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Thursday, 18 October 2012


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I am reminded of a comment made by Ctein not so long ago, to the effect that, nobody cares how hard you worked to get the picture. Same deal with film vs. digital. No. body. cares. how. hard. you. worked. to. get. the. picture.

"Nuff said.

With best regards to everyone.


TOP is beginning to sound like APUG forums - YUK!

Digital vs Film is a waste of time, almost like discussing Abortion Rights vs Right to Life - YUK!

Yes, as a BW photographer you *do* need the Sigma DP2 Merrill. Absolutely ;)

see here: http://www.betterinblackandwhite.com/2012/10/sigma-dp2-merrill-real-world-review.html

I'm with Thor Flinton. You don't need a high-end computer. You don't need Photoshop. You might not need a printer at all (since you can send off for prints). I'd argue that Lightroom or Aperture are worth it, and Photoshop Elements perhaps.

All those things are nice to have, but not truly necessary. Call me crazy, but I just can't find it within myself to give a damn about the hyper-technical aspects of image editing and printing.


Thanks so much for confirming that I have another brother, but from a different mother, languishing in a sea of unused books, software and film cameras in the Midwest.

The only point where we differ is that although I too hate learning the software, I willingly endure it rather than suffering through hours of frustration in the darkroom praying that by some miracle I'll be able to make the print I want - and actually print more than one copy.

If you're in the market for any nice, rarely used legacy digital cameras, write me for a great deal, and if you're in the market for film cameras, I'm your guy ;-)

"I get better pictures with digital. It makes me a better photographer."

NO NO NO NO!!!!!

"Whichever is best for your work is best for you."

And that dear Michael is why I prefer colour slide film!

Digital is like a phart in a windstorm, no feeling, no substance no existence until printed. Film is real,
digital images exist only as wisps of vapour.

robert harshman adds in the cost of the computer, backups, offsite backups, etc. to the cost of digital photography.

But here's the thing: I had those expenses anyway, and did long before digital photography. I had to have a computer, backup disks, offsite backups [1], etc. Even if I didn't take photos, those costs would be (almost) exactly the same [2]. For me.

And, long before I bought a digital camera, I was already scanning my film, and backing up the keepers on disks. That's just the way of the world, and has been for going on four decades now.

So, for me, the marginal cost of digital on the computer side is a) more disk space (relatively cheap), and b) software. I probably wouldn't have gotten Photoshop just for cleaning up scanned film images.

But the time saved scanning film! Another marginal cost, on the film side.

[1] I learned my lesson the hard way more than once, and my friends mock me saying "one (backup) is none" continously, which is the price of my being your free tech support - you have to have two known good backups before I'll touch your computer.

[2] I long ago ran out of disk space on the computer drive to keep all my photos, so my expense for backup disks is slightly higher than it would have been otherwise.

Thank you for injecting some much needed sanity into the discussion. I'm with you right down the line, except that right at the end, I've tipped over to the film side. I have my reasons, i.e. MY reasons.

I agree with you that digital cameras offer some great advantages: e.g., high ISO and almost ubiquitous image stabilization. (For me immediate feedback is an unwanted distraction.) I also think it's worth mentioning how much auto-focus has improved in the last decade. I am very aware that I'm shooting without the three advantages cited above. It's not the digital aspect that tempts me.

Ahhh. the things we do for love.

I didn't go digital til late, stayed with film til, as you so eloquently stated, I did better photography digitally, borrowing digital for a few generations testing the waters. 35mm through 8x10 with my lust for Deardorff hidden looking at the ground glass of my Burke & James behemoth.

Printers are thorny and typically I keep them til dead, dead, dead. Boy was I glad when my HP9180 died, WAPOS, but ran 473 batrillion prints through my DJ 130 happily despite newer / better til it sadly died. I do make better prints with my Epson 3880 and it runs like a hose ...digital data in wonderful prints out.

Cameras / glass, are they your toy or tool, did you HAVE to replace or wanted to, I've done/do both but don't kid myself.

Between a spinal cord injury and a bad economy my camera/lens / photography "profession/hobby" is very quiet but I have more than adequate tools for professional work. Heck I still effectively use flashes from 1991.

But for me, digital is sooooo much cheaper. After losing access to a color darkroom print costs killed me, when I moved and closed my B&W darkroom that I so loved, any well made B&W prints killed me.

Computers... some of you guys make me nuts. You pay the apple tax for intel hardware and bitch. I have a windows machine, the same case and upgrade hardware every 3-5 years but even my most recent upgrade cost less than a $1,000 including Motherboard, overclocked i5 cpu, 16GB ram etc, so get real about costs here too. And honestly, you can run many generations behind and still do a great job. Lest you think me anti-apple some people upgrade their Win machines as an individual hobby as well, just costs a third - half less.

Software is a sore point but necessary evil.

In summary separate what you do for love and understand how much you pay for the equipment hobby vs the photography hobby.

Digital is orders of magnitude cheaper if making professional grade images is your only concern.

Mike I think I love you,seriously I do when you write articles such as this.
To a fellow sufferer you are a beacon of hope,the way you man up to your human frailties is beyond belief and I promise from this moment on I shall never again put up with pangs of buyers remorse or doubts about pulling the trigger on impulse purchases.

I go forward a new more committed "gear addict" and promise to not shirk from the job ahead no matter how difficult or expensive it may prove to be,I will banish all thoughts of penury and debtors prison from my mind for I know now than the road I take with my fellow addicts is indeed a worthwhile one amen brother.

