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Digital cameras vs 35mm cameras an examination

Devin Greaney comments on the use of Digital vs 35mm in Austin, Texas.

| Technology
By Devin Greaney

Residents of Austin, Texas have long considered their town a big artist colony. A search of the yellow pages supports their belief. The city has many more photographers than similar sized metro areas, so with a new revolution in photography growing in the past few years, Austin is one place to see how much change has really taken place

The term 'revolution' is perhaps overused, especially by marketing departments introducing a new product. But consider that despite all its changes, one thing has remained the same since the first photograph was taken back in 1826. Chemicals reacted to light and were processed to reveal an image. But digital photography removes the chemical reaction and processing part of the equation. For many a computer terminal and an ink jet printer replaces those darkrooms bathed in dim red lights with the smell of Kodak fixer and the sound of trickling water that most photographers grew up with. A quick look at a newsstand showed at least five magazines dedicated solely to digital photography. A camera store across the street from the University of Texas at Austin where the first photograph is now kept, sells only digital cameras though they do sell film and darkroom supplies. To use a camera analogy, we will take a 'snapshot' of photographers and their attitudes on digital with a few short interviews. All were interviewed in January of 2002.

You have probably seen Laurence Parents work. He recently illustrated the book TEXAS MOUNTAINS. His landscapes have appeared on calendars, post cards, books, magazines and he has three more books coming out in 2002. Imagine Ansel Adams as a Texan with color film, and you can visualize his work.

Parent has an Epson 1600 scanner, but thats all the digital hes interested in for now. 4 x 5 film is what he uses for the fine detail of his landscapes and 35mm is used for fast action photography. Archiving is another aspect of his photography where he says film is supreme. 'I think archiving and storage is going to be more of a problem,' he says. Even though the image itself is composed of millions of 1s and 0s rather than celluloid or paper, data storage has gone from a 5 1/4 inch disc to a 3 1/2 inch, to a CD ROM in about a decade. He points out that work done on a digital camera today may be unreadable by equipment in 50 years, but he can store about 10,000 prints in a file cabinet. Parent said a 4' x 5' piece of film has the equivalent of 500 megs of info, so digital has little appeal for him. ' I dont know any landscape photographer who uses digital to take the photo,' he said.

Speaking of archives, that is good portion of the work of Eric Beggs. He has made copies of 13th century documents for the Harry Ransom center at the University of Texas. He has used an old Speed Graphic press camera to document buildings for the Austin History Center and made detailed photos of the architecture of the State Capitol Building. But hes not someone who is stuck in the past.

For the last three years he has also been toting an Olympus D-600 digital camera. For detail he has a 4 x 5' digital back for a view camera. 'Instant feedback' is digitals biggest plus, Beggs said. He can make a photograph and instantly tell if he needs to make any changes to get the look his client needs.

'Its all about the batteries,' says Beggs about the disadvantage digital photographers face. Also storage is another concern. A digital photo needs a computer while prints need nothing for viewing. Exposures of more than 30 seconds are not yet possible with digital cameras. He has noticed black and white film is superior for capturing the subtle shades of clouds and many art galleries prefer transparencies. 'We are not going to abandon silver(film) any time soon' he said.

Few photographers face the challenges Dave Read faces. Nor do they face the rewards.

Read specializes in underwater photography. Digital marine photography is less than a year old, according to Read. 'Actually I dont (use digital photography), but Ive been doing quite a bit of research,' he said. At this time flash control on digital underwater photography is not what it is for film cameras and the only digital camera with underwater housing and interchangeable lenses is the Nikon D1x, which is a higher priced piece of equipment. He is waiting for lower prices with professional quality before he purchases a digital camera for his underwater exploration. Read uses a Nikon LS2000 scanner to digitize prints and slides. Underwater photographers spend years learning how to photograph in the water with a flash that sometimes reflects particles, a phenomena known as 'backscatter'. Much of underwater photography is learned through trial and error so the biggest advantage for digital is that it 'shortens the learning curve,' Read says.

Accuracy. Thats what police photography demands. Bill McCann, the audio-visual director of Austin Police Departments Crime Scene Unit, says instant photography means important evidence that may make or break a case is in less danger of being lost.

Both film and digital is used by the department. Photography 'needs a strong standard operating procedure,' said McCann. With so many officers and investigators photographing so many scenes, some may end up using too large a file size and have the image rejected by system. APD uses Photoshop as its photo software. Anyone who has seen the program knows that users have the ability to add items to a photograph and delete other items. Is this a danger to the integrity or a perceived danger that a defense attorney could use against states evidence? McCann says image authentication software can easily tell if an image has been altered, so evidence is not at risk of being thrown out of court. Police investigating traffic accidents used to use Polaroid cameras to photograph the scene before the cars were moved, but with Polaroids future being in question, digital photography is taking its place, McCann said.

'Nothing is staler than yesterdays news' is quote every reporter knows. Freelance photojournalist Robert McGee finds the speed of digital superior for immediacy. McGee spends his time between his full-time job as a customer care representative for AT&T Wireless and his true love of covering news events, primarily for Getty Images and his own website, Digital cuts down on time and eventually expenses once the initial investment is made. But 'initial investment' is easier said than made.

'(C)oming up with the large cost all at once is difficult for photographers. But once it is had film costs drop drastically and it will actually pay for itself,' according to McGee. In addition to not buying film and darkroom supplies, having a custom made 20 X 30 print from film can cost around $200. With digital it can be done for around $80.

