" or "oh, I could have switched over to aperture priority..."

Maybe the marketing is stronger in the digital age than it was back in analog times? Isn't it the marketers job to keep us perpetually dissatisfied with our gear? For example, I scrimped and saved for years to build up my full-frame lens set. Last spring, I finally completed the puzzle and have great lenses to cover everything that I like to shoot. But now, only 11 months after piecing together what I thought would be the perfect camera system for my needs, I'm starting to ask myself if my DSLR is too big. For the past few months I've shopped various micro 4/3 systems, the Ricoh GR, and the one inch sensor point and shoots. Camera ads now follow me wherever I go on the web, and whenever I read TOP it seems like there's another post about a glorious new small camera. It's a daily assault on my sense of practicality.

About looking at pictures... I think that should be a chapter in your book. Teach people to slow their scroll, look hard at their friends photos, and write meaningful comments.

Although I have a digital Nikon (D7000), it is "good enough" for what I want to do with it and unless it dies, I don't think I'll be upgrading (whatever that means) to a newer model. And I still take pictures with film, which of course is "good enough", just like it was when I was much younger...

In fact, as I get older, a lot of things that I own and use are "good enough" for me!

With best regards,


Mike, I agree entirely that some things cry out to be "analog" - photo books for instance.
Did you ever make cassette copies of records to play in the car?
I remember listening to the pops and clicks of the lead-in grooves to time the start of each tune for a compilation tape.

But some things it just doesn't matter if they are digital.

Hah ! I'm not a kindle user, so the irony of reading a digital version of that book didn't occur to me until I got to the end of your post. To add to the irony, the hardcover version is cheaper than the kindle version.

I haven't printed my photos in years ... a few here & there, calendars and whatnot, but I'm woefully behind on family photo books and prints. And feeling an increasing sense of urgency to remedy that. It's not due to an impending sense of my own mortality or anything (though I did recently turn 50) ... more just that too much time has passed without my photography really resulting in anything tangible.

That's what I expected your post to be about, but I find your thesis more intriguing still. I can feel that tug of war, too, between gear that's (more than) sufficient and fun to use and gear that's more than I need, but still accessible, just because it's better. One thing that I think printing will help me do is assess my needs, because, while I have a couple big prints (up to 20x30) in my office, I suspect that I'd like to print a lot of photos at modest sizes that I can hold in my hand and look through. I recently saw some prints (I should say I saw a digital picture in a web browser *OF* some prints !) made with a Fuji Instax camera, and they were charming. I think I might end up having a 'thing' for small prints - say in the 6x8 range. Or not, I'll figure that out in time. But yeah, I've seen 40x60" prints made from then-state-of-the-art FF bodies at Photoplus Expo a few years ago; 20x30" prints from digicams with 2/3" sensors and I realize it's all madness and yet, when I think about what camera system I might like to settle on, it's hard not to go bigger/better/faster even if it's bigger/heavier/pricier so long as it's still within reason. Why compromise on convenience for quality that I don't need ? Because I can zoom in and view at 100% ? Because I read too many gear posts ? And why just photography ? I don't suffer from this disease when it comes to music, even though I think of myself as a music lover. I can enjoy music without worrying about whether it could be better (I know it could, but I embrace "good enough"). Why am I okay owning a contractor's saw for woodworking when I know that a good cabinet saw makes it easier to do precision work ? Food for thought.

In the days of film, the pursuit of "image quality" meant stepping up to larger film sizes. The inconvenience of 8x10 film discouraged the masses.Today, the questing hordes debate various "full frame" options. Very few, though, will step up to medium format.

Interesting that I'm reading this while listening to a Sly and the Family Stone album from 1971 on vinyl on my turntable, an album recorded on, presumably, pretty primitive studio equipment by today's standards, but sounding wonderful (and wonderfully "fuzzy")

...ah, but you ordered the paper version presumably from a digital sales outlet instead of a real book shop?

When your book arrives open it, inhale deeply of the inky, analogue goodness and enjoy a moment of transcendent bliss.
But do not sniff the Kindle. Nothing there but ennui and despair.

As most of my working life was as a computer programmer, I can't be said to be anti-digital, but when I think of photography, my eyes film over.

Back when I worked in digital signal processing I learned that even though sampling of a wave form can, given Nyquist minimums, very closely approximate an analog wave, it can never be exactly the same as the original. Since then it has become apparent that a sufficiently high sample rate (pixel density) can create a digital representation that is indistinguishable from analog for the vast majority of viewers (or listeners, in the case of audio). Yet, differences do remain.

All this doesn't change the fact that as a professional, digital has long since passed the point of sufficiency.


You ask the question: "Why?". But you had nearly answered it in your description of audio moving to digital. I think that with analog, and I speak from the standpoint of film and traditional art making, anyone who knew the medium/media at all understood that there was pretty much a finite limit to the quality that could be achieved. And even if you hadn't hit that threshold, you could sense where it was pretty well. Remember also that lots of these analog media were mature.

With digital, that threshold isn't in sight. We have no idea how good it may be able to get. It is maturing, but has not yet matured.

I'm not sure, but I suspect that one reason some audiophiles hate digital repro, despite its being demonstrably more accurate, is the absence of noise in digital. When listening to a live performance, there is always some marginal noise, from the audience, ambient environment and performers. In most digital, this is not present, and so sounds unnatural to the listener. Analog playback just about always has noise, and seems more realistic. This is largely a subjective response, not recognized by the listener. I'm sure this hypothesis could be tested in a good audio lab, but I don't have one.

