A few weeks ago, I came across a question by another WordPress blogger asking – why does anyone use film anymore? That got me thinking… I left a comment on the post, of course, but I felt that the “Why” aspect needed to be better clarified, and hence, this post.

I don’t shoot much slide film – too much of a hassle to develop and an even bigger hassle to convert to digital format. I’ve used ScanCafe in the past, and they provided me with EXCELLENT service. Still, it means waiting a week for your slides to come back from the film processor, and then shipping them to ScanCafe for scanning at 3000dpi, approving the scans online, and then waiting for the finished DVD – a process can take 3 to 4 weeks, depending on how backed up they are. I would probably shoot more slide film if it was a cheaper and faster proposition.

Now, I mainly shoot 200 ASA color negative film, and on special occasions, a roll or two of Ilford Black & White. There are so many costs associated, and being on a budget, I use my local Walmart in Westminster for processing. Since I have been dropping off film for a while now, all the photo technicians know me quite well, and take extra care when developing my rolls. I don’t make prints, just ask for the processing, and transfer to CD. They develop and put it on CD for me in just over an hour, no prints for $4.25. A 5 pack of Fuji 200 ASA costs about $5.99. So it costs about $5.45 to buy and process each roll of film.

Darn. Digital would be so much cheaper, and an Olympus E-500 package (8 MP, currently $650 with 2 lenses) would practically pay for it itself in the film cost equivalent of about 150 rolls. That said, there is always the higher resolution of film, when scanned. I get 13.2 Megabytes on average on my scans, but since I don’t make any prints, it’s a moot point. I always have to bring them down to about 200kB for posting online anyway. Besides, an Olympus xD 1 Gigabyte flash memory card only costs about $30, and can hold 200 pictures at 5 Mb each. That’s more than 8 rolls of standard 24 frame film.

For me, it’s about my manual cameras, and the manual lenses – not really about the media… What’s important to me is the way the feel in the hand, their heft and feedback, both tactile and audio. Now if there was someone manufacturing “digital” backs at a reasonable price that could be retrofitted onto all the beautifully engineered older cameras out there, I suspect that you’d probably see most of the film crowd abandoning the medium in droves.

The amateur photographer is a canny animal – not being collectors, we are usually on a shoestring budget, and while the pleasures of film are considerable, the disadvantages have to be considered as well. Film does holds one back from experimenting and improving as a photographer, since we never get to explore various perspectives and multiple shots since the cost of film processing is always at the back of our minds. Digital media offers the opportunity to shoot the same scene at different exposures without worrying about using up film. Since practice makes perfect, digital cameras do help us improve and grow as photographers, since there is no cost barrier once the initial (considerable) investment on the DSLR is made.

As for me, although I love my solidly built manual cameras, they are only light-tight boxes. I am an user, and I like to take pictures. If film finally becomes a cost-prohibitive barrier to shooting, then I will have to bow to the inevitable. I would hesitate to call it progress, though. Ha ha. I know that I can use my beautiful Zuiko, Kiron, Komine and Panagor lenses on a Olympus DSLR, but the Olympus made OM to Four Thirds MF-1 adapter has lots of limitations, and that worries me. I have 10 Zuiko lenses and a bunch of Kiron, Vivitar and Komines. I would really like to use them on a Digital SLR, but the adapters available may just not permit it.

The Olympus MF-1 OM Four Thirds Adapter manual lists the compatible lenses, and that is pretty extensive – what is troublesome is that most of the OM series lenses will only work in a limited f stop range – typically f/4 – f/8, and thats not much use to me, since I hardly every shoot in that range, except in overcast conditions and for portraits. I generally set my lenses in the f/11 – f/22 range as I use the Sunny 16 rule, most often at f/16 (f/11 if I am using a polarizer).

I am holding out because I feel that we haven’t seen the best that Digital SLRS can offer yet. Olympus is selling the 10 megapixel E-400 only in Europe, for some reason – in the US, we have the 8 megapixel E-500, and the older E-300, E-330 and E-1 models available. Olympus announced the 10 Megapixel E-510 bundle late last month, but they are not in stores yet, although most sellers are accepting orders. The E-510 with the 2 lenses should come in at less than $1000, which is a great price (although not as attractive as $650 for the E-500).They also announced the E-410 for the US market, and I expect that it will have a pricepoint a little below the E-510.

As an alternative, I could also choose a Sony Alpha 100 (Minolta) body and get to use my Maxxum AF lenses (1.5x on the Alpha – ie, my 50mm will be a 75mm as opposed to the 2x on the Olympus eSeries). The Sony Alpha 100 is a great camera as well, and costs about $1050 for the 2 lens kit. I don’t particularly like Sony’s proprietary memory sticks, but thankfully, the Alpha takes a CompactFlash or a CF MicroDrive, same as the E-500. Hey, the xD card is a proprietary card as well. I wish they’d all stick to one format – say Secure Digital cards which have a much higher memory storage capacity. (or build in a 4 or 8 Gigabyte CompactFlash microdrive into every camera as internal memory and be done with it).

The one very great advantage of the Sony Alpha 100 is that it will take ALL my Minolta AF Maxxum and 3rd party AF lenses made in the last 20 odd years without an adapter – I’ve a Sigma 50mm f/2.8 Macro, a Maxxum AF 50mm f/1.7 standard lens (simply superb), a Maxxum AF 28-80mm xi, a Maxxum AF 80-200mm, a Maxxum AF 35-105mm, a surprisingly excellent Phoenix 28-105mm (I consider this a hidden gem), and a Tamron 70-300mm and a couple of T-mount preset lenses – all in all, a considerable investment that would happily not go to waste… in addition, I have a fine little Bower made Olympus lens to Minolta AF body adapter that allows me to fit my precious Zuiko and other 3rd party Olympus lenses to the Sony Alpha. Thank you Sony, for respecting all the Minolta AF camera users and retaining the solid Minolta AF mount.

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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