Digital photography arrived more than two decades ago changing completely the rules of a big part of photography, especially in aspects regarding the presentation of the final image and has allowed us apply new tools to get photographs that were impossible to get in the past. But has it changed everything? Is there any aspect that has changed absolutely nothing and rely in the same principles that prevailed 150 years ago?
I will try to analyze some of the aspects of photography have IN REALITY changed, and which ones have not, with the arrival of digital technology... after all not everything has changed...
- Photography is still about vision and creativity. The digital world has not changed anything about that.
- Learning to take photographs is now EASIER: There’s plenty of information anywhere. The difference? Internet.
- Learning photography is now MORE DIFFICULT: You have many more subjects to learn about. In the past a photographer was person who was behind a camera who had to learn about f numbers, focus and develop a vision. Today a photographer is a person who spends most of his time behind a computer who has, in addition, to learn about RAW files, Metadata, Color Management…
- Learning to take photographs is now CHEAPER: The key to learn photography is to SHOOT PICTURES. In the past you had to develop hundreds of rolls of film, which was really expensive. Now, once you’ve bought your camera and lenses it’s a matter of exhausting them without variable expenses.
The key to learn photography is to SHOOT PICTURES. In the past you had to develop hundreds of rolls of film, which was really expensive. Now, once you’ve bought your camera and lenses it’s a matter of exhausting them without variable expenses.
- They are smaller, lighter and less durable than old analogic camera bodies.
- Mechanical features like frame advance rate, exposure meter, viewfinder coverage and quality, shutter speed reliability and life expectance has not changed much.
- Now they are MORE EXPENSIVE (when you acquire them) but liberate you of your Variable Expenses (who remembers film?). If you are serious on photography, the second expense is much bigger, so the final balance is that now it’s CHEAPER. For the same reason, for the casual shooter (who don’t photograph often), photography has become more expensive. Just to comment an example. A Nikon F5 (top of the line) price was 3000€ in the 90’s. Now top of the lines are around 7000€. Do you want to hear good news? A camera body around 1000€ is all you need unless you want to become a professional in action or wildlife photography.
- Now they focus better and faster. The difference is stunning, in special in low light.
- The quality standard of the picture is now superior, in special if used at high ISO’s.
- Low end camera bodies have a price-performance ratio unsurpassable. The sensor (the factor that establishes the quality of the picture) is not far away from top of the line cameras. The difference are the shots per second, speed of the processor… factors that, unless you are shooting sports, animals or press (where frames per second rate is a must), wouldn’t make you lose your sleep.
- Low light photography thanks to digital sensors has improved a lot. Now you can use 1600-3200 ISO without much problem, even with cheaper cameras. In the past ISO 400 was most of the times the further you could go to achieve a decent result.
- Sharpness: Digitally YOU CAN’T IMPROVE SHARPNESS. This is a property of any lens WE CANNOT IMPROVE DIGITALLY. The sharpness of your pictures is the one that your lens produces. This is the critical factor that you should look for when you buy a lens. Forget about ‘digital zoom’: it’s only interpolation. What is not present in the RAW file your sensor captures cannot be added digitally. No shortcuts here.
- Distortion, Corner Fall Off, Chromatic Aberration. These optic defects that any lens has to a greater or lesser extent have not improved during the last decades, but now there are digital means to minimize or get rid of them. Nikon and Canon include profiles for each camera body and lenses that produce RAW files without these optic faults and, if your camera manufacturer doesn’t offer this option, Adobe also offers it in Lightroom and Photoshop. So they are something to forget when choosing a lens. However sharpness is something no one can give you, and continues being the most important selection factor for a lens.
- Sharpness is the critical factor that you should look for when you buy a lens. Forget about ‘digital zoom’: it’s only interpolation. What is not present in the RAW file your sensor captures cannot be added digitally. No shortcuts here.
- Close Focus Distance: It hasn’t changed. It depends only on the optics.
- Auto Focus: This has been the BIGGEST IMPROVEMENT the digital world has brought to photography. Now lenses focus better, faster, are more silent and are able to focus in dim light. By the way, this aspect is not only a matter of the lens; the camera body you use has also a lot to do with the quality of your Autofocus.
- Mechanics and Construction: The only thing that SEEMS TO GET WORSE as the years passes by. Lenses today are WORSE BUILT than ever; when you have them in your hand it seems that they’re going to break. I own old Nikon lenses that are built to last. They’re like tanks.
- Lenses have exactly the same prices as 40 years ago.
- Nowadays manufacturers are not interested in making lenses that will last, so they use more and more plastic.
- Control on the Printed Photograph: Digital photography has given photographers back the control of the printed photograph that color photography process wiped away in the 50’s due to its complexity
- Printing pictures with predictable results is now CHEAPER: Today we can make Lambda prints or Impressions on Cotton Paper at only a fraction of the price of a Ciba-Chrome. We can control in our computer how the final print is going to look like.
- Quality of printed photographs has improved a lot and for a price that is a fraction of old laboratory processes.
- Surfaces you can print your pictures on have grown exponentially. Now you can print nearly anywhere except sand.
If you have lived during the times of film photography… what changes has your photography experimented?
Do you miss something of those times?
Do you agree with my appreciations?
Have I forgotten any aspect that has changed during the last 15 years?
BOTTOM LINE TO BUY PHOTOGRAPHIC GEAR: Invest in lenses, change your camera body once between 3-6 years, when you feel it is obsolete.
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