Film? That was then. The world is now digital

When we baby boomers were younger, we didn’t use words like “analog” and “digital” mainly because the only digits in our world were in math class. But that was then, this is now, and sometimes it seems nowadays that the whole world has “gone digital.” David Henderson, BoomerCafé’s publisher and co-founder, is on top of all things digital, and inspired in part by the popularity of the photography pieces we’ve run by contributor Bob Atkinson, David has written about the enormous enhancements we can enjoy with digital photography.

Stored away in a corner of our downstairs laundry room is a bagful of Canon camera gear. A film camera. There’s a nice camera body and several lenses. I think there’s even a roll of Kodak film still in the camera, and maybe some long-forgotten images taken decades ago.

Great in its day ... a heavy bagful of Canon film camera gear.

Great in its day … a heavy bagful of Canon film camera gear.

Maybe it’s a sign of the quality they used to make things back in those days but the bagful of stuff must weigh about 15 pounds. The lenses with their many elements of glass are hefty. But, those days are over. One thing is for sure: as a guy with many miles logged on my legs, I’m not about to lug around heavy camera equipment these days, whether it’s film or digital.

David in Bamberg, Germany, with his favorite digital camera, the retro-looking Fujifilm X-100.

David in Bamberg, Germany, with his favorite digital camera, the retro-looking Fujifilm X-100.
(Photo by Kit Bigelow)

Like so many other baby boomers, I switched to digital so quickly around the turn of the century (and you know what “turn” I mean) that a lot of us never thought to sell what we’d used for so long. But we don’t even know we’ve got it around any more, because digital has opened great possibilities for photography enthusiasts … and, it’s only getting better.

A sea change in digital photography.

And now, what we are seeing is that with advancements in digital camera technology, there’s yet another sea change underway. New technology is giving us even smaller, more affordable and lighter gear that captures professional-quality images. Amateur photographers today can easily take professional quality images. But, it requires some research and you have to know what you’re looking for.

Personally, I find most of the so-called “camera review” blogs to be less than objective and full of income-generating links. I turn to DPReview.com for a good overview. Here’s what I recommend you consider:

Comparison of digital camera sensor sizes.

Comparison of digital camera sensor sizes.

Sensor size — larger is better. Forget about the myth over megapixels. That’s just hype. The size of the sensor that a camera has ultimately determines how much light it uses to capture an image. In very simple terms, image sensors (the digital equivalent of film size) consist of millions of light-sensitive spots called photosites which digitally record information about what is seen through the lens. Therefore, it stands to reason that a bigger sensor can gain more information than a smaller one. The benefit? Larger produces better images.

Consider cameras with at least one-inch sensors. The hottest cameras on the market are Sony’s RX100 series of digital cameras. They all have one-inch sensors and professional quality Zeiss zoom lenses. The RX100s also shoot terrific HD video.

Sony's RX100 iii (left) and Canon's GX7 X.

Sony’s RX100 iii (left) and Canon’s G7 X.

Another good camera to consider with a one-inch sensor is Canon’s PowerShot G7 X, which is priced at $700.

Digital camera sensor has replaced film.

Digital camera sensor has replaced film.

So those are very good. But even better is the “APS-C” sensor. APS-C is a large sensor that’s gotten more affordable, and we see them showing up in many cameras under $700. The same APS-C sensor used by the $2,000 Leica X is found nowadays in the new $600 Fujifilm X-A2, a camera with cool retro design. The X-A2 is available in March this year.

A word of caution … the market remains full of cheap point-and-shoot cameras with tiny 1/1.7-inch sensors. I predict that these will soon be gone, replaced by cameras sporting larger image sensors.

Consider lens quality. The legendary Zeiss lenses are now installed in $600 Sony digital cameras, but Canon, Fuji, and Nikon are among the leaders in greater lens quality. Panasonic promotes made-in-Japan or in Portugal (but surprisingly, not Germany) Leica lenses on some of their cameras.

Fujifilm's X-A2

Fujifilm’s X-A2

Buy large memory cards … and, adjust your digital camera to shoot the highest quality images, fine or super fine. Yes, higher quality images requires larger capacity SDHC memory cards. A 32GB memory card has tons of space for hundreds of the highest quality images. It’ll cost less than $20. Transcend and Sandisk are among the leading brands. I’ve never had a Transcend memory card fail.

Purchase from experts. Ask serous camera enthusiasts and pros where they buy their gear. Most likely, it’s not at Wal-Mart or Best Buy but rather at the handful of first-rate camera stores that offer expert telephone advice.

I talk with the experts and buy everything at B&H Photo Video in New York. I like their expedited free shipping. There are many other fine camera stores as well, and just about all offer competitive prices. The fact is, you are most likely not going to save money at Wal-Mart or Best Buy.

Circling back to all those old film cameras … where can you sell that stuff? Try KEH.com or B&H Photo Video. But, brace yourself to be offered pennies on the dollar for your old investment in film.

[Note: There are no revenue-generating links in this article.]

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for the info.
    Now that we are in the digital age I think nothing of snapping off a few hundred shots at a time. (Surely they’ll be one good one there) ..and it’s true that it’s much easier and the picture quality is much better.
    But sometimes I miss the Mental Workout (Back in the film days) of making sure to compose the right shot before you pressed the button. After all, you didn’t want to waste film, money and those pesky flashcubes! I guess I thought about the shot a little more.

  2. Thank you David for a most informative and interesting post. I must confess that in our house my wife is the person to go to when talking about cameras and photography. Her dad was a professional photographer (Brooks Photography in Bethesda, Md.), and although it’s nice to reminisce about what photography used to entail, when he went “digital” he never looked back. My wife has many cameras, but these days she only uses her digital. As for me, I sometimes make suggestions of what to shoot, with her camera that is.

    1. Tom,
      You are correct. That was the only illustration of comparative sensor sizes I could find in the public domain. If you can locate a more comprehensive one, please send to me. Thanks.
      David

  3. David advises the use of large memory cards for good reason. The kinds of cameras he’s talking about allow the use of the RAW format. A RAW image, for its much larger file size, has all the digital color and tonal information your sensor is capable of capturing. Using software (Adobe Lightroom is just one) that allows you to “work” the image so that it is to your liking adds still another exciting dimension to your digital photography. If the face in your portrait is in deep shadow, you can fix that and other problems.

    1. Doug,
      You are so correct. Ever since I became aware of the added dimension offered by RAW format cameras – that separate prime colors into red-blue-green channels – I use Lightroom to bring added brilliance to photos.
      We would invite you to submit a baby boomer-related story about this technical advantage now available in digital cameras.
      David

  4. Great post, David. It makes me feel even more guilty about all of the iPhone photos I’ve submitted with my BoomerCafe articles. But you always do such a great job doctoring them up. Many thanks for your TLC when it comes to photography.

  5. I loved photography when I was younger, but darkroom developing was impractical with my traveling lifestyle. I love the convenience of digital photography. These are great tips for anyone considering getting into digital photography.

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