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Thursday, 21 March 2019


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Maybe we need the machinery in the camera to wirelessly transmit to an app in the phone, which would then downsize the photo to the same size as the camera shots, and allow us to share them from there. And maybe edit them, too -- at least what you were doing with all your film work, picking out those shots that we known aren't good enough and disposing of them. Or maybe we already have all that and I'm stuck in horse-and-buggy days.

For consumer products, convenience ALWAYS wins.
Look at Audio, Vinyl to CD to mp3
There is always the one percent who will pay more for better quality, but manufacturers have to follow the money.

This post brings back memories. When I started taking pictures as a teen in 1948, I had very little money, and my film was mil surplus Plus X and Tri-X loaded into cassettes in a changing bag. I did all processing late at night, after my parents and sister went to bed, in our apartment bathroom. A Kodak green safelight was the only light (except when I experimented with solarization), and I used a 2 roll developing tank. I used the bathroom sink and a mercury thermometer for temp control. Film strips were hung from the shower curtain with closepins top and bottom (weighted to prevent curling)to dry. Printong was done using three trays in the bathtub, and a Federal 35mm enlarger, sitting on the toilet seat. I also mixed my developer (mostly D23) to save money. The room light was used for contact prints.
Needless to say, my available time to work was limited.
No doubt these years of B&W of neccssity helped shape my liking for B&W. Later when I had a budget, I carried two cameras, one color, and the other B&W. A major pain. Then I realized that if I used color slide film, I could easily make 4x5 internegs with the enlarger-and gain more control as well. Back to one camera.
Then I went digital. WOW what a change. I could take a picture and in post determine whether I liked it better in color or B&W, and have more control either way. Not to mention the exposure time feedback.
In the last 70 years since 1948, the entire technology paradigm has revolutionized taking pictures, but the basic concepts of what is a good image haven't really changed. What is possible has changed and exopanded, but the basic concepts of quality remain.

The cellphones today are a darned sight better than the once very popular Kodak Instamatic and Pocket Instamatic cameras. The cheap ones were close to the nadir of photo technology.

I also remember going to national parks in the 1970's and finding the trash cans FULL of Polaroid negatives -- from folks willing to pay a lot more per shot to see immediately if their picture came out. Now they get to do that with their cellphone.

Mike, you'd be aware that Thom Hogan has consistently written over the years about the need for Japanese camera companies to learn from cell phone manufacturers and address connectivity/social media sharing. So far they have only responded with tokenism - no camera I'm aware of can connect with the internet and share photos as seamlessly as a cell phone. Yet the final destination of most pictures is now the internet or a screen.

I see this as a cultural problem within the entire Japanese camera industry. Who would think that they would risk losing millions - and their very viability - for failure to see, adapt and act on the blindingly obvious? It beggars belief!

That was quite a process in "the good old days," wasn't it? Prompted me to dig out my negs, also in PrintFile sleeves, where I also wrote my notes on film type, developer, temps, dates (e.g., 1989,) and anything else significant. Frankly, I am happy to leave all that in the past.

I went to NYC for Photo Plus Expo one year, to see and handle Samsung's venture into cameras, but especially the "camera that you could use as a phone," rather than vice versa. Clunky. And a reactionary move on my part. I'm currently looking for the cheapest way to upgrade from our Galaxy S4s, to S10s.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to shoot micro 4/3, and my Nikon FF, for the meager percent of shooting that is not, to be honest, snapshots and documentation.

Great discussion. I'd like to submit a corollary to : " many people do not feel that their phone is a "good enough" camera... Many people, or at least I myself, do not feel that their camera is a "good enough" phone.
You should be able to easily transfer images and files from your camera to the Internet, cloud, local storage, social media or smart watch. While improving slowly, camera software and processing lags severely behind phones. The ease of use and sharing are not in the same league as in phones.

Further to my earlier comment: the cell phone companies are eating the camera companies' lunch while the camera companies are too busy watching and trying to outdo each other in features that most users don't use and which are orders of magnitude less important than connectivity and ease of use. They don't seem to get it that to have a viable industry they need not more headline features but a bread-and-butter consumer line that does everything better and is as easy to use and share as a cell phone. This will become their main revenue stream. If camera companies think that everyday users really want expensive full frame cameras with attendant expensive and bulky lenses they are nuts.

If Nikon re-released the V1 with cell phone ease of use and connectivity it would better meet the average user's needs than all the current offerings from the Japanese camera industry.

Well, I sort of miss film and I sort of don’t. I don’t miss the messing around in the dark with smelly chemicals. And don’t miss wasting a gazillion litres of water washing films and prints. I don’t think we could do it today.

I don’t miss paying more for an enlarger than we pay for a good camera these days. And, as one who dabbled in Cibachrome colour printing I certainly don’t want to go back to emptying my bank account every time I buy paper and chemicals.

I do miss the excitement of taking the negatives from the drum, holding them up to the light and seeing that I got the exposure and development spot on. Photography in the old days had that element of craft in it where expertise came after years of actually doing it. You had to come to grips with the photographic essentials of the camera and the film, chemicals and paper.

