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Friday, 03 June 2011


Uncle George's family slide show is the thing I'm worried about. There is no digital equivalent of finding George's slides in the closet after he passes on. Hard drives are fragile and file formats come and go. A great deal of our personal history is now much less permanent than it was.

Good god, that's SO much more familiar than the typical film lover stories. Film may perform (or should that be past tense?) like no other in professional hands, but in the hands of an amateur it can be a disaster. Like giving an 18 year old adrenaline junky a Daytona bred super sport bike, or taking a pure-bred race car into stop and go traffic. Computer guided cameras can adapt to a million times wide range of situations, its a triumph that goes easily unnoticed by bringing normalcy to the extremes, not unlike the Bugatti Veyron.

Well said Steve. Well said.

Love this article, sums up how I feel completely. In the film age I would have never become a photographer.

Wonderful essay, Steve. I started photography as a hobby in the early 80's (SLR, using Kodachrome then Fuji) but lost interest by the mid 90's. In 2007 I "tested the waters" buying a digital compact. A compact made photography convenient and fun, and the ability to edit my images helped me take my photography to the next level.

The second critcal innovation - digital as well - was the internet. I was never a "camera club" type of photographer, but the internet now allows me to tap into a world-wide [English-speaking] pool of knowledge and enthusiasm.

@kevin: there is a digital equivalent to Uncle George's slide show: digital prints.

I just did the math on a 24" x 72" color panoramic
image I recently printed on a Canon wide format CMYKKK printer. It did a wonderful job, especially for not being a dedicated photo printer. On glossy photo paper,190lb, it cost$5.45, total, ink and paper, or 45 cents a square foot. I would love to know what this might have cost as a print done chemically.
It has been wonderfully exciting to be in the middle of a "Golden Age" and to be honest, I don't miss the old days at all.
best wishes,

Uncle George's family slide show is probably best left to your imperfect memory. And if you did find the slides 20 years from now, where would you get a slide projector?
Steve's comments about digital are right on target. Sure, there are some things film could do that we're now losing, but there are many things that film can't do. And the combination of digital capture and digital post-processing opens up whole new areas for, as Steve says, the "average photographer," some of whom are now producing wonderful work.

I really enjoyed this perspective, being that I am a relative newcomer to photography (7 or so years serious, all with digital) and I miss out on the historical perspective. The lack of nostalgia or rose-colored glasses is much appreciated.

I often wonder if painters get into spats over whether water, oil or charcoal is the "real" of "professional" medium. I suppose they do, but to me as a viewer, it makes little difference on my end.

If this is decline, let's have more of it.

Another one here who was more interested in the picture than the process, until about ten years ago when the process suddenly got out of the way and let me learn photography.

It's a well-known part of control theory that a delay in a closed-loop system is one of the hardest things for a human to deal with. Well, not having to wait three weeks for the reasonable-quality, not-totally-inconsistent, not incredibly expensive printer to send the prints back sure helps the learning process.

Plus the fact that I could get through my first 100,000 frames without dropping 50K USD.

No regrets.


Thanks, Steve. In so many ways this reflects my feelings and experience. The big difference being I had 20 or so years as a professional photographer with my own darkroom before I had to give it up. For the next 10 years I did almost no photography at all, save for what I did with Polaroid SX-70.

Digital gave me back the control, and thus the joy, of photography. One big discovery: For all those early years I preferred black and white -- I thought for aesthetic reasons. Working in digital I realized that preference was really driven by the lack of control in film color. Now I do almost exclusively color, except for portraits.



As for the permanence of old slides, I am not entirely convinced. For every box of slides found in a closet, how many are interesting to begin with, and how many others were tossed out in the trash anyway?
How can you miss what you don't know about?

Although it is true that the old chemical materials had one advantage in that if you did nothing and forgot them in a closet, you might recover them someday. With electronic files, if you do nothing, you're almost guaranteed to lose them. And in the old days, people printed more, so you were more likely to find prints, today, not so much.

But we may be overestimating our own importance. So what if our stuff disappears? If we keep it all, there will be too much of it anyway. I don't shoot that much compared to a lot of people and I think I already keep too much material on my hard drive because of the illusion that it's cheap to do so. Maybe the drives are cheap, but my time to look through the files is not.

True Kevin, and to Steve, a good argument always cuts both way my professor once told me with a twinkle in his eye. So does yours. Yes you can use a DSLR to make A2 prints but and yes they hold up under normal viewing conditions and yes you don't complain and neither do I. My digital camera produces (as Mike's does since it the same) nice 12 Mb 4000 x 3000 pixel files. It weighs in a under 500 gram (with a 18-36 zoom) and yes these Oly and Pana lenses are razor sharp and I can take my bike, strap my camera in a shoulder holster and I'm readt to shoot. I can get in an out any photographic situation in a fraction of a jiffy (yep ex-ICT to Steve, though that professor was a biochemist). Great stuff, made this series of the Rheinland entirely with the GF1:


It looks great, it can be printed to A4+ at 300 dpi and to A3 at 205 dpi to be precise. And that is were the shit starts to hit the fan. Now these Eggleston and Shore guys you are mentioning are using 4 x 5, 5 x 7 and 8 x 10 camera's (Mister Shore shure likes to pack heavy unless of course he's using a Rollei 35 to shoot a long series of a trip across and over the great devide). Now I talked to galleries and they liked my work, they realy did (somewhat to my amazement) but in order to take it in their collection well, they showed me examples of the sizes they were carrying. A square meter of paper was sort of the minimum size for serious art photography (now remember I don't agree with these people since it is the same tribe that seems to scorne any normal photography and adore staged work, but hey what do you say). Now I have two simple options. I'm on a budget, a limited budget made up of smoke and fumes.......(the ex in ICT should be indicative here), and the only way to get close to what Mr. Shore can do is to use his weapons. Now an 8 x 10 would bankrupt me in minutes......so I agreed upon a 20 years old medium format technical camera. Well scanned it's negatives can give me around 3 feet of print size, just enough to be taken seriously by the art market. That means completely altering my game as well. If I was used to hunt my pictures down by bike I now have to hunt them down by car (a lot more cumbersome, e.g. parking a car were you want to take your picture usually falls into the impossible project category). But when you view the results of a 6 x 8 cm frame on Velvia or Delta and you see the quantum leap in image quality.....well then you know that the gallery guy wasn't talking all bollony.....and if I had to do that digitally, yes sir I could but at a pricetag of a medium sized car. And hell I can buy an awful lot of Velvia for that. Now if someone would be willing to create a 56mm by 76 mm digital back with 10.000 x 7.500 pixels (yes I want that size since I want to be able to keep using my 50mm as a 23 not as a 50 please). And if he or she would be willing to put that in the market for lets say 2000 euro, hell I would be tempted to part with my film. No I wouldn't tempted I would do it in a second.

See Steve, what you say is 100% the truth from you point of view. From my point of view your argument however does not stick since I'm bound by market demand (Thomas Demand for instance) to upscale my act. And thanks to film I stand a fleeting chance if my lab gets it's act together, if I master that Velvia dream and bastard of a film alike and if I can get the stuff scanned (and Velvia is a bitch to scan, so much I can say after my first film).

Now if Fuji would put Velvia out of commission it would create serious problems for everyone in the Art photography business. Thomas Struth would look in dismay at his S2 and cry over his Plaubel Peco, Gursky would start stitching like mad with his Hassy and his Paintbox and Candida Höfer, I guess she would call it quits. Ruff would probably continue and adapt. Burtynsky, I don't know about Burtynsky. He shoots 4 x 5 so maybe he could adapt to a IQ 180. But the days of the megapictures would be over (at least for a while).

And ah, Steve there is a small aspect I have overlooked. If I would be as mad (or daring that depends on your personal opinion) a mr. Charley Cramer and take a 40.000 dollar piece of equipment on a hike, well I guess no one could insure me. Not on my turf, not were I take my pictures and I'm not that daring a photographer. A large format camera is expensive but not even in the same category as a digital back.