With respect to the subject of today's post, and with a nod to the advantages of physical, analog control features, it is interesting that Capture One raw editing software now features an interface to physical "dials 'n knobs" for more precise control of image attributes: http://blog.phaseone.com/the-future-of-adjustments-reinventing-the-shortcut-and-other-ideas/.

I think it all boils down to the aphorism, "The Perfect is the enemy of The Good."

I think we forget how long and how hard we worked with chemical photography to be *perfect*. There's a reason that Ansel Adams and Fred Picker were gods of the Zone System. Photographers wanted their photographs to be perfect. And we chased it and chased it hard for over one hundred years.

Then digital came along and we had a new process, a new tool, to chase The Perfect. And like those subscribers to the Zone VI newsletter who used to obsess over their perfectly exposed negatives and spend hours with different grades of Brilliant paper, now we chase the almighty pixel.

We're still building the same thing. But our tools are different. Is a hand saw intrinsically better than a band saw? Your house doesn't care. New tool, same houses.

We've been doing what humans do best- exploring. Digital photography is still a mostly unexplored frontier and, like Jerry Uelsmann did with chemical photography people are going to want to explore and expand the limits of the technology.

The trick is to remember that photography isn't about photography (as some sage once wrote), it's about pictures.

This image shows the Tangent analog controls that feed digital signals to Capture One 10, which, has become my favorite RAW editor: http://blog.phaseone.com/wp-content/uploads/Tangent_implementation_Body.jpg.

[That looks fabulous. I love it. Wish I could reproduce the picture here! Thanks Al. --Mike]

Board games are experiencing a revival of interest as well.

Part of the problem with digital is bad design decisions that give people too many choices. With analog, you can do what you can do and there is absolutely no use spending any time thinking about what you cannot do. Mental overhead is low.

"I cut away everything that doesn't look like a horse." is not a design strategy that gets followed enough in digital. Snapchat is successful because of what they removed from digital photography, not what they added (Snapchat photos disappear after either 10 seconds or 24 hours).

I've been thinking about buying an Instax Square camera when they come out. However, I realize that I can get a similar, low mental overhead, analog type of experience with BitCam on my iPhone. I have the same the lack of decisions to make before the taking the photo, and the impossibility of doing any processing once the photo has been taken.

While waiting for the Instax Square I have decided to take my BitCam photography more "seriously," - to give it a chance like I would give the Instax Square a chance. I set up an online gallery last night.


Love this. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. Can I quote you on your hypothesis some time. I think that's the best thing I've read all year to sum up the two domains.

Oh, there's nothing wrong with hipsters, they are out there doing analogue stuff and enjoying it.

A bit more than a decade ago I had 72 lineal feet of tightly packed and well cared for LP's, a majority being classical but the collection covered the waterfront. I loved playing them and had a superb turntable and sound system (purist 2 channel only). I had built up the collection during a decade or so of having taken a break from photography with film.

Then in 2002 I gave digital a try and renewed my passion in photography once again. Soon after I had to move twice in short order and transporting so many LP's from house to house got to me and I began to sell almost all of them save for about 6 feet worth of my favorites and most valuable. With them went the all tube stereo, to be replaced by a small but competent system.

Now I am recording these treasured LP's using an excellent Mac only program called Pure Vinyl. Because it does such a good job at retaining the original LP's analog characteristics (but allows the "surgical" removal of loud ticks & pops if you want too), I will likely do most of my future listening via iTunes as commanded from my iPad. Yes, I am getting lazy.

So bottom line is my life is careening toward all digital - clock, music, photography and computer screen. My last hold out is actually reading - I'd much rather read off a printed page than a computer screen. I am nostalgic about the vinyl but not enough to go back and I firmly believe the digital camera has it all over film. Maybe that last observation is "colored" by 30+ years breathing 4 to 10 hours a day in a darkroom!

Permit me to proffer an alternative hypothesis regarding audio:

Up through the end of the 1970s, the technology of music reproduction was very much a work in progress and there were significant differences in the performance of preamps, amps, turntables, cartridges, etc. So you had a community of people, the "audiophiles" who loved music and wanted to rectify the noticeable flaws in their music reproduction, and this was done by getting into the "gear" of the hobby. As we all know, the gear side of any hobby has its own rewards and satisfactions: technical tinkering, status, one-upsmanship, etc.

With the advent of digital reproduction and the maturation of amplifier technologies, by the 1980s or certainly by the mid-1990s, music reproduction upstream of the speakers became a solved problem. It was audibly perfect, with further development serving only to make things smaller, cheaper and more power-efficient. What happened then is that the segment of people looking to fix flaws in the upstream portion of their reproduction chain left the hobby, since there was nothing more to be accomplished, leaving only the gear-heads. This also happened at around the same time that home theaters and video replaced stereo systems as the main focus of home entertainment, drawing even more people away from the fold.

For whatever reason, the human sense of hearing is extremely vulnerable to subjective, placebo-like effects. My personal, unscientific guess is that this has to do with the fact that audio must inherently be perceived moving through time, and we get only a tiny slice at any point. We can't hold it out in front of us and study it like we can with photographs. It's been well documented in double-blind ABX testing that any reasonable combination of DAC, amp and interconnects cannot be distinguished from the super-high-end stuff, except where the super-high-end stuff is so exotic and badly-designed that it actually sounds worse. But the funny thing is, when you test the same components and let people look at the gear instead of hiding it, the more expensive stuff mysteriously sounds much better! This has been reproduced again and again, and in fact nobody has been able to come up with a contrary result.

