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Digital killed the analogue star – but only for a while

In a trend similar to the comeback that vinyl is experiencing relative to CDs, in the last decade analogue film has been making a quiet comeback in the face of an avalanche of digital.  Putting to test an age old question. Which is better; analogue or digital ? Many argue that shooting analogue film is a more personal and enjoyable experience than the digital equivalent, but that decision is completely up to you.

Digital Camera’s, Photo Credit Sadbh Maguire

Today, millions if not billions of photographs are taken with Digital Camerasand mobile phones, but there is a growing interest in analogue, Digital is commonly associated with convenience, there is no film, no chemicals, no light sensitive materials, and no darkroom needed.  But some people think that digital is soulless and, despite the more complex process the film give a better and more pleasing result. Digital cameras started becoming available in consumer models in or around the mid 1990 but by about 10 years later sales of digital had completely overtaken analogue cameras. Kodak, one of the largest makes of film, said in 2005 they were not making any more new types of film. By around  2000 you started seeing many digital cameras coming into popular use. Almost overnight popular camera manufactures like Nikon, Canon, Pentax stopped making analogue cameras and started making digital  models.

So we went through this period of about 10 to 15 years of people just using digital cameras.  It is difficult to say if it has anything to do with the whole hipster vibe but you will see people now going back to analogue in music and visual media and maybe in other areas too. It started with music, people started buying second hand vinyl albums in favour of CDs. In the last 5 years or so bands started producing vinyl records again. Now, if you walk into Tower Records the entire front part of the shop is devoted to vinyl. Music manufacturing had adapted and you will see the first edition of a new album available with a vinyl cover made by experts like Vinylcuttingmachineguide. The story is similar with film.

One of the bigger film manufacturers, Kodak, stopped producing its very popular film called Kodachrome in 2008 because sales were dropping at about 30% per year. However, Kodak still make various films, like Portra – a professional quality film.  Very few camera manufacturers still make film cameras but there are literally  millions of excellent quality cameras sitting out there in attics and garages. Many of these are now making their way back into circulation as people seek out old analogue cameras to use to shoot film.

If you are a student of photography,  one of the first things that the lecturer will do is tell you to do is to go out and buy a second hand film camera. The course will then  teach you how that whole image-making process works before they allow the student to start using digital imagery.

What seems to be happening today is that there is a whole cohort of people, a mixture of young and old who are interested in ‘going back’ to film. They are exploring individuality through analogue media and using the older methods when it comes to art as with analogue film.

Digital and Film Camera’s, Image credit Sadbh Maguire

There is the possibility to have a different creative process with film as opposed to digital. With digital media, some amateur photographers can take, say 200 images on an afternoon photography session or photo outing. They will often be hoping that some of these will be good images, they hope they have gotten one or maybe two good images. This is like a scatter gun approach, a ‘shoot then select’ approach.

 The photographer is not necessarily making the best effort that they can to create something original and different. They are actually hoping that they’ve captured something and then that they’ll be able to do something with it afterwards in post-production. With film, the photographer is much more restricted. A 35 mm roll of film has only 36 shots in it. A photographer using film has to concentrate more on composition and making sure everything they want is present when they take the shot. They have to develop a photographer’s eye. Of course, it is possible to make some adjustments after but it’s not like straight from camera to computer. Because the medium is restricted the creative process gets more attention. This is a ‘select, then shoot’ process, the flip of the digital method. It is possible to shoot loads and loads of film but that needs special equipment.

The film photographer is constrained to think more about what they are doing and what they want to achieve – it forces the creative process. Because the photographer does not have a whole 16 or 32 GByte card that they can fill up with hundreds of images they have to be quite  selective, and some people’s opinion, that imposed selectivity makes people focus on what they really want to achieve.

 The process for developing film also means there is no instant gratification. Black and white films can be easily developed at home and some photographers then scan the negatives into a digital format. This can be seen as the best of both worlds and the final image has some of the attributes of film, like visible grain and good contrast and a digital image it can be shared on different social media platforms. With a roll of film you don’t know what you’re going to get until it has been developed.

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