So mr. Fuji, mr. Eastman, mr. Rollei and who else........WE NEED FILM. You can up the price if you have to, we understand and we will pay. You can take 35 mm of the market, since that can easily be replaced by digital sensors.....only a few rolls for the Leica buffs.....they tend to be a bit sentimental, I know. But medium and large format. We need it. Desperatly.....so don't listen to nasty Mike.....and keep doing your magic. You don't have to develop anything new or fancy, we like the stuff you have. And mr. Nikon and mr. Minolta.....a small run of the 9000 ED and Dimage Pro.....maybe they would sell as well.

Greetings, Ed

Like Steve and Mike, I began my photographic training in the film days, 1969 to be more precise. I transitioned to digital first with a film scanner in the mid 1990's, and then to a full digital workflow in 2005.

For me, digital provides the freedom to create my vision, but I certainly understand that others prefer film. When I do woodworking, I like the mechanical precision and control of power tools where others prefer the tactile experience and freedom of expression of hand tools. To each their own.

Several years ago, my wife and I visited Colonial Williamsburg. I loved visiting the furniture and blacksmiths shops to watch the artisans at work. I remember one particular chest of drawers that was absolutly beautiful, and built entirely with hand tools. Today, someone could build that same chest of drawers with power tools, and I contend that the chest would be just as beautiful. After all, it looks the same. Personally, I would admire both pieces of furniture the same. But I would also have and admiration for the craftsmanship that went in to the chest built with hand tools.

I guess it's the separation of technique and result. When I view a photo, I generally don't care how it was made - I just look at the result. If the photo was done with "hand tools" in a darkroom, then I have an additional level of respect for the craftsmanship, but the craftsmanship isn't the photograph. I won't like a photo just because it was done with film just as I wouldn't dislike a photo just because it was done digitally. I judge the image on its own merits for what it is, not how it was made. I admire virtuosity and craftsmanship separately.

Nicely phrased and presented. While film offers wonderful opportunities, it is/was a very limiting medium to the "masses" who did not have creative control over their work once they handed the film canister to the store attendant who in turn would then ship it to a developer. Of course the shooter's skill was vital, but so was the skill of those providing the printing (assuming there was a person at all handing the enlarging process). At least the average shooter such as myself can now try to create images that match my imagination with means once unavailable to me.

As for the claim that the mass diffusion of digital images has hurt the "art," we could say that digitalization has brought more mundane images to the public eye, but those images have always been there--we just did not have the means to show them as widely.

In 1958 I took pictures on my twin lens Rolleiflex on Tri-X film. I calculated exposure with a Weston Master III meter, chose the appropriate combination of aperature and shutter speed, carefully focused before taking the picture. I threaded the film onto a Nikkor reel in the dark, brought D-76 to proper temp, poured the developer in, shook and inverted the tank the proper way, and after the proper time, poured out the developer, rinsed, poured in acid fixer, washed in the proper way and hung it up to dry, and wiped it down with a windshield wiper. And then I did almost the same process after calculating the proper exposure for a print. All of this is left brain technical type thinking. It has nothing to do with right brain creativity, and kept many creative people without technological minds away from the art and the craft. I did it and did pretty well and when digital came along I sold my enlarger, gave away darkroom equipment, bought a scanner for old negs, a computer and photo printer and have never looked back. I kept my developing tank and changing bag, so I could go back to Tri-X if I got the urge, but so far I have not. Shure, we get a lot of junk pictures now, but we had a lot of junk pictures then, and proportionately they are about the same. I am lucky to be living in the dawn of digital photography and glad to be free of the technical distractions. The art and craft has soared and improved beyond my greatest imagining, and I welcome those newbies who would not be with us without digital.

OK, I'm a curmudgeonly large-format landscape photographer who only shoots digital on sufferance but I can't help thinking that, in an all-digital world, we will have lost one thing that's much more important than the petty arguments over which capture medium is better: choice.

Imagine what a boring world it would be if all painters were forced to use only acrylic. No more watercolours or oils, no more pen and ink, no more pastels. No more charcoal or pencil sketches, even. None of that old-fashioned stuff. Just the bright punchy colours of acrylic.

That's really what we are losing. A whole mode of expression is being crushed under the digital steamroller just so we can have a future of bland conformity. And you call that a Golden Age?

Good article, Steve. I think you've stated you're point of view well, and I'm sure it works for most photographers. Doesn't happen to work for me, but then my needs and desires are very specific, and I don't expect others to fall in line with me.

I do think you're overstating the difficulties of darkroom access. Weston became a master with the most primitive of facilities. I seem to recall that Gene Smith processed film for the Spanish Village essay under the bed in a rented room. Usually, if there's a will there's a way. I've scraped by with modest income all my life and yet somehow managed to asssemble the capability for just about any darkroom process you can name other than dye transfer, and I gave up on that only because Kodak pulled the plug.

For the kind of work I do, a darkroom approach still is the most cost-effective and the most satisfying. I have an open mind about digital photography and have spent more money and time on it than I care to think about. Right now the darkroom is the better path FOR ME. Maybe next year that will change, but I'm feeling an increasing reluctance to change course. No matter what the path, at some point you have to dedicate yourself to the time and practise it takes to become really good at what you do. It simply doesn't matter whether the approach is computer or darkroom based. What matters is where you take it.

But with so many photographers and no outlet for photography, what do you do? We all set up a blog?

Just to be clear, I'm not down on digital at all. I work in the IT business and I know how slack people are about backup up stuff. "My vacation is on the computer....what could go wrong?"

My point was that digital files are far more likely to get lost than the family photo album. I always encourage people to get high quality prints made of favorite photos.

It might be helpful if either you or Steve added a link to his online portfolio or blog to provide greater context to this essay.

But as Steve says: the scanner was the real breakthrough, not the digital camera. My preference is still film + scanner/computer. That gives me control plus the look I want, using the cameras I want to use.

Do you think stitching would work for you? If the page you linked is representative, I think that might work really well. A Nodal Ninja pano head is only around $210-230, which is pretty inexpensive compared to a few month's use of Velvia. It would be a pretty affordable experiment.

If you need large format negative resolution, you'd be setting up a tripod anyway - a much more substantial one than you'd likely need for a pano head and a DSLR. In fact, you should read the Poor Person's Medium-Format Digital article on this site, all the options are quite well described within it.

In the interests of full disclosure, I do shoot some MF film, but I find scanning costs to be quite painful.


Yep, I recognize lots of that. I had the resources to do somewhat more with film, but not enough to really change things. I, too, find myself doing a lot less B&W now that it's only an aesthetic choice, and no longer costs less or gives me more control. Digital has definitely gotten me more active in photography again.

It's relevant that I am primarily a 35mm photographer; while most of the time from highschool on I owned some sort of minor medium-format camera, I never had one with more than one taking lens (I almost said just "more than one lens", but one of them was a TLR). The cheap part of the digital pool produces better results than the film cameras I'm used to. I can understand how somebody who shot lots of 4x5, say, would not see a DSLR as his future. (I do note that Ctein, who shot 6x7, has been quite willing to give it up, before external constraints pushed him to.)

Amen. My experience to a "T". But unlike Steve, and like many others, I do get weary reading articles by those who are nostalgic for the days of film.

>I can print archival quality 19x13" prints at home< I seriously doubt that. You might have been told that your prints *might* last, but there is hardly any proof of it. I frequently read that digital has 'reached' or 'surpassed' film by any means. Well, maybe. However, strong claim demand strong evidence and there isn't ANY yet. Thus I would prefer companies to tone down a bit.

Just as long as this doesn't turn into one of those digital vs film brouhahas.

I've seen enough of those battles on other websites, and am content to hunker down in the trenches and let the sling and arrows fly overhead.

Like a lot of you here, I have a foot in both worlds. Started out years ago, shooting, souping, and printing my own B&W film (after all, isn't that what (ahem) REAL photographers used?).

So, there's always a soft spot in my heart for shooting film, and I will do so until there is no more. But I have to accept that the world changes, and digital is the future. To pretend otherwise is like hanging on to your horse and buggy long after the rest of the world is speeding up and down the freeway in their automobiles...