So what's left in audiophilia is a hardcore subset of the gear-heads, who have convinced themselves, despite the objective evidence to the contrary, that they need more and more unobtanium components to improve their system. Since everything actually sounds the same, the only guidepost is that the more expensive gear (with the best marketing copy) must be better, and this leads to a death-spiral whereby the gear gets more and more expensive, which causes more people to drop out of the hobby, which leaves the manufacturers needing to raise prices further to make the same amount of money from of a dwindling customer base.

A big caveat to all this is that the one component that has been shown to overwhelmingly impact reproduction quality are the speakers / headphones. Ironically enough they seem to be the poor cousin in the audiophile world in terms of the attention they receive, perhaps because they don't have any titanium knobs and blue LEDs . . .

Amazing that the hardcover book is $2.50 less than the Kindle version. How did that happen?

We can now include cost as a reason to go analog. Who would have figured.

The way to get out of the spiral of badness that digital photography has become is to start using these tools to make real things. In my case, increasingly that means small, personal photobooks. You can also produce a final product that is digital, a pdf or ebook or a nice slideshow, but I prefer books.

Overall I like digital entertainment, but it seems to have sucked the life out of how we enjoy and consume and share music.

I wrote an essay a few months ago on this very thing--The Price of Digital Convenience.

I think we're becoming a very disposable society and cheap wins mostly over quality, and digital provides it readily.


The "orgy of ever-more expensive tail-chasing" in Hi-Fi is easy to understand if you take into account the digital media flaws. Most CD's sound flat and lifeless. I remember feeling shocked when I heard a CD-based Hi-Fi system for the first time: the notes came out as if they were wrapped in cellophane, with none of the immediacy and dynamics I was used to with vinyl. As the other people in the room seemed ecstatic, marvelling at the wonders of the new medium, I couldn't share my horror with them; so I just went catatonic and pretended I was having the time of my life.
As many audiophiles felt the same but it was understood that CD had definitely superseded vinyl, Hi-Fi makers tried to compensate the losses in dynamics and involvement with different-sounding amplifiers and loudspeakers: that's what caused the tail-chasing you wrote about. Manufacturers tried to restore the subjective qualities that were lost with CD players by fiddling with the other components. And, as many Hi-Fi components were tuned to be synergistic with some full-blooded sounding turntables like the Linn LP12, they sounded scratchy, thin and veiled with CD. This also had the curious effect of causing the source to be demoted from the role of heart of the system it fulfilled during vinyl times. Now it was the amplifier that took central stage in a Hi-Fi setup.
I also remember feeling forced to comply with the notion that the flat, lifeless sound of CD was the norm, so when I bought my first real Hi-Fi system, it comprised a CD player. It was a NAD 522. It was so bad I swore to myself I'd strangle the blokes who designed it if I ever met them. (Fortunately for them, that meeting never happened.)
All the while I was missing the lively, sophisticated sound of vinyl I heard at my parents' when I was young. I bought a Rega Planet CD player later on, which improved things a lot, but I only got some involvement back when I bought a Rega Planar 3 with an Ortofon MC 15 Super II. It was as if music had come back to life.
It all happened to me between 1989 (when I heard the first CD-sourced system) and 2000, when I bought the Planar 3, so the vinyl revival is not exactly a hipster thing. It's a matter of pleasure, of tactility, and of involvement. Most people value the practical side of things and prefer digital media for its lack of physical storage demands and no longer having to put up with pops, clicks and scratches (most of which could be avoided through careful cartridge and tonearm setup); others are willing to forgive those minor inconveniences if the payback is a dynamic, tridimensional and lively sound. I'm on the latter side of the fence, both for music reproduction and photography. (I could carry most of the above to photography just by replacing "CD" by "digital camera" and swapping "vinyl" for "film".)

"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"

Mike, just go look at older photo.net threads about lens tests and resolution and you'll find that while things have changed they have stayed much the same. It's just become easier to zoom in 1:1 in Photoshop compared to figuring out lp/mm on TechPan, so there are more people doing it.

As for analog revival, I've long said that digital will replace the low end "analog" market for things, but there will remain a "connoisseur" segment for those who either truly care or want to appear to do so. Fine leather bound books, real darkroom prints, really well done vinyl release of music etc etc. Any revolution like we've seen is followed by some sort of backlash, and there are additionally those who stick to their ways, revolution or not.

Hi Mike,

Just FYI, the David Sax book is available in both "analog" and digital formats via your friendly local Penn Yan Public Library (along with music and movies).

People of 'a certain age' grew up in an era when vinyl was king, it is ingrained in their minds as the way recorded music should sound, so anything else (no matter how much more faithful to the music) sounds wrong. This probably applies to photography too. Maybe.

There is also the idea that back in that era, things were better - people had jobs, could afford to buy houses, had enough to eat etc, so if we all buy vinyl systems and film cameras we can pretend we are back in those days and things won't seem as bad. Possibly. cf sales of lava lamps. ;-)

Or maybe I'm just an old cynic.

[You misread me. I didn't say vinyl was better, OR that we should go back to it, OR that everything else sounds wrong. What I did say was more subtle than that. --Mike]

I remember the same tedious obsession about the minutiae of lenses, film and format when I joined a camera club in 1980. Only LF was any good, MF was for travel photography and 35mm was for snapshots, unless you had a Leica in which case 'snapshots' were called 'reportage'.