Dear Mike, I am totally with you ... I too have bought A LOT of wonderful film cameras at a bargain, medium format, 35mm, SLR, TLR (oh yeah, twin lens reflex, Rolleiflex, Mamiya etc.), really early SLR (Exakta, Contax, Pentax) ... and they are so beautiful ... But normally I only use my Nikon and Olympus digital ... The rest is pure pleasure, eye candy, whatever ... believe me, it is worth it :)

If you divided photographic hobbyists into two camps: film/home processing & printing and digital/computer processing & printing, is one side better than the other at completing their vision? That is, is one camp more diligent at getting prints on display/framed?

Is digital cheaper or more expensive? A few years ago I spoke with a commercial photographer who owned a studio in rural Pennsylvania, with clients in NYC. He had two employees who shot with him. Hasselblad was the preferred camera. He decided to purchase two digital backs at $25,000 each. All three of them wanted the digital backs and because they used to argue over who had to shoot film he bought a third back. That's $75,000 in capital expense and that's a lot of money. But here's the clincher: his annual film and processing costs were $70,000. If he depreciates the digital backs over five years he has $280,000 he doesn't spend in the four years following his purchase. And while he's probably not going to keep all of that, it's way more than he would likely need for computer hardware/software to support those backs during that period. Sounds like a good business decision to me and an example of why the commercial world has mostly turned its back on film.

"When I upgraded to a D800E I had to upgrade everything that touched it"
In the name of all that is good WHY? You really need a new tripod? I've been using the same tripod for 30 years although I picked up a Magestic gear head tripod a while back for 30 bucks and I'll NEVER need something better than that. You don't NEED new lenses unless you are switching from Canon or something. I sold my Canon 5DII for not much less that I paid for it and have been using a 9 year old Canon 1ds and a NEX3 until I get my D800 , and I am sure that the 20 year old Nikon lenses that I have been using with them will be fine on the D800 since they out resolve the NEX which has about the same resolution as the D800. My 5 year old computer is fine for editing 20,000 by 30,000 16bit images , but chokes on anything much bigger if I don't plan ahead, and manages a database of 500,000 images in lightroom just fine.

I used to limit myself to 8 35mm rolls a day , or 4 120 rolls or 15 feet of 70mm because that was how big my tank was , and digital is way cheaper than that.

Yeah the printer and the paper and the ink is expensive but pales compared to the cost of rent on my old darkroom. I live in NYC, in North Dakota it would be less of an issue. I figure that the capability to make 8 foot square prints costs about the same for B&W silver printing and inkjet other than the cost of rent and plumbing.

Unless you throw away all your old pictures every time you buy a new camera, this upgrade everything at once is... ( in deference to Mike and polite discourse I'll stop now)

This is not to say that I don't spent too much on gear , but it sure isn't because I have to.

I think they're both right.

On one hand, Finton gets me. I shoot with a Canon XSi (that's the opposite side of latest piece of high end equipment) a 50mm 1.8 II (same story) and a few manual lenses. I do most of my film with a really old Pentax P30t and a throw a few 6x6s now and then.

On the other side, like Harshman, I love getting new gear. I don't care if it's a filter, lens hood or an entirely new camera, but I know that's nothing to do with photography, it must be something else.

I really agree with both of them, but I think're talking about two completely different things.

Aaron Johnson explains it way better than I'll ever do. http://www.whattheduck.net/strip/184-sunday

It's a blog. If you don't like a post, wait a while. Like the weather in New Hampshire, it always changes.


well, just spent 100€ on Film (10 Tri-X 135; 5 Portra 400 135; 2 Portra 400 120; 3 Portra 160 120) will spent about 60€ on chemistry for B&W film development, some more on this and that.
Wonder how long this will keep me, next half year, maybe.
Two cameras in use: Nikon F2 & ETRSi.

A great point Mike. I just realised recently (when I saw my first [B&W] film from my 'new' Pentax 645n) that I do take better photos with film, and like you I like the process more. Whether I will actually finish the process and get them scanned and printed is another story, but my digital photos (taken with my lx3 against the window with the sun behind) of those negs are very satisfying. I think I'm regaining my love for photography...

Excellent perspective and advice, Mike, as usual. I would add one more point: Film photography and digital photography are both rather cheap these days (from a middle class American's perspective, anyway).

Film is cheap because good, working equipment can be had dirt cheap, from taking lenses to print washers and everything in between, and because modern assists like chromogenic and scanning (and, yes, digital cameras, for metering/preview and for practice!) offer more economy. If you shop around, even usable film and paper can be had cheap.

Digital is cheap, too. Many of those factors also apply to used digital equipment, too, and new equipment, as well as computers and media, have been getting cheaper and better for over a decade.

On the other hand, both film and digital photography can be insanely expensive--if you want them to be.

Most people I know who have a passion for photography use both film and digital. Some use one far more than the other; some spend equal time with both. There's little reason not to if you want to.

Social and environmental costs, on the other hand, are another story.

"But the BIG question, the bottom line, is this: which one do you take better pictures with?"

Medium format B&W film with external metering, tripod mounted.

Digital makes me sloppy and lazy. Even 35mm makes me shoot more than I really need to. Shooting color then converting to black and white in post makes me pre-visualize poorly. Ditching the tripod makes me think less about composition. Using in-camera metering makes me lazy about proper exposure.