And, to be really mundane, what I do not miss are the spots and scratches on negatives that seemed to plague me in spite of all the care taken in the processing.

One paradoxical regret I have about the easy and costless digital imaging system is that I am no longer restrained by expense so I miss taking care with the picture taking. Now I incline to putting the camera into burst mode and firing off a few photos at once in the hope that one, at least, will be worth keeping. I look back at my photos from the sixties and remember the time I took composing, focusing, setting aperture and shutter speed and waiting for the right moment. Every exposure was too expensive to waste.

Your mention of a "root teacher" made me think of what we do in Academia (in my case geology). My PhD adviser is my academic father, my fellow graduate students are my academic siblings. My PhD adviser's advise is my academic grandfather etc.

I am at a loss to understand why my $5,000-$7,000 Nikon or Sony professional grade camera, in 2019, doesn't simply have LTE/4g access. Why can't it simply connect connect to the internet the way an Ipad does? Why all the WIFI, Bluetooth, NFC nonsense? There are so many complex offerings in the camera that I never use. But I do want to be able to simply be able to select an image and upload to the web directly, not via my phone. Why does that seem so difficult?

There are cameras these days that will get your pictures to your phone wirelessly, such as the Nikon Z line, but they lay off the real work, processing your pictures and distributing them via the interweb, to the app and phone makers. As others have said, the old-line camera makers need to fix this. It's blisteringly obvious, the same way going to digital should have been blisteringly obvious to Kodak. We know how that turned out. In the meantime, I am indulging in film again and enjoyed your film processing recipe. I thought I was fastidious but, no. For me, the crucial step in the learning/experimenting process 25 years ago was adopting the habit of using distilled water to mix developer as well as for the final rinse. Once, back from an overseas trip (the first of my adult life) I started a mass film developing run and about a third of the way through my 20 rolls I realized something was wrong. Everything was hopelessly too thin. I was doing everything as I normally did, developer dilution, temperature, time, fixing. A few days later I read in the paper that a serious problem with the local water system happened while I was gone. To fix it there was some kind of system-wide flush and a new chemical purifying formula adopted. I've always blamed that on the ruined film (not that the pics would have been any good anyway). Since then I've always used distilled water to mix developer and never had a problem.

That was a great detail of what I saw my father, a commercial photographer, doing on a daily basis in the darkroom in our garage. But as a busy commercial photographer he did not have the luxury of waiting to gang up film processing. If he came back from a job with 2 rolls or 20 rolls, it had to be processed that day.

I recall the added issue he faced in the garage darkroom in New England with the changing temperature of the seasons. Not only the difficulty of getting the chemicals at proper temperature, but with rapidly curling negatives in the colder seasons, making contact sheets more difficult.

His business was almost entirely black and white film (tmax 100, plusx, tri-x and Neopan 1600) until the mid-90s. I worked in the darkroom with him for the last few years of that. Then the workflow moved to color negative film - mostly Fuji NPS, NPH and NHG. Drop it off at the lab and pick up contact sheets!

I was a very early adopter of digital with the Nikon 850? The one that sort of pivoted from the middle? Eventually I purchased a very low serial number Nikon D1 the week they were available. The early days of digital were very difficult as the flash technology was crap and lab printing didn't really exist. My 64mb cards (32 jpg fine images on a card - no chance you were shooting RAW) cost $349 and I eventually purchased a 1gb CFII card for $1200.00 after dropping a "very delicate" IBM Microdrive. Everything was painfully slow. Downloading from the card was excruciating. Burning a cd took 40 minutes!

Your description of bw darkroom sounds so painfully slow and work-intensive from where we sit now. The first ten years of digital was a constant trial and error process with sacrifices in quality for many years relative to our analog world. I felt the time of the Nikon D3 was when digital finally came of age. Now we are just inundated with high quality offerings from many manufacturers and it's just a matter of what system is the right fit. I don't think we really argue about image quality anymore. We've evolved to arguing for the most intuitive user interface and form-factor. We are at a state of luxury from where we have been!

Having said that, there does seem to be a desire and need for simplicity.

Schooled as darkroom technician in 1980 I really tried to love chemical side of photography. Actually I hated it. Too much fuss and so unpredictable results. Digital is my way to go, but phone is just too awkward to shoot. I would like to see ipad size camera with good lenses, it could be a new version of my Sinar - only easier to carry and shoot.

I must be crazy because I'm still using a film camera, a view camera at that to create my pictures. Although I process my own black and white film as you so eloquently described, I do scan my negatives for the sake of convenience.

I've been making little videos that start with an old film camera then cross fade into negatives from that camera unwinding from the metal developing spool. That scene then cross fades into finished images. I've read that my DSLR can produce excellent video, but honestly, I don't want to mess with it. I want convenience! I use an iPhone to shoot the video which is edited in Photoshop. Even if the big camera is right there on the table, I stilll use the iPhone. I can't even imagine what it would be like to use a motion picture camera for these little projects. https://www.instagram.com/shootingwithfilm/p/BumEvWKgAFR/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=1irf75oy3c7q9

I liked your story, but let’s look at the workflow for most people coming to film in 2019 - I’m pretty sure mine is typical.

