Why You Should Own An Analog Camera
A couple of days ago my personal computer went to sleep forever. It is the second time this happens to me without having saved all the pics and memories I had somewhere else. Of course we have the cloud, or hard disks to store those precious memories, but going that route, let’s be honest, you will never even look at them. When was the last time you looked at your old pictures…never!
There are a couple of reasons for this, first due to the fact that pics get lost – lost in translation, lost in space, lost in general; different folders, different computers or hard drives, the cloud, your phone, social networks. Digital picture storage becomes so spread out that looking at them would be more of a task for Detective Colombo than a chillaxing time, which is what it is supposed to be. The second reason is the sheer quantity, we have so many pictures that the single thought of sifting through them makes us retire before we even start. Digital photography has led us to burst-shoot our pictures – such is the general trend in the digital present, from communicating via emoji to broadcasting 148 character tweets – burst-shooting through life without really taking it seriously or stopping to think of how best to capture the moment, or if we really need to a picture of that moment at all. No, we simply shoot as if we were holding a Kalashnikov. This results in coming back from your holidays with an SD card packed to brim with hundreds, thousands of pictures. Now multiply that by the number of times you go on holiday and you will easily have an astronomic number of pics.
And this is why analog photography makes sense, especially for the majority of us who fit the mold of the archetypical traveler, the occasional wanderer. You will take your inexpensive old school camera with you, you will take the time to think about how best to capture the scene, only then you will shoot them. Then, back home, you will develop the film at an inexpensive corner shop or you will you will do it yourself in your very own dark room. You will actually enjoy the end product, holding the physical photographs – a multi-sensory experience while you take it all in, remembering that special moment. And you can also digitize them and store them on your laptop! In the end you will store these pictures in a box or an album in a corner of your house and enjoy them with family, friends, and your partner every now and then.
These ‘analog’ pics might not be readily editable in Photoshop, but they don’t need to be as they’re meant to be a memory and not an advertisement. On the other hand, we all want some HD pics to upload to our social networks; well, the fact is that having an analog camera is not incompatible with also partaking in today’s digital world by making use of digital photography. I, for instance, own a collection of 15 analog cameras, but also have a Canon SLR and my phone is always an arm’s-length away. The truth is, some occasions are better for an instant Polaroid and some others are better suited for a subaquatic fisheye. It is your choice to make, but you need the variety to be able to decide what and when.
And to summarize with this extensive prologue I will predict that analog as a trend will become, again, and soon part of our lives. This time it won’t arrive under the surname of ‘hipster’, but it will be something that will grab hold of society as a whole, for all us need to slow down and enjoy the special moments that are given to us. We are humans with a need to feel, to touch! With digital phones, displays, touchscreens, wireless devices everywhere we are forgetting what touching something feels like. We don’t have a physical connection to things around us. This will change, and it will make digital look more and more analog with each passing day. Imagine, a wheel for the dialing sound on your phone, or the classic on and off switch with its TIC-TAC sound. I predict mechanics and chemistry have a place in the future of photography hand-in-hand with digital photography. You can already see how Leica became a top player in this market by mixing old school feel and the latest technology. Their efforts resulted in one of the most sought after cameras out on the market, while at the same time, a camera that only a few can afford as its price is more in the range of a luxury car instead of that of a camera. Will Leica be the pioneer to what the future will look like?
And now let’s take a look at what you need to know before you take this leap of faith:
CAMERA – The camera is going to be your tool, and plenty of them have been made in the last 100 years. The camera choices are vast with all conceivable feature sets available – all you have to do is choose what’s best for you. There are a myriad of brands, lenses, and camera types are sold worldwide at flea markets, second hand shops, thrift stores, and of course eBay! I remember I got my first SLR on eBay for 25€ – an SLR made for naturalists in the USSR – the “ZENIT 122”, and that is the moment when became an analog addict. You can find obsolete systems at absurdly cheap prices out there. Lenses which use to be a couple of months’ worth of pay are now selling for a couple of hours of it as they no longer work with digital. One more reason to become Robert Capa, or at least use the same equipment as he did for a way more affordable price. The 35mm SLR cameras are the kind of yester-years top-of-the-line equipment used by professional photographers to deliver the images that donned the covers of HQ. These cameras were innovative when they were first released because they allowed the photography to capture the vividness exactly of what was seen through the lens when framing a shot. For a digital camera to capture an equivalent image it would have to be one with a full-frame sensor, and you would have to dole out more than 2000€.