However it *is* all built on the back of a decade of digital shooting, without which I doubt I'd take any good pictures of anything.

I have been through an awful lot of cameras lately, but at least I have eliminated anything digital and anything large format. I am going to speak B&W film between 35mm and 6x7 ( I have tried and eliminated half frame too.)
I will distill each camera format for you:
- 35mm
Street and documentary, etc, the winner is inequivocably the Leica M7 and 35mm Summicron - I like the one I have (V3), V4 (Bokeh King by your appointment) is probably even better - avoid the ASPH version because too contrasty ( like Zeiss lenses too).
Portraiture and similar: there are many options, byt if we include price into equation, the winner is Minolta XD7(or XD11 in the US) and 58/1.2 PG and 85/1.7 MC - ideal compromise between speed sharpness and bokeh, both lenses focus well wide open (very important).
For a different street shooting (street portraits, lightning fast shot-in-the-face expression capturing photos) the winner is Nikon F100 and any of the two DC lenses (105/2 or 135/2)apparently, the latest Nikkor 85/1.4 AF-s is as good or better, but I have not tried it yet.
The inequivocal winner is Contax 645, if only for the 80/2 Planar lens, however, if you can get over not owning this lens, then the obvious choice is the Pentax 645AF, because it is so cheap, and with a Pentax adapter you can also use all the Pentax 67 lenses on it.
Overall winner by acclamation is the Rolleiflex F2.8 Planar, but if you really need to do something more sophisticated, then there is no serious alternative to Hasselblad. Within Hasselblad, the most versatile version is the F series, because it lets you shoot ALL Hasselblad lenses (with and without the central shutter)and if you are not convinced, have a look at some photos made with the 110/2 Planar.
It gets a bit complicated here, because there is Mamiya7, Pentax 67, other studio Mamiyas and a couple of odd lots rangefinders like Plaubel Makina or Bessa III.
However, considering the versatility, lenses and price, the winner is Pentax 67II.
This camera gives you access to some outstanding lenses like 75/2.8 AL, 105/2.4, 165/2.8 and some longer glass I will not even mention.
If Somebody put me against the wall and demanded to let all my cameras go but one, it would certainly be the 0,85x Leica M7 with the 50/1.4 Summilux pre asph, but i would seriously consider the Rolleiflex too.
If you intend to finish one day your darkroom, give this Rolleiflex option a thought. Just think: one camera, one lens, Tri X and D 76 1:1 - end of waste of time.

I think I missed something in my photography education... who said (and when was it) that I had to choose between digital and film?

We can argue until the cows come home about actual cost, but the key thing for me is the sure knowledge that pressing the shutter release on a film camera was, in that instant, going to cost me money. It made me afraid to experiment.

On a digital, I've already paid for the camera, the lens, the software, the card, and the small pile of backup drives; a single shutter release isn't, by itself, going to prompt me to replace or upgrade anything, so it feels free. (This works for everything for me; I consistenly prefer "all you can eat" to "a la carte" options for services, even if they cost more on average.) This, combined with the extremely short feedback loop and adjustable ISO capability of digital, led to my photos getting hugely better in a very short interval of time.

A thought, no doubt a silly one, for people like Mike who love film but shoot better with digital: Carry two cameras. Take a gazillion photos with your Oly mFT camera, chimping like, well, a chimp, until you get the shot you want. Then, take out your vintage rangefinder, set it based on what you learned from your digital photos, and expose one frame.

Mike, an interesting column but it screams one big question in my mind. Are you actually taking any photos with all of this equipment? For all of the equipment you have, it sounds like you never seem to take photos. Just Sayin! CHEERS...Mathew

[That's kinda funny...my problem is that I can't STOP taking photos. I take pictures all the time, even when I've taken the picture ten times before, even when I know there's no picture there, even when I know I'll never print it, etc. I need to chillax, as the kids say. What I should REALLY do is declare a moratorium on taking new pictures and do nothing but work on the old ones for a year or two. --Mike]

The $15K figure is about right, but in my case that would be for a rather complete Sinar 4x5 system, a D700 with a couple of primes, a vintage Leica 35mm... and a very capable professional 2-pack, 4-head Dynalite AC strobe kit (with batteries too), a dozen stands and umbrellas, a top-of-the-line Really Right Stuff tripod, three giant $$$ Tenba Air cases, a slew of small accessories... and a robust twin-monitor, early 2012 Mac Mini 16gb RAM system, Epson 700 scanner, R3000 printer, and a used Minolta film scanner. I buy two $200 3Tb external drives for back-up per year and cycle them on and off-site. And I use the entire CS6 Design Suite and Lightroom. All together that's still less than $13K worth of gear and it all has at least a 3-4 year - if not infinite - lifespan. I'll spend about $2K/yr more on film, processing, and inkjet printing = $15K.

Oh and insurance with liability, computer, and theft coverage runs about $600.

What that gets me is professional quality digital and film imaging workflow near the highest level possible, certainly good enough to do national advertising or to show in any gallery. All it takes is hard work, marketing, and good pictures ;-)

And I do this full-time, professionally and as an artist.

So how does a hobbyist get off saying they need $15K worth of stuff to make a picture? Sounds like GAS to me. Cut back on the 2.8 Zooms and 1.4 Primes to start with. Get a used D700 that was good enough for the best photographers up until last month. Learn how to use Photoshop and skip the consumer geehaw apps. Shop smarter.

