With how quickly today’s acceleration of digital camera technology is growing, it makes it almost a financial impossibility to keep up. In less than ten years, digital cameras have almost completely replaced film. There are still those classic die-hards out there, but digital is a vicious storm furiously blowing over film. I’ve seen nearly all my favorite films vanish off the market. Polaroid is nearly extinct and the local photo lab went from daily 90 minute film processing to twice a week. As far as the industry goes, digital cameras are the best thing invented since the camera obscura. As far as photographers go, it’s the biggest trick thats ever been played on us. I remember when buying a new camera, I had no doubts about its functionality. I never took into consideration how old it was or how many shots it had fired. The cameras were built to last, made of metals not plastics. They could take a hit and keep on shooting. My first medium format camera was introduced in 1957 by Victor Hasselblad and stayed in production until 1970. I still have that camera today and it shoots flawlessly every time. Put it in the right hands and you’ll see a negative that will rival any digital image capture. The Leica M6 is another example. First introduced in 1984, it remained the top-of-the-line 35mm rangefinder for 17 years. Jump to present day. My first digital camera (Canon 1D Mark I) has seen four successors since its original release date in 2001. The current model (1D Mark IV) carries a $5,000 price tag and brings together both photography and HD video with four different frame rates. It’s my guess that in less than ten years, this camera too will be obsolete and my Hasselblad will still be shooting sharp and straight.
With film, there is an everlasting essence that’s carried with it. Every type produces a slightly different color palate or tonal range that influences the emotion of the image. The film choice is a conscious thought in the pre-visualization process. With digital, the camera you choose is the only choice. It captures the same every time. Sadly, I feel this is bringing a generic quality to photography confined by the brand of camera you shoot with. Sure, you can change anything in Photoshop, but it’s not real—nothing tangible exists. We can fake just about anything these days with modern technology. Even my iPod has a Polaroid app.
You have to be far more attentive and focused with shooting film. The latitude for error (error being a very subjective word for what was once seen as an error could later be seen as a success, aka “the happy accident”) is much smaller. At best, you get a Polaroid to check the light once, but after that the photographer must carry a sense of knowing and faith with them. The camera, lights and self all become an extension of the eye, for the next time you visit that moment will be on the light table and there is no going back from there. With digital photography the latitude for error is much larger: two stops overexposed? Fix it in Photoshop. Not sure if you got the shot? Shoot a thousand more. Film forces you to see before seeing because there is no checking after every shot.