Film – Good-bye, Old Friend

No doubt, by now you’ve heard all the ballyhoo about digital cameras. The wonders, the ease, the enjoyment. After shooting the same film camera systems for over 20 years, I finally switched to digital. While I love my new puppy, my old dog is dying, and I am really going to miss him. Film was something very tangible, images that I could actually hold in my hand. Although I have worked with them for years in publishing, electronic images seem as mysterious and unreal to me as alchemy.

My old friend film —can I ever really divorce myself from you? I have not sold my old film Nikonos system yet. As I plunge headlong into the future of underwater photography, I have mixed emotions.

Let’s review some of the paradoxes of digital photography:

— Electronic storage is easy and compact. But do they tell you that with a push of a button you can make it all evaporate into thin air? The wave of a magnetic wand is equally as dangerous. Or a random cosmic ray hitting a hard drive at just the right spot and “poof” — all gone!

— Digital manipulation of a photo can be fantastic. Of course, there is the expensive software, classes, etc., only so you can, again, with the click of a button, destroy your photo.

— While digital will help make a fair photographer good and a good one great, bad is still bad. Out of focus shots, over and under exposure, poor composition and backscatter are still a reality. You still need to master basic techniques for good underwater photos.

— Salt water and electronics have never mixed. The more sophisticated the electronic device, the more expensive, and the greater the risk of massive and catastrophic damage. The Vietnam War vintage fully manual camera I used in a housing for my macro work I had soaked several times. I just rinsed and dried it and was off and shooting again. In 20 years I only had to rebuild that camera once (of course, it’s beyond saving now—one of my reasons for going digital).

Do I regret switching to digital? No. As I said, I love my new puppy. And I’ll even get comfortable with its idiosyncrasies and eventually love and master every aspect of the new medium. But not first without giving my old friend film the proper burial it deserves.

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