If I wanted to really economize I'd stick with an iMac, get a used Nikon D90, a Crown Graphic, maybe a Canon QL-17... delay some upgrades, shoot smaller file sizes... and be just fine at one-quarter the cost.

My best piece of camera equipment? A paid off credit card.

Mike, I am completely with you on this. And I do the same dumb things. I've been considering why, and have come to the conclusion that as a very small child, instead of bonding with my mother, not possible as she was schizophrenic, I bonded with the few toys that I had. I can vividly remember a great fondness for a toy Foden flat truck. (This was in the UK). I would spend long, happy times playing alone with that truck. It was a rich brown color, and I can still remember the smell of the paint. I am 65 now. Fast forward to today, and I still like things a lot, esp. cameras and their associated paraphernalia.

Our emotional relationship to life is formed in our earliest years. For many of us, people, even parents were too threatening for a small child to feel comfortable with. Young children have to bond with something -- whatever is non-threatening and available to provide secure, pleasurable feelings will do. That’s my own insight anyway, though not at all my own theory.

Many a night before bed, my wife scolds me for my porn habit, lustfully gazing at: Mint Cond F3's, M6's, M4-P's, FM3A's, FE2's, Apollo F's, X-Pan's, Norita's, Plaubel Makina's- and so, so, so much more. Their firm bodies and curvaceous good looks calling me, their promise to be ever faithful, irresistible...

"**Begone, harpy Sigma DP2 Merrill! Fie! Leave my thoughts alone, tiny temptress!"

HA! (or LOL or whatever signifies authentic response to trenchant humor). Like all well executed humor, there is a grain of deeper truth there too. Fundamentally, for me, the goal of this activity is about pleasure. Pleasure of identifying resonant emotional moments, pleasure in presenting friends with the best versions of themselves, pleasure of an idea well done, and, yes, pleasure in the new toy. I don't always get there, but that's what I am aiming for. In that sense, for those of us who don't depend on the activity for our bread and butter, it is not really that different than an entertainment expense. So: my photography has cost me the same amount every year that I have done it. What is that amount? _It is the most I could afford_. And if I had more money -- like Graham Nash printing studio money -- you can bet I would find a way to derive even more pleasure from this activity.

And another thing: I have never spent a dollar on this activity that didn't richly reward me in terms of pleasure. Well, except for the lens I got for free from my local camera store owner that I paid $15 to have evaluated for a fix only to find that it was beyond repair. But all the other dollars over the years? I stand by 'em.

Ben Marks

"I get better pictures with digital. It makes me a better photographer.

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 getting better pictures. "

Dude, you're scaring me with your ability to read my mind!

Good post today. I've been mostly digital for nine years, but I believe I did my best work with film. Of course, that could be because I shot film exclusively for the first 35 years of my career, when I was definitely younger and presumably brighter and less jaded.

I'll continue to shoot digital for my clients. But for myself I like to shoot medium format transparency film and enjoy the challenge of filtering, exposing, etc., to get it just the way I want it on film before the fact instead of faking it after the fact on a computer.

I still cannot see how film photography can be cheaper than digital. It is only possible if you do not digitalize your work, and even then it is very hard. Counting computer hardware is rather ridiculous, because nowadays most people simply have computers. And backups ? How did you back up your negs ? Even if they are more persistent than files, copying them costs more and reduces their quality. On the other hand, digital storage is extremly cheap (come one, for most people a second external hard drive is more than enough).
Sure, cameras are more expensive, but it is not true that you have to do frequent updates. Besides, film cameras are cheap because film is expensive and MUCH less convenient to work with.
And printing ? Come on, who can print color in darkroom, hands up ! Printing in darkroom is very expensive, especially when you take usual trial and error process into account. It is trivial to dodge or burn in software, and it can be a real pain when you make prints under enlarger - one mistake and you print is rubbish. Then, you need to carefully process and wash it, and then, after, say, 5 years you can discover that you did't do it right. Sure, you can master the process, but how many of us have enough patience, skill and talent ? Not many.
Don't get me wrong, I like the analogue process very much, in fact the only printing I do is in darkroom. But I do it for fun and I am sure it's more expensive for me than digital.

Absolutely with you on #2 - except I'm having a tidying-out phase and the only film cameras remaining are intentionally for collecting (old, family heirlooms, etc). The trouble with "embracing digital" is the knowledge that next year you could've got so much more from the same scene.

Now, those scare-quotes around `"image quality"'... you also recently alluded to image-quality in a rather relative fashion (as I recall). I'd quite like to see what you have to say about that in some depth - maybe an article's worth, perhaps?

Like you, Mike, I find that I love certain things about working with film and hate others, and the same for working with digital. They're different things from yours, however, but that doesn't matter.

What makes me a better photographer is doing a lot of photography, thinking a lot about photography, and accepting whatever it costs to do it that gets the results I want as long as I can afford it. I no longer account what it costs me specifically, I no longer care whether film is more or less expensive: photography is what I do with my excess income not paying for rent, mortgage, medical, retirement savings, food, or transportation. Happily, I have enough to cover those things with enough excess to enjoy the photography. If I didn't, I'd do more to economize on my photographic expenditures.

Because in the last analysis, what costs me a bundle in photography is exactly what costs you a bundle: my own foolishness in buying stuff that I don't really need to. I have more cameras stuff around the house than I can recall, and I use two or three of my cameras all the time. It's dumb but such it is.

