Street Photography: Analog or Digital?

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My favourite analog gear: a Leica M4-2 with a Summicron f2/35mm, a Mamiya 645 1000s and a Rollei 35. The light meter is less oldskool: a Sekonic Twinmate L-208.

With the resurgence of analog photography this topic seems to be quite alive again. Sometimes discussing this topic and being on one side, can make you feel like you are defending a religion. Shooting analog or digital in street photography. Here is what I think.

Although I shoot both I lean very much towards analog. I’m not religious about it and I think both mediums have their own use cases.  Of course it’s different for everybody, with the vast majority of people choosing digital over analog anytime, simply because it’s more convenient, less hassle.
And of course at some events, like shooting sports, analog just doesn’t make any sense in these times, when your picture has to be in a paper or online within minutes. Unless of course you don't have an immediate deadline.

But we are talking street photography here.

"Shooting sports analog just doesn’t make any sense in these times"

As a disclaimer I must say that especially for colorshots I am still more ambivalent and might even prefer digital too. More richness in color, a tonality that better fits my style.  But maybe that’s just because I haven’t found the right colorfilm yet.

So why do I for black and white prefer analog for street shooting? Isn’t going out on the street always about capturing that true unique moment? And doesn’t being at the right place with the right light on a compelling subject within your viewfinder at the right time, just require some luck? And doesn’t that mean that shooting more frames increases your luck? Especially on a fast modern digital camera with continuous shooting, which is almost like shooting video if you ask me :)

My answer: no!

The right shot doesn’t come from quantity. Apart from the more than tedious job of having to go through all these similar shots to pick the right one, for me there is another reason to shoot analog. And that is the a kind of magic you feel when intuitively doing that one click. Or less romantic: the predator-like precision targeting that analog shooting is. It’s hit and miss, if you miss the prey is gone. So it makes you better concentrated and more focused.

"When videorecording a concert with your smartphone you might save a memory, but you missed the true moment it was actually happening."

Now you could say: ‘Hey, but you can also do this digital!’

Yes but no.

Because there is another reason why I prefer analog over digital: digital photography and especially the lcd is distracting you from being focused, because you want to see how you did. Everybody does it: you shoot and automatically look at the result on the back. But if you look at results you are out of the moment. Just like when videorecording a concert with your smartphone might save you a memory, but you missed the true moment it was actually happening. Because at that time you were too involved with your smartphone.

Or when you see the picture and it didn't quite turn out the way you expected, something we all go through, the magic is gone. You are out of the moment.

"I love procrastinating the final result: the waiting until the film comes back from the lab."

So I love the excitement of planning, waiting, shooting, maybe doing one another picture in the same setting and then moving on to the next scene. And than procrastinating the final result: the waiting until the film comes back from the lab.

And in the mean you continue shooting by staying in the flow and moving from scene to scene, with at least the sparkling hope that the shot you just did may worked out the way you envisioned it.

Or not, but this is then something of later concern :)

Summarizing:

PRO

  • Film slows you down. You develop a more considered and focused approach. When shooting film on the streets you will bring back a lot less footage but the rolls you did will most likely contain a more dense set of pictures with a higher quality.
  • Many film cameras don't need a battery (but yes you do need film).
  • Film is far more forgiving if you get the exposure wrong.
  • Film is not necessarily less durable than digital images. Yes negatives can burn but how secure are your digital files? You need backup strategies. You need to secure the hardware. How likely is it that your negatives get stolen by a burglar: will he choose your laptop or a box of negatives? And if you want to keep duplicates you can still backup your negatives digitally as well, so you have the best of both worlds.
  • Film is organic whereas digital is a collection of zeros and ones. Fred Ritchin once said “Digital photography is as far removed from traditional photography as the horse and cart is from the automobile.” You know what a pixel looks like? Its square. Look at film under a microscope and you will see clumps of irregular shapes that gives film its special look.
  • Shooting film stops you being diverted from what’s in front of you. No more chimping on your lcd-display. A film photographer doesn’t review so their attention never strays from the subject.
  • Digital cameras can struggle greatly with highlights (wedding dresses are an excellent example). Film deals with highlights far better.

CONS

  • Digital shooting is simply far more convenient and requires less effort.
  • By shooting digital you can shoot an unlimited number of images, as long as you have battery power.
  • Shooting film requires you to change roll if you want a faster or slower ISO. With shooting digital you only have to press a few buttons. The maxmum ISO is also far higher with todays digital cameras.
  • EXIF data (embedded information) is automated when shooting digital. In recent years geotagging has become more common and you also automatically save your settings as metadata in the picture.

This article was first published on 09.02.2019 and has been extended.

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