Photo Kit: is analogue better than digital

 

You know, every single person I talk to about the fact that I read ebooks (that’s digital books on my iPad) will inevitably say they prefer a “real” paperback or hardcover book, because they “like the feel of turning pages and the feel of paper.”

Seriously, I mean EVERYBODY says this to me — to which I usually counter with the argument that it is easier and more convenient to read on a portable device which can hold more ebooks than I can physically carry paperbacks.

Ebooks also have several advantages over paperbacks, in that if I have the same app installed on my tablet and smartphone, the bookmarks will stay synched between devices AND I can often buy digital versions cheaper than physical books on launch day.

Oh yes, tablet computers like the iPad are also multimedia machines, and I remember once, when I was reading “Life: Keith Richards”, the autobiography of The Rolling Stones’ axeman and songwriter, I could simply search on YouTube to find any recorded performance mentioned in the book.

So what has all this got to do with cameras, you ask?

Well, you see, the reaction I get with regards to ebooks is exactly the same as the one I used to get when I told people I switched to a digital camera way back when. (This was way back in early 2000 when cameras were just transitioning from film to digital)

In fact, shooting digital is much the same as using an ebook — in both, you can store and save more files digitally than you could with the analogue medium.

Like an ebook, digital photography has also greatly reduced the amount of space I need for storage — instead of stacks and stacks of negatives which degrade over time, I now store them in multiple hard disk drives.

Yes, there is also a drawback of course — unlike film, which can last a long time if stored properly (but also degrades quickly if you don’t), there is a question of how long digital storage formats (like hard disk drives and DVD-R media) will last.

I mean, can you really trust your photos to a single DVD-R or a hard disk? The other major drawback is that we can lose hundreds, if not thousands of images on a hard disk if it fails.

If you shoot in RAW format, then there’s another added danger —  every camera has a different RAW format (even for different cameras from the same manufacturer) and if you wanted to use those photos, you need to convert them to a format like JPEG of TIFF.

The problem is as your camera gets older, who’s to say that the manufacturer will continue to support your camera’s RAW format and provide a converter so that you can convert it to JPEG or TIFF?

So far, most companies build legacy support into their RAW conversion software but you just never know when support for older camera RAW formats will be dropped.

For me, I make backups (in both RAW and JPEG format) in several places — I backup on several DVD-Rs at the same time making copies in a few portable hard disks drives as well as onto a cloud storage solution for a few of the most important shots.

Anyway, storage uncertainties aside, as people eventually found out, the advantages of being able to see your images immediately after shooting as well as the greater flexibility in terms of ISO settings on a digital camera far outweighs the “feel” of shooting on film.

Yes, there still are people out there shooting on film, and while I admit there is a certain appeal to using a film camera, as there is when reading a real paperback, it’s actually more a nostalgia thing than being actually “better.”

(Photo Kit is a fortnightly online column in which Tan Kit Hoong (tankh@thestar.com.my) shares his thoughts on the art and technology behind cameras at thestar.com.my/tech.)

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