Mechanical Camera In The Digital Age – Going Old School


Does the old school, fully manual, film based, mechanical camera, have a place in this day and age of total digital domination? Or is it relegated to the display cabinet, only to be admired from afar as a museum piece, telling stories of its glorious days of past?

This article is part of the Going Old School series. If you landed here out of nowhere, then click here to go to the beginning. Otherwise, please continue reading.

In this information age, speed is everything when it comes to professional photography. No, I don’t mean how fast your maximum shutter speed is, nor how fast you can capture the subject before they zoom past you, and disappear into the distance. Speed here is referred to as the speed of turn-over, of how fast you can turn around a shoot into the final product, whether for print or web use.

Gone are those days when you’re tasked to shoot for an advertising project, and are expected to deliver the final product to the client within two to three days. That two to three days deadline is barely sufficient for you to process your film (yes, you shoot film back then), select the best images, and get them to be digitised via a drum scanner. And clients still keep the processed slides as the master copy in addition to the digitised high-res images.

Scanned images of the client selected transparencies (slides) back then still had to be inserted into the layout, before it can be delivered to pre-press, followed by the press, post-press, so on and so forth.

Today, instead of completing a single job within two to three days, you have to deliver two to three completed jobs to the client before the end of work day, on that very day itself. This is made possible with the digital imaging workflow, where one individual arranges, shoots, selects, edits, and sometimes even do the layout of the pre-finished products, before emailing to the clients. The professional photographer of today is also expected to do the jobs of the colour lab, image editor, colour separator, and graphic artist for each job that he or she undertakes.

The photographer’s job isn’t over at the end of the shoot. Instead of packing up the gear, and heading over to the local watering hole to celebrate a completed job, he or she will often pop open the portable computer, hunch over a bench or something, and go through the rest of the steps of the digital imaging workflow, before he or she can proceed to the next job scheduled for that day.

That’s right, the life of a professional photographer isn’t as glamorous as has been portrayed to be by the media. You literary had to work to pay your rent, cover your overheads, put food on the table, send your daughter to dance class, send your son to swimming class, and if you still have anymore left after that, save up to purchase a better lens so that you can take on other more specialised jobs.

But jobs aside, you have to have the love for photography if you were to choose the path of the professional photographer. And just like professional race car drivers who have the passion for driving low-tech classical cars on their days away from the tracks, many professional photographers whom I know also have the passion of shooting film with mechanical cameras just for the sake of shooting for non-work related projects.

However, unlike the classic cars which still run on the same fuel as their modern counterparts, old school cameras run on film, chemical developers, stop-baths, fixers, and not to mention a specialised dark room to do the printing in. These are additional costs, all of which are continuing to go up by the day, as their commercial demands dwindle in the digital age.

So, as much as I’d like to continue shooting film, the added cost just simply isn’t justified. And that’s where the saying “Photography is an expensive hobby” came from. The keyword here being hobby. If you make a living out of it, you can write it off as a business expense, and you’ll still be able to earn a decent profit from your service charges to the client. But a hobby?…

While it is getting more and more impractical to shoot film with a classical, fully manual, mechanical camera, adapting the shooting style of a fully-manual digital camera with a modern digital camera comes in as a close second, where the passion and the fun of shooting is concerned, while keeping the operation costs low.

Shutter Speed Dail

Yes, this dial is all the “modes” that I’ll ever need to do all of my shoots with, whether professionally or just for fun. No “picture modes” with different combo-settings for portraiture, landscape, close-up, time-lapse, low-light, fill-flash, back-light, so on and so forth, if you get my drift.

As much as photography is a job for me, it is still very much a hobby to me too. After all, it was the love of photography that led me onto the path of professional photography. As the saying goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a single day in your life”.

Old school photography will never go away. It may get more and more prohibitively expensive to operate as time goes by, but it will also get more and more desirable to adapt to a slower pace of life, where photography becomes a hobby, a passion in one’s life, rather than the cold reality of earning a living with photography.

Newer entries into the photographic world consist of mainly new school photographers, who prefer to navigate through the menus for their desired setting in the camera. Veterans, on the other hand, still prefer to have a physical dial, knob or button for every individual setting or function, all of which are identifiable by touch alone. Very important if you can’t afford to take your eye away from the viewfinder. Read this article to get an insight to who’s a new school photographer, and who’s an old school photographer.

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