I brought two cameras with me to Malaysia this trip. One is my recently-acquired Sony RX100 II, the other is my slightly older Bessa R2A film rangefinder. But for some reason, most of the time I’ve found myself taking the Bessa with me everywhere, and leaving the very capable RX100 at home.
I feel like I’m cheating on digital cameras.
It’s not like I hate digital photography, as I’ve said many times before. As any film photographer who’s ever been caught out with the wrong kind of film loaded in his camera will tell you, there are many benefits to user-selectable ISO, autofocus, and even being able to instantly see and review your picture immediately after you’ve taken it, all features you can find on even the simplest of digital cameras. Instead, the reason why I choose to use a film rangefinder over an advanced digital camera is a little less clear cut than just “because I’m an analog camera hipster” or “for the sake of it”.
While it’s true that the Bessa produces equal or better photos (on occasion) than the Sony, or that film has a certain unique quality about it that can’t be replicated by the super-clean files of digital, unless work happens in post (processing). Those are both true, and both are compelling reasons to shoot film over digital, but neither of them are the reason I choose to take photos with the Bessa when I can.
I was reading Craig Mod’s piece in The New Yorker, entitled Goodbye, Cameras. There, he us about how the iPhone is a compelling choice for many photographers, not only because it produces images that more or less equal many of today’s point and shoots, but also because it’s a powerful networked camera that lets us instantly share the images we’ve taken, along with whatever context we want (a witty tweet, a geotag, a — shudder — hashtag on Instagram):
Yet if the advent of digital photography compressed the core processes of the medium, smartphones further squish the full spectrum of photographic storytelling: capture, edit, collate, share, and respond. I saw more and shot more, and returned from the forest with a record of both the small details—light and texture and snippets of life—and the conversations that floated around them on my social networks.
He makes a good point. There’s something intrinsically advantageous about the notion of a networked lens, one that is capable of capturing not only a beautiful landscape or social situation, but also recording the thoughts and memories to go along with it. Not only that, but then being able to instantly share that with anyone in the world makes for a pretty desirable device, wouldn’t you say?
But as great as all that is, what use is a networked lens like the iPhone if there is no network? During my trip to Malaysia I didn’t have internet access for the majority of the time (by choice, not because it was physically not available), and I still took photos with my iPhone. I just wasn’t able to instantly share them with friends on various social networks. Why, then, would I choose to take most of the pictures I did with a film camera, instead of a very capable, much more advanced, digital one like the Sony?
The answer is twofold: one, I’m a dirty analog camera hipster, and two, I enjoy the experience of film photography, especially with a film rangefinder, more.