The following two comments on Ctein's Wednesday post came in one right after the other, in the order they're presented here:
From Thor Finton:
The arguments about the need for high end computer, expensive printer, and up-to-date Photoshop are when I start to get annoyed at these conversations.
Currently, I'm using a six- or seven-year-old iMac, an Epson Stylus 1400, Lightroom, Photomatic, GraphicConvertor and Photoline. And I'm shooting with a Pentax K-20. I do just fine. Fine as in, I'm happy with my results, and the people I share my work with are impressed. Or maybe they're just polite. My camera, computer and printer are all years old, long out of warranty, but they still work and produce very nice results.
The belief that you need to spend fifteen thousand dollars [note figure—again, neither of these commenters saw each other's comment] on hardware just to get started doing decent digital photography is ridiculous. It sounds like the sort of excuse people make to themselves for why they don't do the thing they'd like to.
Can't afford all that equipment? Buy a Canon G12. $500 new. Or for even less money, a used G-10 or something similar from Nikon. Or any other manufacturer. Take your memory card to your local chain drug store, Target, K-mart or whatever, and get 4x6 prints for twenty cents each.
Then put money aside and when you've learned a little and are ready to step it up, you'll be able to buy a modest system that will get you started.
And then this from robert harshman (about those lower case initials, I always reproduce commenter names the way they're written by the commenter):
I guess it all comes down to just how serious a photographer you are and your image volume. But I can not see any way that digital is cheaper than film when you add in the cost of computers, software and the need for multiple storage with offsite backups and ongoing upgrades to those backups. Add in the need for new lenses, and cameras every two to four years and you kick the cost up by a significant factor.
While we all may quibble about the details, it's clear to me that digital verses film is at least close in cost and not at all cheaper in any real comparison from photographers that are making images on a constant basis. When I upgraded to a D800E I had to upgrade everything that touched it. The camera cost $3,300. The upgrades for the tripod, lenses, computer stuff, software, etc. cost more than $15,000. That's a lot of film.
I always try to present a variety of views in the comments, but it's especially striking when two such opposing comments arrive in close succession—and both happen to name the same figure.
The cost of my photography
I often want to comment on Ctein's posts myself. He's good at bringing up topics that just make you want to chime in, isn't he? Occasionally I do. Mostly I don't, to speak of, because I figure that conversation's between you and him. I'm like any other commenter on Wednesdays.
But if you'll all indulge me, a few comments about what costs me money in photography:
1. Me being an idiot. This is a significant ongoing cost, and it's the most annoyingly wasteful. I buy a lot of stuff I never use. Software ("ooh, cool! I need that!); books I'm just curious about that I really want to see for myself, that I turn out not to like; technical how-to books that I never even open (HTML, XHTML, and CSS by Elizabeth Castro. Sure, Mike); useless accessories that I must have "to complete my outfit"; things I desperately need one minute that I am completely over by the time they arrive via the UPS truck. (The "what was I thinking" purchases.) I always figured it's a good thing I'm not richer, because it only means I'd waste more money.
2. Film cameras. This one's really bad. Digital has cost me big time for film cameras. Ever since digital came along, the price of film cameras has fallen, fallen, fallen, and all of a sudden I can actually have the stuff I used to lust for but could never afford ten, twenty, even thirty years ago. So I buy all kinds of things. And, of course, I never use almost any of it. I mean, did I really need a Nikkormat FT3? No. Will I ever use it? No. Is it pretty? It's so pretty. Here's what I use it for: fantasizing that I'm still a film shooter when actually I'm not*.
3. New digital cameras I don't need, replacing perfectly good, still-nearly-new digital cameras that don't need replacing, that replaced cameras that were perfectly good when they were replaced, et cetera on down the line. At least the K-M 7D broke and couldn't be fixed, making it the one digital camera I actually used until I couldn't use it any more—and I'm grateful that there's at least one.
4. New digital cameras I don't even like enough to use. After Carl visited and showed me his nifty Panasonic G3, I had to buy one. So far, the only thing I've used it for is...loaning it to Carl to use as a backup to his G3 during his epic Kickstarter-funded western-states drive-in theater swing. (And he ended up not using it either, although I'm sure it was good to have a backup just in case.) You might not have the problem I have: I can justify buying a camera because I "might review it." Sure, Mike.**
5. Stuff I lose or break. I have to keep telling myself that the HP B9180 paid for itself many times over. It did. It's just that I feel guilty when I think of it, like I recycled a perfectly good printer because I just got too tired of having problems with it. The next time I buy a scanner, it will be my fourth scanner: scanners will break if I so much as think malign thoughts about them. Which I do often. And I've bought at least a dozen memory cards in my life, but if you offered me $1,000 for every one I could find in the house by tomorrow, I could probably come up with about four. Maybe five.
Film vs. digital
Look, here's the thing about photography. You do what you have to do to get the results you want. If it costs more to do that, you spend the money. If you don't have the money, you get the money—there's an arrangement called "working" in most societies where, if you do more of it, they give you more money.
