I think I finally made out the WHY in http://www.whyfilmcameras.com! The site’s name came to me as I pondered over really why I like film and it’s gorgeous cameras. It was obvious to me that I loved them, but less obvious to pinpoint the reason to it.
A word of warning first! I am not a luddite by any means. I love my iPhone, I love my computer and use them daily with great pleasure. I love the convenience of having access to virtually all the world’s knowledge, facts, and even ‘alternate facts’ according to some strange individuals, at the tap of a finger, anywhere! When in man’s history has this been possible?
It’s just that I had some unease nagging me all those years, a feeling of being undecided, unfulfilled. Each time I bought a digital camera, even though I shot the same subjects, the same style, the results didn’t speak to me like a film photography. I did not become involved with them.
And what I finally found out does not only apply to photography. It is a deep feeling I have about a lot of things that today form our lives. Be it photography, be it music or books, the digital age has made our lives much easier and cheaper too.
Apart from buying a capable digital camera which is still quite expensive (but no enough so, according to Nikon’s recent woes), digital photography is virtually free if you consider that your computer is used for other things too.
I pay a small monthly fee to Apple for a family plan of Apple Music, making a very important percentage of the world’s music available to me and my family for about 15€ a month. Great quality, great choice…. not very expensive, and available anywhere… That is if there’s a network connection. If the artists providing the contents are paid a pittance compared to real CD’s or Records does not interrest anyone in this world where people think everything should be free.
With books the equation is a bit more biased. Amazon (or Apple for that) sell their virtual books for not much less that the real dead-tree copies. But they are a tiny bit cheaper. OK, Amazon has it’s Kindle Unlimited scheme but I don’t know if you took a good look at the books offered… not much to my taste in there. So this is no option for me.
The books I buy for my Kindle are still individually bought, stored online AND on my Kindle. I can hold them all in my hand… or rather I can hold a bunch of binary 0’s and 1’s that represent them. What I miss is the feel of the books, even the wonderful smell of paper and ink… isn’t that just like savoring the smell of fixer when developing… Just kidding!
A Kindle is certainly nice to hold, lighter than most books (I prefer the good, big ones) and comes with integrated lighting that won’t disturb the sleep of my better half, unlike the nightstand lamp I need when I read real books. But I find it awkward to quickly go some pages back to check something, to find a detailed map in my beloved fantasy novels… Navigation is harder than in a paper book. And try to annotate or mark something on a Kindle… I find that really annoying!
I must confess, I am a hoarder. I collect music, I collect books, I collect photographic gear. I call that a case of multimedia G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome). When I read a book I like I want to own ALL of the books of that series, or from that author… When I am browsing through Apple Music’s library I add dozens of things to my playlists… but sometimes I don’t even listen to them. When I am browsing some photo-gear blogs or my favourite photo gear shop online I am tempted to buy cameras, lenses. I won’t be able to use them all, but I want them.
The exact same problem keeps me from enjoying a nice digital camera. The ones I prefer, the retro looking and operating Fuji X cameras have so many choices in their menus that I just fizz out and can’t decide. ISO, auto ISO, film emulations, RAW or JPEG, modes….. STOP! Can’t do that.
OK, you can say I could show some bollocks and just switch the thing to RAW and shoot. Forget about the other stuff… But it’s there, always whispering in my ear: ‘try me, I’m the emulation you need for this shot’ or ‘hey, auto ISO will be better….’. Or I could buy the new screen-less gorgeous Leica MD…. no, can’t! Ask my banker about that!
What I experience is a thing I call the Paralysis of Choice. Too much choice kills the usefulness, to much choice makes you forget to use the things you covet. Choice is BAD! I am a person who has to have as little choice as possible to function. Give me two options and I start fussing about it the whole day long.
I have my iPhone always on me, as well as the standard earphones. I LOVE music, almost as much as photography. But do you think I actually listen to music? NO! And I often find myself wanting to play some music and switching through that mighty jukebox in the cloud and not being able to decide what to listen to. Call me crazy but that’s me!
