Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online

Just Another Tool?

I've never quite understood why some photographers get so hung up on shaving hairs about what lens/camera/flash is just a tad better than another. Check out the news groups and camera forums and you can find people debating these points to death. 

The truth is, when someone looks at an image, they could care less what hardware was used to create it. In the end, it's the image that's important.

I look at my cameras as tools. Just as any good craftsman worth his salt, I take care of them, and maintain them. But while I may have some affection for some of my older cameras, I'm not invested in them emotionally the way that some photographers are. I look at the whole digital-versus-film debate the same way. I can make professional quality images with either format. So the question is not which format is better, but rather which is best for the job at hand?

I turn to digital when I need to speed the workflow process, and use film when I'm more concerned about the archival life of the images.

Which camera is best?

A better question is "which camera is best for the job at hand". 
For quick work flow I grab the digital, for archival images I grab film. If I'm shooting for pure enjoyment I still like an old manual camera.

Film or Digital - Not Up for Debate 
When I wrote of my concerns over being able to read digital media five, ten, or twenty years down the road, there were folks who claimed I was afraid of technology and slammed me for it. Several even wrote ludicrous and lengthy suggestions about writing custom software to read disks made on outdated equipment - as if we all had that kind of free time, inclination, or ability. Yet, the fact remains that reading today's disks in twenty years is a dicey proposition unless you're willing to continually move your image files onto new technology as it emerges. But I'm pretty certain I'll still be able to view a slide in 20 years just by pulling it out of the drawer.

So when I'm shooting for the magazine where deadlines and workflow are most important, I shoot digital. When I'm shooting for myself or for my personal image archive, I shoot film, either slides or negatives as the occasion dictates. In some cases I've shot both - so I'd have the digital images for the magazine and the slides for my personal use.

It turns out I'm not the only one who's come to this conclusion. Unreadable CDs and the cost of moving digital images every eighteen months to new hardware have now burned many photographers. The result? Fuji reports that while consumer film sales continue to decline, professional film sales have increased dramatically in the past year. Professional photographers are expressing their concerns with their wallets. As a result, Fuji is focusing heavily on creating a workflow based around shooting film, scanning and post processing.

Gear and Old Habits 
It's the same with gear. I'm kidded sometimes about carrying around a couple of old 20mm and 24mm prime lenses, when the new super-wide zooms are nothing short of fantastic. But for me, shooting with these high mileage lenses is comfortable and I really don't feel the need to replace them.

And what about cameras? These days, my personal camera is an F100. I prefer it to the larger F5 or any other Nikon body I've ever shot with for that matter. It's an amazingly competent camera and I have no hesitation about using it. Digital? Well, we always seem to have one of the latest digital SLRs here in the office, so I haven't had to take that plunge yet.

After reading that, you might be surprised that I sometimes prefer a simple manual body and a 50mm or 35-70mm lens. It's a compact package that I used for years. It's comfortable, handles well, and doesn't take up much space. For street shooting, it's a nice package that doesn't scream "pro" and the camera is scuffed up enough that no one would ever take notice of it (see Recharging Your Photographic Batteries).

Another good street shooter is my old N70 and lightweight Sigma 28-80mm consumer lens. The N70 has matrix metering and a surprisingly good built-in flash. The lens is a featherweight with a plastic barrel, and for a consumer lens, it's quite sharp and the images hold up well as 11x14 enlargements. That lens was one of those lucky finds, as later versions of that lens simply weren't as sharp. Together with the N70, it is a featherweight package that no one notices. That makes it a good camera to take along to dinner or on a stroll around some exotic location in the evening. Simple, light, and comfortable, it is the right tool for the job. Do I sometimes miss a shot I'd have gotten if I were carrying a new D2X and a bag full of lenses? Of course. But with the lighter package, I'll wander farther and fade into the background, which opens up shots I'd not have gotten otherwise.

What Really Matters 
An awful lot of photographers get hung up in the spec sheets and forget that in the end we are photographers. Whether we do it professionally or for fun, we're in the business of making images. Which means we'd be far better off spending our time and money out in the field perfecting our skills and our craft than pouring over specs.

As far as I'm concerned, there's no best camera or best lens. But there is the best tool for the job. So look in the drawer or in your camera bag. Pick out the best camera for the kind of shooting you want to do. Turn off the damned computer and get out and do it!

In the end, it's the image that matters.

Editor's Note
Going the Other Way -- Digital to Slides

If you want to cover your bases with regard to image longevity, consider having your very best digital images made into slides. I've successfully converted digital images to slides using an on-line service, www.slides.com. They do virtually everything we send them overnight, for $2.50 an image, and produce high quality slides. Of course I recommend having a calibrated monitor and some patience at the outset, in order to get your slides back looking the way you want them. I've developed a separate set of monitor settings I use when preparing digital images to go out for slide reproduction.

                                                                    -- Gary Stanley

 

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