The year 1974 saw West Germany winning the world cup and it was the week that I first had the opportunity to hold in my hands a true 35 mm SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera sporting an F1.4 Pentax Lens – the Pentax Spotmatic that my brother owns – once I discovered photography the fire was lit within, but it took almost a decade before I acquired a professional camera of my own the Pentax Super A with an F1.4 Lens – sadly after using it for almost 10 years and learning what it takes to take great pictures it was stolen. I replaced it with a Nikon F70 – which never performed the way the Pentax did – the Asahi Pentax Lenses of the time were just unique in the world of optics.
We humans have a bond with our tools that transcends the idea of the tool as merely a means. Given this, it is rooted in a skeptical attitude toward the claim that increased technology is always the best means to an end. It involves a thoughtful stance in relation to technology, rejecting what is superfluous to the achievement of a given aim while acknowledging the emotional weight of our relationship with our tools. This is far from being primitive or regressive. It is progressive at its core.
Mechanical film cameras today might seem an anachronism, sort of a technological dodo bird. But the reality, I would submit, stands this assumption on its head. In a very profound sense, it is the opposite. The best mechanical film cameras can be considered the ultimate refinement of a simplified technology, never to be obsolete.
Today the main reason for obsolescence is that supporting technologies may no longer be available to produce or repair a product. Digital technology is extremely susceptible to obsolescence of this type. Camera manufacturers now deliberately introduce technological obsolescence as a product strategy, with the objective of generating long-term sales volume by reducing the time between repeat purchases.
I recently loaded up my Nikon F70 with a Kodak Tri-X 400TX film. Amazingly it still works, it gave me the same results it did when it was new; the problem is that digital camera technology has moved on to such a degree that it simply is not feasible to use it anymore when much better technology exists. All digitized products are inherently susceptible to obsolescence in this manner; digital cameras routinely become obsolete in favor of newer, faster, better units.
Digital cameras also become functionally obsolete when they do not function in the manner they did when they were created and I suspect are intentionally designed to use faster wearing components, what is called planned obsolescence. The intention is not always cynical; rather, it’s a practical recognition of the regular exponential advance that can be expected of computerized products (See Moore’s Law). Why build a unit to last 10 years when it will be functionally obsolete in 2 years? Such products, which naturally wear out or break down, become obsolete because the cost of repairs or replacement parts is higher than the cost of a new, more technologically advanced item – this is true with all electronic devices including my laptop and my cell phone.
Mechanical cameras – are not subject to either technological or functional obsolescence. The technology of analog photography is simple: a light tight box capable of housing film; optics that concentrate light; a shutter that opens and closes at repeatable, regulated intervals; and an optical aperture that controls the amount of light passing through the lens.
If mechanical devices can be considered obsolete, it is usually an obsolescence of style and not of function. When a product is no longer desirable because it has gone out of the popular fashion, its style is obsolete. It may still be perfectly functional, but it is no longer desirable because style trends have moved on.
The Importance of the Process
Photography is about looking and seeing. It involves deliberation and judgment. It is about having the concentration, focus, required to look closely. Most of us who grew up on film are still ‘contemplative’ and ‘conscientious’ when also using digital cameras because its been bred into our relationship with photography. For us, digital hasn’t made a difference in that respect. But it certainly has for those coming of age photographically in the digital era.
The point is this: digital isn’t going away, obviously. But there will always be a place for film photography. Photography shouldn’t be seen as a zero sum equation, where the advent of a newer technology completely displaces mature technologies. Digital has given photographers another option, but film use will always remain an option for those who prefer its methods and results.
The Image Is Everything
There is a disturbing trend propagated by the technical potentials of digital capture. Digital photography has produced an obsession with sharpness and resolution which is causing us to overlook our connection to the image. It is so prevalent today as to be a universal photographic fetish. The perfection of digital is a false standard. Imperfection is beautiful, and a misplaced emphasis on sharpness can make an image lifeless and boring. I love the emotion of motion blur, and grain in film, it gives us something organic that connects us to the images we see.
Perhaps someday we will acknowledge that a blind faith in technology can itself be regressive. There is tactile pleasure in the use of a mechanical instrument that is missing in something computerized. At the risk of devolving into the metaphysical, maybe it’s a fuller experience of the real rooted in sense of physical solidity and cause and effect.
There is also an elegance to simple things that complicated things lack. It’s the pleasure of riding a bicycle on a Spring day instead of taking the car. Thank you for reading and just to remind myself my birthday is on 26th June and if you feel generous and you would like to give than I would love to get hold of one of the latest and greatest compact digital camera – Sony RXM 100 III or Canon G7X.