Sunday, July 15, 2012

Reasons to Love Digital

This is a partial collection of prints from developed film dated approximately 1998-2002. I bought a serious camera (Canon Elan II) and started taking pictures again around the time my kids were born in 98. I had the photography bug in high school, did the usual yearbook stint, then became too distracted in college to continue much, completely dropped out of it by about 1985. Most of my early efforts were lost in a fire at my parents' home while I was away (it was actually a little storage shed outside the main house so no big tragedy other than the film/prints, in other words pretty trivial in the scheme of things).

This is approximately 100 rolls when the shelf is filled (I shot this incomplete shelf to show the depth, then filled in the rest). I have probably 20 more sets of prints that I unwisely took out of their packets in a failed attempt to organize them in a different way - long story.

First think of the cost. Including the film itself we are looking at a minimum of about $10-12 per roll, depending on where I had them processed. That's over $1200 over a 4-5 year period of time. It's OK, most are snapshots of the kids as they grew and changed and experienced so many things for the first time, I'm glad I have it all. Still, point number 2...

The quality of the prints leaves a lot to be desired. I know now from  working with RAW files that a lot of these pictures could easily be printed better - blown highlights are the biggest culprit especially where the pale skin of the kids is set against an otherwise dark background - I'm sure the information is there on the negative, but the printers set to automatic can't handle it.

Thirdly, the lag time between shooting and seeing the results made learning difficult, on top of not knowing if the results were from poor technique or poor processing. I suppose shooting slides would have partially solved that problem, but viewing slides is also a pain in the neck and having prints made from slides - no thanks.

Lastly, what a tremendous supply of chemicals and paper this represents, and if you think that 80% of it is junk (I'm probably being generous), pictures I never should have taken, out of focus, badly exposed, poorly framed, etc...then that's a lot of waste.

With digital I can save money, save space, save environmental waste, and even get better results. My experience with Adorama and MPIX prints has been mostly very positive, better than any of the prints I ever got from film.

On the other hand, I looked through a couple of these packets as I was arranging them, and although the pictures may be crap from  photographic point of view, as historical record they are priceless. And the fact that they are prints is part of their charm, I'm not sure I would be flipping through digital albums with the same feeling. So although theoretically I should be able to get lots of good prints made more cheaply now than the old system, the fact is that I seldom make prints, in part because I think of them as "just snapshots" and not worthy of the effort and cost. Only in hindsight do they seem to take on significance that makes them worthy of printing - but then I never get around to it :-)


  1. If they are old enough they are priceless indeed for you and your family. Of they are priceless for others that depends. But the old ones where printed. With the digital ones it is seldon the case. So the witness of our history disappears quicker in the digital age then say 30 years back.

  2. I agree with what you say, although I do love 'yesterday technology'. I use digital all the time, for all the obvious reasons and those you pointed out. I also shoot film too with an old Yashica rangefinder, which I get a lot of pleasure from. I actually quite like the waiting for the results (cheers and disappointements). I like simple old cameras because they are so simple to understand... 'lens - aperture - shutter - film'. I feel that an old analogue mechanical camera without an onboard computer, is so intuitive and forces me to take pictures and think about the subjects, rather than checking and twiddling.

    But... You can't beat digital for a real 'workflow' from start to finish, and the simple fact that we can take hundreds of images on one tiny memory card.

    S.C. makes a valid point though... Although 'more cameras' are used by 'more people', and 'more photos' are taken 'every day'; the vast majority of them are left on laptops and in digital media. So less and less permanent record of our life is preserved.

    We should print our digital photos, make albums, make books... pass them down to our children.

    Great post Mike.

  3. My print collection is no where near as well organized and cataloged as yours appears to be. Going back now and creating a series such of old prints (spanning a much longer stretch of time) would be a daunting, times consuming project. At least I kept a scrapbook of images going from childhood until about 15 years ago, almost exclusively the snapshot variety.

    I did managed to compile two books of images from my "American Portraits" series. Are there any blurb or ibook volumes on your shelf?

  4. Appreciate the thoughtful comments. Agree about the importance of prints. My father-in-law took mostly slides of his family growing up, family trips, etc. - no one wants to go through them and sort them and make prints of the better ones.

    I think digital is analogous to slides in that sense. In a way easier though, assuming family members know where and how to access the files, since making prints from digital is a piece of cake compared to making prints from slides.

    I have not yet made any photo books, but it looks like an intriguing project. Thanks for the link, George.

    If I had enough space to have my own dedicated darkroom, I might shoot black & white film and process it myself. My first camera was a Canon AT-l, manual everything (built-in meter), and I spent many a day my senior year skipping classes and developing pictures in the school darkroom . But back then time seemed like an unlimited resource...good times.