He uses a Canon EOS D30 with a microdrive, which means he can shoot several hundred frames at 8.9 megabytes(his usual setting) without stopping. When one contrasts that to changing rolls after 36 frames from his film camera at fast action events, digital proves itself. But when looking at the possibility of a magazine cover, he says resolution is much more in demand. Newspapers usually want files at 72 dots per inch while magazine covers ask for 300 to 600 dpi. To solve this challenge, McGee generally uses film then scans the image onto a CD, giving him a much higher resolution. He then ships the CD to the magazine. Digital photography was being sold to newspapers as early as 1986 as the future of photojournalism. Speed during and after the event show why.

Elizabeth Kreutz loves sports, photography and people, but she says if it were not for digital photography, her business would still be just a dream. Since May of 2001, Kreutz Photography has been photographing sporting events and posting the photos on her website. Unlike the other photographers in the article, Kreutz shoots only digital in her work. Kreutzs boyfriend, James Bonney, is also her webmaster. 'I have grandparents that would log on every night to see their grandkids,' she said. Those grandparents can also purchase the photos from the website. She photographs high school sporting events and the many races that are run in the Austin area.

'I thought about it three or four years ago,' she said. But at the time digital cameras were too slow or cost prohibitive, but she knew the day would come when quality and cost were in her reach. She now carries a Canon EOS D-30 with plans to move to a Canon 1D. She uses also brings along 2 1 gig cards which each hold about 800 images at 3.1 megapixels. On events with a lot of photography involved, she brings Bonney along with a laptop to download the images so she can start with a new disc. Her work has been noticed by a new triathlon magazine, 'AMERICAN TRI' that will use her as a staff photographer, but she is keeping her business. 'My photography professor at UT said there is such a niche for you because you are so good with people,' she said.

For Jim Dumas work as an aerial photographer, digital does not fly. He prefers his Mamiya 645 medium format. 'There is three times more information on a medium format than a 35mm frame,' he said. 'there is even more information on a 35mm slide than any digital file,' he added. 'Digital is great for newspapers or some magazines,' Dumas said. But when he is flying over a clients site to photograph it, detail is more important than speed. He hopes someday to see digital reach up to the quality he demands for his work, but for now his aerial photos are prints or transparencies. His images can sometimes be scanned onto a Kodak photo CD at his downtown Austin office or drum scanned at a photolab. 'If you are a professional photographer part of your job is to capture all the detail you can,' he said.

An advertising photographer has to have work approved by several people before it ends up in an advertising campaign. Scott Van Osdol was an early adopter getting one of the first professional digital cameras, a Nikon that cost about $8,000 eight years ago. As a digital photographer, Van Osdol quickly saw his clients such as Columbia-St. Davids, the Texas Medical Association and Austin Innovations liked being able to see the finished product instantly, rather than looking at 4 x 5 transparencies. 'This equipment has kept me in business through the dot bomb revolution,' he said. Clients liked the immediacy of digital and that separated him from his competition. Once the photography work is completed and the client sees the finished product they make their decision, and 'they can defend it as it goes up the approval chain,' he said.

Color control is an issue he sees more of digital photography. He sees subtle color differences between what is on the monitor and what finally comes from the printer. 'The Color Sync process is really tricky,' Van Osdol said. 'It helps to have a few years of evaluating color process,' he said.

Getting close to some very shy subjects is Melissa Sullivans goal and for her, film is superior. As a wildlife photographer, the native Austinite now living in Denver likes the resolution film offers when capturing monkeys in Costa Rica or images of bald eagles in the snow. 'It is what Im familiar with and I just think the quality is better,' she said.

Her work demands she use up to a 500mm lens, and then sometimes the photograph is enlarged to show the animal more closely. Currently on many digital cameras much of the telephoto capability involves digital zoom as opposed to the optical zooms on film or higher end digital cameras. The digital zoom gets the subject closer but also increases the size of the pixels. When the photo is enlarged for detail, the pixels become even prominent.

Sullivan, daughter of Jerry and Rosemary Sullivan, owners of Precision Camera in Austin, does use a flatbed scanner and is considering a digital camera for her work as a teacher. But for outdoor wildlife she is content with her Canon Elan ZE.

On the wedding day, everyone has stories of something going wrong. Be it a garden wedding hit with a thunderstorm or a flight delay that had newlyweds spending their wedding night sleeping at the airport. Most of those turn into funny stories, but when wedding photos go bad, no one laughs. Pressure, yes, but part of the job for wedding photographers like Lisa Lodge.

Lodge, who operates out of her home, has been doing weddings and portraits for the last six years, says is content to remain with film using her Nikon F100 and a Hasselblad. 'I have thought about it (digital photography), but it will take a very long time for the brides to get used to it,' said Lodge. Brides are frequently advised to select a photographer who uses a medium format camera at weddings. Lodge needs to sell them on her use of 35mm photography as superior for her photojournalistic style of covering weddings and trying to persuade the couple on digital photography would be just one more step. She says 'maybe in two years,' she will consider digital photography as it becomes more accepted. So far she sees the Nikon D1X as the camera with the most promise. 'I think the image quality is there, but as a photographer I will always be able to tell,' Lodge said.

The question is now film Vs digital. Silver salts Vs pixels. Photo enlarger Vs film scanner. But the question is not an issue of the technology Vs the past. Film clearly has advantages over digital and vice versa, but remember this is a revolution, not just a change. In Super Bowl 1994(where the Cowboys beat the Bills 30 to 13), the Associated Press was on the sidelines with digital cameras that ran about $17,500 and produced 1.3 megapixal images. Would those photographers have guessed the cameras used by todays photojournalists are less than 1/3rd the cost and have more than 4 times the resolution? No one can predict how these photographers work will change in another eight years. But for now there is a new decision for photographers who weigh many things from cost to quality to speed to personal preference. There are a variety of answers to the question just as there are a variety of photographers to answer them.

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