It didn't make the images at the annual club competition any more interesting.

As a friend of mine once commented about hi-fi, most people who obsess about hi-fi don't care about the quality of the music, they care about the quality of the noise.

The same could be applied to photographers. Most people who obsess about cameras or media don't care about the quality of the image, they care about the quality of the print.

A poor recording of a great performance will always be better than a great recording of a poor performance. No matter what.

Sadly, digital is far more accurate, so it is far harder to hide a poor performance.

The irony of returning to film is that most will then scan the film to get a digital file for processing.
My experience with scanning is now more than 5 years old, but I have no fond memories of scanning thousands of frames and trying to equal digital camera quality.
BTW, the first ~100,000 words of the ~2million I have written were on typewriters. IBM Selectrics were my first foray into technology, more than a decade before PCs. NEVER going back to that analog technology!

From the start it was not digital in and of itself that turned me off to digital cameras. It was that digital cameras had no comfortable, familiar feel. None of the ones I have held have generated any excitement of anticipation of use. They all felt like picture taking appliances. You know, appliances, like toasters, blenders, irons, coffee makers, etc. I still use film because that is what the cameras I like take. Since digital became mainstream I have purchased one new DSLR, a NIB but discontinued (and deeply discounted) Olympus E-410 w/kit lens, in 2009. By at least 100 to 1 I would rather pick up and use my 40 year old OM-1 that the E-410. Even when I first got it home and charged the battery and looked at the instruction book there was just no feeling of joy at having a new camera, none, zip, nada! I only bought it because I could use my OM Zuiko legacy lenses with a simple adapter. But accurate manual focus proved hit and miss and very soon the 410 mostly just sat on the shelf, occasionally used as a meter for my film cameras or to photograph film negatives with an adapted 55mm f2.8 Macro Vivitar. To be fair, I have not held a Leica digital M or Fuji digital that has a real shutter dial but those are way out of my income level anyway. There must be some folks who have the same feelings about cameras I do but i fear we are in the very tiny minority.

So very many photographs these days. So few very good ones.

Listening to a live music performance versus listening to a digital recording can be compared to viewing a photographic print rather than seeing the image on a computer screen.

My wife is a professional musician. I learned that a live performance is far better than using audio listening equipment. Live sound can literally press on you, it makes your body vibrate. Headphones will never do that. She is in tune, literally, with the subtle resonances of her instrument. Room acoustics of a venue also play in. The first, second, or third row seat in a concert hall is an experience that recorded sound will not replicate. Some may argue this, but it's my experience at numerous live performances that sets my opinion.

And being familiar with musicians, they really appreciate and love to play for live audiences.

I have several silver gelatine b&w prints on my walls at home, and several Cibachromes. All I made years ago, and continue the pleasure of viewing them. I don't condemn digital images, I love them too. Just that analog and digital seem like two distinct species.

I don't know much about hi-fi, never having been able to afford it when it was at its peak. I can, however, speak to a recent experience with electric guitars. For years, guitar freaks (and all their magazines) have touted "tube" amps for their "authentic" quality, i.e. the qualities that rock music had in its heyday in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Staring in the 90s, some "digital" manufacturers began selling solid-state amps that emulated the sounds of the tube amps. They did that more or less well, until very recently. Recently, a number of companies like Fractal and Line 6 have created emulation products that are so good that (really) nobody in blind tests can tell them from the amps that they are emulating (although some people claim they can.) The thing about these older amps is that technically, they had sound-reproduction problems that were then sold as features, rather than bugs -- "Sound like the Beatles," "Sound like Skynyrd," "Sound like the Allmans," etc. And with these emulation products, you *can* get that buggy sound, if you wish, although you might not have the talent of the original players. I'm pretty much convinced that what hi-fi vinyl record systems do is pick up those characteristics of vinyl that could be called "bugs" if they weren't hailed as features. However, if you were to sit in an acoustically neutral studio and listen to, say, Skynyrd, without reproduction, it would sound much closer to a CD experience than a vinyl one. The vinyl adds its own character and some people legitimately enjoy that experience.

Same with photos. Film creates (bugs/features) that you won't get with digital, except, of course, that some digital cameras are now making emulations of the (bugs/features) that you used to get with film. Just as with tube amps vs. emulated amps, some people consider that not "authentic," because the bugs are artificially implanted on what otherwise would be a clean sound/image.

By the way, when you speak of "setting off a scramble" for ever better image quality, you're talking about a tiny subset of photographers. All those iPhone users seem pretty happy with their digitals, and use them a lot more than they did even the most convenient P&S film cameras.

No, I am not the David saxe that wrote the book. I am the David Saxe that takes pictures and occasionally comments in these pages. That said, I have been around for a while and have over the years watched as digital has consumed our lives. I do not think it is a bad thing, however with all change there is good and bad. For instance I loved the darkroom, found refuge in it, hid in it, and listened to my jazz in it while i danced, developed film, made contacts, and printed them. Those were some of my sweetest moments but they are long gone. Now I sit at my Mac and do it in Lightroom. Are the pictures better? Yes, in my opinion. I have more control over what I do now than I ever had with analog. I had to wait until the technology had to catch up to my expansive desires, I had to learn printing all over gain, I had to invest in printers, Software and RIPs but I really think my prints today are better. At my old age, it is easier now than before because I can just go to my computer, work on a shot or two, and walk away to be printed later. (I don't have to stop what I am doing to turn over a record either.) After dinner i can return and work some more and maybe make a print or two. There is no darkroom to clean up, no noxious chemicals to breathe, and most important, I do not have to commit to the better part of a day to do it. Yah, Its better now, but every now and then…

As a teen in the early 1980s, one of my great pleasures was going to the record store, visually indulging in album covers and desirable promo posters. And even if the record store clerk could sometimes be a bit supercilious (not all of them, by the way!), they were still an important source of information.