I buy neatly boxed rolls of 36-exposure film online. When it gets delivered (to my office by a courier) I take it home and stick it in the freezer.

I shoot most of the film on vacation or weekends, and when I’ve accumulated a few rolls I pass by the pro lab and drop it off. A couple of years ago this would be accompanied by a relaxed chat with the owner, but nowadays he’s too busy.

When the developing is done I’m pinged on my iPhone, and swing by the lab again to pick up the films, all neatly inserted in their sleeves.

I love the scanning part. Maybe a few weeks have passed since a shot was taken, so these moments - when I see the image for the first time - can be thrilling (I like to kid myself they’re akin to that feeling old hands in the darkroom talk about, where the image first forms in the tray).

Then after inverting with specialized software, it’s into Lightroom and the book module to output a Blurb volume, which gets uploaded and a week later another courier is at my office delivering the actual books.
And the entire effortless circle is closed.

The next big change isn’t really about the camera hardware. It’s about the abandonment of the print. Cell phone screens and Social Media have replaced refrigerators as the venue for family snapshots. My fridge still features photos stuck up with magnets but then I’m old school.

March 20th was Vernal Equinox and a full moon at that. I went to a short hill in a local park to take sunset/moonrise photos. An older woman (looks to be in her 70s?) with a cast in her left foot walked up at the same time. She was carrying a foot long zoom lens on her camera. Amazingly enough, as it is clearly not a Leica ;-) or other film camera, I never noticed what brand it was.

Anyway, I was carrying a 617 view camera in a backpack and a Hasselblad 203FE in another small pack. I just found the juxtaposition funny with me younger than her, but I am the one using outdated equipment.

The lights weren't great but we took some photos regardless. The time it took me to get one shot, she was blasting away with her camera and had multiple dozens of images.

We had a nice chat, and I think we both got out what we wanted from the experience.

Maybe I am digressing, but this point comes to me often when reading posts like this.
How do you decide that you are going out to take snapshots (phone) or something more serious (camera)?

Mike, you are mixing 2 things up, phone made photos are ment to see on phone/tablet screens only (99,9%).
That is a whole lot different then the photography you are talking about, has nothing to do with making prints and your comparison doesn't make sense at all.
Phone photography has to do with: 'Look how silly aunt Mary looks in her new dress', 'yes, very funny!' And then the pic is deleted or forgotten ...

Holy Ming Thein, Mike! It didn't have to be THAT regimented; the pictures would still come out. I developed and contact printed as a kid down in the furnace room. Got back into photography after grad school with a Nikon F, an enlarger in my apartment closet in Hyde Park, where all work would have to stop if a locomotive was idling on the adjacent IC tracks. Had a copy of The Craft of Photography open or at least nearby. With the Watson film loader, Tri-X and my collection of clean film cassettes and their battered containers, I could have 20 rolls of 35-37 exposures available at a time. I don't think you mentioned the step of putting a negative roll number on each 5 or 6 exposure strip once they were developed, using India ink and a Rotring pen.

My fondest memory of all those beat-up film cannisters was commuting from Chicago to Boston with some photo gear, taking the shortcut from Detroit to Buffalo through Canadian roadspace, and watching the bored US customs guards open every one of my 20 in order to see what sort of contraband I might be smuggling in them.

What? Why didn't you just use SOC---straight out of the camera?

Straight out of the camera back then meaning the pimply faced kid at the drug store. Then as now, all real photographers used SOC. Those engineers and chemists know what they are doing.

Important thing about the phone is that you carry it everywhere anyway.

Essentially it's a zero weight/size camera because comparison is not a "phone vs camera" comparison but a "phone vs phone+camera" comparison.

This could've been mitigated to an extent if the Japanese camera companies weren't so insular and terrible at software. To this day connecting the camera to a phone is still a pain. Samsung came closest to bridging the divide but now that they're gone, it's back to square one.

There are at least four distinct types of camera buyer, and the industry is only addressing one of them...

  1. People who don't want to learn how to use a camera but do want to share images
  2. People who want better pictures, are happy to learn the basics, have no intention of learning about processing, and still want to share their images
  3. People who have no specific photographic goal, but want cameras that can do everything brilliantly - from low light action to landscapes and movie-grade video
  4. People who have particular photographic goals, want to control everything precisely, and process every image carefully

Type 1 are fairly happy with their phones, but they lack versatility - such as a range of focal lengths and better low-light capability. Their are fine as lifestyle daily-dairy tools, but frustrating for anything else - like sports days and safari trips.

Type 2 are frustrated type 1s, but they have to make a huge mental jump to a fixed zoom or low end ILC camera, which has no intelligent scene processing, and no real connectivity. It requires more that a basic understanding of exposure to match the processing from a phone, and they can't post images to FB from the camera.

Type 3 includes a few pros who really do need many of the advanced features, but also a lot of tech-junkies who just want the newest tech. The latter should be in hog heaven because they have so many great options, but they are mostly suffering from acute choice anxiety.

Type 4 include pros, but also serious amateurs - who grudgingly use the cameras that are made for type 3, but only use 10% of the functions. There are a handful of cameras aimed at subsets of this market, but they are eyewateringly expensive.

