By Gene Rodman
I often have people coming into the gallery wanting to get back into photography. They wonder if their film camera, which gave them many years of great service, is worth dusting off and loading with film again. As with most photography questions the answer is usually "it depends."
There are always purists that have grown up with film, who still develop and print their own images, and who would never think of letting anyone intervene in the process. These people have developed a craft. Each photograph is carefully thought out, the subject is studied, and multiple meter readings are taken to determine exposure. Camera settings are checked and rechecked before an exposure is made. A mental checklist of all the components of the image is visualized so nothing is overlooked.
For them, photography is a solitary process and they have spent years honing their techniques. They love the organic process of capturing a latent image and bringing it to life with their development process then printing it in the chemical filled darkroom after hours of work. There is no "save" button in the darkroom. Once the printing process begins it must be finished. Chemicals oxidize during their use and even when taking detailed notes each print in the darkroom is slightly different. The negative must be protected from dirt and scratching. Sure the process is slow, but to them, that's not the point. Some photographers just want to keep old processes alive. This is like someone who would rather listen to an old LP while on their couch next to a fire than a multi-track download on their iPod while multi-tasking their event-filled day.
Now there are those that always have to have the next best latest technology. To them, film is not gratifying, it is dead--and it should rest in peace. They demand instant feedback, instant results, faster processors, and more megapixels. The deeper their pockets, the deeper their gluttony. There is more technology in their camera than they may know or ever use. Speed and volume outrank thought and carefulness. Auto focus, image stabilization, and matrix metering take care of any shortcomings in technique. Photoshop will fix the rest. It's easy to get caught up in the frenzy and I often find myself not being as thoughtful with my image taking as I used to be. When I knew each image was costing me money, I was particular about what I chose to photograph. Now I find myself taking images I know won't work and expecting that they will.
There is room for both film and digital capture. Certain films are unavailable now and getting the film developed can be another challenge. Film standards of yesterday like Kodachrome 25 and 64 are no longer made because their processing was not environmentally friendly. The price of film development has also increased as fewer labs are doing it.
But for certain fields of photography film is no longer useful. For newspaper and journalistic images the ability to capture and immediately publish images is invaluable. We publish images we produce to our blog usually within hours of capturing them. Certainly the cost savings involved with taking a large volume of images needed for some clients makes it more cost effective. The ability to immediately share images on social networks is something digital imagery can do that film could never do. Small businesses can self-publish business cards, brochures, even catalogues or books, with the help of digital imagery and publishing software.
For most of the population who are snapshot photographers, film no longer makes sense anymore. Images can be created at no cost and the quality of the imagery and the technology of the latest cameras is far better than ever before. Only images that are acceptable are saved, and the others discarded. Digital sensors are more sensitive than the fastest films so more images can be made at low light levels. The ability to preview images immediately after capture, as well as having image data embedded into each image, lowers the learning curve of aspiring photographers. Young people are more adaptive to understanding how the technology of these cameras works than we who were brought up before microwaves and VCRs.
I've been given old film cameras that I store in a case in the gallery. They are perfectly good and serviceable and I would have loved to have any one of them back in the day. But their day has passed; film will never again run through them. Still, those who learned photography on these cameras had to have a better understanding of photography than those who pick up a digital camera today.
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