So, these days, most of my shooting is digital. I admit I like the fact that, as the author pointed out, you have the ability to do your own processing and control the results (Remember my own frustration, when I did start shooting color film, at how what I wanted was not what I got back from the lab. Yet my own attempts at home color printing were messy, smelly, frustrating, and downright unpleasant.)

Further, I like the fact that digital is economical, and that you can get photos out damn quick if you need to. Also, while I liked old-fashioned darkroom work, I don't really miss it. My bathroom fixtures--and my clothes--suffered enough....

Hmmm. I'm conflicted about the whole thing. I think the cost of film (both in time and money) worked magic in distilling a vision and creating a disciplined way of seeing. I don't see that same discipline in today's work, for the most part.

Could the very ease of digital be depriving its users of a unique point of view? Could film have constrained too many points of view.

We'll probably never know. Every transition is sad for one group and an opportunity for others. I'm glad to have straddled both.

My local art museum currently has the three massive panels of Monet's Water Lillies on display in its main exhibit gallery.


In an adjacent hall the exhibit includes touch-screen computers running software which allows a visitor to paint his or her own "Monet" with a selection of brushes and colors plus guidelines. The software even helps keep the colors within the lines. The final painting can be emailed to the visitor's email address for safe keeping.

I wonder when digital illustration will take the next step which will include acceptance of digitally created paintings. The world of painting will be opened to a huge group of people who don't have the resources available for a studio or the money for supplies. True, we overlook the skills and artistry required to create those darkroom wet prints from film negatives when we discuss digital photography but painting should be no different, I would think. Seriously, I would love to master the style of Monet on my computer.

Very well said Steve! How can something that makes photography more fun and more creative for so many be a bad thing?

Exceptional article, that summarizes my own history -and pains- as amateur photographer and my views -and joys- on what digital has brought to us.

Probably the main difference with the author's story is that my film days ended abruptly when my Pentax Spotmatic F was stolen.

Well said, but, with all due respect I, as another "humble amateur of moderate means" would have to disagree with the fundamental premise that technological progress "gives free rein to the imagination." The imagination cannot be restrained by technology. Letting technology limit your vision or believing it will set you free is a romantic illusion, perpetrated by the Nikons and Canons of the world and others who have a vested interest in getting you on the endless treadmill of "progress." Digital transition has fettered people to their computers and their LCD's; it has set no one free. A look at flickr will confirm this, with everyone pretty much doing the same things. It's just spread the mediocrity in a wider swath.

You may be able to get good color prints with more convenience. That is the sole advance that digital has wrought: convenience for the mass market. Otherwise, imagination is right where it's always been, in your mind, free to roam, unconstrained by the technology of the moment.

The digital wave, if it does kill film, will impoverish the craft, but it will have no effect on imagination.

As one in his 60s, with a historical foot planted in both eras, I can say to Steve "Good points. Well spoken."

The old pleasures were plenty good enough at the time. We didn't know more convenient pleasures were to come.

I do wish now, though, that Uncle George would learn to steady his camera phone.


I agree very strongly with what you are saying.

I started with B&W film in the 70s and had my own small home darkroom briefly in the late 70s, early 80s. Photography as a hobby was very hit or miss, on and off for the next 20 years.

The final print results from my 2002 era digicam begin to exceed most of my 35mm film results and with my first DSLR in 2004, I quickly surpassed anything I had ever done or was doing in film.

For the amateur, the escape from the typical drug-store print result has been a revolution.

I recently had a chance (with my daughter) to take a class which included a chemical B&W darkroom. My reaction was not one of nostalgic glee - but rather bemusement that I had previously been so willing to spend gobs of time trying to precisely focus an enlarger and get test strips just so. I have no desire to do any of it again.

What I can do in 4 hours with digital today is mind boggling to what I could get for a result in 4 hours of a darkroom time.

I mean no disrespect, but my view of film is that if I never shoot another frame of it, fine by me.

If I had to go back to film and wet printing (or scanning film, which I also tried and hated) - I would just find another hobby.


When discussion turn to debate on the relative merits of film versus digital, two distinct aspects of photography -- two distinct processes - often get tangled. One is taking the picture or capturing the image; the other is manipulating, correcting and printing the image.

I love film, and as Mike makes the case, I think it will survive long in its B&W form and less likely in color. The reason I love it is because I love the process of capturing the image -- the mechanical, chemical process whereby I get no immediate feedback, where I learn to trust my skill and abilities and judgment and accept when they fall short. Shooting film, for me and many others, is a sensual, intellectual, and physical pleasure that loses something with digital shooting. Not sure what it is exactly, but film is magical to me because of the process.

On the other hand, I don't particularly miss the darkroom for printing, love PS for correcting blemishes and spots, adjusting contrast and exposure, and think inkjet printing is just fine in most cases.

So, I'm a hybrid user -- film for capture; digital for all the rest. These are two sets of arguments, and one doesn't support or negate the other.

Well said, indeed, Mr. Jacob. It was the expense and frustration of film that kept my teenage fascination with photography from developing in my twenties. Digital let me change from someone who kind of wished he could learn more about photography to an avid amateur photographer.

Film vs digital? How about film and digital! As Mike mentions, we live in a period of so many opportunities.

I have a Canon 5D mk2 from which I'm hoping to make a platinum palladium print.

I have an 8x10 Toyo for the price of a top end compact camera.

I have a 4x5 camera that produces 200 megapixel photos from the drum scanner available on eBay for $500 which I post process in Photoshop and am going to work with a Cibachrome printer to contact print inkjet internegs.

I work with brand new Kodak film with >18 stops of dynamic range and blend panoramas in PTGui

And finally it's the Internet that has made all of this possible - for film and digital photographers..

Dear Greg Smith,

Interestingly, that's just about the same price per square foot I was paying for chromogenic paper and chemicals bought in small-scale professional quantities.

Equally so, buying chromogenics in small amateur units cost 2-3 times as much, just as it does for inkjet materials.

Funny coincidence, that, eh?


Did it REALLY cost you only $5.40 (45 cents/sq.ft) total in materials??? On my 44" Epson printer, buying both ink and Premium Semigloss paper (in the largest amounts & cheapest ways) I'd be spending about 50 cents/sq.ft for paper and ink, EACH. In fact, one of my gripes about digital printing is that it does cost me several times more in materials than my darkroom printing did.

Just wondrin'... It's of no practical import. If one's in the kind of business/hobby/artform where one needs a 44" printer, material costs are really not of huge concern. They're a small fraction of what the final product sells for.

pax / Ctein

Steve makes an excellent point when he notes that film photography, by its very nature, is/was not a mass market medium in the way digital capture is. I commented to a photography class at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in 2006 that digital capture democratized photography (and probably not in a good way). See, e.g., Flickr.

At this point, the film-digital debate feels more like a rear guard action by the old timers who are unhappy, not necessarily with the new technology, but with the democratization of image making.

One more here. Steve's story closely parallels mine, other than starting in the 50s with my dad's cameras and a college darkroom in the early 60s and a lower level of anger and frustration, as work and family filled up my life.

I had the same feeling of having a part of me that couldn't express itself resurrected by a film scanner (Canon 2710) and photo editor(PS). At the time, and for many years afterward, I expressed it as "Having died and gone to heaven."

Digital Darkroom Moose

Thanks, Steve.

I like the shift in emphasis in this post to output. What's made the biggest difference to me is having a good quality printer. My Epson 3880 is the most expensive piece of photographic equipment I've ever bought. It's like a darkroom in a box! and I love the look of black and white pics on Museo portfolio rag......warm, rich, better than I ever consistently achieved in the darkroom. I care less about the source of the file than the quality of the output.
I'm getting a lot more of my old negs printed and on the wall.....love digital output!

