Trusty, Dusty, Film

I finally got serious about de-cluttering my basement.  Worthy of mention only because it caused me to re-discover this dusty old shoebox:

(Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

And inside…that pile of $100 bills I forgot about?  Sadly, no, but…

(Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

Whoa.  I made the transition to digital around 2003 give or take, and apparently it was sudden and all-in because that’s a LOT of un-shot film.

My best guesstimate puts it at over $500 worth.  Never shot.  Now more than a decade out-of-date.

(Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

Mmmm Hmmm… $140 for 20 rolls–720 clicks.  That’s roughly 30 cents a click, processing extra.

(Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

So yeah, I wasted a bunch of money 12 years ago.  Oops.  But it got me thinking quite a bit about the differences between the film photography era and the digital world we now enjoy.  

First off–digital photos are not free–there is a production cost every time you press the shutter button.  

However:  In the days of analog, when you added up film and processing and the occasional rush fee, you routinely spent 50 cents, and even at times a dollar or more *per click*.  Today, even factoring in the increased cost and shorter useful life of digital camera bodies and the need for computer equipment to support it, you’re looking at around 5 cents a click.  At a football game where I easily shoot 1000 frames, that’s the difference between $500 in production cost back then and $50 today.

Second–all the clicks represented in this photo could probably fit 100 times over on a single memory card the size of my thumb.  Wow.

Lastly for now–there are nine different types of film in this photo.  Why?  Because each type behaved differently under certain lighting conditions and gave a different final “look.”  When I wanted sharp, saturated colors (think fall campus beauty shots), only Velvia would do.  Outdoor day sports?  Provia.  Indoor sports?  Astia if I’m lighting it, and 800 speed color neg if I’m not.  Outdoor night sports?  800 pushed a stop, maybe two.  Available indoor light?  Whole ‘nuther ball game:  Fluorescent or tungsten?  There’s a film for each.  

This is not a technical blog so I’ll sum it up by saying that every situation demanded a specific kind of film to get the right look.  Velvia made fall colors pop, but use it for portraits and let’s just say…it got weird.  And the look was baked in for ever and ever.  If I shot black and white, then black and white it was gonna stay.  

Today’s digital cameras let us do all what all nine kinds of film did–in a single body.  Changeable and reversible, even.  Make a photo black & white and then go back and give that same image the super-saturated Velvia look.  

But the other side of the coin of the flexibility of digital is the requirement for expert post-processing to finish the images to the needs of the shoot or the vision of the photographer.  With film, we made the choice before the shoot and we were stuck with it.  Now we have the flexibility to choose, control, and change the final look of a photo after the fact.  

So despite my momentary nostalgia when I saw the box full of film, I’m glad we are in a digital world. It’s cheaper, quicker, gives us more flexibility, and ultimately better quality…but with an asterisk.  I often say: “The picture isn’t done when I put away the camera,” and hopefully this a little background on what I mean.

Now then…anyone wanna buy some film??

-Matt Cashore