Camera manufacturers have lost type 1, are rapidly losing type 2, are driving type 3 insane, and are largely ignoring type 4. Not exactly a strategy for success.

Type 1s are a lost cause. Phones are the ultimate gadget, and they don't need/want anything else.

To stem the loss of type 2s, camera companies have to stop assuming they are photographers, and treat them as people who want to take pictures. Phone companies are capturing this market - using amazing technology under the covers - so partnering with phone companies seems like the obvious solution... preferably before the phone companies do it without them.

Type 3s are keeping the camera industry alive right now, but there's a risk of burnout.

To appeal to type 4s, they need to remember that they exist, and that they don't want cameras designed by internet-forum committees. They want something more specialised, with less complexity and fewer compromises. There are enough components in the parts bin to diversify their ranges with minimal investment. It's not the technology that's the issue. It's already more than good enough.

The thing is, Mike, photographers in film days were photographers who enjoyed the entire process from shooting to print making, or else they wouldn't have been doing it; enthusiasts, then.

The upmarket alternative was shooting Kodachrome, and the bottom feeder one was sending film off to D&P houses via the chemist or camera shop.

That it was more expensive with film in its day is nonsense: buy yourself a good printer and a box of good paper, then replace your inks, and your eyes water even as you get into hock with your software supplier so that you can play with your ersatz negatives.

I'd suggest that the cellphone camera is just a replacement for the bottom feeder category above. That it has the capability, in some hands, to produce good work is not the point: you could also produce good images with a Brownie if you knew what you were doing.


This reminds me of my experience with music. When I was a kid, scarcity was part of the music experience. We'd scour used record bins in the backs of stores for quirky or interesting albums. We'd jerry-rig antennas to pick up that one crazy little radio station playing Frank Zappa. We save up our money to buy that one album, then play it again and again and again.

But my kids' experience with music is different. There is no scarcity. They have access to almost literally every kind of music, instantly. When my son first heard a Hawaiian guitar, he was intrigued and was able to instantly access the entire genre of music. When my daughter posts her videos online, she samples music from across the decades, with no bias.

I am sometimes a little sad that they can't experience music like I did. But then again, they have things I could only dream about. Money doesn't severely limit their access. Geography doesn't severely limit their access. They can experience music as a nearly unlimited resource, and it is fascinating to watch that happen.

As photographers, we used to be able to only take a few exposures, then pray to the darkroom gods that they came out. We took extreme care with each frame -- not because we wanted to, but because we had no choice. Whereas now, we can quickly take hundreds, thousands of shots, and the darkroom gods live in a little rectangle we carry in our pocket. It's a different relationship to photography. But it is fascinating and wonderful to experience.

(Sorry this rambled: need another coffee to get this in focus.)

On the one hand, sure. I can sort of understand the pangs of nostalgia for old time craft and expertise.

On the other hand, I have no patience for it. It is not really relevant to the "real" work of photography, which is finding and capturing the picture in the first place.

As for modern non-phone cameras not being "convenient" enough ... this is mostly a relative complaint.

Modern non-phone cameras *are* much less convenient in many ways than phone cameras. They are bigger, heavier, slower (kind of) and their electronic interfaces tend to be from the late 80s early 90s Win32 school of random user interface elements strewn all over the screen in a random order. The theory is that they make up for this by capturing "higher quality" files than the phone does. But really, who wants those files? Are you printing bigger than 8x10? Are you printing at all? The current gen iPhones are probably better technically than any early (or even more modern) digital point and shoots and almost certainly better than their film counterparts. So what am I losing for my convenience? Not a lot.

Still, I enjoy the act of shooting with a "real" camera and there are some where situations the phone won't work (very wide, or very telephoto lenses) ... so I will often pick up my bigger cameras and then get smacked in the face with how much worse it is to use than the phone, especially post-exposure.

I realize that I am picking nits compared to the old days when it took weeks to finally get to the point where I could look at a frame I shot and decide that it was out of focus and throw it away. But the discussion at hand was not about comparing the current digital process with the past processes that we used on film. The question at hand was why the camera makers so consistently get it wrong with respect to what new features to put (or not put) into their machines ... and I think a lack of understanding about why people prefer the phone cameras plays into this in a large way.

So my claim is not so much that anyone *needs* the camera to be any more convenient ... it's more that the standard for how convenient a digital camera is to use has been set and the real cameras need to catch up to that standard or even the small % of people who are still willing to use them will soon see no reason to.

Nose grease on negatives and Spotone on prints. Just a couple of things about film photography I DO NOT miss at all.

[I used the nose grease trick ONCE when I was a beginner, to try it, and never again. Almost never spotted a print of mine. I figured if there was dust on my negatives I needed to improve my technique. If there was ever a dust spot on a print, I cleaned it off the negative and made another print. Of course I did a lot of spotting when I worked as a custom fine printer for clients. ;-} --Mike]

Oh, man, that gave me a serious flashback. I loved the darkroom. Meditative in a way that Photoshop can never be. That said, once I switched to digital, I never went back to film.