One of the most significant factors in the take up of photography has to do with your willingness or desire to either push pixels or tip trays or send to a lab. For me the relative ease of one or the other is immaterial. I find sitting in front of a computer editing images gets my legs twitching and my mind starting to find different irrelevant solutions to getting an image 'out' and often contributes to severe headaches (real) and an itchy arse. If I am using a product of mechanical engineering and chemicals and walking around a darkroom I am happier and I prefer it, I'm doing something physical rather than sedentary and it suits my way of being. My uncle, who could have had automatic millers and lathes, etc. for his amateur high quality woodwork, eschewed them in favour of hand planes and chisels, because that's how he liked to make something. This isn't better or worse, it's simply how people like to work and if you don't like one way don't do it, but don't tell me why it is 'better'. If you think this is a 'snobbish' approach or smacks of Luddism, you are misreading me.
The demise of a medium of artistic expression is of great concern, since it is likely that such a process will only accelerate. Are we all looking forwards to the next generation of image capture ? Can't wait for the demise of CCD, CMOS, jpeg, tiff, etc. ? Want to have to wear a headband to take a picture as hand held devices are seen as obsolete ? Maybe. Will it matter to us as long as the twenty somethings love it ? What's wrong about wanting to hold on to a vestige of the familiar, or, dare I say, traditional ? Does this hold us back, or keep us steady ???????????????????
The real argument is this: the relentless acceleration of technology versus the ability or desire to embrace it. We have a right to question and alter the course of the seemingly inevitable.

I must agree with the article that the process of democratisation has been pure joy for the 20 year provincial pro who after 6 years of serious investment in digital now struggles for work because his craft has been denegrated to a quarter of its value by any hip 'blow in' waving a $499.99 camera.
Hurrah. Yes, there is a real downside, but, survival of the Facebook fittest and all that. Even my relative cheapness for providing a thoughtful, professional service can't compete with the '600 wedding shots on a CD' brigade.
You may be surprised how many talented photographers are withdrawing from offering their services because their craft and knowledge isn't valued.
I work at one of the best stocked photographic shops in the UK, and in the past 2 weeks 3 complete novices have bought Canon 5D mkII's, one has bought a Nikon D3s and one a more modest Canon 7D all with top flight lenses in order to do paid work. These are novices who have had basic camera functions and even depth of field explained so they can do the work of what would normally have gone to local pro's. I am not joking.
I suspect most career photographers starting out will need a trust fund behind them or at least the usual measure of privelege and luck, and eventually come to scorn 'democratisation' for making an actual living from photography an even more rarified achievement. Your local dependable professional will drown from the release of creativity that abounds from the spring of accessible technology.

Simple fact for me is that I work 8 hours a day with computers, plus maybe another 2 hours a night catching up with online happenings (such as this fine site!) and when I go out to shoot it's refreshing to get away from the digital, instant gratification world entirely for a little while.

Ultimately it's a choice of tool, chosen because I like it more than the modern alternative. I shouldn't even *have* to justify or defend that choice, any more than someone who shoots 100% digitally should have to defend *their* choice of tool.

>> Mike and Steve,
> I read your discussion of the transition to digital with great interest.
> I started my photography life in 1948, with my father's Exacta, using WWII
> surplus B&W film, mixing my own developer (mostly D23) and doing my
> developing and printing in the bathroom of our NYC apartment after my
> parents and sister went to bed (luckily they weren't into middle of the
> night bathroom trips). Today, I still have my two manual Nikons, and
> occasionally use my Pentax 67. That's along with my two Nikon DSLRs. I
> haven't had a wet darkroom in years, and have recently upgraded to Photoshop
> 5 and Lightroom 3. I think its fair to say I am a "techie" both in my job
> and to a degree, in the rest of my life.
> My take on the shift to digital is that it is mostly a blessing to most
> users. But it sure makes it harder to "show off" ones technical skills. I
> can now do in PS in minutes things that would take me days in the film
> camera and darkroom. For example, around 1969, I did a series of pix I
> called my "Psychedelic Surf" films. They were multiple exposures on a single
> frame of beach scenes with surf, exposed through the three primary filters.
> It took a while to get the exposures correct so that all the buildings,
> sand, and other immobile objects had normal color, and of cou rse the surf,
> which was moving, had a whole rainbow of colors. Today, I could take the
> three exposures without multiple exposure frames, and do the same thing in
> PS in a few minutes. And nobody will think anything of it-after all
> everybody knows about what PS can do....And now my DSLR will even do
> multiple exposures!
> I grew up with B&W, and when I was working and could afford color, I
> started carrying two cameras-one with color film, the other with B&W. Too
> clumsy, so I switched to all color slide film, and for prints in B&W, I made
> 4x5 internegatives in my enlarger. This had the added advantage of letting
> me control the tonality with filters when making the internegative. Today, I
> can go from% 20color to B&W in PS in at least 3 different ways with even
> more control of tonality.I love it.
> So why do I still use the 67 sometimes? It gives me a larger negative to
> scan into my computer. Now, with the 16meg digital, I may not use that any
> more. We'll see.
> Are there any negatives I see in digital? Maybe. It used to be a pro's
> dictum that film is the cheapest item in the budget, and if you don't get it
> now, you may never get that shot, so shoot, shoot, shoot. Having grown up in
> a much more budget limited environment, I haven't taken that approach (but
> I'm not a pro). I also grew up as a competitive shooter, where your every
> shot counts, and you don't have the optio n of repeats. So to some extent,
> the capacity of digital cameras to hold hundreds and thousands of images on
> a single card, is in some ways a plus, it can also encourage carelessness. I
> mean, I do love the ability to see results immediately, without waiting for
> development, but for some it may not always be good discipline.
> The one thing I REALLY don't like is the overautomation of the process. If
> you want to be consistently competent, you need to know about light,
> exposure, focus, etc. NOt maybe to the extent of some of us, but to a
> reasonable degree. As convenient as autofocus and autoexposure can be for
> the snapshooter, it can get in the way of more controlled work. I frequently
> use manual mod e on my cameras, sometimes because I do macro, with extension
> tubes and bellows, but for some more difficult lighting situations. And I do
> love having the histograms available on camera in these cases.
> Finally, my biggest equipment beef is that Nikon is making so many G
> lenses, without aperture rings. Given the above, you can see why.
> Anyway, that the thoughts of a photographer who's been at it, maybe not
> well, but for a looong time.
> Richard Newman

Thanks Steve, you seem to be describing my photographic history, not college but a friend of the families bathroom with B&W, all the shared houses, flats etc,.
Moving onto colour and the hassle of taking the films into town and then collecting them, or sending them postal and the hassle of going to the post office to collect as they don’t fit in the letterbox (normally working when the PO was open), enlargements with different colours to the original.
I’d got to the point of enjoying the picture taking but not bothering to get them developed (I’ve still got 8 rolls not developed yet, they‘re on a shelf next to me, mocking me as I write this).
For a while I was getting the shop to put the negs onto CD and it was great being able to clone out distractions and crop and do my own printing. Now I’m digital, I might one day fix my dodgy FE shutter and do some more film (maybe, but probably not).

Flickr is great if you use it carefully: what I do is find people who’s photography I admire and then go to their favorites page, which is full of links to people THEY admire - that way you see great images/get ideas, while avoiding all the mundane stuff. As an amateur it’s a great way of making me up my game.

I think in the last couple of years digital is now capable of giving film a run for it’s money with sensors and software getting better all the time, and the internet allowing people to see what is possible and manufacturers striving to provide what people want.
Hopefully medium and large format sensors will drop in price as time goes on to keep those who do massive enlargements happy.

I grew up with British motorbikes and LPs: do I miss them? Yes, in some ways, would I go back to them? Not when I remember the dodgy electrics, oil leaks, and scratches on the records, now I prefer the ease of reliable Jap bikes and CDs, although some of the mystique and camaraderie is lost.

Cheers, phil (one of the amateur masses)

I agree, Steve, digital photography is liberating. Getting my first digital camera in 2002 totally juiced my photography. Freed from the cost of developing film I enjoyed an explosion of creativity. My photography at the time was observational, camera-as-sketchbook, and a digital P&S suited that better than any of the series of smaller and smaller film cameras I'd tried packing with me daily. Case in point, it took me over a decade to get around to developing several rolls of Minolta-16 film! The immediacy and low cost of digital photography is a joy.

