Tales of shooters, gray cards and photo fixer

Remember that knob?
Remember that knob?

The first time I saw a digital camera was in 1994, and I wasn’t terribly impressed.

Mt old warhorse was a Canon AT1, built like a tank and nothing on it was automatic. Adjust the shutter speed, adjust the aperture (we called it the f-stop), focus by hand and shoot.

Using real film, developed by myself in some bathroom somewhere if it was in black and white.

I learned how to turbocharge the film and to cut down my processing time. I could burn a roll of film and get a halftone suitable for newspaper publication within 20 minutes of tearing the film out of the camera. I used to be able to look at a print and tell you what kind of film was used, what the film speed was and what light settings the photographer used.

Which camera produced this photo?
Which camera produced this photo?

So this digital camera, well, it was a nice but expensive toy. The camera looked like one of those you used to get with a subscription to Sports Illustrated, and the quality was almost as good.

What intrigued me, though, was the thought I could come back from a photo shoot and have a print within seconds instead of 20 minutes. Too bad the quality wasn’t there.

Listen, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally consented to having my pictures go on disk instead of good ol’ Kodak paper. I do remember I still wanted the negatives, and the person developing the pictures looked at me kinda funny.

Now you can shoot pictures with your phone — what kind of Communist foolery is that? But look at the two photos with this blog and tell me which one came from the old Canon and which one was shot by a phone. I double-dawg dare you.

Film junkie tries to adapt

I’ll admit, although I love all manner of tech toys I’m sometimes slow to adopt. But making the transition was inevitable, I think. You’d have to hunt around in pawnshops or thrift stores to find an old film-burner. I know WalMart doesn’t have those.

Okay, smart guy. Camera phone or film burner?
Okay, smart guy. Camera phone or film burner?

Honestly, I’m amazed there are still places where you can process your film. But that’s by machine. No little guys hanging your wet prints on a clothesline under the glow of a red light. No comforting smell of D-76 developer and fixer.

The only reason these photo-processing places exist today is for us old geezers who refuse to die.

Last I looked, Eastman Kodak was going belly up. Too bad. That was the best company for all your photographic needs. Forget Fuji, Kodak was the real deal.

I used to drive by the old Eastman Kodak plant in Kingsport, Tennessee and I always had to roll the windows down to catch that wonderfully acrid smell of processing chemicals. It really transported me. In a nostalgic way, of course. It’s not like sniffing glue or anything.

Have to admit, there are advantages to going digital. The photo is ready right now and I can paste it into this blog without a lot of extra work.

(Note: No trees were harmed in the making of this publication, but a lot of perfectly good electrons went to waste. But I digress.)

Some glitches with digital photography. My Android phone has about a full-second delay between hitting the shutter release (a.k.a. “pushing the button”) and the camera actually taking the picture. Any good shooter will tell you how useless that is with moving subjects; a lot can happen in one second.

My Android doesn’t take very good pictures. For that I use an old retired phone, one with much faster responses and better color saturation.

Okay. I admit it. I still miss my Canon. Had it for more than 25 years and it still took great pictures.

But now there’s at least two generations of photographers who don’t know what a shooter is. Don’t know what a gray card is for. Wouldn’t know how to load exposed film into a developing tank using just your jacket to protect the film. Never used Ansel Adams’ zone system. Don’t know how to set a camera so you can take pictures of a moving car — while driving.

I miss those things. But I’m getting along pretty well with my camera phone even with the inherent glitches.

Quiz answer: I took the top photo (of the ocean and land mass with my old AT-1. The bottom photo (with the flowers) was with a smartphone camera.


What say you? Are you an old shooter? Do you remember your first time with a digital camera? Where can a guy get a film-burner around here? Please share.

 

Author: Eric Pulsifer

Eric Pulsifer is a veteran wordsmith with experience as a journalist, editor, musician, and freelance writer.

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