May I introduce you to the portfolio I shot of my father's darkroom equipment? https://josephholmes.io/Completed-or-Exhibited-Series/My-Father's-Darkroom-(2015)/1 He taught me to use all those things. I credit him with my entire photography career.

Right. Exactly what I've been writing since 2007. My experience with the initial iPhone in Africa basically opened my eyes to what some of my former Silicon Valley colleagues had been saying for awhile: the user problem solved was ease in taking and sharing an image, including when the person you were sharing with wasn't in the same location as you (try that with a print: you involve the USPS).

I outlined what I thought needed to happen to a room of Nikon executives in 2010. I had a long argument with one who was heading the Android Coolpix initiative (and in retrospect, I was proven correct; just using Android is not an answer, even with the improvements that have come since to the camera control side of it).

As for digital post processing, you see the same workflow/complexity reduction in the emergence of presets. The popular way to deal with not learning Photoshop appears to be "just browse through a bunch of (nearly) random presets and choose the one that looks best."

So, one could imagine a camera that communicated to the world (even if it needed a phone or Wi-Fi link) and allowed you to apply a browseable preset. There's still the issue of what happens to the photo next (e.g. where does it get archived and how do you work with it again?).

The funny thing is that compact cameras, which have completely collapsed, is exactly where such a device would be popular. It wasn't the fact that it was a Coolpix that doomed the Nikon Android Coolpix, it was the way Android was used.

My iPhone XS camera is definitely good enough for my everyday uses, but it takes just as much skill and practice to get good results with it as it does with any other camera. In fact, due to its crappy form factor, it probably takes a little more practice. But the lenses are excellent, providing near GR like sharpness, and the chips are good enough for many things in decent light, and of course the attached computer is excellent. It's biggest drawback is that it's just not fun to use compared to a dedicated camera. But the raw images are actually fun to process on the phone in Lightroom, applying a nice curve, perhaps some dodging and burning, and then saving or sharing.

It's like what's missing from cameras is some kind of "easyshare" chip so that images automatically show up on your phone. No extra transfer app, no menu diving, no wifi pairing. Just easy and automatic. Take a picture, look on your phone, there it is.

Oh, note that I forgot before...

"You know what I'd really like to see? A comparison of image quality between a Google Pixel 3, Samsung S10, or Apple iPhone XS of today and a Canon D30 of the year 2000."

My experience with the recent Apple phones is that they make images that are in general more pleasing than my circa 2005 Nikon D200. This includes many low light situations that you would think would be impossible. But there you go. Of course the autofocus and telelphoto lens work is not as good.

Well, I can't very well reply TL;DR after you called my comment brilliant !
I started photography as a kid with a camera in the late 70's, but I never did my own darkroom work. If I had to go through anything close to the bother you describe, I'm sure I would have abandoned photography as a hobby. (I did develop one roll in the high school darkroom with a friend who sort of knew what he was doing and it was fun to do ... once).
To clarify my comment a little, I think various people have different reasons for wanting a better camera in their phone - maybe low light picture quality, probably a telephoto for most - but I don't think most people are bothered by the image quality they get from their phones (most probably get better images from their phones than they would from a DSLR, thanks to the intelligent processing they incorporate). But we're somewhere in the middle of a period of rapid improvement in phone cameras, precisely because manufacturers know their customers want more out of them.
As for convenience, I used to do all the picture taking in the family. Now my wife gets her phone out to take a picture of anything she wants to share, because she doesn't want to have to wait for me to get home, download the file, tweak it in Lightroom and email it to her. Not nearly as onerous as your old workflow, but it may as well be - if it happened yesterday, it isn't interesting.
All of which gets to the purpose of taking pictures. For most people, the phone is the best camera for what they want to do with their pictures. Even if they do want a zoom lens on it.

I was introduced to the photographic "process" by my father when my age was still a single digit. We made an oatmeal box into a pinhole camera and created negative images directly on photo paper. It was a great learning experience.

In college I took a non-credit photography course that gave us access to a good darkroom and unlimited chemistry. I loved working on actual pictures but in retrospect it was working with other students -- critiquing each other's work and helping with processing. It is this social aspect that I miss most.

At one time, Kodak offered overnight processing. Film was collected from retail establishments (department stores, drug stores, photography retailers etc.) at the end of the day, delivered to a twin Cessna and flown to Rochester where it was processed. Early in the morning the Cessna returned and the negatives, slides and prints were delivered to the retail stores.

They may have been the good old days but on balance, today is better. The pictures I actually have today are better than the pictures I could have had then if I'd had unlimited time and the film was free.

I really enjoy these comments. I will toss in two anecdotes of my own, and try to keep them brief.

One) My father taught me to develop and print B&W by the time I was 10. I remember all about the chemicals and hassle, but I was also able crop my pictures and change the contrast by choosing the paper, which the photofinisher used by most people in our little town couldn't do.

In my early 20s, I got too busy with university and family and fell away from photography. Came back to it in 2014, with a Nikon D5300 purchased with Air Miles point. Complexity? I set it on Auto and snapped away happily for months, and put the pictures in iPhoto on my Mac. For many months after, the only feature I learned to adjust was to turn off the infernal beep the camera made when it acquired focus. (Eventually I bought a book about that model and learned to use it more effectively.)