However... over time I began to encounter two unexpected costs of shooting digital: maintaining an exponentially larger photo library, and an increasingly sloppy shutter finger. Digital photography encouraged me to shoot more. Waaaaaay more. A ten fold increase in weekly exposures turned culling my selects from a joy to a chore. Even worse, digital encouraged me to take multiple shots of the same subject to experiment with slightly different compositions. Lazy, I know, but irresistible. After several years of shooting like this my ability to pre-visualize began to atrophy.

Three years ago I started shooting some film again. The change for me was like a breath of fresh air. The click of the shutter became precious again, my eye became more engaged, and my hobby regained a fun I hadn't realized it had lost.

Like Mike, I'm a format agnostic and pragmatist. I shoot both film and digital, colour and B&W as situation and whim dictate.

That's a very nice essay, Steve.

As Jerry Kircus noted above, photography's transition to the digital medium has opened its enjoyment to a larger, and deeper, audience. I've no hard data to support this assertion but I have to believe that photography today is much more popular than ever.

Artistry? Don't be silly. The overwhelming majority of snappers have no intentions or ambitions to be "artists". They just want to take good pictures of their life. That's basically been true throughout photography's history.

No.1...as far as Uncle George's slide show goes, it pays to mention that I know video professionals that do great work on the latest modern video cameras, but they own 8, Super 8, and 16mm projectors and still watch 'found' movies and have their friends over for nights of these viewings, and nothing made today on modern equipment makes you feel the same way...

No.2...it's interesting to note as well, that I know people that have devoted their lives to 'wet' photography, and lived in some pretty 'interesting' situations, precisely to allow themselves the opportunity of having full-blown wet darkrooms, including virtually living in their darkroom spaces...maybe what Steve doesn't understand is that kind of commitment to the craft. It's not always about having a lot of money, or being blessed with professional connections, sometimes it's loving it so much that you make the commitment to it, and design you meager living situation around it...

No.3...as I've posted before, sometimes, it's just not about the final image, sometimes it's about the process to get to that image. Sitting in front of a computer for hours is not a replacement for 'wet' work, it's a different kind of thing. As Steve admits, sitting in rapt concentration for hours and hours, doing 200 variations of one file to learn the intricacies of PhotoShop (or whatever program), sounds to me like absolutely less fun than learning how to mix chemistry and burn and dodge in the darkroom, albeit probably cheaper for someone to do instead of devoting their life to making sure they have access to a wet darkroom. Let's face it, it's just a different kind of insanity.

As a long time professional, I find so much less emotion in shooting digital and working on a computer, so much so that it makes the business seem sort of sad and lifeless for me now. I have very little enthusiasm now for commercial work, as digital is always demanded, mostly based on 'price'.

It's important to understand, that when they invented illustration programs for the computer, I didn't hear a bunch of oil painting artists say: "Thank God, I can now go and spend hours messing around with this on a computer screen and throw away all my tubes of paint." The difference between classic film photography and digital, is the same difference between building a wooden chair with hand tools, or programming a computer to cut it out of a solid block of wood.

Dear Ed,

I never said my point of view was true for everyone, heaven forbid. Just those of us left out in the cold all these years. Still, it seems to resonate with a few people.

But maybe all those years ago in 2003 you may have read this...


Comparing a Pentax 67 with the 1Ds (11MP I recall). Not a bad result all told.

Wind forward to 2009, film has stayed still but you would be up against a 21MP sensor available in a 5Dmk2 for a fraction of the price. I fancy it would do rather well against a 67 colour film however fine grained. Enough for a 30" print? Depends on subject I guess, but 24" would be no problem.

Certainly 21MP is enough for a lot of current landscape photographers. David Noton for instance.

Certainly enough for me, although I am currently using a D700 (12MP) and shooting at light levels no film would ever have managed. I am still happy with 19 X 13 even at ISO3200.

Also, I am sure you read this.


The implication is that a Pentax 645D (40MP and 10k not 40k)could probably print about as large as 4X5 LF, drum scanned and printed on the same printer. Not too bad for $10k when you add the film and developing costs.

And really, digital is just getting into it's stride. I have high hopes for Ctein's camera array + iPad device :)


Uncle George's slideshow is now up on Picassa or Photobucket. Passwords people, passwords.

I got my first 35mm camera in 1960 and spent 40 years shooting film, and going to DSLRs gave me an intense feeling of freedom. I was never a good printer, though I had a couple of darkrooms, and recent digital printers, with Lightroom, have given me the best self-produced prints of my lifetime. I still have an F5 somewhere, but I haven't touched it in years.

So, although I share some of the same kind of history as Mike, I share none of his nostalgia for film. On the other hand, I was never as much into photography, as a skill, as I was into images. Robert Capa's Normandy pictures got baked? I didn't care, I thought they were great anyway.

I did somewhat resent Mike's unwarranted attack on churls. Given the current political and economic situation, I find churlishness is one of my few real pleasures anymore.


Digital pictures do not replace photographs made out of light sensitive materials.

There is a deep and somewhat abstract philosophical reason for not looking at pictures fabricated by digital technology. It is the same reason for not looking at paintings, drawings, and print-outs of one kind or another. All those pictures are assembled by a mark maker out of coded instructions. Instruction sets may be entirely or partially synthetic and their relationship to the subject matter of the picture is in the nature of testimony. We believe the picture only if we believe the picture maker.

There is a small set of alternative image making processes that do not use coded instruction. These include life casts, death masks, brass rubbings, coal peels, wax impressions, and photographs made of light sensitive materials. In every case the relationship between picture and subject is direct and physical. It is in the nature of evidence rather than testimony.

I believe photographs, the real ones, the light generated ones, because I believe the laws of laws of chemistry and physics. Testimony doesn't come into it. And of course none of this well founded belief in original photographs grants me leave to be foolish or simple minded about what I'm looking at.

Steve Jacob wrote:

"If you compared them to the holiday slide shows Uncle George put on when you were a kid, the standard of the humble snapshot is now remarkably good."

In the same way that the skills of lowly snappers like myself (the average Uncle George on the Clapham Omnibus), so do the skills of proper photographers...

Think what some of the "old masters" would have achieved with the new technology!

"The best of the old masters have made the transition already with facility and good grace, but the fact that some of the new masters will increasingly be amateurs of average means using humble equipment is surely to be celebrated."

Erm, no they haven't because a) There is no need to make a transition; serious photographers know this. And b) who do you consider to be the 'old masters':

Simon Norfolk? 8x10 (Large Format)
Alec Soth? 8x10 (Large Format)
Elliot Erwitt? Leica M6 (Rangefinder)
William Eggleston? Mamiya Press (Medium Format)

I could go on, but serious photographers can see past the digital marketing myths. Try it yourself: get the measurements of your digital sensor, compare to the above film resolutions and see for yourself.

The certain inconvenience of film is possibly, in part, what discouraged me from pursuing photography as a serious hobby for several decades. Undoubtedly, my first digital SLR was an excellent learning tool, offering flexibility, instructive feedback, financial impunity, and the much-heralded instant gratification. Without the advent of digital, my entrance into photography would likely have never developed.

Still, as noted in a previously related-thread, I switched to film. For one thing, I wanted an affordable rangefinder (and I might also want to pick up TLR one day). To be sure, digital technology was still pivotal in this transition, as I picked up a Nikon scanner, using Photoshop for basic post-processing. Moreover, I simply like the process of using a film camera, the tactile sensation of an advance lever or knob. Using film also slowed me down a bit, helping to enhance my ability to pre-visualize (though not suggesting that my experience was any way universal).

One argument for digital is that it facilitates greater creativity, but since one of my favorite periods in photography stretches from the 1920s through the 1930s, I tend not to worry about any alleged restrictions that film might present. Creativity is more in the mind, and likewise, film does not possess more "soul" than digital, as any soul present is a function of the photographer.

Digital and film cameras are simply two different tools, and as stated, I happily use both technologies; it's not a zero sum option. This said, giddy statements about the demise of film are statements that effectively cherish the demise of choice, and I find little to praise in this way. Technology can expand art, but it cannot render it obsolete; we are not talking buggies and cars, lest we start to seriously criticize the inefficiencies of the archaic paintbrush.

