Seriously, This Sucks

Published at 10:32 on 1 March 2012

Film as a whole might not be dead, but it certainly looks as if slide film is dying. Sure, Fuji is still making it, but that’s basically the last manufacturer. When a product is down to one remaining manufacturer, it’s pretty clear that its days are numbered.

And, unlike black-and-white film (which is technologically pretty simple stuff), manufacturing color film is a complex proposition, which means that the odds of any niche manufacturer deciding to make it are pretty slim.

Which sucks for me, because slide film is my medium of choice for photographing wildflowers. I’m still going to stick with it for the next year at least, given that I can still buy it from Fuji (whose slide film I prefer anyhow) and my budget for replacing my film nature-photography outfit is at the present time very limited.

What I’m not looking forward to is the possibility of having to make one or more unpleasant compromises. The main reason I’ve stuck with slide film for so long is that I’ve tried the alternatives and found them wanting. In particular, digital SLR cameras all tend to have at least some of the following disadvantages:

  • Heaver and bulkier bodies. The Pentax KX and K2 were unpopular in their day, because they were considered excessively heavy and bulky. Yet iturns out they are actually smaller and lighter than most current digital SLR bodies currently being made! Weight and bulk matters to me because I take my outfit on the trail.
  • Heavier and bulkier lenses. This is mainly due to modern lenses containing motors and electronics to support autofocus, a feature I seldom use. Why should I want to cope with a “feature” which is seldom of benefit to me, yet always a drawback?
  • Dimmer viewfinders. Again, this is due to the need to support autofocus: DSLR reflex mirrors are only partly-silvered, so that the autofocus system may rob light from the finder for its purposes.
  • Increased complexity. Older, mechanical cameras are simple to understand. If something goes wrong, it is fairly easy to tell what is to blame, and to either repair or replace the offending lens or body. With digital, you’re often chasing software bugs, which is an entirely different realm of complexity. Repair turnarounds for a digital camera issue can thus be significantly longer.

I’m not making any of this up; I battled all of them with the one DSLR I tried using for a few months before dumping it and using the proceeds to buy a good film scanner.

If I absolutely had to abandon film right now, I would probably start by looking at micro four-thirds and other mirrorless systems; they lack the weight and bulk penalty of most digital SLR’s. In fact, I’d probably be looking at them presently if my budget allowed for purchasing a new camera system; I’m not precisely a big fan of the film-scanning process.

Unfortunately, the last time I tried a camera with an electronic viewfinder, I found it to be unacceptable (excessive lag time in low light). If that’s still the case, then I’d probably look at the four-thirds system of SLRs next, followed by investigating to see if Pentax have finally gotten the rid of the last of the serious bugs in their DSLR firmware’s shake reduction code.

What’s unsettling about it all is that I have no assurance that I could find any presently-manufactured camera system that preforms acceptably compared to my current outfit. I’ve received enough patronizing condescension from drinkers of high-technology Kool Aid to realize that the masses are completely willing to excuse inferior performance if it’s sold as new and improved, and its doubters are berated as Luddites.

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