In the Early 2000s Some Railroad Photographers Were Skeptical About Digital Photography

I recently ran across some writings about the pros and cons of digital versus film for railroad photography.

on-photography-newIn each case, the author favored slide film. None of the authors were against the use of digital photography per se and all had experience with it.

But that was more than a decade ago. What would they think today?

Writing in Railway Photography (2003), Richard Jay Solomon said that for important (emphasis in original) subject matter he used a Leica film camera.

Writing in The Railroad Press magazine in 2004, Jaime F.M. Serensits favored slides because of their ease of storage and because he liked them.

Professional photograph Steve Smedley said he liked digital photography in his job as a newspaper photographer but favored slides for his railfan photography.

“Slides will be my medium for the next several years,” Smedley wrote in Railway Photography.

A common theme expressed by all three authors was the superior color quality of slide film.

Another theme was the fear that rapid advances in technology might mean that a photographer would not be able to “read” digital images some day. But slides are forever or at least the rest of your life.

That is a legitimate concern. At the time, most photographers stored digital images on CDs, which have been shown to have a relatively short shelf life.

In the early 2000s, USB devices, portable hard drives and storage on “the cloud” had yet to arrive or become widely available in the consumer market.

None of the authors from the early 2000s touched on a factor that has driven many photographers, myself included, into the digital world.

That issue was hinted at in the same issue of The Railroad Press in which the Serensits article appeared.

Several pages back was a feature piece on how to save money on slide film. At the time, slide professional film ranged between $5 per roll if purchased in bulk to $18 for an individual roll.

I remember a discussion I had with Marty Surdyk about slide film. He figured the cost of the film plus processing worked out to $1 per slide.

If you shot an average of one roll of film a week, that would cost $1,872 for the year. Of course not everyone shoots that much, but whatever your photography habits, the cost of film and processing aren’t cheap.

More than a decade since the works cited above were published, I wonder if those photographers are still using slide film. Does Solomon still rely on film for his most important images?

All three authors acknowledged that digital photography was likely to continue to improve. My guess is that they might still dabble in film, but their views of digital photography probably changed as digital technology evolved. They had little choice about that.

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2 Responses to “In the Early 2000s Some Railroad Photographers Were Skeptical About Digital Photography”

  1. Todd Dillon Says:

    I was late convert to digital (2011) I needed one for work and at the time I thought I would use it for roster and detail photos but still use film for action photography. That lasted about a week and I have used digital exclusively ever since. Once I found out digital could not only handle action photos but give good results that was it for me and I found myself wishing I had converted sooner. Then there is the issue of developing film which besides the expense sometimes the photos could be ruined by the lab. The amount of photos I can take with digital is seemingly limitless and I couldn’t possibly afford what can do with digital if I was still using film.

    • csanders429 Says:

      Like Todd, I also converted to digital in 2011. I had begun to seriously think about making the conversion for a while, but the last straw was when two rolls of slide film were botched in processing. That was in June and the next month I bought a digital camera. I expected to continue to make some film images and I know a few guys who do that despite also having a digital camera. But once I got that digital camera I began to see how many advantages there are and I never bought another roll of film. Like Todd, I find the number of images I can make with digital is seemingly limitless and I couldn’t afford that if I still shot film.

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