Us old-timers need to be reminded...
Dec 17, 2005
There have been a few threads about how much better mechanical cameras and film are compared to digital. This topic has been beat to death but sometimes nostalgia for the "old days" clouds the memories of some folks.
I think that it is always a good idea to remember how it truely was with film and mechanical cameras not so long ago. This is meant not to bash older cameras and film but to be realistic about them. I still love my old Kodak Retina and my Nikons but I think digital opens doors that weren't possible with film.
1. Mechanical cameras require regular maintenance by a quality technician. Every mechanical shutter or aperture mechanism has built-in inaccuracies. Shutter speeds such as 1/1000 sec. are rarely spot on. The ranges between 1 sec and 1/15 sec. can wildly fluctuate even on the finest models. Lens apertures on certain brands would fluctuate as much as a full f-stop in either direction. Keeping your cameras tuned-up regularly, would add up to some significant expenses.
2. Managing camera stores years ago left me with a very poor regard for most of the hack camera repair outfits and high respect for the very few good ones. The good guys would invest in high-end shutter testers and meter calibration gear and knew how to use them. Digitals by comparison are virtually maintenance free but you need highly trained techs, good equipment, and skill to fix them. Sure they can break or be defective, but they probably deliver higher customer satisfaction and don't go legs-up as often.
3. Working with many professional photographers made me realize that the camera is nothing but a tool to them in a very competitive business. The expense of today's $5000 digital SLR is nothing as long as it pays for itself and digital is clearly more cost-effective to shoot and has faster work flow for delivering a finished product to the client. The money saved on lab fees, wasted film and paper, and time, makes that expensive digital look pretty attractive.
4. Film is a great photographic medium because of the wide variety of choices. It can be the epitomy of photographic quality in the right hands. It can look like cr*p, too. I hope that film never truely goes away but the fact is digital makes so much more sense to most people. (I wouldn't want to be still using glass plates and mercury even though there were some beautiful photos taken with them.)
4. Mechanical cameras went though an enormous amount of changes that relegated older models to the back shelf. In Kodak's line look at the Medalists, Retinas, Instamatics, etc. Many of them became obsolete as quickly as digital does now. How long did the 828, 606, 110, or 128 film formats stay poplular? 35mm and 120 have had longevity but you didn't necessarily know that at the time of purchase.
5. Film is highly temperature sensitive. How many customers of mine had green photos come back from the photo lab because their trip to Greece or to the Amazon included daytime temperatures 90 to 100 degrees F. or they left their camera in the car? These were often trips of a lifetime and their photos were ruined because of warm weather.
6. Film has a narrow color temperature range. Daylight film, and tungsten A or B film are not needed anymore because of white balance capabilities in digital. Taking photos indoors in natural light was always a struggle with film if you didn't want yellow or green photos. 80A, 80B, FL-A, and FL-D filters have no purpose anymore.
There are many comparisons that could be made in mechanical camera's and film's favor but, again, my purpose here is to put things in proper perspective. Electronics, digital, film, mechanical...what counts is that you learn to work with what you have, work on your photographic skills, enjoy photography, and life.
Old things can become new again. New things always become old.