Digital Photography Cheaper?
I’ll admit it,…us photographers may seem a strange lot. But it seems every time I’m out shooting I have the consummate digital photographer constantly approaching me to inform me that shooting digital is “much cheaper”. OK. Finances have absolutely nothing to do with my reason for shooting film. But I started to give some serious thought to this conjecture. Not to mention, it kind of pisses me off why a dedicated digital photographer would even question what I do. Kind of like being approached by a stranger who finds the need to inform you that your choice of SUV is questionable when you clearly could buy a pickup truck. What? Do you really think I’ve never shot a digital camera?
The Digital Client
If you’re a in a genre of photography that requires quick turnaround, (although my turnaround when shooting at Industria in NYC was about an hour), or have an Art Director with a lack of self-confidence who needs to have constant input,…well, then digital certainly makes sense. If you’re a very casual shooter, it also makes perfect sense. Past that? Eh. But let’s just concentrate on the cost.
Do I think there’s a good reason to keep up with cameras, software, printers, inkjet cartridges and other digital photo accessories as we become more technologically advanced? Sure,… whatever makes business sense within your business model. But not everyone needs, (or wants), instant turnaround. Especially as the biggest question that’s asked in the digital community is; “How do I make my image look like film?” I have an answer. Use film.
Add to that, some people don’t want to sit in front of a computer playing with ‘sharpness and color’ for 80% of their workflow. It doesn’t mean we’re luddites. Some of us actually like the serenity of the darkroom, the beauty of silver gelatin fiber prints and the Zen of large format. Why anyone else would care is beyond me. In fact, most film shooters also shoot digital. Some a lot, some very little. But not so much the other way around.
First, I shot digital, (but mostly film), at my studio in NY. Digital was more expensive. There were all the computers. All the monitors. All the printers. The ink and paper. Spyders for color calibration. Constantly upgrading software, cameras, storage, translating files from defunct file types, converting raw files, and lots more. That list is barely scratching the surface. But, in a professional environment, the most expensive thing is time.
HDR and Other Unnatural Phenomena
Now if you’re just putzing around, all those things don’t really matter. But, let’s forget cameras for a second. How many versions of Photoshop have you bought? Lightroom? Color calibrators? Upgraded computers? Monitors? Dongles and dingles? (does anyone remember ‘Firewire’ ?) It never ends. On the other end of the spectrum, I have a fellow film shooter who has shot the same 4×5 Horseman camera for 30 years. Yes, he buys film. Yes, he uses chemicals. But even using 4×5 film, (relatively expensive), his yearly cost is less than the cost of a cheapo DSLR. Not counting all that other stuff.
In contrast, a fellow digital photographer I know has changed his cameras 3 times in 2 years. My cameras,…Nikon F4s, Rollei 6008 and Contax G1, are all 20+ years old and in perfect condition. They will probably last another 20. But the present day digital professional needs to spend money faster and faster just to keep up with the latest developments and client expectations. No more Nikon F3‘s or Leica M3 that lasted 40-50 years. An entire career! Although I will admit “Gear Acquisition Syndrome”, (GAS), is not a new phenomena. See William Eggleston’s 300+ Leicas!
Using the middle priced and most popular digital requirements;
- Spyder Color Calibration,…$269.95
- Epson SureColor P400 Inkjet Printer,…$599.99
- Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan with 1TB Cloud Storage (12 Month Subscription),…$239.88
- Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6,…$149.00
- Adobe Photoshop CC (12 Month Subscription),…$239.88
- Epson Ink Six Cartridge Set,…$129.95
- Nikon 750 DSLR,…$1,796.95
- Apple Mac Pro Desktop Computer (Eight-Core, Late 2013),…$4,399.00
- Eizo EV3237FX-BK 31.5″ 16:9 4K UHD IPS Monitor (standard studio),…$1,687.98
- SanDisk 128GB Extreme PRO UHS-I SDXC Memory Card,…$59.00
….and on and on and on. It doesn’t end with buying a new camera every other year. And my examples are the “cheaper” stuff used by a professional. A ‘new’ Mac Pro Workstation with 32gb ram is actually $7,994.00. And goes up from there! Now I know most hobbyists would not entertain such an equipment list, or multiples of said equipment. But I’m not showing the most expensive stuff,…just the most “popular”. On top of that, Adobe, and others, want yearly fees! And don’t get me started on “depreciation”.
We All Make Mistakes
But I have to confess. I actually made a “digital” mistake a couple of months ago. I have an HP laser printer. I change the cartridge about once a year. But I thought it would be nice to have a bit of color for charts and stuff. Hence, I bought a wireless Canon inkjet. Nothing fancy. Within 2 months I had to change out a magenta cartridge. I had forgot what it use to cost me. $35 for one cartridge! You know how many rolls of Tri-X I can get for $35? That printer now sits in storage. Laser is fine. I’m not changing out 6 cartridges at $35 each within 3 months.
All analog photographers don’t have the same workflow. It is true I buy film. Plus chemicals and paper. However, I do not scan film. If it’s on the internet, I scanned a print on an old Epson 4990. My “real” prints come out of a darkroom, where nothing ever seems to change much. Plus, I have drawers filled with film binders. For me, it’s much easier keeping track of physical things. I never really trusted bits and bytes. Remember, this site is filled with analog photographers and analog cameras. We can’t all be crazy. So, we’re not as ‘rare’ an animal as one might think.
No Winners, No Losers
That said, I’m aware that very few photographers can make a living using just film. Working in digital has become a necessity for most portrait, wedding and commercial photographers. But, it’s actually sad. Especially as it pertains to youth. Are we going too fast? Adding up all this gear, the subscriptions, the multiple storage requirements, the time, etc.,…well, film seems cheap. So, despite my seeming rant, I actually have much empathy for digital photographers. And if I’m doing an event or party where the end product will be a Facebook upload,….well, then even I use digital. I’m not against digital. And I’m not asking any of you to change. Just be respectful of your fellow photographers,…analog or digital. I have a great simpatico for the “majority viewpoint” and the hamster wheel of having to spend more and more and more. Been there, done that. I’m even fine with iPhone selfies. This is not a sporting event, with winners and losers. If you’re in the majority, take solace in knowing you’ve made Apple, Adobe, Nikon and Canon very happy. But cheaper? I think not. Unless you’re taking thousands of images of your cat. In that case,…rock on.
Young Film Photographer Harley Weir