Radio wasn’t going to offer up any hidden treasures; that’s where Drastic Plastics or Homers could fill the void, and it was personable without being overwhelming for an introvert such as me.

And as a collector geek, coming across a first edition Bowie gatefold album, Devo's first release on marbled vinyl, or an Elvis Costello import with alternate cover and track listing sparked just enough excitement to compensate for the otherwise mundanity of midwest America life. The thrill of the hunt was all part of the ride.

CDs, while digital, at least came in a ‘package,’ with covers, albeit smaller, and different editions…who knew the Bowie RCA discs would ever become collectible.

But downloads largely plop everything into a vulnerable hard drive possibly occupied by Excel and email files, while streaming doesn’t even stick around in any format. There are no editions, no rare withdrawn covers (Tad’s Jack Pepsi or the Beatle’s butcher babies), just a perennial floating jpeg, or perhaps a copy of a copy of a copy; it doesn’t matter.

And for most people, this is perfect, and I completely understand why it’s perfect, and why it’s perfect for most people. Digital proponents need not defend their choice!

However, the resurgence of film, vinyl, and books proves that a concrete correlation between technology and desire is ultimately nonexistent; that someone will still choose to create pottery by hand instead of using a 3D printer or play a piano instead of using GarageBand.

Solid tactility remains a premium, even if somewhat niche in the greater scheme of things. Though old enough to have shot film, I did not really seriously pursue photography until digital came around. But even then, I still believed, as I still do, that the actual print was the final expression.

Less than three years into the hobby, I bought a film rangefinder because I could not afford a digital one, with the Leica M8 and the somewhat aging Epson R-D1 being the only options. I had intended to shoot mostly digital, but after having developed and scanned (yes, digital still factored in) my first role of Tri-X, I never picked up the 350D again.

As with others, it was the process as much as anything else that I enjoyed; and I could not ‘fake it’ with digital, no matter how much masking tape could be placed over the LCD screen. Nine years later, and the smooth motion of the film advance lever still serves as a reliable reward for every shutter release, even if the actual photo proves less appreciative.

And one of the unexpected benefits, to which Mike discusses, was a release from technological expectations. I’m using a lens and camera designed 60 years ago, and I have absolutely no desire to upgrade…and really, upgrade to what, something designed 40 years ago. No more wondering when I should jump to full frame and what its low light capabilities will be…no more wondering what’s next; will it be better somehow. Not even a thought now.

And fortunately for my finances, my “collector bug” largely ended with albums.

I think you are so right on the mark here. To put it another way, nostalgia is priceless.

Or another way: in my 20s we were all broke, lived in terrible apartments, drank cheap beer, smoked all the time, didn't know anything, and our cars broke down every 5 miles.

Gosh I wish I was 20 again.

I'm not going to get into the discussion about whether traditional media are better/worse than those which use digital data to represent their artifacts.

But, as a computer programmer and someone who enjoys exact language I *hate* the use of the term "analog" to man the opposite of digital, *especially* in the context of recording media like for sound and photographs.

*Any* scheme for recording things on media makes an *analog* of the original object. When people say "analog" in this context what they really mean is some kind of continuous signal vs. a sampled one.

But, as with all things like this, it's way too late to do anything about this except to complain about it once in a while in a friendly space, while not really convincing anyone.

I think the real thing people miss with traditional media (analog, if you must) is the pleasure of the artifact. It's a truth that digital music and digital pictures and digital books are all more convenient to consume and probably have just as high a level of fidelity as anything that existed before, but the *packaging* sucks.

People tend to underestimate the extent to which packaging matters. But to my mind at least with CDs (and digital files) and LPs the differences are stark. What you get out of the LP is a nice box, nice cover art, readable text, great photographs, etc. None of that exists with a CD. You also get the childish pleasure of watching a thing spin and make noises.

It still doesn't sound better though.

"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."

Oh that is delicious and profound. I wished I had said it myself and hope the idea is one that might gain a prominent position on the blog; to be revisited, referenced and further mined for insight.

Succinct. Bullseye.

TOP has a spooky way of being personally topical to me, many times your posts have addressed something on my mind whether photographic or, for example, concerning your personal story of sleep apnoea which was part of my field of work.
This time ... I have just inherited, been given or bought 3 film cameras after years in digital (I wish I had realised that the Minolta lenses I owned 20 years ago might have a new lease on life in the digital world. I would have kept my minty 28-135 'secret handshake').
I have my late father's Nikon FE which is working again after years of being 'stuck'- I don't know what I did in playing with the levers to get it the wind and shutter to work again; also I've a Minolta Dynax 5 so I can use my Minolta/Sony Lenses with it. I'm going to shoot the film and scan the negatives which I think might produce the best picture quality at the least cost; the Dynax 5 cost little more than a 36 exposure film! I excited about even starting to develop my films at home again like I did when I was 17. I still remember the final rinse of a reversal slide film which took an hour or so of keeping the developing tank in a water bath in the kitchen at a precise temperature ('Ferrania" I think, it was cheap) where I connected the tank to the hot tap and watched as the emulsion was washed away! Thank you for indulging my nostalgia.

On the digital photography- Exactly. Thank you.

