In the book "On Photography" by Susan Sontag, she theorizes that the camera in the hands of a vacationer helps them deal with the anxiety of travel. Standing in front of any amazing site, leaves one perplexed as to what to do, but the act of lifting a camera to ones eye allows a socially acceptable action to be done. The refocusing of our attention to the camera, helps us assimilate what we are faced with and gives us a chance to process it.
When this book was written, film cameras were the only medium available. The picture being taken would not be viewed for days, weeks or even months later. Today with digital cameras the only thing that has changed is the immediacy of viewing the image captured. This being true, and with digital camera improving by leaps and bounds, why would one ever decide to take a film camera on vacation? Here I give my explanation for this seemingly odd choice.
1. Perfection versus Character:
Digital photography is an amazing medium and I often times take a digital camera with me on vacation. There is nothing as perfect as a image from my D800 of a landscape, city scape or even a street shot. But the perfection of the images removes from the character of the scene. What I am trying to capture is a scene and that is very rarely perfect. A film captured image, with the imperfections of development and printing, gives an image a character that often enhances a scene.
2. Extending the Visit:
The latency or delay of developing a roll of film, allows me to enjoy the scene a second time. It allows me to look at the scene with a critical eye after development is done, then through the selection process on a contact sheet and then finally in a darkroom as I print it. With digital I see the image right after I take it, select the image on the computer and spend five minutes on Lightroom or Photoshop refining it and rarely if ever print it.
3. Enjoying the Limitations:
Film is not cheap, so I end up being more selective on film. I have a higher hit rate which allows me to slow down and enjoy the limitations of film. The ISO limitations force me to take advantage of any "spoonful of light" (Don McCullin) and really think about the image. Overcoming limitations is part of the artistic process. As digital improves, there are less limitations making it less an artistic process and more of lucky one.
4. Digital is Less about Photography:
Digital is about post processing on a computer. Film is about the art of the capture as the limitations of the darkroom are such that I am unable to create anything in the darkroom. All I can do is enhance what was originally captured.
5. I Always have a Digital Point & Shoot:
This argument I am blatantly stealing from fstopcameras.com. The argument is a good one so I will use it. With my iPhone I always have a good point & shoot digital camera with me. It is easy to use it as it is always with me. So for the quick snapshots for Facebook or Instagram, I have a tool that is very well designed and always at hand.
6. Silver Gelatin Prints:
I cannot print the same tonal range of B&W in digital than I can in film in the darkroom. This could be my own limitation on printing, but there is a depth to a silver gelatin print that I just cannot match. I have a great number of digital images, perfectly converted to B&W that I cannot get a great print from. I wish I had shot them on film.
7. Digital is Easy:
Look at the images on Instagram, Facebook or all over the internet. Look at the number of photographers who are shooting amazing works of art. All of them are standing on the shoulders of scientific brilliance using digital cameras that make it difficult to shoot a bad shoot. Take a digital camera to Europe and you can make amazing images (using your computer) just like the thousands of others that same day. With a film camera, getting that amazing image is much more challenging which increases the satisfaction when finally obtained.
In all honesty, I typically do take both a digital and film camera with me on vacation. I love the benefit of having the immediate gratification while I develop my film images. But in the end, my favorite image of a vacation is usually captured on film.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.