Thinking about digital and analog photography (II): Money, prejudices and rolls of film
At first sight, it seems that digital photography is cheaper. You buy a camera and go shooting as long as analog is wasting money on each frame. It´s true, but it must not to be a drawback. It makes you pay more attention to light and composition. Taking a lot of photos when you’re starting in photography is normal, even more with digital. Most of them aren't worth but… they are inexpensive… RAT-AT-AT-AT-AT-AT… like a machine-gun. Ironically, this could be an advantage. The more photos you take the more errors you make. This is the learning process and digital make it easier if you know how to take advantage.
Most of us have taken thousands of those typical postcard style photos or those images of old people feeding pigeons in the park (from afar, like a paparazzi) but it’s a phase that should be overcame with practice and watching the photography masters’ work. Before taking up analog photography, as times went by, I used to take fewer photos and now even less. I got tired of filling my hard disk with junk. It’s not a matter of money, I don´t know how to explain it. I get around with a 12 frames medium format film and I find it hard to end, nothing to say about a 35mm with 36 frames, and in the end the amount of worthy images is more or less the same. I don’t like to think in terms of costs or quantities on something that I consider a passion. I don’t take photos like a production line or a sausage factory. I don’t care if I can take thousands of photos in a day but the final result, so film is not so expensive to me after all.
Old rockers never die
Other good thing of digital revolution is that nowadays many classical cameras, real jewels, have gone down so much in price that any amateur can buy one. You can find a Hasselblad 500 CM outfit at the price of a mid-level DSLR, even large format cameras have very good prices. My latest buy, the mythic Nikon FM2, it cost more than a month salary some years ago and I bought it for around 200€ and running like the first day. They last a life and are a good inversion if you treat them right. The initial expense in film photography, apart from being more profitable, will save you of pities each time that a new digital model newer than yours gets announced. I don´t feel the same with digital cameras. I spent some years staring at the Nikon D2x trough the local dealer’s shop window and the day that I could finally try one, when its glory days had gone… what a disappointment!
Honestly, I don’t see myself in twenty years using my Nikon D70, I don’t even believe that it will still be working. Modern digital cameras are not designed to last so far, it seems that they are getting obsolete at the time you take them out of the box. They have become a gadget. The camera is more important than the person and you cannot take a photo without the latest model. It’s a strategy based in dissatisfaction: first you buy a modest camera, later you look some internet forums and, after hardly learned a bit of photography, you end up with a complete professional equipment to show off with your tribe (canonist, nikonist… whatever). Just like a What The Duck* character.
It’s funny to hear the word “need” from people who neither is professional nor has showed a photo, who spent more time in second market forums than taking photos. I need a second body in case first fails... I need this lens to get covered all the range... and so on. Few months ago, at the Fotoocasion Store desk I heard somebody ordering a 5D mark II plus a L series lens (more than 2,500€) and this thing which goes mounted under the camera for the batteries... (translated: this thing which makes it seem to be bigger and more professional). Amazing! Obviously, not everybody acts this way, you cannot generalize but I find this kind of situation more and more.
The professional mirror
I see often the obsession of using pros as a model, especially to photo reporters, as if they were the paradigm of photography. The better I know pros’ world the more their romantic air fades out. I’m not a professional neither I’d like to, so I have no needs further than my whims. I don’t need the last generation camera harder than a tank and more sensitive than an owl’s eye or all the high-end ultra-luminous lenses or the biggest and thickest telephoto. Maybe you like so much nature photography and you need this kind of gear... ok could be, but don’t you really know anybody who has decided his next buy according to the most numerous brand at the side of a football field or in a press conference?
Well, I’m rambling on. I mean that professionals have restrictions that fortunately amateurs don’t. Digital is more versatile, easier and faster to process and it’s the pros’ wise choice for working. Today I’ve been a while cleaning dust from a scanned negative with Photoshop but I’m not in a hurry, there’s no clients waiting. It is worth the result. It’s funny when you hear that film is obsolete because press or wedding photographers don't use it.
Two sides of the same coin
I started the first part saying that I didn´t like this clannish concept of photography. I like to though that they are two sides of the same coin. Digital has brought photography to many people and let me test new things easier or use techniques like time-lapse or video. It has also filled internet with HDR crap but, to be honest, it’s worth when you find among it enthusiasts photographers with a modest gear and a very good eye. In the other side, film gives me an incredible texture and colors and a more focused perspective. It’s like getting back to the core. Sometimes I use my father’s Pentax Spotmatic II with one fixed lens and it’s enough for me. This is how I found the way to take care on the photo, to think before shooting and to come back home without hundreds of useless images, something that also helps me when I use digital. So much junk makes you pay attention to minor things.
Finally, I’m grateful to my friend Miguel Iglesias for making me get the itch of shooting film. The first time that I held in my hands his Hasselblad and saw what kind of photos it takes I fell in love with this camera. I still remember the surprise faces when he bought their firsts film cameras, as if it was a backward step, though the best came when we found their ridiculous comments at Flickr… I like it, especially the color shade that those rolls of film had. What the hell does “had” means? I took it last week! Maybe, I was doing photographic archaeology and I didn’t know it. We laughed a lot but it’s really sad. Therefore, as Kent Brockman should say, I’ll give you my two cents: you should better watch through the camera viewfinder rather than shop windows, don’t refuse to try anything new (or maybe old) and enjoy photography.
*The brilliants strips which illustrate this article belong to what the duck. I recommend you to visit the web page.