What I remember as the greatest epiphany was that I never had to worry about running out of film again! That was so incredibly liberating. And most of the time, an entry-level camera on Auto delivered impressively fine results with ease.

I have moved on to a D7500, and no longer use Auto, and learned Lightroom, and enjoy the hobby more and more. The much-maligned SnapBridge provides a tolerable way to share photos in the field; it is easy to imagine better ways to do that, but it gets the job done.

Two) My youngest adult daughter is a fine arts student at the U of British Columbia. She owns a D3300 for digital work. But her photography classes all B&W film and darkroom based. She uses a classic Pentax Spotmatic for that. She is totally into the darkroom arcana. The biggest problem that she and her classmates and professors have is obtaining the necessary film, paper, and chemicals locally in the small city of Kelowna.

If I have a point with these anecdotes, I guess that it is that I'm in agreement with Mike and many others. This is a kind of golden age: no sending film off for processing, no running out of film, automatic focusing, automatic exposure, astonishing ISO range, simple Auto mode if that's what you want, or many dimensions of control if that's your choice. Thinking back to the old days, I find it hard to complain.

Just did this quick comparison of Canon 5D (original), Nikon D3200, Pixel 3 and iPhone X on the dpreview comparison tool at base ISO. (They were the oldest DSLR's from Nikon and Canon on the drop down)


They all hang together pretty much. It appears close between the full frame 5D and the Pixel 3 in the daylight example and for me the Pixel may actually be the most pleasing image!

The real difference (and proof of your point Michael) is if you click the light source to artificial in the top right. The Pixel KILLS the other three by a ridiculous margin. No comparison. (It uses machine learning for colour correction)

NB. I have a Pixel 2 and the camera/processing is a constant joy. The night sight mode is quite astounding...

Along these lines I spent yesterday shooting video for a client with a Rylo - a piece of equipment that struck me dumb with it's simplicity. You just start it, hold it up and shoot. It captures 360 6k video, then you transfer it to your phone and chose which video/s you want to create in the app. It's so backwards I had trouble understanding, then once I did I was slightly frightened, because we're not that far from a single device that captures and processes and delivers a file to an art director who can chose which "frame" they want, without ever needing a photographer.

...and the most amazing thing is that in 30 years time, the way we shoot, process, share and experience photos in 2019 will seem positively primordial. I'm trying to eat better so that I can experience that future.

Marco asks "How do you decide that you are going out to take snapshots (phone) or something more serious (camera)?"
Mike, I know you don't encourage discussion in the comments, but this gets to my earlier point about phones being the best camera (despite weaknesses) for the intended usage of most people.
For me, it's not about carry convenience. If I want to take pictures, I take a camera. If an ILC is a bother, my RX100 is convenient enough. My pictures get imported into Lightroom where they're available for making prints of photo books. There's no urgency to share them. My phone is for "visual texts" - reminders, amusing anecdotes, things I want to show people. But not for photography. Image quality, at least at 28mm and under the right conditions, is fine. But it's not a camera that lends itself to enjoyable, contemplative shooting. In a prior post, Mike mentioned the complexity of modern cameras, but phones are too easy - in order to get it to do what I want, I'd have to find the right app and learn how to control it and it's not via dials that I've been using for decades. So for me, it's straightforward. If I know (or suspect) I'll want to take pictures, I take a camera. Because, while the phone is the best camera for sharing, my cameras are better at taking pictures I want to keep. (And I'll have my phone, anyway).

Hi Mike,
You have very rightfully described a ritual that I have "enjoyed" to do for many years but sincerely I would not return to this analog technology mainly because of the excellent convenience of digital photography and printing. But memories are always good to remember and share!

"... Almost never spotted a print of mine. I figured if there was dust on my negatives I needed to improve my technique. If there was ever a dust spot on a print, I cleaned it off the negative and made another print...."

But you probably didn't print in an old house with a central heat/air system that was recirculating dust from the Roosevelt Administration.

I agree the shift to phone cameras is a major change, similar to the shift from film to digital. I believe it’s already happened and mostly people are satisfied with images they get from their phones. As far as comparisons go…

For a modern perspective on the performance of older digital cameras I suggest the “Unsung Cameras of Yesteryear” videos from The Camera Store TV.


In the link below, the comparison of 16 phone cameras by Marques Brownlee shows how most phones have reached “good enough” in image quality for most people. Phone makers still use better cameras to drive phone sales, but it’s becoming more of a status thing than a need. Does that sound familiar?


I had a lot of time and money tied up in dedicated cameras. Because of that it took a lot to convince me this latest shift was real. Last year I finally realized that shooting DNG with my phone and using the same workflow I use with my RAW images gives me better results than most digital cameras I have ever used.

Finding a very good color calibration program (Lumariver Profile Designer) and using it on my DNG images from the iPhone was what finally convinced me. I believe using dedicated digital cameras for hobby photography is a thing of the past, or a very small niche moving forward.

