Thursday, May 7, 2015

Film cameras are gone, but photography continues

Yesterday,  I handed over a large shopping bag filled with cameras, flash attachments, lenses, and other photography accessories to someone who will use the cameras to teach college students about photography. None of the cameras had been used for close to 10 years, and the oldest camera was first put to use about 50 years ago. All were film cameras, anachronisms in the age of digital photography.

The oldest camera, an Argus 35mm viewfinder model, was bought with my meager earnings as a teenager. The cost, as best I remember, was around $60, a small fortune for a high school student in 1966. I used the camera to shoot pictures for my high school yearbook and newspaper. I experimented with photography, taking walks through the yard and in the woods looking for views that caught my eye and became studies of light and dark. (Color film was too expensive.) I experimented with f-stops and shutter speeds and became confident at estimating exposures without a light meter. I continued to use the camera in my first real newspaper job, a 1968 internship at a weekly newspaper in Wadesboro. I learned to wind 35 mm film onto a reel to develop the film and then print the pictures.

The bag of cameras also included a couple of Minolta single-lens reflex cameras. Graduating to an SLR widened my photographic world, and the through-the-lens metering system helped make sure the exposure was right. These cameras got me through four decades of family pictures — babies, toddlers, first-day-of school pictures, graduations, weddings, reunions, vacations. Many of the products of those cameras hang on the walls of my house or hide in photo albums stashed in a closet. I took about 1,000 slide picture and wore out my first slide projector watching the results of my work. Only at the advent of digital photography did I finally get around to buying a quality Kodak slide projector, which now hides in a closet, unused for years.

When digital photography first arrived, few professionals envisioned it replacing film photography, and I could not imagine the day when digital would be as good as film. But that day came rapidly. The first bulky, heavy digital SLRs were slow and not as high-resolution as professional photography demanded. But the technology leaped ahead, and now the cell phone on my belt takes pictures that rival the quality of my old film cameras. Film photography has collapsed to the point that photo film is very difficult to find.

The point-and-shoot advances that opened photography to the masses who did not care to learn how to set f-stops and shutter speeds or consider exposure values were adapted to the digital platform, and film was doomed. At some point nearly 10 years ago, I quit buying film and switched fully to digital with a new digital SLR, which I still use, though it is a few generations behind the latest DSLRs.

I still miss my old film cameras whose f-stops and shutter speeds I could manipulate to get the exposure I wanted. Now, I try to interpret the "programs" embedded in the camera to fit different light, speed and depth-of-field situations. I have yet to be fully satisfied with the results of most of those programs.

Nevertheless, I will never go back to film photography — as if I could, of if anyone could. Kodak has "taken my Kodachrome away," and Fuji has taken away its Fujicolor, too. Digital provides instant gratification and occasional second chances to fix the first exposure attempt.

Photography still provides a means for jogging memories and for treasuring moments. Now, I keep my pictures, not in photo albums or slide trays but in computer hard drives, CDs and portable hard drives, backing up these files multiple times to guard against loss.

What I work so hard to save is still priceless — memories of moments that fill a lifetime.

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