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Why Digital Technology is not the Future of Photography

Why Digital Technology is not the Future of Photography

Originally, I was going to do a review on the Nikon Z7. However, my Nikon supplier in Hong Kong welched on my preorder for the first shipment. Because of that, I will defer from investing in the new Nikon Z system. Subsequently, this led me down a rabbit hole in which I began to rationalize my exposure to both the Nikon and Sony FE system. In going through that process of reducing tonnage, I’ve made a stark realization on what I believe is the future of photography.

Camera manufacturers are killing photography by making cameras and lenses that no one really wants. Despite the promise of more resolution and greater sensitivity to light, never before have cameras been more bloated with as many unnecessary functions and features. And if that weren’t enough, never before have lenses been bulkier. Given how much bigger they’ve become, it makes one wonder if corner to corner sharpness across the aperture range is really worth it?

It’s unfortunate how camera manufacturers, in their mad dash to win the loyalties of professionals and enthusiasts alike, have done the unimaginable with their industry-wide obsession focused on optimizing performance. Essentially, they’ve homogenized digital imaging to the extent that any differences between camera brands have become incremental at best. In doing so, they’ve failed to address the real problem facing contemporary photography.

To compare the following film captures to the original post, please click here.

Leica MP-6 + Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH + Fuji Superia Venus 800

Leica MP-6 + Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH + Fuji Superia Venus 800

Leica MP-6 + Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH + Fuji Superia Venus 800

Image quality is not the be-all-and-end-all in photography. There, I said it. We are now at a point in history where lens and sensor performance are already close to perfection in capturing visual information without aberration. Knowing that, what possible advantage in performance - beyond near perfection - could newer iterations (of what is already in existence) materially offer anyone in real world documentation?

Then there is the question of automation in camera and lens design. Now with the exodus from DSLR to mirrorless image capture pushing the final nail into the coffin, we are at a point in history where acquiring focus is instantaneous and tracking is faultless - assuming proper usage. Given that, would getting any more automation - beyond existing technology - materially improve a photographer’s chances of getting the money shot?

In forsaking the forest from the trees, camera manufacturers are missing the point. Accuracy in performance and realism in documentation - albeit important - are not the only material concern in photography. But it’s easy to see why the full weight of their concentration is pressed on this product design strategy. Technical performance being measurable is justification to incite interest from core customers to buy needlessly into newer product iterations.

To compare the following film captures to the original post, please click here.

Leica MP-6 + Leica APO 50mm f/2 Summicron-ASPH + ADOX CMS 20

Leica MP-6 + Leica APO 50mm f/2 Summicron-ASPH + ADOX CMS 20

Leica MP-6 + Leica APO 50mm f/2 Summicron-ASPH + ADOX CMS 20

To be fair to camera manufacturers, innovation in digital technology has benefited photographers immensely. Even so, it must be said that this product strategy approach, which has led to a shortening of the product life cycle, is running its course. Camera manufacturers will soon run out of measurable justification to incite interest in core customers to buy into new product iterations, since there is only so much more that technology can improve.

I mean how much sharper can sharp be? How much more resolution does anyone really need. Or how much more accurately do we need our autofocus to be? How many more frames do we need to buffer at one go? We’ve reached a point of ridiculous extremes where specifications no longer have relevance beyond comparative statistics. It’s almost as if the goal of camera manufacturers is to make the impossible possible - even though the impossible will likely never happen.

How sad that is, if striving for the ridiculous and impossible is the standard of contemporary lens and camera design. But I can understand why camera manufacturers have taken this approach to heart. It’s just business. Given the trend in corporate norms today, the business model undertaken by camera manufacturers is to string us along with impressive specifications instead of giving us what we really want - all for the sake of a shortened product life cycle and continued sales.

To compare the following film captures to the original post, please click here.

Canon EF-M + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R + Kodak Portra 160

Canon EF-M + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R + Kodak Portra 160

Canon EF-M + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R + Kodak Portra 160

Upon that Eureka moment, while shedding tonnage from what I had accumulated over the years, I came to realize what that corporate product strategy had done to me. It made me disconnected. I felt no attachment to my DSLRs or Mirrorless cameras systems. Why would I? Essentially, they’re all replaceable commodities that will become obsolete within a year - as reflected in the drop in second hand value - given that newer product iterations are just around the corner.

Thing is, 95% of everything we need to photograph can be done by any camera made since the dawn of consumer photography. And unless you need to address the remaining 5%, like focusing accuracy at telephoto shooting distances, extreme low light situations, and the need for higher onscreen resolution, you really don’t need newer and better. When it comes right down to it, all a photographer really needs is a smart phone and a manual film camera.