It was, undoubtedly, due to the hand camera that photography became so generally popular a few years ago. Every Tom, Dick and Harry could, without trouble, learn how to get something or other on a sensitive plate, and this is what the public wanted -- no work and lots of fun. Thanks to the efforts of these persons hand camera and bad work became synonymous. The climax was reached when an enterprising firm flooded the market with a very ingenious hand camera and the announcement, "You press the button, and we do the rest." It was the beginning of the "photographing by the yard" era, and the ranks of enthusiastic Button Pressers were enlarged to enormous dimensions. The hand camera ruled supreme.

Alfred Stieglitz. "The Hand Camera -- Its Present Importance," THE AMERICAN ANNUAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY AND PHOTOGRAPHIC TIMES ALMANAC FOR 1897

in Alfred Stieglitz, Photographs and Writings
National Gallery of Art 1998

The product of today's "hand cameras" is no longer just "bad work."

I'm sure this book was recommended by Mike. Most (all?) of my photography books were.

Maybe D-SLRs are not consumer products, but niche products.

Yes, I remember the days when I would spend hours and hours developing film with my Jobo processor, and then hours and hours enlarging and printing.

I loved doing it, but I admit with digital, I like the fact I can do all the work with a few mouse clicks instead of all that labor and exposure to chemicals (if I ever sell the house, I’ll have to renovate the second bathroom—AKA “The Photo Lab”).

But I still shoot film now and then, just to feel again how it was in the old days, when I were young and just starting out...

How does The Most Amazing Thing About Photography Circa 2019 differ from the The Most Amazing Thing About Photography Circa 2014?

That is a fine description of the whole process of film photography. There are still a lot of us shooting film, but I would guess the great majority use a hybrid process where the negatives are scanned and photoshopped with most images going to a final digital form for on line display.
In spite of the inconvenience and seemingly primitive technology of the previous century of film photography, wonderful results were obtained in that era. Current technology has certainly made image production easier and vastly more copious, but any claim that the final product is of genuinely higher quality would be hard to sustain, I think.

This convenience vs quality tradeoff is exactly why I'm excited about the Zeiss ZX1. A full-frame camera with a 35mm fixed lens attached, more or less, to an android phone (though I doubt it will have any phone features). If they pull this off, the combination of a photography company handling what they do best with help from the tech sector handling their end... it could be really special.

Of course, it could also have too many compromises of its own. But I look forward to finding out either way.

Pulling Ansel Adams's The Print off my shelf and reading quenches my thirst for darkroom work.

I would like essentially an iPhone with a Panasonic LX100 glued to the back. I think a product like that would sell incredibly well.

When I consider the quality and (especially) volume of the crap that many people feel compelled to "share" with me from their phones, I wish they were shooting Tri-X and developing their own film. Cumbersome it might be, but at least it forces you to edit your work, for economic reasons if no other.

A small correction — when the Canon D30 came out, it's retail price was about $3,000.

[Thanks! Fixed now. --Mike]

Usability trumps any other feature. That's why fast food, Spoitfy and phone cameras are so popular. Not because they're good. but good enough.

Ah, the memories....
I packed the darkroom away in the late 80s, used prof services for processing until my boys convinced me to bring it out and teach them in the early 90s. After a few sessions, we packed it away again and went back to having film processed for us.
But the sessions reminded me of why I quit - the skin peeled off my hands and the guilt over pouring nasty chemicals into the public water supply returned.
Not much later, I bought my first digital camera, a HP 640x480 pixel wonder built by Konica, I believe. I was hooked.

I’d love to travel back in time and give you a changing bag. I mean if you were going for making like simpler...

Another great post, particularly about processing film.

After many years of digital (and more years behind that of transparency film), a few years ago I went back to b+w film and processing at home. I don't work in the dark, instead using a changing bag. And I am not quite as obsessive about temperature these days, as long as I can match the temperature of the chemicals to a time/temp chart.

Having gone to first a specialized high school and then an engineering college, following a process became standard operating procedure -- our chemistry labs could run away dangerously if the experiment was not carried out precisely according to the "recipe." Besides, I had already been developing film for some time so the two went well together.

There is a certain relaxation in giving over to a process, which over time could become a mindless one. I much prefer developing film to mowing the lawn or running the snowblower.

Like at each one other on this thread, I scan the negs and work on them after that in Lightroom. (God help me if the old Minolta scanner finally dies.) And I do print the best of the keepers.

It looks like some of the commenters have come close to the point, but even the author has missed it.

The point being that photography is totally about sharing. Nothing else.

"Quality" is an aspect, a dimension, like depth of field, and not a thing that is either present (and therefore good) or absent (and therefore bad). It's like the line thickness of a pen, or ink color in a handwritten manuscript. A characteristic. Not vital.

There is a quote that I can't find at the moment which says something like "The craftsman loves his tools, but the artist despises them." I.e., boys like toys, but adults care about meaning.

In the olden days of 20 years ago, photography was point-and-shoot cameras and having handfulls of 4x5 prints to share with friends and relatives. It still is, but without the film and the prints. All the rest, the medium-format and large-format and "professional" cameras with motor drives, and the photographers that used them were minority fringe phenomena, but even with them, the professionals, the entire, total point was sharing. Communicating. The tools, the processes, the output, were means to an end.