By the way, even if you have your digital files backed up on three different hard-drives/optical discs, plan for all of these to be irreparably dysfunctional within a decade. Digital offers wonderful conveniences, but preservation will be labor intensive for some time to come.

You never met my Uncle George, obviously :) You do bring up a serious point but I believe that is technically solvable once the demand is sufficient.

Yes, the availability of the internet and fast broadband access has coincided nicely with the digital imaging revolution. I don't think it any kind of exaggeration to describe it as life changing, at least for me. I joined a camera club once. I lasted about three weeks. It was just like a gear forum.

I cannot remember exactly, but I think an A4 enlargement in 1985 was about £10. Anything bigger was closer to £50. A fortune at the time. I can get a very high quality A3 print now using archival ink on art paper for about £5, mail order, with a variety of trimming and matting options. In its way, inkjet printing is possibly an even greater revolution than digital capture.

Painters? Oh yes, watercolour is very second rate. The painting equivalent of a snapshot on a point and shoot ;)

Closed loop delays - yes I never thought of it like that but it's true. It's like playing a piano and hearing the notes a week later! Possible, but rather frustrating.

@Craig and Jerry
Left brain vs. right brain. Craft vs. art. Hmm, maybe that's why a lot of "right brain" photographers left developing and printing to somebody else? Perhaps digital post processing has simply switched that part of photography back to the right brain function?

One difference between analog and digital photography that I have yet to see mentioned (though it may have been) is in the output. While digital cameras achieved a quality acceptable to the large majority of photographers, it is in the output that I see one essential difference.

Namely: the analog print (whether B&W, color, dye color, platinum, cyanotype or whatever process the maker uses) is a unique and precious thing. The digital print is, in the end, for all intents and purposes simply the result of pushing a button. Not to diminish the many steps, decisions and work (using software and a computer) that may have been put into the photograph prior to pushing that button, to actually make the print itself is simply pushing a button. If the photographer so desires (and, as John Szarkowski said, depending to what degree the photographer has overestimated his/her market), he/she can repeatedly push that button over and over, and exactly replicate (barring some technical glitch) that same photograph.

The analog photograph, on the other hand, is often the result of some time in the darkroom, sheets of paper, doing the dance of burning and dodging, the proper application of chemicals and many other special treatments, each application unique to each photograph. If the photographer wants to make another print of that image, he/she must exactly duplicate all those steps. There are no actions or macros that can be employed, and it is I dare say more complicated than pushing the "Print" button on the computer screen.

I have noticed in the photography classes that I teach that students are much more careful with their analog prints than the ones they make from the ink jet printers (though since the ink jet prints cost them money they are careful with those as well, but for different considerations).

That aspect of the analog print being unique, handmade and the art-craft involved, creates a distinction worth noting.(The irony of this point is not lost on me either - that early in photography, one of the many arguments And after all, since in traditional photography, it is the 'hard copy' we look at, it seems a difference worth noting in any discussion about analog and digital.

My first thought was relief on reading Steve's heartfelt essay and the comments was relief, which came from learning that most people commenting here are still interested in making prints. I've noticed that students of photography are now working far more with digital equipment and printing far less but are still showing their work as prints at exhibitions. Their lack of printing experience shows and is in danger of making the annual degree shows unnecessarily disappointing.

Second thought: I would love to read a regular and downright churlish John Camp column.

I always wonder why, when these discussions of film vs. digital capture come up, someone always feels they must weigh in with the notion that the only "real" photographs are the ones captured on plastic or glass coated with thin layers of light sensitive chemicals which are then processed with other chemicals to create a replica of the image originally projected by the lens.

I wonder about a universe where the CCD came first. Then, maybe after 100 years of use, suddenly someone discovers the wonders of the silver halide. It takes the world by storm, but the grumpy old timers just scoff, claiming that something as silly and ephemeral as the capture of images on light sensitive pieces of plastic can't possibly be taken seriously as "real" photography.

Again, just because it's what you like and it's been around a long time does not mean any particular technology is anointed by the universe as the one true way. You might as well claim that the only "true" telephones are the ones that transmit voice over hard wire, since if you send it over the air, it simply lacks the physical presence of the "real" thing.

Dear Ed,

No argument, overall, with what you have to say, but an interesting addendum. I have recently discovered that my 11-12 Mpx photos (made with a Fuji S100 and Olympus EP1, if anyone cares) can be taken up to 17" x 22" prints with sufficiently good quality that I'm willing to sell them on my website, alongside my usual dye transfers.

A few of the photos in my 11" x 14" portfolio won't stand the additional enlargement but 90% do, with minimal tweaks.

I am surprised. Pleased, to be sure, but surprised.

BTW, these are not resized or resampled-- it's the original 11-12 Mpx.

pax / Ctein

Dear cb,

The only color print processes that have been "proven" by your standards, are dye transfer and tricolor carbo/carbon. All others, darkroom or digital, are basing their long-term permanence estimates on highly-accelerated testing.

If you don't trust it for digital, don't trust it for analog, either.

pax / Ctein

I remember my art teacher telling me how photography would never be true art because you could make hundreds of prints from the same negative.

@Mr T
I know you don't mean it really.

@Steve Jones
I'm certainly not anti choice, just explaining my own.

I believe in chemistry and physics too. It's amazing how much is involved in digital photography.

@Tom Kwas
Do you really think living in your darkroom is a necessary prerequisite to being a photographer? Must be where I went wrong.

@Jeff Hohner
Surprised that your ability to previsualise atrophied. I still seldom take more than a few pictures in a day but I experiment much more because I can. If something works, I add it to the mental lexicon and that allows me to visualise more creatively. Takes all sorts I guess.

I had a Norton Commando known locally as the Mobile Spares Service as bits kept falling off. My Honda was less fun but a lot less frustrating. That was 1984. Then about three years ago I had a go on a Ducati 998. Things have moved on a bit it seems.

@Mark Walker
Twenty somethings? I wish. My nephew only shoots B&W film and he's 23. I'm heading for 51. I am not pushing for the end of film, just saying it won't impact my photography in any way.

Yes it's a golden age because we do have a choice we never had before digital. Film will be around for years yet, but we can also shoot digital or a hybrid of film and digital. If we take digital away, where is the choice then?

@Richard Newman
Thanks for such a thoughtful and interesting post. I don't disagree with a thing.

On the issue of carelessness, as others have mentioned, it is certainly a temptation but machine gunning is not a solution, you just get a lot of bad shots:)
With digital I find I shoot less because I know when I "got it".

In my opinion, it is just as hard to be a good photographer in any medium, though perhaps now you need to be more geeky and less crafty :) Not everyones cup of tea, that's for sure!

But I echo Mike's view that having choice is a great thing but you have to exercise judgement. Having a camera that autofocuses accurately is great for sport and wildlife, but what about portrait and landscape?

I have found no substitute for any of the old capture techniques, control of DOF, shutter speed, exposure (I still use grads)but most of all, composition and concept. Photoshop may be very powerful and help you extend the dynamic of a given RAW image, but it's still GIGO. Nothing has fundamentally changed.

So, AFAIC, all the old rules apply exactly as they did before. It's really only the processing that's changed. Scanning negatives or slides and using native digital capture only differ in convenience, though it's a lot easier to achieve a good colour balance with digital. WB adjustment on the camera is a real boon, even if shooting RAW.

As for showing off, I totally agree. Stuff that was really difficult with film is now a five minute job. But does that not just mean the bar has been raised? I'm seeing new techniques appear regularly. Sometimes I like them, mostly I don't, but it's usually down to application. The lexicon of digital technique is already biblical, largely because Photoshop has been around now for quite a while.

So, yes it's easier to achieve a "good" image, but harder to stand out from the crowd. C'est la vie. I'm having fun.

@Mark Walker

You said...

"You may be surprised how many talented photographers are withdrawing from offering their services because their craft and knowledge isn't valued."