Art and expression always operates in an environment of constraint. Money is one of them. You do what you can with what you have, and be happy with that. :-)

Digital cameras have matured to the point where buying last year's camera no longer condemns us to substandard image quality. So if you don't need the very latest features or the latest bump in megapixels, buy a decent used camera from someone who feels compelled to upgrade, and then "use it 'till it rots." Or if you need (for example) the low-light capabilities of a current model, buy that, and then stop looking at camera reviews for a while. The same strategies can be applied to computers.

Resist the urge to keep upgrading or changing entire systems on a whim. At the same time, don't cheap out on things you genuinely do need, because you'll just end up buying it later, anyway.

As for the dynamic range, look and feel of film, Mike is right, and I miss it, too. But if you don't have time to use film, then best to embrace what you do have time to do. Many of us pine for the good old days, but we live now, not then. And nothing's stopping us from shooting a roll of Tri-X or HP5 now and then.

great - you've got me looking at that Voightlander Bessa R3A again

except this time around I know its a "me being an idiot purchase" as i'm trying to justify it by saying "i'll shoot two rolls a year on it" (said in my optimistic voice...)

I too call BS on claims that you need to spend a fortune to shoot digital. I had a computer from 2004 that would happily chew through D800 files if it were still with me. Unfortunately it died a year ago and has since been replaced.

So how do I know the old machine could handle the D800? Simple--it handled multi-hundred image focus stacks from the 5D2 just fine, and before that I was regularly working with 200-300 megapixel 16 bit scanographs.

My scanograph PSBs were usually in the 4-5 gigabyte range, and I'd occasionally hit 15 gigs, thought I only went over 20 once. The D800 with 75 meg raws is a digital polaroid in comparison.

Digital is a great _excuse_ to spend lots money ("Lens X won't resolve Y lp/mm while my sensor can!"), and sometimes spending a bundle is worth it (my RRS TVC33 + BH55 are a case in point), but it's hardly obligatory.

As an amateur, the only digital-specific equipment I've ever spent on is the camera/memcard. The computer is not primarily for photography, and GIMP (free) has served me perfectly well. The only thing I sometimes miss in it is high bit depth support and that's apparently on the roadmap. Admittedly I mostly process JPEGs and typically have very few keepers, so I've never had much use for Lightroom/Aperture.

One of my problems, is being influenced by knowledgeable photographers that I respect. When the cheque came in for the sale of my Ricoh GXR and 28mm lens module, I promptly spent the cash on a complete Bronica SQ-Ai...

"...there's an arrangement called "working" in most societies where, if you do more of it, they give you more money."

Tell me more about this arrangement. I thought that if you work more, you just get tireder and tireder.* I was not aware that there is a type of work where you actually get paid more too.

*Yes, I know that "tireder" ain't no real word.

There's another thing to consider. Digital is getting cheaper and cheaper and the quality for cheap is getting better and better.


The most important expenditure in photography is not really money but time. How do you want to spend your time with photography? Some people most enjoy the feeling of being a photographer by participating in the processes. Others, like me, want to stay as close to the actual image all the time.

Avocationally speaking it's all good. But time, not money, is the most valuable investment into photography.

I love the #1 on your list since we all do that, more or less. Everyone has the gadgets they don't use, the lens that was superfluous from the start, the books that gather dust and the plain "what was I thinking" purchases.

I'll confess that #2 is for me not about cameras but about lenses.

As what comes to cost, there are so many ways to do photographe that people can pick the datapoints they like and thus never agree since their assumptions were wildly different. So as you say, at the end of the day only the results count.

I'm much younger than you, but shot film for years before getting a digital camera and kept shooting film beside digital for years still. Now I use film just for the look and also "the feel". But what I learned was that film and digital are not so different, but the much faster workflow with digital that wastes less time at mechanical tasks has enabled me to improve my skills much faster (choosing how to develop BW is crucial; the actual process of development is mechanical and thus irrelevant for becoming a better photographer).

That and the ability to experiment at a fixed cost; I was a poor student once.

Well I've been taking digital photos for 6 years now and don't have one image I value, I hardly pick the thing up these days except for the occasional commercial job. I use 35mm, 120 and large format and have dozens of prints I'm proud of. I'm 53 and wonder if it's a generational thing.
I also notice that all the photos of other peoples I like are taken on film too.
Somehow when I press the shutter on a digital camera it feels like I've done nothing of any value, wheras with film every click must count.
Just my thoughts, Mark

I started to comment on Ctein's article but decided my response wasn't exactly on the subject. So now I'll give it a try.

My main expense in photography these days is paper and ink. And time. It used to be film, paper and chemicals. And even more time. Equipment has always been expensive if you're buying high quality items.

I'm almost a minimalist in technology. I want and need only just enough to get the job that I want done, done. I like cameras and the optics that fit on them so I own a goodly number of these items. Not one of my digital cameras is currently in production. I bought them just prior to being discontinued or I bought them used. They may not have the latest features but they continue to produce excellent results and they were relatively cheap. However, lenses are another story. They have never been cheap. But quality optics have long lifetimes as long as they are cared for so, in the end, equipment costs are not that much.

When it comes to computers and software, I really don't much care. I have no interest in them. They are only a means to an end. If I can make consistently good looking prints with bottom-feeder software and hardware, I declare my methods successful. My prints look pretty darn good if I do say so myself. So I don't own a super computer, just one that is more than adequate for the job. The software I use came free with the cameras or was downloaded free online. I do have a very nice Epson printer but it sort of fits in the same category as the cameras and lenses. When I shot and printed film, I had a very nice enlarger with excellent quality enlarging lenses and I equate the Epson to that enlarger.