Still are.

I haven't learned to use my slab-phone yet. I'm mostly able to make a call now, on a good day, if I have to, but that's it so far. However, I won't disrespect it as a camera when I begin using it as one. I know better.

The most instructive photography I've ever done has been with a Vistaquest camera (See "The Online Photographer: More Keychain Madness": https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2008/01/more-keychain-m.html ), whose "quality" level according to the snooty, was less than zero. Images were compelling and communicative though. Crappy and amazing. Enlightening.

Most "photographers" meanwhile, like the dying camera companies, continue to bark in the dark.

As I expected (from previous less detailed remarks of yours) you were a more careful darkroom worker than I was. Your tempering process was more precise than mine (and more trouble). I never knew about (or noticed) an increase in developer activity (and I used D76 1:1 a lot, though not in my home darkroom). I didn't notice a problem with developing 4 reels in a 4-reel tank.

In general I was tied to doing too many things "by the book" at once. I used standard development times, and standard ISOs, and consistently dealt with thin negatives. But...lower ISO was inconceivable (couldn't have taken a big proportion of my photos). I did push a lot (Acu-1, mostly, though sometimes extended development in D76, and very occasionally the insane but beautiful HC110 replenisher routine).

In hindsight I should have worked with Diafine (at least enough to see if it worked for me), and I should have tried more development times and adjusted my EIs more.

(Most of these habits I developed in the late 1960s and very early 1970s, so I've had a while to consider them. I should add that I had read about many of the things I now think I should have done -- personal EI choices, routinely using non-standard development, etc. Can't claim I didn't know!)

Mind you, my

I never got any good at doing multiple prints in one tray at once. I eventually (in the early 1980s) did start using a stabilization processor -- activate, then straight into fixer before light, but it was consistent and very fast, with Ilford Multigrade paper.

I did a moderate amount of spotting on prints; Spotone and #0 brush and all that. I'd need a magnifier now. Taking pictures over was rarely an option, and it was essentially never loose gunk so cleaning didn't help.

I loaded 30-exposure rolls—I often worked fast enough that I couldn't count on seeing the end coming and stopping short of 36.

There was one other thing; oh, I remember! I always loaded film into the tank in a changing bag. This saved me having to get the room really dark (which none of my darkrooms managed, either). It was also useful when I was assistant camera operator on a movie one summer, since my duties included loading all the film into the magazines, sometimes on the tail of a truck in bright sunlight.

Hi Mike,
Back to complexification.
I read yesterday in a Sydney paper that the Boeing 737 Max as sold to Indonesian and Ethiopian airlines had an OPTIONAL accessory that may have prevented both crashes.
It was not installed in either aircraft.
Possibly due to extra cost, but then what is a life worth to a bean counter?
Philip (kangaroo 2012)

Zeiss ZX1?


I have a small-sized and uninteresting array of negatives, and some okay prints, some occasionally good, produced nearly exactly using the Watson, etc. process you describe. I loved every minute of it, but my photographic output was only so-so. I admire the people that produce(d) good photos on black-and-white film. I wish I regularly had. For me, it was digital that allowed me to “see the light,” to learn what made a good photo look good. But the curse now is that (1) the equipment is so good and (2) I know enough about what makes a good photograph good that (3) capturing a good photograph still feels elusive to me. Come to think of it, that is a blessing and a curse.

I don't think it's really fair to compare cellphone-to-internet photography to your film methods. Your routine and precision would equate to shooting in raw, using a proper raw processor to get jpegs, select the images to keep and carefully work those over in PS, to finally print them.

Cellphone-to-internet photography is more akin to dropping the rolls off at the 1-hour photo and getting 10x15s printed of the whole set. (and putting those in a drawer to never be looked at again).

It's quicker, but you have no control after having operated the shutter.

Samsung had internet connected android cameras in 2013, do you have an idea why these were not successful?

This is the same kind of reasoning you were using the other day when you wrote about keeping a constant 55 mph speed.
Convenience isn't everything. As with driving (at least when circumstances allow), photographing is a pleasure. At least it should be for us, the committed enthusiasts.
And pleasure and convenience seldom go hand in hand. Take driving a Toyota Camry vs. a Miata: the latter is of little use when you go shopping, but the Camry will give you as much pleasure as a vacuum cleaner.

While we (the enthusiasts) were happily going through all the steps you describe to process exposed film, probably 95% of people who took pictures just dropped off their rolls of color negative film and went back a week later to get their 4x6 prints. These people and their kids and grandkids are the ones using cell phones now. They never had any interest in photography as an 'art' or hobby. They just wanted to document their vacations, kids, birthdays, etc as easily as possible. Nothing much has changed except the technology.

Film shooting today doesn't have to be arduous; Today comparing smart phone photography to film processing from 50 years is a false comparison. I own a Canon VL rangefinder, a Bronica S2a, and a Canon FX. Shoot the film, send it to a pro processor, have them do what you want, they'll process and scan, put it on a DVD, and send it back to you. No sweat. If you capture something good, it'll be there, if you find yourself tweaking a photo for hours on end, it's probably not a decent photo, and you're trying to force something to exist that doesn't.

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