The worst thing is that in many instances they give you the most appallingly bad shots to demonstrate the camera or lenses so called defects. You usually get some explanation like this: "I just stood on my front porch at sundown to take these four shots to demonstrate X camera or lenses technical deficiencies. Eventually I will post some good photos, but for now you can clearly see from this poorly composed, poorly exposed shot of my neighbors front hedges that X camera/lens is just not worth it."

I think that one major difference between analog and digital is that with an analog photographic print you can have a sharp print of an unsharp negative , where you reproduce the grain, the edge of the image on the film even the frame numbers and sprocket holes, that can be quite satisfying. When you make a print of a negative you are literally making an image of an image. With an analog audio recording, the artifacts of the recording process and the physical object IE a tape or LP contain and give context to the sound much like the filed out negative carriers many of us used with film.

With digital there is no intermediary object. Sometimes I think that the reason so many photographers switched from B&W to color at the same time as switching from film to digital is that compositional tools of B&W film photography like having a natural edge to the image and sharp grain don't have analogs* in the digital realm.

When the first digital audio recorders came out in the form of the Sony PCM-1 box that converted audio into a video signal you could record on a monochrome VTR I remember the first thing that a friend in graduate school said was that he had spent years using audiotape oversaturation and print through as a creative tool and now he was screwed.

*a small joke trying to be a pun

Nostalgia is a peculiar, and peculiarly strong, sentiment. Some would argue that what is happening in politics today is entirely attributable to that same sentiment -- that unprovable, very likely wrong, but almost irrepressible notion that what was is better/greater than what is.

By all rights, CD should be better than LPs, and the current resurgence should never have happened. However, the loudness war has marginalised CD to simply being a vehicle for delivering digital data to be ripped to convenience devices. People who care about dynamic range have little choice than to stay with the venerable LP.

I don't usually write more than one comment per article here on TOP, but I felt the need to set something into rights: the revival of analogue recordings and photography isn't just about nostalgia. When I walk into the shops that sell analogue photography equipment, I see a majority of young people purchasing film for their Praktica and Pentax SLR's. Many of them are still in their teens. I don't see old hunchbacks with trembling hands carrying large format cameras, or whatever people think film users look like.
The same happens in music stores that sell vinyl recordings, where most customers are youngsters. This is not nostalgia - how can anyone be nostalgic about times they weren't even born?
Please don't be prejudicious.


Fifty years or so ago there was a very popular British double act called "Flanders & Swann". One of their songs "High Fidelity" contained the immortal lines:

With my tone control, at a single touch,
I can make Caruso sound like Hutch;
But I never did care for music much,
Just for high fidelity.

(Hutch was the popular name of Leslie Hutchinson, a Grenada-born cabaret singer of the 1920's and 30's)

I think you've said something really valuable here. Particularly what Aaron called out:

"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."

I'd just add that with analog vs. digital music, sometimes there were really significant differences in mastering, even when master tapes of analog performances were being dumped to disk. I have a hunch that this is the "secret sauce" that makes some recordings on some formats seem really good.

I love digital photography, my D750 does things I couldn't have fantasized about 20 years ago, but love analog as well.
I keep all my old cameras, Kodaks, Canons, etc., up and running, using each at least once per year at least.
I received an email on Wednesday that my Zorki 4 rangefinder was to be shipped back to me on Thursday after a CLA to keep it tip-top.
I have film ready, to give it one of it's yearly workouts.
Viva analog.

I've said since the beginning that digital cameras are the only reason I'm interested in photography. I used film cameras for a while in my teenage years, but I felt I couldn't really figure out how to use them well enough to get results that didn't make me sad. When digital came along a decade or so later, the instant feedback and freedom to shoot liberally made all of the difference for me. But, I never fell into the trap of seeking "better" constantly, so I avoided the trap Mike describes.

So much not my experience.

I leaped to CDs in 1983 and have never looked back. And haven't bought any exotic stereo equipment since then either. CDs were "good enough". LPs never were; first, they had to be treated very carefully every time you played them, and they wore out anyway. And they had characteristic failings (clicks and pops, and surface noise), that you just had to live with always. The one piece of exotic stereo equipment I ever bought was an SAE-5000 impulse noise reduction unit -- to reduce clicks and pops on my LPs. Never needed it after I went digital.

And in fact the digital gear being consistently "good enough", plus some huge lucky leap in speakers (any idea why companies stopped marketing total trash?) killed the whole category of "stereo store" -- nobody needed specialized equipment any more.

What people are doing in the creeping wacko edges of the hobby is, I suggest, mostly irrelevant.

I guess I am a bit of a contrarian, but I prefer the new tech to old tech. I copied several boxes worth of CDs into an iPod that (literally) fits in my jeans pocket, with plenty of memory to spare. I can stream a movie online and not worry about rewinding the VCR tape when I finish. I have more pictures than would fit in many dozens of slide boxes in a small external hard drive that (literally) fits in the palm of my hand. I only print what I like.

I don't have to worry about my LP records getting warped or scratched, or the cassettes getting stuck and ripped. I don't need to worry about getting the exposure wrong on an entire roll of irreplaceable vacation slides because I miscalculated, forgot to change one setting or accidentally moved a lever. I don't need to worry about slides or negatives coming back from the lab scratched. I don't have to print contact sheets or squint over a light box with a loupe in hand until I get a headache just to see what I shot. I could go on, but what is not to love about digital?

With analog, been there, done that, and I ain't never going back. Isn't digital wonderful?