Another interesting twist in the analog photography realm is the so-called Lomography – Steampunk inspired new old analog. The camera designs that Lomography re-engineers came mostly from the former USSR but are now made anew in plastic resistant frames. You can play and discover knowing that you have professional support behind you. Diana, Fisheye or Holga, are just a few of the designs that are part of a huge collection of cameras that you can get all at an affordable price. These are easy to use and skip past all those complex settings of SLR’s. These Lomography cameras have but a few settings, and get down to the fun of “point-and-shoot” part of taking pictures. The images captured by these cameras usually have a soft focus and other artifacts that give the final product an artsy flair.
The 35mm “point-and-shoot” cameras are easy to use and a good option to jump into film, but doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot with an SLR camera. As mentioned before, I myself started with one and it isn’t as complicated as I always thought. Reading a bit, maybe a manual online, and getting to know the names of the parts and what each one of them does is all it takes. Once this is done you just have to use a couple of films and try different settings to learn, after the third roll of film you will see that it wasn’t as hard as you thought.
SHOOTING – You will gain great confidence when shooting with analog cameras as you will be forced to trust in yourself when you take pictures. You won’t see what they actually look like until you develop them, so you’ll need to be patient. Even if it takes you a couple of rolls of film until you get the results you want it will definitely be a cheap price to pay in order to better understand photography, and you’ll take better shots than any old bloc shooting with an expensive digital camera without fully understanding what’s happening. Learn the basics, trial and error is the best, and above all have fun while you do it! You can play with analog film, mess around with double exposures, shutter times, light aperture. It’s all up to you, you make the rules. Teaching yourself to follow certain habits can be fun, for example shooting the same scene at different of times of day, shooting at the same time of day but a month’s time apart, or saving the first and last picture of the film for a self-portrait – Why not the whole roll for portraits? The options are endless; so, if you think of a cool ways to keep up the fun factor throughout the learning process it’ll help both your shooting skills and the overall enjoyment of it all.
FILM – Your film is very important as it behaves as the sensor that records the image. When you go shopping for film you will find that there are different numbers – i.e., ISO 100, 200, 400, 800 – these numbers refer to the film’s sensitivity to light. The lower the number, the less sensitive the film will be and the longer the exposure times will need to be to capture a visible image. The higher the number, the more sensitive and hence shorter required exposure times. My advice is to buy as much film as you can, the more you buy the cheaper it will be – buying in bulk is the way to go. If it’s close to the expiration date, don’t worry about it, you will get it even cheaper and you can throw it in its plastic case in the freezer. It will last for years, just make sure you defrost while still inside the tube, otherwise you will get condensation on the film. If the film is way past its expiration date you should shoot it anyway as you will probably get cool, psychedelic effects. Back in the hay day of film there was film for every situation, hundreds of kinds, to capture the ominous soft-light scenes in churches or to shoot the perfect portrait. Nowadays, it’s not so much about the marketing and up-selling of the particular brand of film, but there are still loads of variety in film. And not just B&W versus colour film, as some might think, new kinds of film are still being developed that have special features and colours, it’s always worth trying out new kinds of film to be surprised when the film is developed. And that brings us to the last segment of this extensive post on analog photography.
DEVELOPING – You have choices in how to develop your films. You could make the dream of every “photography enthusiast” come true by making a darkroom at home. Some liquids, a couple of chemicals, a red lightbulb and you’re ready to set up your own laboratory. Then you could say out loud that shit just got real! In case you don’t have as much time or space at home you still have two other ways of developing your film. You can develop it at a store to get the negatives for a couple of bucks and then invest in a scanner. Once you scan the negatives at home you can see the pictures on your laptop and save them, then you can use a photo printer to get physical copies of the ones you really like. The last option, which is the one I prefer most of the time, is developing the whole film directly. The feeling of picking up this package full of memories and expectations gives me a kick just like the one that a kid gets when he is about to open a kinder surprise. Afterwards, I glue the cool ones on an album and the mediocre ones stay in the package with the negatives which will go to a box, the old school hard disk that won’t crash. Advice I could give you here would be to not rush to finish shooting your roll as the accumulation of images over time is one of the real pleasures of using a film camera. Some crazy pics you took at a party with your friends, or scenes of a trip you forgot about – these are memories, waiting patiently inside that black box, for you to rediscover and relive once again.