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Digital vs Film Photography

I started out as a film photographer. My very first camera was a Kodak Instamatic 100 which used drop in film cartridges. I used Instamatics for years. Then I took a photography course in college. Our first assignment was to purchase a 35mm SLR camera. I found a Nikkormat FT3, and I had it for decades. I bought my first digital camera in the early 2000s. It was certainly primitive by today’s standards. Digital cameras really have come a long way. Nowadays they’re more like mini computers. Both types of cameras have advantages and disadvantages. 

Film Cameras

There’s something special about the grainy images you get with film photography. The faster the film, the grainier the image. There was a certain warmth which came with the imperfection. There was also a wonderful sense of anticipation when we dropped our film off to be developed. Film cameras didn’t come with menu bars and previews. You looked through your lens, and you hoped it came out. Instamatic cameras had another gotcha. The viewfinder didn’t look through the lens. It sat on top of the lens. I would pick up my photos, only to discover my finger was in the way of my perfect shot. It was enough to make you want to sit down and cry.

We also believed our negatives and slides would last forever. I stored my negatives, and slides, in plastic sleeves kept in three-ring binders. The binders were then kept in a cabinet, away from light. Over time, however, they deteriorated. Some more than others. I would later discover that most of my color photos had either turned red or blue. However, my black and white negatives held up much better.

Digital Cameras

My first digital camera was state of the art for its time. It took a floppy disk, and I would get about twelve pixelated lo-res shots. Okay, it was really more of a toy. For serious photography I still used my film camera. However, digital cameras started getting better. By the mid-twenty-teens I had professional level digital cameras and was taking amazing shots.

Digital cameras have some great advantages. You don’t have to worry about missing a great shot because you ran out of film. Nor do you have the expense of getting your photos developed. There were times when I had to give up photography, sometimes for years, because I was going through lean times and couldn’t afford the film, or to have it processed. Framing my shots is much easier. I can look at the thumbnail before I shoot. If my shot doesn’t turn out the way I like, I can delete it and reshoot.

The disadvantage is the camera battery. My second digital camera ran on standard AA batteries, but as I upgraded I found that each camera had its own unique, and expensive, battery. Murphy’s Law is also alive and well, which meant my battery always died when I was in the middle of getting a good shot. I’ve since learned to make sure my battery is fully charged before I leave the house. I also bring along a back up battery. 

Digital Restoration 

A few years ago I transferred my old slides and negatives to digital. This gave me the option of restoring some of my old 35mm photos. While some were, unfortunately, deteriorated beyond repair, many others were not, and I was able to restore them in Photoshop. Technology, however, is always changing, which makes me wonder if today’s digital files will keep up with the times. Or will I have to once again, restore my old photos?

In the meantime I guess we’ve gone full circle. They’re now making half frame 35mm cameras which look a whole lot like the old Instamatic camera my dad bought for me back when I was a kid. 

Gayle Martin