So in the recent past (4 days ago), one of my friends posted a link to an article at the New Yorker. I started to comment on the link on facebook while sharing my own experiences and realized it was turning into a multi-paragraph ramble, so I figured it might do well as a blog post instead.
Looking back at my history with cameras, I’ve had the reverse experience for the most part. I grew up knowing about film cameras but never used them since the process was too expensive. The film was too expensive. The camera itself was too valuable to let a child handle it lest he get bored and perform impromptu drop tests. Camera phones and cheap digital cameras were how I started to take a bulk of my photos. This was around 2004 (somewhat similar to the Author) when I was at university. The cameras shot at 3MP and took about 5 seconds between shutter releases. But it was cheap enough for me to carry the phone and camera around.
Today I own a T3i. Takes pics at 18mp or something irrelevant. Has a fairly high density screen that rotates. Takes 1080P video. Costs about $1500 with lenses and cards etc.
I haven’t used it much in months.
Instead I’m toting around a small Yashica. 24 exposures. No auto focus. No auto reel when the film is done. No LCD. No auto advance for the film. I do get a 3 step light meter though. And it’s a SUPER – whatever that means. Runs on a watch battery that will probably last a billion years. All of these un-features for $30 on eBay. Came with an f1.9 50mm and a bunch of film.
Some of it is down to being new to me. But some of it is also down to what the author of the article mentioned. There’s a separation between the creation and the revelation which you don’t get from the digital world. I experience a weird high when I open the envelope from Costco containing photos that were conceived a week or two ago. There is also the actual experience. And I think this is where I part ways with the Author (again, not that he cares).
The Yashica is fantastically outdated. It takes me anywhere from several days to several months to share my photos online (depending on when I can get them processed). But the process of exposing a frame is equally fantastic. My thumb leans over and pushes against the advancing lever, pulling in place the next frame to be exposed. It moves with hesitation, slightly groaning at the work I’m making it do. The shutter release becomes lighter to tell me the mirror is primed. I get a small indicator in the massive viewfinder that tells me my exposure is too high/too low/just right. I then press the shutter release all the way and the whole process is punctuated with a loud CLACK mixed in with a little bit of WHUMP. While this has happened, my T3i might have taken up to 30 images and maybe a small HD video.
But the Yashica feels special.
Whenever I use the T3i, I end up staring at the back after every exposure, making sure everything is in order. That my 18MP are being used to their full potential. Maybe the exposure isn’t quite right. No matter, turn a few dials, take another. And another. The auto-focus will do it’s job. No worries there. I should save the RAW and JPG so I can share the image quickly after using a laptop or maybe even a tablet. If I dig into a few menus, I can also do some Auto Exposure Bracketing. This will be great for those HDR images. And so on.
The T3i feels nerdy.
When it comes to phones it’s even worse. I love the T3i for it’s mechanical dials and giant chunky switches. They are easier to access and in most cases faster to change settings with. With phones today, you get a giant glass touchscreen and a lot of software buttons and menus. Yes your phone can take 30 frames a second and pick the best one out for you. Yes, you can share them instantly with all of your friends on Facebook and Instagram (ugh). You get loads of instant feedback so you adjust variables to take the photo you want. The ones you don’t like are just a swipe away from memory death. You tap to focus on a specific portion of the image. You swipe a few sliders to get the exposure just right. Maybe add a filter or two. The phone feels just as nerdy as the T3i. But worse.
The phone feels cold.
I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon. My point is more about what you’re looking for when you pick up a camera. If you’re motivation is to take a good photo and share it with friends, a smart phone is probably what you reach for. I do the same when I need to take a photo of my cat goofing around. But the miniaturization and opaqueness of the process involved in a phone and to a lesser extent in a DSLR makes you lose a sense of self expression and belonging.
Since I haven’t made any horrible analogies yet, I am going to make one about driving a manual car. I drive a 20 year old manual car. Manual cars these days make no sense for the purpose of transportation (especially when they come with a 3.0L V6 that burns oil when it gets bored). They are more annoying and less efficient when compared to modern automatics. A modern automatic will change gears on a long commute, sometimes even in a sporty fashion when asked for. A modern automatic will also change gears up and down in slow traffic leaving you to eat your donut and drink your coffee in comfort (a proper American breakfast). But if you are in it for the experience, a manual gearbox makes you a very important part of the process. You listen to your engine. You listen to what your tires are doing. And then you pick the right gear (usually… sometimes). A 40mph winding back road separates a smile inducing drive vs. a slower commute to work.
Long ramble over – I don’t think I’m going to say goodbye to cameras anytime soon. Or manual cars. Or pencils. Maybe I am a curmudgeon.