I figure I'm getting by pretty cheap these days. The fact that my photos look better than they ever have is the payoff.

What's your hobby? Are you a minimalist who can work with one body and one prime? Or are you someone who collects lenses with the idea that maybe (maybe not) you will someday need them?

Are you a mininmalist who shoots Cromes only, and has the Lab scan them when they do the developing? Or are you someone who lives by the words "You can save it in Photoshop?"

I don't need a printer 'cuz I never make prints. I don't need a scanner 'cuz the Lab does all my scanning. Get the picture? We are all different, therefore "One size doesn't fit all!"

At this point I have eight cameras (both film and digital). By the end of the year everything but the 4x5 will be gone. I'll use the 5MP camera in a iPod Touch 5G for documentation/internet photos. The 4x5 with Fuji Instax backs (both 3.25x4.25 and 4x5) for "Art." The Lab will scan the Instax prints. There will be no more need for software, except a few Apps for the iPod 8-) Instax ain't inexpensive, but getting away from software is priceless 8-)

Really nice post, I agree with your film v digital comments, although when I think to myself, which one do I get better results with? I don't really have an answer, I get good results with whatever I use. If I didn't press myself to get good (subjective) results to me then why bother at all.

I can make an image on any camera that I am proud of but for me the big question is this.

Which one do I enjoy most?

and the answer to that is easy.

I'll say it again. Photography is just one of many things I do with the computers I would have bought anyway. And, I do most of my photo work on a (comparatively) cheap laptop. Backups are to a couple of cheap disks + online backup. This stuff costs less than a good supply of fiber paper and the water to wash it, I bet.

I think probably make about an equal number of good pictures in digital as I did in film ... but they are different. And, I a lot shoot more so I think I get more per year. I am sad that film is gone, but I would probably never go back to it.

As I'm writing, this topic has been the foundation of two posts and 130 published comments. I'm gobsmacked by that. Does anybody else play the "this will get xxxx comments" game when a new post goes up?

Someone call "The Online Sociologist"!

Ed Grossman,
As far as I know, the most upended post-size-to-comments ratio was registered on June 20th, 2010. The entire post read "Anybody read any great books lately? I'm looking for what to read next...." And those 13 words garnered 188 comments, some of them long.

I think there was one post that got 212 comments, but (strangely?) I can't remember now which one it was.


Digital makes me a better photographer, a more productive photographer, and a happier photographer.

I don't know if my photography has improved since turning digital. I hope so. But you're so right about making flash photography easier. When I use flash, it's usually because I need to document things, my wife's art work, other stuff around the house, and for someone like me who uses flash 2-3 times a year, being to fine tune the exposure on that LCD histogram is a huge advantage.

If you're a pro and using flashes every day, I can see where it would be less important, you already know what you doing. But even when I'm able to get it right, 6 months later, I'm a rookie again.

We all have preferences and pet hates.

The pet hate I most profoundly share with our esteemed host is an abiding loathing for the B9180. Roll on my new Canon.

We also share the belief that we are more successful shooting digital.

Where we may not agree is the fact that I hated the chemical mess and smell and the near certainly of occasional disaster (to my bathroom or me or my precious roll of film) through ham-fisted incompetence on my part.

My pet loves are (1) the immediate feedback and control I get from shooting with a digital camera and (2) the immediate feedback and control I get from digital editing.

To me, shooting with film is like playing a piano in silence and waiting three days to hear the sound.

Could the software and printing process be less obtuse and convoluted? Damn right. But I persevere. And if you are more concerned with beauty than ultimate accuracy you can make your life a lot easier. We never worried about accuracy with film, only effect. Maybe that's part of the issue?

Regarding cost, we spend money on photography because (a) it's a hobby and we love it, or (b) it's a job that earns us income.

What we buy and what we use is purely dictated by (a) what floats our boat, or (b) what achieves our business goal most efficiently and successfully.

Cost is only a consideration if (a) we cannot reasonably afford it, or (b) we cannot adequately return a profit from the investment.

What floats my boat and makes me walk 20 miles a week with a camera is entirely personal. I read and respect other people's preferences, but they have no impact on mine. None. Zip. Nada. I suspect the same applies to them.

Other than personal preference I do not accept that there is any absolute artistic, technical or other external justification for choosing either film or digital that is remotely meaningful. It's all about what we like doing, what we like seeing, and what we want to achieve.

Nor do I accept that either medium inevitably enforces certain positive or negative behaviors and habits. With digital I am much more productive, but no more profligate and if anything far more discerning when editing my portfolio. I have to be - I have a much higher proportion of successful images to sort through.

For others, this trend may be totally reversed and their experience of film and acknowledgement of it's restrictions may indeed make them more successful with it.

None of us can make that assumption on behalf of anyone else.

What's been striking me in this discussion: Money is not the best metric for anything.