Getting back into film has been a bit distressing on one level....I have quite a bit of value in digital cameras laying around that are looking more and more like frivolous wastes of money. On the up-side, I have learned of an inherent value concealed in the digital stuff: the make great light meters.

So much not my experience.

I leaped to CDs in 1983 and have never looked back. And haven't bought any exotic stereo equipment since then either. CDs were "good enough". LPs never were; first, they had to be treated very carefully every time you played them, and they wore out anyway. And they had characteristic failings (clicks and pops, and surface noise), that you just had to live with always. The one piece of exotic stereo equipment I ever bought was an SAE-5000 impulse noise reduction unit -- to reduce clicks and pops on my LPs. Never needed it after I went digital.

And in fact the digital gear being consistently "good enough", plus some huge lucky leap in speakers (any idea why companies stopped marketing total trash?) killed the whole category of "stereo store" -- nobody needed specialized equipment any more.

What people are doing in the creeping wacko edges of the hobby is, I suggest, mostly irrelevant.

Yeah, I was thinking of that Flanders and Swann song, glad to see David Brookes already brought it into the discussion. The line "But I never did care for music much!" fits just so well here -- and they're talking about the very earliest days of stereo (as is quite obvious from other verses of that song).

You know a different version from me (not surprising that multiple recordings of some of them exist). What I've got is from the complete boxed CD set (though I first met F&S through a roommate in college), the "At the Drop of a Hat" disk, and there the title is "Song of Reproduction", and the line about the tone control is "Bel Canto sounds like Double Dutch". AT least I could find out what that meant without figuring out the Hutch / Hutchinson thing!

This is slightly off topic, but..
One of the main reasons digital is making such huge inroads in all parts off our daily lives is convenience.
It 's definitely why I have made a conscious decision to not have physical books, records (not even CDs) or even prints.
I am trying to live a minimalistic and vagabonding lifestyle and the ability to have not only access to but even a collection of offline books, music, and resources with me (without breaking my back or hiring a moving truck) is both incredible and unprecedented in history.
Which in a roundabout way brings me to the question I would love to see explored here on TOP.
Why are not more photo books, e-books and even single pictures more optimized for digital viewing, on a large flatscreen TV for example? This is a huge topic and rather than try to hijack this thread, it is one I would be great to hear Mike's point of view as a start for a new discussion.

Physical controls for driving image editing

Readers may not be aware that physical controls are readily available for controlling image editing software.

The MIDI interface used with appropriate middleware can provide that functionality. I drive Lightroom using a Behringer X touch Mini MIDI controller programmed using the open source lightroom plugin MIDI2LR. The Behringer is a modest studio mixer midi controller and the plugin allows you to map its knobs and buttons to Lightroom sliders any way you want.

There are are other plugins available and other midi controllers. For those who prefer a dedicated proprietary solution, these exist too, offering more flexibility but at a price.

David L is deeply confused when he likens a digital audio music recording to a digital photographic image vs a live music performance to an "analog" photographic print.

No, David, the live music performance is like seeing the original scene or whatever which was photographed, live -- NOT seeing a photographic print.

And Mike -- nope, not going back to film or vinyl. Loved what I did and heard back in the day, but at 75 I am not interested in a reprise. That was then, now is now.

The one advantage of my various film cameras, culminating (in my mind) with the OM1 and a bunch of superb lenses shooting Tri-X or Kodachrome 25, was that they were so very simple.

Every now and again I am disappointed with the results from the mighty GX7 (what a lovely little camera) and the mighty G6 (lovely too, but I have grown to love the GX7 more), because they offer me so many choices and I have made a mistake in the settings.

As a result, I tend to avoid lots of what digital offers to keep my shooting simple and thus clusterfark free.

And the quality from m43 knocks the sox off 35mm.

Cheers, Geoff

For myself I reached sufficiency in photography a couple of years ago with micro 4/3 and an Epson P600 printer. I can now far exceed the best I could achieve in my limited darkroom with medium format and 4x5 film. As far as music, after many years of live concerts and motor sports I can no longer discern differences between analogue and digital formats. Now digital files on an mp3 player or good speakers with my computer suffice.

It's become the project of the entire photography world on the Internet. ..

I'm not sure that's true for those of us who enjoy using vintage lenses on digital. The way in which the imperfections of the lensese can produce pleasing images is half the attraction. (And the idea of adapting old 16mm format projection lenses to shoot with would have been absurd before mirrorless digital came along.)

I was adamant that I would never give up my Leicas and medium format equipment, that I would continue to shoot HP5 and TriX, 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. The digital images looked better and were easier to produce. The digital equipment was more enjoyable to use. The cost of shooting and printing digital (along with the frustration level) was lower. And, finally, I realized the beautiful printing materials--pigment inks and rag papers--were on the same order of the materials used by artists centuries ago.

For music, I've never been an audiophile although I've always managed to own decent stereo equipment. Early CDs were somewhat disappointing but a lot of that was due to poor engineering, something that improved over time. LPs were fragile and noisy surfaces were my pet peeve and nothing could totally prevent this. At least CDs did away with these concerns. Over time, digital sound improved. I acquired a couple of SACD players over the years and I was completely blown away by many recordings. I still have a turntable packed away in a closet with several hundred LPs but I have no desire to use them. I'm fine with most music played on my iPhone although I continue to buy CDs.

