I’ve been a hobby photographer for at least 55 years. Forty of those years were with film and fifteen with digital and maybe 4 years of overlap. I have made images with paper backed roll film, 35mm slide and print film, various and sundry electronic sensors. I’ve used box cameras, rangefinders, single-lens reflex, compact digital with fixed zooms, bridge cameras, DSLRs, travel zooms. I have learned a great deal. And much of it doesn’t apply anymore.
So what conclusions can I draw from my days of film and pixels? Well…
- I probably lived through the golden age of film. This would have been in the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century. I know many Kodachrome devotees would say the golden age was earlier, but they didn’t have the good equipment. In 2002 when I got my Nikon F80 system both Kodak and Fuji made great films in slide and print format. They were getting faster and had better dynamic range, And my consumer grade F80 featured easy film loading, auto-wind, automatic focus, program mode, and superb flash performance. It was compatible with a huge range of excellent optics. And the whole film industry would go pear-shaped within five years.
- When I started with digital equipment it was not as good as film for vacation or serious photography, but it is now. In fact, it’s better. On a 2006 cruise holiday, I took along a film body, 4 lenses and 24 rolls of film. I had to carry this heavy pack everywhere off the ship, worry whether I had enough film with me. I had to sweat whether the X-ray machines at the airport would fog my film. Then I had to get prints and scans of all my 473 images when I came back. And I didn’t know until a week after that whether I had anything worthwhile. By 2018, I was carrying a Lumix travel zoom the size of a deck of cards. I had more range, more low light capability, optical stabilization and way more image capacity with no film to worry about. I backed up the photos every day on my laptop and enjoyed them on the spot.
- The giants of film technology might become the dinosaurs of digital. 20 years ago most people buying a new camera system were choosing between Nikon and Canon. But the big boys stumbled. Canon dominates the professional DSLR market today and Nikon is well respected. But they both misjudged the mirrorless market – which is on track to take over from DSLRs. Sony and Panasonic are the major players here. Panasonic is also the leader in compact travel zoom cameras – another growth segment.
- Are we now in the twilight of the digital camera golden age? Maybe. A lot of younger shooters don’t want a separate camera at all – the one in their smartphone takes perfectly adequate images for texts and posting on social media. In fact, the smartphone does it easier, faster and more reliably. The smartphone has sounded the death knell of the simpler, cheaper compact digital camera. On my last trip I was one of the few people walking ’round with any sort of camera – and mine was lightweight and designed for vacation photography. The folks with DSLR kits were nowhere to be found.
- And what of my personal digital future? Well, my DSLR is small and lightweight enough for use on family occasions and short trips. I don’t see the need to change it for a mirrorless system. I have a decent enough compact travel zoom, although I probably could use one with a bit better and larger sensor. But if I don’t get one I can live with it. The biggest photographic change for me is my own improved optics thanks to cataract surgery. I can see so much better to take pics that any camera gives now much better results.
The days of film are over. The days of pixels carry on.