Going Analogue

Since buying a digital camera in 2000 (an Olympus C3000 Zoom) we haven’t really looked back on analogue photography. Although we had bought a brand new APS camera in 1999, it disappeared into a dusty drawer as soon as we’d tested the digital waters. Earlier this year we even bought a second digital camera, a superslim Casio Exilim EX-S2.

The Olympus is a great all-round camera, and takes superb landscape shots, but it is quite bulky to carry around. The Casio is a snapshot camera. It’s great for people pictures, it’s tiny enough to slip into a pocket without spoiling the line of your trousers, and it turns on almost instantly. It’s rubbish at doing landscape or architecture shots, but that’s okay, because that’s not what we use it for.

A couple of months ago, however, we had a little accident with the Casio. The result was a cracked LCD screen, an £80 repair bill, and about four weeks without the camera.

Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, as we still had the Olympus, but it so happened that in those four weeks, Abi was away on her own for a bookbinding conference, and Alex and I were up in Aberdeen visting my grandmother. Abi ended up taking the Olympus down South with her, and Alex and I brought our quaint old APS device: a Canon Elph 260Z.

Now, when APS (“Advanced Photo System“) first arrived on the scene, I thought it was pretty cool:

  • Instead of a normal roll of 35mm film, APS cameras take a little film cartridge. APS cameras all auto-load these cartridges, so there is no messing about with threading film through a series of rollers.
  • The cartridges are asymmetric, so there is only one way they’ll fit in the camera. There is also a visual status indicator on the cartridge itself to show whether the film is (1) new, (2) in progress, (3) finished, or (4) developed. If your camera allows it, you can even swap cartridges in mid-roll.
  • At the time of taking a photo, you can specify a “framing mode” for the photo. The three modes are “Classic” (4:3 ratio), “HDTV” (9:5), or “panoramic” (about 10:3). The camera will actually photograph as much of the scene as the lens permits, but the framing mode will determine how the picture is cropped when it is printed.
  • When you get your pictures developed, they don’t come back with strips of negatives. Instead, you get back the cartridge itself (with the roll of developed negatives nicely tucked away inside it) and an index print, showing thumbnails of all the pictures on the roll. (And the prints, of course.)

The down side of APS is that it doesn’t have the same picture resolution as 35mm film. The negative is only about half as big, which means (in digital terms) that it has half the pixels. It’s like taking a picture with a 4 Megapixel camera vs a 2 Megapixel camera: you’ll be able to blow up the 4 Megapixel image to a much greater size before the individual pixels become visible. (The “grain” of the film, in analogue terms.)

To be honest, we never took enough pictures with the Canon for this downside to become noticeable. Migrating from 35mm to APS seemed like a step forward.

Moving from digital back to film photography, however, is an enormous pain in the ass:

  • No LCD screen. Some sophisticated film cameras now have LCD panels as well as optical viewfinders, but on digital cameras, LCD screens are the norm. Unless the lighting conditions are really bad (i.e. too much light), I would much rather hold the camera away from my face and watch the LCD, than hold it up to my eye and look through the viewfinder.
  • Every photo you take has to be developed and printed. Getting two rolls of APS film (65 shots) developed at Boots costs £16. If you factor in the cost of the film itself (£3-4 per roll), that works out at about 35 pence per photo. With our digital cameras, it’s not unusual for us to fire off 65 shots in a couple of hours, and that costs us exactly nothing. Note also that APS film and developing is more expensive than 35mm.
  • If you’re used to working with digital, you’ll probably want to get your analogue photos digitised. That means letting the developer stick them on a CD (at additional cost), or scanning them yourself (time and effort). Scanning from the negatives will give you better results, but APS really falls down here because the negatives are hidden inside that formerly convenient cartridge. And they’re not easy to get out.

All this adds up to one result: if you’re used to digital, you won’t ever want to go back to APS. 35mm, despite being the older technology, is actually much more suited to the digital age.

2 Replies to “Going Analogue”

  1. There’s one more disadvantage to film photography as compared to digital: TIME. Digital photos offer instant gratification, but you have to wait for analog.

    We took Alex to Edinburgh zoo last weekend, and took a lot of (digital) photos. Then, when we got home, we were able to show him the pictures and talk about the day. After another zoo trip, I even printed his favourite penguin shot out and put it in a spare frame while he was in the bath.

    With analog, you have to find time to drop the film off (how many of us have waited *years* before getting around to it?), wait for the development, then find the time to pick them up. Elapsed time is much longer than the attention span of a toddler.

  2. I have very much the same experience, owning an analog 35mm camera before I bought a Canon digital Ixus — I never looked back to the mess and cost of film again… When I recently was looking for an “upgrade” being able to store and PREVIEW my images digitally while shooting was request # 1…

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