No Mark, I am not surprised. As an ITC professional I have seen most technical jobs outsourced overseas because it's cheaper. I have had to retrain many times, move locations, change employers seven times and take more than one redundancy cheque on the chin. I'm still here but what I do now bears no relation to what I was doing 20 years ago.

Progress, especially technological progress, means unheaval and change. I can't think of one industry where that is not true. But in almost all cases, new opportunities replace old ones.

If it's any comfort, those fresh faced loons who come into your shop won't be able to survive either. I suspect many will get sued or quit when they realise how hard it really is. I think the "fad" will die down when people are sick of poor service. You get what you pay for.

But you have 20 years experience. That gives you a massive edge and should allow you to push yourself up the "value chain". I would say go for the upmarket wedding business...or start a wedding photography school and take some money off these customers of yours!

Either way, I really can empathise with your frustration and wish you the best. I hope you manage to keep a toe in the game. A lot of folk are having a very tough recession.

Love to know which store you work in, I may come and have a poke around ;)

I have not read through the long list of comments. Perhaps the following observation has already been made; if not it is an omission which I feel obligated to correct.

This article by Steve Jacob stands head and shoulders above almost anything one is likely to read on the net in terms of its imcomparable mastery of the English language. It is truly beautiful prose which conveys its message with cogency and style.

Thank you Steve.


Important that I clarify that my comments regarding 'choice' and such were not directed at you, but at other folks who seem bizarrely anxious to 'put a fork' in film, as though it has brought nothing but misery over the past century-and-a-half.


Hey Steve, not saying living in your darkroom is a prerequisite to being a photographer, (nor do I think it's the case for all, nor did I state as such) just saying that based on your original posting, you obviously weren't driven to this level of commitment to accomplish photography, and never found fulfillment until you found a different technology (which you suggest was cheaper and/or easier) which made it simpler for you to carry on. Sorry, that pre-digital, you didn't have the same commitment to the craft as others. Any kind of defense of film over digital, or the opposite (not that their needs to be any of either), is already suspect by your dislike of the situations associated with the earlier process.

You also stated in your post, that you went on in life, to have a 'regular IT job", which just sounds to me, that you're already pre-disposed to spending hours in front of the computer, which many of us are not. Since you got a job in IT, it's of course obvious that you didn't love photography as it existed, enough to make it your career path.

To elaborate a little on what I posted before, someone posted that digital is like using modern power tools to build a wooden chest over the hand tools of the past. That is incorrect. Using modern power tools to build a chest is like using a Nikon F5 instead of a Nikon F. Digital vs. analog is more like building a wooden chest by hand vs. programming a computer to do it while you sit back and watch it...

...what we are talking about here is the differences of physical and mental experiences.

Mr. Jacob's experiences with film photography are mine to a "T," from having unlimited access while in school - to the frustration of never having the space or means to pursue the art - then discovering digital in the late 1990's. Returning to the camera after a long absence was like finding an old lost friend. I still enjoy film immensly, but will not loose any sleep over its demise.


@Steve Jacob
Thanks for a nice response, Steve, in the end the principal parts of your post are very true and it's only individual experience that highlights some of the differences of opinion. I admit my comments were borne of some frustration from other attitudes and it is really the only time I have let off steam about some of the inequities of technological change: my main point was to do with how people like to work, that isn't just from a sense of nostalgia or unwillingness to adapt (I consider myself very competent with digital and made a large investment in it), and, as I said in another post, the digital 'v' film debate is silly and misguided, it is simply a matter of preference based on a wide range of personal factors. I am as pleased as could be with some of the digital prints I make and have sold and will continue to make (when I can justify £180 on more ink cartridges). It's just that after 6 years I don't feel I have progressed and, as you recognise, getting jobs is more of a cheapening experience than an uplifting one.
The problem with trying to go more upmarket or providing other services beyond a cottage industry is simply a question of funding the investment: I would love a facility where I could sell prints, run a studio and hold courses - I really would, and my wife would run a brilliant tea room -but I don't have the collateral or even a valid business model for this part of the world to make that happen. The toe is still in there, but my hope is in a niche: back in the dark where there is a lot less competition and where the smaller market may just be enough for me.
Now for the plug - please, Mike - for a first class, increasingly rare type of well stocked, knowledgably staffed camera shop: Carmarthen Cameras , (carmarthencameras.co.uk), there are some 360 views of the interior on our website to whet your appetite.
Thanks Steve and Mike,
Mark Walker. (Do I need to say that any of my comments in no way represent the views of the owner or staff of the place where I am a part time worker ?)

So many parallels to my own experience.

Until I got a slide scanner (CoolscanIII - now redundant due to SCSI interface) I was frustrated by poor commercial mass market printing and it was only then that an interest in photography began to grow into something much more.

I've never had regular access to a darkroom, which I regret as having done a course I learnt a lot about the process of planning the final print. Of course I can almost certainly make better prints at home with a relatively cheap printer - yes they are easily repeatable and I think this does take some of their uniqueness away - but increase the joy that I get from being more easily able to share them with others.

The digital revolution has made access to inspirational work from other photographers so much more readily accessible - without having books published. There may be many millions of snaps on flickr but there are some gems too..

Dear Bahi,

Interesting what you say about printing. I too care only about the print at the end of the day (even if I don't always make one, the intention is always to do so :)

If this is not being adequately taught in colleges, this is indeed a very serious problem and one I can't fathom. It's not like the science is not well understood.

I was quite surprised when I spoke to a young college photography student when out snapping one afternoon, but that is the subject for a different column. I have very little insight into what goes on in the art schools of Britain but I have a sneaky feeling it's not all good.

I think John Camp should start a blog. I would certainly drop by for the odd churlish offload now and again. All in the best humour of course :)

Looking at the amount of comments in favour of film I can see it being around for a long while yet but probably only in medium and large format. I'd expect an independant company to buy up the rights to various emulsions and provide a streamlined range, ditto for cameras, one or two manufacturers make several differing film cameras.
Like British bikes, all the companies went under but the Triumph rights were bought up by an independant who produced the originals under licence before designing a whole new range; modular engines to reduce costs, but streamlined as they only sell large capacity bikes, so if you want a British bike you can still buy one. (as Steve mentions you can still get Ducatis; niches always exist).

I suspect there is a market for customising peoples' digital files as a friend is bemoaning the fact that the local photolab where they print from your memory card doesn't do as good a job as my g/f does. I think a lot of people don't want to spend time optimising thier images before getting them printed, and photolabs still provide ease for printing.

This morning I took 28 closeups of a moth. It was windy and it took that many to get one frame with front to back focus, I would only have taken 2 (maybe 3 if important) on film, and ended up being slightly frustrated a few week later.

If you are concerned about 'machine-gunning' get rid of your 8gig cards and take one 512Mb out for the day ;-)

all the best phil

@Tom Kwas

You said: "Since you got a job in IT, it's of course obvious that you didn't love photography as it existed, enough to make it your career path."

That's quite a non-sequitur!

As a child I grew up around engineers and artists and had some talent at drawing, but I trained as a chemist. If anything it makes me uniquely suited to being a B&W film photographer. I also enjoyed B&W developing but became much more interested in colour, and found that far to steep an investment.

How many colour prints do you make at home using 100% chemical processing? Of all the professional film photographers I know personally who shoot in colour, all use labs. Every one. To me, that is automation. I wanted to do it myself, to have some input into the final result post capture, not just press a button and hand over the film reel with a cheque to someone else.

As for "liking IT" I don't like it any more than a doctor likes anatomy. I'm not afraid of it, I'm ambivalent. It's a job not a vocation. If you don't enjoy Photoshop, then that's simply a statement of preference, no more. Perhaps it means you don't have the interest in photography as it now exists to make it your career path?

And as for hand tools, I don't buy your analogy for a second. Using hand tools is using a pencil, or a paintbrush. Something I also love.

By comparison, all types of photography are inherently automated. When you expose a silver halide negative it takes one click. You are simply using an automated chemical process instead of an electronic one to create the image. You don't need to draw a line or mix a pigment.