Unbeknownst to many, my camera of choice is the iPhone X. It’s compact and always on me. And from the perspective of image quality, it’s more than sufficient for my needs. But then, if I want to photograph with intent beyond just archiving something in passing on my cloud subscription service, film capture has become my preferred medium. For me, it was the natural choice, given how analog capture fulfills everything that digital capture has forsaken.

To compare the following film captures to the original post, please click here.

Leica MP-6 + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH + Kodak Portra 800

Leica MP-6 + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH + Kodak Portra 800

Leica MP-6 + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH + Kodak Portra 800

Film cameras, for those of you who shun the relative uncertainty and delayed gratification of its process, are already perfect for that 95% of all our documentary need. The image quality it offers is more than sufficient for most normal use - much like digital imaging. But more importantly, analog cameras are not as bloated as these newer iterations of digital cameras. They’re normally compact enough for recreational or professional use, especially at the 35mm format.

But, even more notable is the flexibility of film use. Where digital imaging fails by homogenizing the captured image, analog photography succeeds by offering more variety in rendering. In doing so, film offers a more precise approach in capturing how a photographer intends an image to be photographed. In my opinion, being able to offer 95% of my photographic needs the benefit of variety outweighs the 5% of difficult shooting situations needing a digital system.

Having said that, there is a final reason why I prefer film photography. Inasmuch as technological complexity has made me feel disconnected from my digital cameras, the ergonomic simplicity of film capture has brought me closer to my analog cameras. There’s just something so satisfying about mechanical controls. Plus, it doesn’t hurt knowing that film camera will never be obsolete - given that film photography is no longer supported by manufacturers. It just makes them all the more valuable and precious.

To compare the following film captures to the original post, please click here.

Canon EOS 1v + Canon 85mm f/1.4L + Kodak Tri-X 400

Canon EOS 1v + Canon 85mm f/1.4L + Kodak Tri-X 400

Canon EOS 1v + Canon 85mm f/1.4L + Kodak Tri-X 400

Intrinsically, that’s the true value of analog photography that is lost on die-hard digital fans. They just can’t get over their need for immediate gratification. When the dust finally settles in this mad rush to protect market position, there will only be two survivors left standing - smart phones and second hand film cameras. As for the Nikon Z7, which I won’t be reviewing, not even the promise of mirrorless image capture will save it from the dustbin of history.

Thing is, no one really wants a full frame mirrorless camera if the lenses are oversized. The appeal of higher performance capabilities are wonderful on paper, and makes for good advertising. But as soon as one is forced to bring along that oversized lens, the appeal of that smart phone starts to make sense. That said, sensibility is not going to stop photographers from buying into this newest iteration. Hope springs eternal. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re going to use it either.

Because of that, camera manufacturers are killing photography by turning their core customers to smart phones for most of their imaging needs. In doing so, this shift in practice has changed the standard of photography. Where proper techniques in shooting and composition were observed in the past, mindless trial and error has become the present day norm. Fundamentally, that is the main problem facing photography today. Still, it’s nothing artificial intelligence can’t solve.

To compare the following film captures to the original post, please click here.

Leica MP-6 + Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH + Kodak Portra 160

Leica MP-6 + Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH + Kodak Portra 160

Leica MP-6 + Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH + Fuji Superia Venus 800

For many it seems unfathomable that film capture is actually the future of photography. I know how absurd that sounds, given the objectives of camera manufacturers. But believe me, you will eventually tire of digital rot. Having said that, if you still cannot overcome the need for immediate gratification, the Leica M10 is the one digital camera that will stand the test of time. It’s the only no-nonsense camera in existence with a user interface purpose made for taking photos.

But that too will depreciate and fail. Knowing that will make it less dear over time. Thing is, as long as film photography can maintain its monetary value, it will never die. It’s a solid investment, and it will never make you stray chasing for the next best iteration of technology. And on that day when the last mirrorless camera falls victim to the ultimate smart phone, the value proposition of film photography will insure its continued existence.

That’s why film will never die. The future is in film.

An addendum - Smart phone image capture is not photography. The ergonomics of that user interface is not designed specifically to optimize image capture. But the time will come when algorithms will give smart phones the capability to do everything a contemporary digital camera system can do... and then some more. 

PS - I hope I don’t sound too upset for not getting the first Nikon Z7 shipment? #SourGrapes

The photos on this post were shared to demonstrate that film photography can handle most shooting situations typical of that 95%.

Images have been lightly tweaked on Adobe Lightroom. All negatives digitized on the Pakon F135 - except for the set shot on Adox CMS 20. That was digitized on the Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED.

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35mm Full Frame vs 45mm Panoramic in Group Shots

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