In defense of the noble film camera, or, The importance of being analog

Thursday, June 07, 2007 at 5:12 PM

Digital photography’s quick rise to prominence has left some high-profile casualties: when Minolta stopped manufacturing cameras in 2006, it ended a 78-year run. I don’t believe that film cameras are going extinct anytime soon, but in the spirit of preserving some of this soon-to-be-ancient culture, let’s take a look at what this technology has to offer us.

A Treatise on Photography is a great resource for getting acquainted with the nuts and bolts of photography. You’ll find that capturing light hasn’t changed much since 1878, when the book was published. The first few pages give a very readable history of the early development of photography. It goes on to give clear explanations of film development, printing, and camera mechanics. Your brand-new digital rig is based on the concepts that are laid out in this book, which is more than a century old.

There’s a wealth of useful information in A Concise History of Photography, especially if you’re interested in how cameras came to be so popular. A search within this book for ‘Leica’ leads to the story of how carrying a camera in public was a minor fad around the turn of the century. (The 20th century, that is.) Just like today, it was especially cool to be spotted with a tiny camera, like a Leica.

If you want to learn about another famous brand, look no further than The New Nikon Compendium, which is loaded with great photos of cameras. My personal favorites are the Nikon S and the Nikon F, but most of the models in this book are pretty wonderful. Medium Format Photography also has some images of famous cameras by Mamiya and Hasselblad—manufacturers that now produce digital models. Photos taken with medium format cameras are square, and they usually use 120mm film, which offers more detail than the 35mm film that’s found in most cameras.

Even if digital photography has the nod of approval from major outfits like Hasselblad and Nikon, it isn’t all doom and gloom for film. For example, there’s a movement around using plastic or novelty cameras, such as the Lomo, whose slightly defective technology leads to surprising aesthetic results. The Toycam Handbook explores the world of these cameras, which are relatively cheap and can take a beating.

I’m not interested in promoting a neo-Luddite agenda to save film cameras, but all the same—analog is dead, long live analog!


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