Saturday, May 10, 2008

Digital Photography: Still Fascinating to Me

My daughter’s best friend got married today and she asked me to take pictures of the wedding and reception. I was happy to oblige. But afterwards, while I was at home creating a DVD slide show of the event, I started waxing nostalgic of the time when I was a kid, taking pictures with my cheap plastic camera.

I’ve always enjoyed photography. When I was about 12 or 13 I would go around the neighborhood or down to Irwin Park and take pictures of about anything I could find. The pictures were black and white, because color film and developing were way too expensive.

The camera I had took roll film, so I had to load it in the dark and wind it by hand. There was a tiny round window on the back of the camera where the number of the picture, which was printed on the film’s paper backing, could show through.

When I was in junior high school, I got a Polaroid camera for Christmas. Again, I mainly took black and white pictures, but once in awhile Dad would let me buy a roll of color film, especially if he wanted some pictures out of it himself.

After collage, I bought my first single-lens reflex camera, or SLR. It was a Pentax. I learned how to take pictures the right way, according to the people who know, or at least according to the people who wrote books about taking pictures.

It was a fun hobby. I purchased several interchangeable lenses, filters, flash units, and other accessories. At one point, I even tried my hand at developing my own pictures in a makeshift darkroom.

But in the mid-1990s, while I was working for the Tricounty News, my boss purchased for us a new-fangled device that would eliminate the need to buy film. It was a digital camera. It didn’t look much like a camera. But it took black-and-white pictures that were much easier to include in the newspaper than film pictures were. And you could view them on the computer as soon as you took them.

A little more than 10 years later, color digital cameras have virtually replaced film cameras. Polaroid is no longer making film because it has switched to digital. You can still find film cameras, but they are relegated to a small corner of the sales display at Wal-Mart.

And whereas Polaroid cameras of years past would take pictures you could view in about a minute, if the picture was no good, you still used up the film. With digital cameras, you can look at the picture immediately using the screen on the back of the camera. And if you don’t like it, just erase it and take it again.

Most teenagers have known nothing but digital photography. Young couples have been taking digital pictures for at least half their lives. But for the middle-aged photo hobbyist like me, digital photography is still fascinating, even though I was an early-adopter.

Most people don’t give the technology behind all the electronic modern marvels a second thought. They use digital cameras to take pictures and they use iPods to listen to music. But I can’t help it. Every time I turn on my mp3 player, I think about those old-fashioned vinyl records I used to own and marvel about how I can now carry what used to be a giant record collection in my front pocket.

And every time I whip out my digital camera, I still think about that cheap old film camera I used to carry around with me when I was a boy. It makes me wonder what fascinating gadgets we’ll have 20 years hence that will make me look back on these days with nostalgia.

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