My preferred camera, the Olympus XA2 is completely automatic, not even exposure compensation (well there’s the ISO setting….), and I just enjoy it tremendously. I don’t think about the camera, I use it. When I load a roll of HP5 I am locked on a fixed ISO setting. When I load a roll of HP5 I am locked on grainy b&w emulation, call it RAW or JPEG, I don’t care. Life’s easy that way!
Same with my Leica IIIa. Take a look at the light, set the shutter speed and aperture and nothing can keep me from thinking about the pictures I want to make. There’s nothing between me and the things I want to make pictures of. The camera just disappears. The photograph appears.
OK, all is not well with my analog worldview!
Take space, no, not the one above, the one on my shelves, filled to bursting with books, records (and once there were hundreds of cassettes too – too bad I ditched them). I moved a lot in my life and always had tons of boxes of books and records to fill and carry. Annoying!
And what about my negatives. They take less space, just some binders, but they take space nonetheless. And my developing stuff, the film scanner, the photo gear….
Analog is not easy on living space! But shelves of books and records are a great decoration, and perfect for absorbing annoying sound reflections from your stereo speakers.
Now let’s look at the environmental side of things. Though I love to live an eco-friendly life and try to keep my average european impact on our planet earth as small as possible, analog is not always eco-friendly. I don’t know about the damage that the production of digital stuff and it’s batteries do to earth, but books are dead trees! Records are petroleum! Film and it’s chemicals are…. argh, better not mention it! Unless you develop in Caffenol, film photgraphy is not particularly ecologic. Hope the E.U. doesn’t read this, they would ban film immediately. Just as they banned simple light bulbs and replacesd them by expensive, electronic contraptions giving bad, flickering light. When such a bulb breaks you are instructed to leave the room and open the windows because of the things it contains… certainly very ecologic poisons!
Last but not least of the questions I asked myself are about reliability and durability. When I started computing a bit over 20 years ago I was an absolute fan of the GeoWorks Ensemble operating system. Worlds better than the then up to date Windows 3.1, ran even on very basic computers and offered extremely powerful software. All in one sleek package. Largely forgotten nowadays it was acclaimed as the future of the PC. But Microsoft proved too strong. GeoWorks Ensemble is dead now and with it died it’s file formats. Unreadable, unusable nowadays. Barely a quarter of a century and my files from those days are dead! What can happen in another 25 years, or 50… it’s an ever faster moving world nowadays.
Then again, the digital files, books, music or photos live in insecure environments. Hard drives DO go bad, computers crash or get infected…. who does regular backups? Yes, you do? To the Cloud – OK, so you’re safe you think? And if a cloud service goes bankrupt, fails or is somehow compromised?
Think about MySpace, the one and only social network that was the best thing since sliced bread some years ago… it’s gone, with all it’s files.
Can you trust anyone with your precious memories? If an artist disagrees with Apple and leaves Apple Music, he takes his music with him. Apple will no more have the rights to it and so will you. If you have the album at home you’re still good.
You have access to more media than any human before but you do not own it, mostly. Do you print your photos? No, most do not any more. You don’t have a tangible thing in your hands. All the ‘friends’ on facebook who upload their pictures, all the pictures on Instagram and Flickr, where will they be when you want to look back one day and show your grandkids? Will they still be there?
I’d like you to read this article:
illustrating what I just said.
I think and archaologists will have a hard time some day in the future to get clean picture of life in our times. We live virtual lives in a virtual worls. We have so many choices that we can’t choose any more. We run in circles and think we’re advancing.
Now this can all be the ravings of some old fart, and if you think that, I’m sorry to have wasted your time. But if you, like me like simplicity for it’s own sake, take a plunge into the world of Analog.
I know now why I do love my film cameras. They help me make decisions because they don’t offer distractions. They don’t offer choices. They are just tools to get the job done efficiently.
If you like a good read, try this book by David Sax. Well written, well researched and full of things that might make you think about our modern times and lives.
Thanks for being here!