Digital is good – digital is bad

First posted 30 October 2009

Nearly five years ago I was kindly given a Canon G3 on semi permanent loan. I had never used digital before and my first impressions were how advanced the technology had become and how easy it was to take pictures which were perfectly exposed and automatically colour balanced.
I particularly enjoyed the freedom it gave me to shoot anything and everything that caught my eye, as cost was no longer a consideration.
It also focussed very close and had a screen that could be angled in many directions, providing the possibility of shooting from unusual positions. All in all, I was seduced, and began using it more and more.
I knew that I had abandoned my friends, the film cameras, but convinced myself that the digital images I was taking were just for reference, and that I was still a film photographer.
The truth of the matter was that I did not touch my film cameras for one whole year and during this time I became lazy. I was shooting hand held and not bothering about distracting, small details because I knew I could rely on Photoshop to tidy up after.
The pictures I produced were nothing special, but I was kidding myself that I was still a real photographer and contemplating the purchase of more and more gear to get the best out of the new technology.
The turning point came when I was trying to photograph a vase of flowers on the kitchen table, I could see too much of the background, even with the lens open to its maximum of f2. -This was because of the small chip size.
I remembered my faithful and trusty Mamiya RB67 which was languishing in my other bag and went to fetch it. The camera was heavy, the metal was cold and as I held it and looked through the viewfinder I was in ecstasy!
Looking into the LARGE viewfinder, seeing the crisp focus and the sudden fall-off in sharpness was like being given the chance to travel back in time! I was suddenly transported back to how I used to take pictures.

graveyard

From that moment on, I realised that film cameras had a magic that modern cameras had somehow lost. Going back to rich, deep, fibre based prints was also a very satisfying experience.

I had invested in a good ink-jet printer and quality ‘fine art’ papers, but although the tonal range was there and the prints were sharp, the finished prints had no value, I felt that they were disposable because they could be repeated effortlessly.

Since then quite a lot has changed, digital has come on so much that no professional can afford to be without it. Commercially it does make perfect sense; no more worry about exposure, or the film getting damaged at the lab. No more ruined shots because of slight overexposure or unforeseen colour casts (transparency film).
You don’t have to send off your originals to clients and you don’t have to be tied to one film speed at a time.
There are lots of other reasons why digital has become so useful in commercial photography, but I don’t need to list each one here, suffice to say; I understand why professionals use it.
Amateurs on the other hand, have adopted digital for entirely different reasons. The main one in my opinion is laziness, the second reason is because of the (mainly male) obsession with gadgets and new toys.
The third reason is because it appears to increase ability – everyone looks like a brilliant photographer.
The wholesale acceptance of digital by the amateur end of the market has meant that film has become the poor relation in creative photography and all photographic magazines except for a very small few are just equipment catalogues peppered with poor quality pictures.

Why is it that the easier photography becomes, -the poorer the results? Photographers these days seem to be very pleased with second and third rate images, I’m constantly getting twitter messages which say ‘awesome shot by ….’ and when I click on it, the image is a pile of shit.

2299 freesias

In the five years since I first picked up a digital camera I have shot a lot of digital frames (although not a large amount by many peoples standards) and have lost quite a few of those due to broken laptops (3) and hard drives (1).

I don’t care.
The pictures were not for clients, they were just digi shots; throwaway and forgettable.
I still shoot a bit of digital, mainly for illustration purposes such as magazine articles or ebay, but I never print any of them. I gave up printing digital images ages ago because they never felt special, as soon as they came out of the printer I lost interest in them.
Does anyone remember the magic of watching an image come up in the developer? -Is it the same magic when a print edges slowly out of the printer?
I rest my case.

5 Comments

  1. Posted 30/10/2009 at 1:03 am

    I agree with it all.
    I struggle just to be bothered to download my digi images but i’ve just replaced my broken 35mm slr and will use that instead…i’d forgotten how beautifully grainy 35 mm can be.

  2. Posted 30/10/2009 at 11:51 am

    The whole argument about good or bad is overdone. Digital is good for professionals simply on workflow/cost/time considerations. I have seen and continue to work with digital negatives that will allow me to make all sorts of alt process images. But in a way digital is a technical exercise and for me at least film is a craft. It is the craft that true amateurs – those that do what they do for the passion of doing it – that makes the difference. Yes you can get very satisfactory images from a pure digital workflow but there is something special about something that is hand crafted – be it a car, a suit, a piece of furniture etc etc. Do it mean it is worth more to other people is the debatable point – do other people car if the image, car, furniture etc is made by robots, production lines etc as long as it is affordable/cheap and available to the masses.

    This made me think – I have a print from Andrew – the one of his film clips in a box, an image that I have always admired. However, it is on RC paper and has never been framed or put on the wall although it is carefully stored and I always say it’ll be framed next time. When the image is behind glass could I tell it is on RC paper – I doubt it – but the thing is I know it is. This brings me back to if it is a digital print and it is behind glass could I tell from looking with my nose two inches from the frame? My point here is it it the end result or the process/tools etc that have been used. For me it matters because fit is about the craft and knowing the extra effort etc one puts into making something that feel is special, that they have put themselves into and that I can share something and admire it in a way I’d like others to think about my images.

    Just my thoughts/feelings!

  3. Posted 02/12/2009 at 11:33 pm

    Beautifully put.

    I use a D80 and F80 and always feel if I’ve taken a digital image, instead of exposing a frame of 35mm film, that it’s a pity since I cannot then print it in the darkroom, which is where it all counts.

    Thank you.

  4. Edward Voitekunas
    Posted 25/12/2009 at 3:42 pm

    I was thinking about this a lot.That is more deeper problem that only a simple change of recording media which is more convenient/more forgiven/less demanding then other.Main thing is that changing in Photography as in the art itself.As to me standards fell low nowadays and it’s hard to see something really standing out from a range of all alike photoshop adjusted images.That’s colour.B@W even worse.For me a real picture is if I saw it once I’d like to come back and see it more and more enjoing evry detail.Not the case of” forget the richness of tonality range” digital black and white(which is really grey/grey or black/white with blotted grey in a middle).
    I don’t mind digital for some kind of work it’s much better and convenient but there always should be the media which you can compare it with and make your own choice.As for me I like magic.

  5. Posted 02/05/2012 at 4:52 am

    Interesting stuff , Ive shot with both digital and film. I think there is a definite problem when it comes to printing digital. They just never look as good as my old darkroom prints i did at college a few years back. Ive got a tonne of negatives need to fire up a dark and get printing again. some inspirational work and darkroom info :)

    Thanks Pat

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