Photography 101: Digital Versus Analog


Stephen F. Dennstedt

I am not a techie or tech-weenie. If you have a lot of technical questions about gear, technique and/or processing you better ask someone else because I’m not your guy. Photographers often fall into one of two camps: either they’re technically oriented around gear and process or artistically oriented towards vision and message (there are blends of both of course). I definitely fall into the artistic or aesthetic camp. I can appreciate nice gear and what it can do but I’m much more concerned with the result. For me cameras, lenses and gear are tools—like wrenches to a plumber.

I will say that I have come to embrace and LOVE digital technology. Why is that the case if I’m not into the gear and process as such? Because I am (or can be) a control freak. In the days of analog (film) once I snapped the shutter I had to rely on a photo lab to bring my vision to fruition. And I hated that. Learning photography in the days of film was a priceless experience: it required discipline, economy and competence. Shooting transparency film (slides) like Kodachrome and Ektachrome usually limited the photographer to 12, 24 or 36 exposures (divide by 3 for bracketing).


Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) Camera

Using my Yashica-D or Rolleiflex TLR with 120 film gave me only 12 (2¼ x 2¼ inch) exposures. Different cameras with different aspect ratios gave a different number of exposures like 8, 10, 12 etc. With the limited number of exposures available, the cost of film and the cost of processing that film you can immediately see where discipline and economy came into play. Proper exposures could be difficult too, especially with transparency film—the common practice was to bracket your shots to make sure an image was properly exposed (36 exposures ÷ 3 = 12 useable images per roll).


Smokey (1998)) Photographed with my Rolleiflex TLR

Today’s memory cards easily go to 32GB, 64GB and well beyond (hundreds of images). Instead of a deliberate, precise and disciplined approach to shooting many photographers simply spray & pray and hope for the best. When I first got into photography cameras were 100% mechanical and a light meter was always hanging around your neck (no in-camera metering for exposure). No AF-Autofocus, no IS-Image Stabilization, no Auto-ISO or White Balance. No automatic anything—we shot EVERYTHING in Manual Mode (the only mode). Good training but a pain-in-the-ass. Today’s digital is better.


Leica M-3 35mm Rangefinder Camera

I sometimes miss the look of film but not the process of film, the aesthetic but not the technical. I’m not alone, I understand that you can now buy actions (or filters) for Photoshop and Lightroom to replicate a particular film look. Most say: close but no cigar. That the result looks kind of like film but does not replicate the look authentically. If I had more time and wasn’t travelling I might shoot some film again just for the look. You can now scan the negatives and do some post-processing in Lightroom or Photoshop but that sounds really cumbersome to me. There are still some diehard film enthusiasts doing that but for me it’s just not practical. 

Matted & Framed Print

Valle de la Muerte – Atacama Desert, Chile (Photographed with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR)

Analog photography was around for a long time (and still is) but digital is the way to go in my opinion. Never in the history of photography has a photographer had so much creative control. From the time I snap the shutter to the moment I matte & frame a photo for the wall I can do EVERYTHING. No more film cost or processing cost to limit my shooting—I can shoot as many images as I want for the same price. Modern digital cameras can take almost all the guesswork out of shooting and give you immediate feedback for in-field corrections. WONDERFUL.


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