My big complaint about digital is printing speed and cost.
I suppose that for most people who answer this question the ability to print is new and exciting.
I make a lot of prints, and have for a long time. I have had darkrooms or access since I was in college and don't find it difficult to set one up.
I tend to shoot film and back it up on digital and compare the results. Then print whichever looks best.
Tomorrow I plan to print another 60 large prints to complete the first half of an order.
I am lucky that the darkroom prints are better than the digital because if I were to print them on my Epson 7800 they would take 15 hours to print and cost about $6 to $7 each.
The darkroom prints, nicer looking, more resistant to mishandling, and longer lasting, will take no more than 3 hours to produce and cost me less than 30% as much.
For people who only view images on screens digital is great. But if you want to make prints then you have to figure the whole system. Cameras cost a lot if you buy a lot of them and don't use them to make a lot of images. If you make a lot of prints then the math needs to include that aspect. If you can put together a darkroom it could be worth considering.
But for the casual shooter, being able to shoot, view and print, and in the same sort of time frame as I can do with my equipment is quite a good thing I would guess.

There's always the "George" factor when it comes to cost of going digital: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/05/letter-to-george.html

Although I have spent far more money on digital camera gear over the past three years than I did on film camera gear over the past forty (note my use of the past tense, as I'm finished with film), the "return on investment," so to speak, is far greater from my digital gear than it ever was with my film gear, so I consider the money to have been well spent and a better value overall.

Too many people, I think, focus solely upon dollars they spend and ignore the value they receive. Sort of like with insurance, as many people tend to focus on the premium they pay and not the service they will receive when they ultimately file a claim.

Personally, I don't mind spending more money up front when I know that I will receive proportionately more value for the money on the backend, but YMMV, obviously!

Is film photography more expensive than digital photography ? well I guess it all depends on what a photographer's expectations are and what will you pay to get what you want. Thats the great thing about photography, you can go out and spend as much or as little as you want, and still make great images.


Just a bit of a nit here ...

"Digital cameras have three things that help me—high ISO capability, image stabilization, and experimentation with immediate feedback."

I believe if you put a Nikkor VR lens on an F100 or better and you'll get image stabilization with a film camera. I've heard you like in-body stabilization better but at least we're in the ballpark.


I could care less about cost per frame

Tranlation for non-Americans. Apparently, this somehow means couldn't care less.

Respect Mike! you said everything that had to be said with great elegance and wit.

Mike, it seems that the key to getting a lot of comments is soliciting advice and recommendations.

Mike asks "What three things do you most need to enjoy or participate in photography the way you practice it?" got 217 comments

Mike asks "What's your favorite lens?" got 213 comments http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/01/your-favorite-lens.html

Mike asks for recommendations of movies without guns or fantastical premises got 206 comments

Oddly opinions about cars, cats, or stereos didn't break 200, but I think a survey like this would break 300

What cameras match these modes of transport?

Ford f10 truck
Mercedes S class
Mercedes Unimog
63 Corvette Stingray
63 Schwinn Stingray
Toyota Camry
Hop Rod pogo stick
Tatra T87
Tatra 813
Terex Titan
Lotus Seven

The cropped sensor option of digital can save a few bucks if you’re a tele guy. My APS-C sensor, 135 f/2 and 1.4 teleconverter give me 216 f/2 and 302 f/2.8 FOV options that would cost over 10K to reproduce on a full frame sensor. The savings in size and weight aren’t bad either.

I'm a much better photographer with a 4x5 then I am with a DSLR. I doubt it has much to do with film per se, and much more to do with the giant ground glass.


One point which, I believe, has not yet been raised:
The cost of not engaging in photography.

There were many years when I couldn't afford any sort of photographic activity.
There were several years when I couldn't be bothered to engage in photography.

The immaterial cost of those lost years far outweighs the cost of everything I have ever spent on photography, however unwisely.

Great post Mike! I really do want to comment and say something meaningful, I just can't think of anything in response to your remarks that hasn't already been said six hundred times.

All I can really say is....I sure know what you mean!

I miss film because of the process, the darkroom a kind of sanctuary. However, I am a better image-make since going digital. Customers and friends say my work has improved because I am making a lot of color images as well. Not to brag, but to compare...In the film days, I would make, say, $2,000 over a weekend's Art Show. With Digital, I once made $5,250 over a weekend's Art Show(with customers saying "oh, I thought you couldn't get good black-and-white from digital".) These days I don't make that kind of money for a variety of health reasons, but digital has certainly expanded my range, without my buying new stuff constantly. But I still miss the process of film and printing!

Mike, as someone trying to learn meditation and Zen Buddhism to calm and improve my depressive mind, I will give you the advice my therapist gave me: maybe you are taking the Western philosophy and focusing too much on the end product rather than focusing on the process or journey, i.e. the Eastern philosophy.

I focus too much on the end product being so good that I don't even attempt the process because I can't get to the perfect product I envision. If I focus on just doing the process, then I get wrapped up in that and have fun without even caring what my product looks like. It's akin to your "mindflow" statement, which would make Zen Buddhists and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi smile. On the other hand, you seem happy doing whatever it takes to get the results you want, so that's great! Personally I think life is all about being happy and sharing that with others.

I definitely get better results with digital. I do a lot of long exposure night work (mostly colour, some B&W), and it's just an incredible amount easier in digital.

I can do test shots at a high ISO, wide aperture, then stop down and drop the ISO to base, increase the exposure time and know I'm going to get pretty much the same levels. No bloody reciprocity failure, and no unnatural colour shifts!

Whoa, 20 "large" prints an hour in the darkroom? You have a MUCH more expensive darkroom than I've ever had, it sounds like. And you must have remarkably well-lit negs, requiring nothing beyond straight printing, to get that kind of production rate.

In fact, are you sure of those numbers? Even for B&W, developer plus fixer time adds up to more than three minutes per print, plus there's a chunk of wash and drying time at the end. If it's color, then it can go into hugely expensive automated processors and come out the other end, I guess, but that's only good for high production if you know for sure you nailed the printing before you see the results.