I could care less about cost per frame, or hit rate, or any of the metrics by which people argue about cost. Just do what you need to do. If you need to bulk-roll your own film cartridges, do it (I did, for years). If you need a better camera or a certain lens, save up, and get it. Does it take you six months, or two years? Who cares? Do it. If you have to carry a big, heavy camera, boo hoo. If you need a smaller, more unobtrusive camera to sneak up on your subjects, then deal with less "image quality." Whatever you need to do, just do it. Don't forget that the absolute best, #1 way to save money on your photography is to give it up altogether.
And here's where I come down on film vs. digital. I like film much better. Much. I like the cameras much more; I greatly prefer the all-B&W workflow—make that "mindflow"; I like film prints better; I much prefer the process with film (darkroom work) to digital (sitting at a computer and wrestling with recalcitrant inkjet printers, most of which were invented in hell to torment us—and don't get me started about the price of ink); and I greatly appreciate being part of the history, heritage, and intellectual traditions of film photography.
But the BIG question, the bottom line, is this: which one do you take better pictures with? To hell with hit rates, or cost accounting, or convenience. I don't give a crap about convenience. You do what you have to do to get the results you want. With which one do you get the results you want?
I get better pictures with digital. It makes me a better photographer. I take pictures all the time with digital that I'm just not good enough to get with film.
The cameras are nasty, I miss B&W, I hate hate hate learning software and I could pretty much kill every digital camera designer who ever lived...how do I hate thee, digital, let me count the ways...but I like pictures, and I like getting better pictures. Digital cameras have three things that help me—high ISO capability, image stabilization, and experimentation with immediate feedback. I'm a better photographer with digital cameras than I am with film cameras. It's a lot less work, yes; it's cheaper, yes; it's easier, yes; it's less fun...etc. Don't care. It helps me be a better photographer. Do care.
That's what matters. If you want to weigh "film vs. digital," just ask yourself which one you do better work with. I have zero quarrel with either answer, and a low tolerance for film ideologues or digital ideologues. Whichever is best for your work is best for you.
*On the good side here, I haven't yet bought a 5x7 Deardorff. I swear I used to regularly go visit that camera on display at Ferrante Dege in Cambridge. It was just a bit wondrous to me at the time how anyone could want a thing so much and yet not be able to have it.
**Begone, harpy Sigma DP2 Merrill! Fie! Leave my thoughts alone, tiny temptress!
ADDENDUM: Another thing nobody's brought up yet regarding expense is how much you make from your photography. I always figured (outside of the seven years I worked as a photographer full time, of course) that whatever I spent on photography in a year, I also needed to earn from it. Some years I came up short, some years I earned more than I spent, but on balance, all during my amateur career I would guess my hobby's pretty much paid for itself.
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My current favorite photobook:
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Mark C: "I appreciate and concur with your film vs. digital view. Except I'm not sure digital has made me a better photographer...yet. But I have the feeling (and have had since I converted to digital three years ago!) that just one more upgrade (hardware and software) is all that's required to get me over that hump."
John: "I like film too, but it is a hassle to work with. About the only justification I have is that in 40-odd years when they go through my bits and bobs, a shoebox full of 6x9 negatives of family is likely to be recognised for what it is, while a bag of thumbdrives and memory cards will head straight for the recycling bin. The idea for this came from the discovery of a stack of glass plates my mother-in-law had. Scanned, they turned out to be from her father's childhood and youth in the early 20th century."
Bruce K: "I'd swear you were referring to me in your list of five comments...."
mani: "Classic TOP post. Just one observation: I'm a digital user who discovered film three or so years ago (apart from when I borrowed my dad's OM-1 when I was a teenager), and it's definitely made me a better photographer. The thing with digital is that I never need to really visualize—really compose and vividly imagine—an image before taking a shot. I'd just take the shot. Then I'd either chimp on the spot to see if it worked out, and maybe take a couple alternate shots, or it would be an image I effectively 'chimped' on the computer screen—that is, I'd sort the keepers and trash on one screen or the other. With film I find my mind is far more concentrated and aware of what I'm photographing, because I really need to previsualize each shot for 'photographability' without the crutch of chimping or disposability."
Barry Reid: "One thing that hasn't been mentioned—if you exhibit, it levels the playing field considerably. Venue, prints, nounting, framing, private viewings...I'll have spent considerably more on that than processing or any single bit of gear in 2012, and a significant amount in 2011. All for a very limited return in sales, too."
Zvonimir MW Tosic: "How much our life costs us? Is it worthwhile investing all that we have just to die, sooner or later?
"So what if we want to spend a fortune on photography? So what if it costs 3x as much to develop film as opposed to digital? Or vice versa? I think we are talking about excuses then, that often obscure that we have a passion of spending time with something we want to explore more. And overall, that's just a drop in the overall 'cost' of life. We earn and spend millions in a lifetime, on us, our children, the society, just to leave all that behind.
"I think Ken Tanaka reflected well; it's only a matter of 'cost' of time, not a matter of 'cost' of money. Our only and true investment in everything is time. If we have little money, we can invest little on photographic gear, but a lot on quality time in enjoying and learning photography. And perhaps the opposite is true too: sometimes we spend lots of money on gear as a compensation for lack of time to explore photography to the depth and extent we'd really want."