But I certainly agree that we seem to have lost the ability to look at and enjoy pictures. The crushing weight of images being thrust upon us daily causes visual fatigue. The value of photos has diminished. Today I see a lot of wretchedly awful photos, some good photos and very, very few great photos. And, sadly, I believe many of today's photographers value photos less and less. Many are consumed with gear lust, many with just punching out massive quantities of pictures for their "like" value on whatever is the trendy website of the day. Hopefully, this is just another growing pain for the still new photography technology, like the awful early digital composite photos that were prevalent once. We're probably at that same point as when the early Kodak camera became popular with the public. With time, the value of the art will eventually be recognized once again.

In any event, for my own use, I'm content with digital.

Words written in a 26-letter alphabet are not "analog" if printed on paper or "digital" if displayed as pixels. That's a silly concept, which confuses the output medium with the written representation.

Translating the spoken words or thoughts into sets of alphabetic characters is the point at which the analog is lost.

This is perhaps the ultimate and most bizarre analog revival that I have see yet. These companies are producing new records to be played on Edison cylinder record players.

I still struggle to get or not get the CFV16 for my Hasselblad. Sorry.

Well, did get the thing that run over a record to play it in kickstart to balance it.

After looking at this page again I realized I had more to say about this statement:

"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."

I think that the Internet certainly makes it feel like the entire project of the Internet it to chase some dragon called "image quality." But this is not an objective sample, because you are only asking the Internet if they are happy with their cameras.

I imagine that the vast majority of working photographers and people who do not write about cameras for a living on the Internet are perfectly happy with their cameras. I've been using an OMD-EM5 and my iPhone for the last four years, and might just now pick up the new E-M1 body for the autofocus, but not really the "image quality". I have been perfectly happy with the camera and getting a new one for me would just be a matter of my irrational need to play with new toys.

The Internet has a way of amplifying all of our fears, angst, neurosis and dissatisfaction with the world that is hard to ignore. You need to *practice* ignoring it or it can take over your psyche.

So I don't think *most* people are perpetually unhappy with their digital cameras. But a lot of people can be heard complaining on the Internet, for sure. If there had been an Internet for film cameras, it would have been the same way.

Talented people will always push the material limits of a medium to create wonderful things.

I was in Berkeley today. There is a relatively new store called the "Center for Anachronistic Media" They sell books and vinyl records (but not film)

Ah.... no. First, analogue and digital are equally "real". I look forward to a philosophical argument that pretends otherwise!

Second, tools are tools, with their own constraints and affordances. A chemical process involving various emulsions and metal solutions is no more "natural" than a CMOS chip. Photographic paper made through a complicated process from wood pulp is no more natural than a silicon chip made from a long complicated process from sand.

And finally, you must have a short memory, because audiophiles argued over expensive gear and interconnects (goodness, don't call them cables!) long before digital audio.

Much more could be said about analogue fetishism, but this will do for now.

You have managed to overlook all the crackpot audiophilia of the pre cd era as in directdrive vs. belt drive, platter mass, tube vs. transitor, remember monster cable(still around), direct to disk recording, etc.

Pity about the bad spelling of analogue!

I completely disagree with your hypothesis:

“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.”

I offer an alternate hypothesis.

Data from analog and digital anythings have the potential to be good enough. The information content of the data (signal-to-noise ratio) and the how well the model for data maps onto physical reality determine reliability. Either could never be quite good enough, no matter how good they are. Their reliability depends on the data and the model.

My conclusion is based on two separate lines of thought.

The first is simply practical. Knowledge from digitized information is useful. Besides photography and audio, important decisions are made based upon digital information. MRI, CAT scans, forensics and national security are just a few examples. In these fields digital is “reliably good enough”.

The second is technical. Information theory is concerned with the process of converting data to knowledge and then using knowledge to achieve wisdom.

Converting data into knowledge depends on a mathematical model. A trivial case is the estimating the slope for a straight line. The model requires the physical phenomenon measured is a purely linear process. If not, the model does not match the data. A slope can be estimated, but that estimate can not lead us to a complete state of knowledge.

Digitization is an inherently incomplete model for continuous physical phenomena. The models used to transform data into knowledge are flawed in some way. However we know a great deal about those flaws. We can even compute estimates to minimize the flaws’ impact on our knowledge. Obviously these models are often “good enough”.

Analog models can be flawed as well, The difference is analog models are hard-wired. Audio engineers make numerous assumptions and compromises converting air pressure modulations into analog signals. People don’t usually think of analog electronic designs as models. But they are. Likewise the physical chemistry of film emulsions affect the spatial distribution and reproduction of light intensities. Emulsions with large photo-sensitive granules use a different model than those with much smaller granules. Large granules model light intensity better while small granules model spatial details better.

An interesting difference between the physical models intrinsic to analog measurements and computational models used to estimate parameters from digital data is flexibility. The former is significantly less flexible than the latter. Digital data (assuming it was not mathematically manipulated or modified before archival) can be re-modeled repeatedly. In fact, models gradually improve. Models that were computationally impractical a decade ago are now routine. There are statistically meaningful ways to rigorously evaluate which of several models is the most probable candidate.

Finally there is a philosophical aspect to this argument. The analog domain is defined by human experience. Our senses restrict perception to a continuous reality. Just over 100 years ago our ability to measure physical phenomena improved to the point where we could observe the discrete aspects of energy and matter. The universe may appear to be an analog place, but it is not.

I was excited to get the book as I like shooting film cameras.
After a few chapters though, it was mostly annoying to me. The format was, generally, "This is what me and my friends like to do,here is a place that is doing it"

The comments to this entry are closed.