To me, getting rid of the darkroom was tremendously liberating. IN particular it meant I could work on photos without committing blocks of several hours of time all at once. In digital I can open a file and poke at it for 15 minutes while I wait for a phone call, or whatever.

Mike, I admire your thinking identifying those various strangely off-course expenditures. I've done all of them at one point or another. But I'm happy to say that lately I have done very little of any of them. May my restraint continue!

Mike, I admire your thinking identifying those various strangely off-course expenditures. I've done all of them at one point or another. But I'm happy to say that lately I have done very little of any of them. May my restraint continue!

Echoing some of the comments above, those 5 points could've been directed at me so do not take the rest of comment as me preaching from a high horse (if I can mix my metaphors a bit here). The reality is that resolution, sharpness, contrast, bokeh (you name it!) does not make a bad photo good and, only in limited situations (this is my humble opinion here) will it make a great photo bad. I am a firm believer that content is king when it comes to photography. Regardless of the fact that not everyone will share this view, I think it is time we all acknowledge that our photography is not limited by the quality of our equipment. Unfortunately, cost aside, it is much easier and immediate to improve the quality of the equipment than it is to improve the quality of our picture taking. That is certainly the case for those of us that must (by nature of our jobs) spend most of our times in front of a computer rather than out in the world practicing the act of taking pictures.

Stop reading my thoughts. I think TOP is a front for CIA mind reading experiments.

I have switched to 99% digital for a ton of reasons but I'm not giving up my hasselblad for a ton more.

This was a truly helpful post if only to make me realize how ridiculous the arguments I have with myself are and that I need to stop talking about cameras and start photographing!


20 prints an hour in a b&w darkroom is pretty easy with the right equipment.
A really good safelight, 2 hot rodded negative carriers per enlarger, preferably two enlargers, a microsight focuser and you can really fly.
I routinely could do 100 8x10 prints an hour with two enlargers, 60 with one enlarger. You only need to watch the prints for a few seconds at the end of the development, and that's when you load the second carrier.

Large, say 40x60 prints might slow me down to 5 an hour , but that's mostly because fixing and washing ( and drying ) is an ordeal.

I know some people can work fast printing c41 but I was never one of them.

Yeah, nailing the exposure and contrast was a prerequisite , but it was mor forgiving than E6.

Sure it takes an hour or so to make one print, but it's not like digital where you make one print at a time.

Funny, this, fully realizing this is a "camera" blog... but I'm not sure I've ever overheard artists (oils, watercolor, acrylic, sculptures) talk so much about so many aspects of their trade while avoiding talking about a finished work as photographers seem to do.

Oh, I know, artists do talk about tools used to create their art, and, yes, I've overheard woodworkers who come close to the passion of photographers at talking nuances and this and that.

yet, after a certain point it seems to be a rather large distraction from, perhaps, facing the merit of one's output, capabilities, opportunities, or art.

I suspect some people are afraid do something, to have their work critiqued, or, worse, to learn their work is irrelevant and ignored.

Eh, cost depends on how you use it.....goes for any camera. I know people who shoot 10 10x8 inch negatives a year. And I'm talking professional photographers here. I also know Struth who used about a 1000 8x10 negatives at the Prado (alledgedly). I use 10 rolls of medium format Velvia a year....now I could invest in IQ180.....but that would be rediculous woudn't it. But then again I treat each negative as a canvas, I only press the button that goes "ploink" (I shoot GSW690) if I'm absolutely sure that what's on the other side of the lens is worth the effort, al is lit correctly, and that DOF is to my liking (and since it's a rangefinder that is a mental task :-)). On a typical phototrip I use 8 negatives or less....8 is the max though since I never carry spare film.

Digital I shoot sparingly....sometimes 1 or 2 shots are enough. But these can contain anything from 7 to 450 frames (since I'm an addict to megapixelcounts well above 100 up to 2.4 Gpixel for 360/180 dome). Now in my case I'm daerned shure (as in 102%) that my digital camera will outcost both my analog camera (I also own a GX680 that does "raflash" but that is used even more sparingly, only for architecture and building and then I take it out to make 1 shot a day, I mean get in the car drive 200 miles, set up the camera (all 6 kg of it), fend off bewildered bystanders, wait for the light to be just right, grab the electronic remote and wait....untill conditions are right en press "raflash" and wait for the green light to flash....doen. Pack up and go home.

My dad (AFIAP so no slough either) did this his whole life even with a 35 mm camera...films could remain in camera for month at a time, then get developed and printed. A typical 3 week holiday would yield 10 films....the excitment, the film waisting :-). But the best photo's were usually the pictures he shot during weekends.

I used to bring home at least 50 to 100 shots on a normal phototrip....then I started to limit myself. And my photo's got better, more of me in it. Believe me, be frugal, it pays, not only in cost but also in your picture quality.

Greets, Ed.

I didn't hate my hp B9180, originally purchased on ebay after a recommendation (was it here or on LuLa?), because I made better prints with it than ever before. Thanks, whoever it was.

However, I was less anxious once I'd sold it on again since so many other people had reliability problems.

My thanks to Mike, and all the contributors to this fascinating conversation.

My photography costs me about two bucks a week ... lottery tickets so I can afford the European Delivery Porsche I'll neeed to pick up my new Phase One System and lenses in Denmark.

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