Neither make you a good or bad photographer. You can take a boring photo both ways. The conceptualisation, visualisation, composition and exposure are all exactly the same and just as important. The journey is the same, it's just the mode of transport that's changed.

Uncle George's family slide show is probably best left to your imperfect memory. And if you did find the slides 20 years from now, where would you get a slide projector?

We revived the tradition of the family slide show earlier this year by showing my late father's collection of Kodachromes from the late 1950s up to the end of the 1990s. It was done properly with a projector; a scanned and viewed on a TV show would not have been right.

The younger members of the family were fascinated by it and were more interested than they would have been if it was a digitalised show on a TV. That would bring it down to the level of any other TV show.

As for getting a projector in twenty years time, I'm sure you could find one. If not, there's no rocket science involved. One could easily be built by any competent person with a basic home workshop and tools.

It seems that Steve's post has struck a bell with many photographers, myself included. Before digital my involvement in creating a photograph largely had to end when I pressed the shutter button... I had to hand off (at least!!) 1/2 of the creative process of creating a finished print to someone else... and that someone else was usually a disinterested lab technician.

Digital photography (and like Steve my first personal experience was with a scanner to use with my existing film SLR) enabled me for the first time to take control of the entire process of creating a photographic print from beginning to end. The experience was so exciting and liberating I can hardly put it into words.

And now here I am, 10 years later, and I still love Photoshop and I still love my digital camera. But... yes... there is a but! There is something about digital photography that now leaves me strangely dissatisfied, and it isn't all the terrible and obvious digital techniques that were naturally common while digital photography was still new. It it this: the digital search for perfection.

With digital photography I find it all to easy to obsess about each and every one of those 12 million pixels. I want perfect details in the shadows, perfect detail in the highlights, perfect grain structure, perfect this, perfect that, perfect 100 other things. This search for technical perfection can sometimes obscure what photography is all about... the picture.

I've now started to regain my appreciation of letting the characteristics of film (a choice one has to make before one encounters a picture opportunity), and the imperfections of chance re-assert their influence on a photograph. But of course I still don't have a darkroom, so my system of choice to explore the ephemeral and unrepeatable nature of chance is Polaroid. Polaroid for me is the perfect antidote to the never ending search of digital perfection. I love all the different types of Polaroid film and the unmistakable influence they have on the finished photograph. And I love all the different alternative processes you can use on Polaroids (emulsion lift, emulation transfer etc. etc.) to created an unrepeatable artefact. I love getting my hands dirty with a weird 35 year old camera that smells funny ;-)

And for me all this compliments my digital photography perfectly... it certainly doesn't replace it.

Of course I can't help wishing Polaroid film wasn't so expensive... when each and every push of the shutter button costs £2-4 (or more) it certainly changes the way you take photos! But sometimes this slower and more considered approach to taking pictures is something I appreciate.


...you don't seem to 'getting' that the 'mode of transportation' is an integral part of the journey, which is what I've stated from the beginning post. The change in the 'mode of transportation' as an integral step, is what makes it less interesting to me, and others...or should I say, the market forces that have forced the change on us...

You are correct about something, tho, the way commercial photography exists today, and it's reliance on the digital work path, makes it less of an interest to me as a career path, which is OK of course, since I've already had a 41 year career in it and am currently in semi-retirement.

Part of that career has been planning and executing the change to digital for commercial in-house studios, so I have a complete knowledge of what digital can be expected to do and brain-storming and designing the production paths for the process.

But I still say, as I have posted before, if I was in my late teens/early twenties today, I might like to take pictures, but the way the industry exists today with digital, would make it less appealing to me and I probably would NOT make it my career.

Interesting to note here as well, I know more than a few people teaching photography on a college level, and they are all surprised by the current clamoring amongst the students for more and more 'alt process' classes. Darkrooms are in full swing, people are making 'dags', tin-types, cyano-types, et.al.
When they question the students, they say they find the digital process soul-less, non-organic, and not 'crafty' enough.

Just Sayin'....

@Jeff "...Three years ago I started shooting some film again. The change for me was like a breath of fresh air. The click of the shutter became precious again, my eye became more engaged, and my hobby regained a fun I hadn't realized it had lost. ..."

Same here. I think hobby you have to be engaged. Digital help though.

Recently taken up another hobby never dare in my last 50 years of life -- piano. Digital help to give me a silence piano that I can practice. Learning from middle C and finish my first song in 1 month shockingly to me - Beethoven Moonlight in C major (and just starting to try C sharp minor). Without digital I would never try this.

My second hobby is an old one -- astronomy. Still struggle whether to get a go-to one but so far still stick with GEM / Celestron old scope. But iPad would help me on the star maps etc. Would get a better portable bino. But I still think the digital part help quite a bit.

In fact, I recall I try digital camera but once passed the stage of taken my first 100,000 photos (D70 then D200 and D300), I feel I done my exercise. Switch back to film a couple of years ago.

Without the digital assistance, none of these hobbies would happen. The curve of learning piano, learning exposure using film lab, carrying star map etc. could be too high. But once past the starting part, the real hobbies do not involve the digital part.

@Tom Kwas

Dear Tom,

I disagree about nothing except that all forms of transportation and all journies are equally valid provided the concept and the realisation are worthwhile.

The chemistry is fun, as much fun from a scientific as an artistic one. It's a valid artistic choice as long as it works. But it's a lot harder to achieve in the confines of the average home full of spouses and rugrats, unlike I would suggest most other forms of art, including painting which my mother did in the dining room as I was growing up.

By comparison, photography in its fullest sense was uniquely inaccessible to most people.

Chemical and digital are both valid artistic techniques if used by an artist. Art is not inherent in the process, it's inherent in the message.

I know a furniture maker who designs stunning bespoke furniture. He uses both hand tools and modern techniques depending on what works, and that's the point. If he needs alloy or plastic components he will send a drawing to a local factory that uses a computer controlled cutter. Jean Prouve was as much artist as he was visionary but by making furniture mass producable he made it accessible to the masses.

I also know musicians who believe that classical music should only be played on authentic instruments from the same era. Fascinating indeed from a historical and academic POV, but I can't help wondering what instrumental choices JS Bach would make if he was composing now. If he used a bank of synthesizers would that make him less of a musician?

Whatever art students wish to learn from an academic point of view, I can only hope that those wishing to pursue a career in commercial photography are getting a sufficient grounding in digital techniques, not to mention business management. They will have a hard time earning a crust otherwise.

Best wishes

Dear Tom Kwas,

"...you don't seem to 'getting' that the 'mode of transportation' is an integral part of the journey, which is what I've stated from the beginning post."

No, Steve gets that very well. His entire essay is predicated on him getting that, since it is entirely about how changing the "mode of transportation" changed the nature and quality of the "journey" for him.

If he hadn't gotten that, this essay wouldn't exist.

He just doesn't feel the same way about the different modes of transport as you. (Neither do I, for what very little that's worth.) You've clearly stated your preference, in contrast to his. That's all you can do. You cannot make him prefer your preference by argumentation. You should not expect him to. He certainly doesn't expect that of you.

I very much doubt your love of photography is in any way predicated on converting others. Time to move on, maybe? Certainly no need to find a fourth way to say what you've said three times with eloquence.

pax / Ctein

I cant imagine what it was like to be a photographer in the film days, i would'nt have the patience to do it, neither would i have had the technical skill to take photographs that i can now take with a my dslr, which is a bit of a shame really. Because we live in consumer led world with a gadget for this and a gadget for that, the process will just go on and on until it's so diluted that every Tom, Dick and Harry will be able to take beautiful sunsets in technically difficult lighting conditions. Thank god for tech

@Ed: stitch, fuse, stack, and super-resolve. A lot of the time this will get you much larger image-sizes from digital sources - I'm doing it regularly to produce images to around 20".

(It would also be true to say that desired results are easier to achieve the closer you start to them, so while you could build your nominal 30MPel MF-rivalling image from an 8MPel compact, it might be wiser to start from something with 18.)

And of course, who says something 1m wide has to be at 300ppi? :)

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