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What I miss most about Film

Digital forums are peppered with laments from former film shooters who regret the loss of "true wide angle shooting", or their mega-fast SLR frame rates, or even that special look that film has. Frankly, none of that bothers me very much at all. What I miss about shooting film is something completely different. I miss the time it gave me to experience the world while I was traveling.

With film--or in my case chromes--once the shooting was done for the day and my gear cleaned there was ample free time to get to know my surroundings a little better. Even more importantly, I had a chance to meet the locals and get to know them. It might be as simple as hanging out in a Lodge lobby enjoying a shared fireplace or as sophisticated as participating in an elaborate local Holiday dinner. What I remember most about my first trip to Alaska, for example, wasn't even the Grizzly Bears, it was the Alaskans. Their never-say-die outlook on life and willingness to plunge ahead into almost any endeavor was heartening and contagious. I found the same to be true around the world, whether it was Southern Africa, Southeast Asia or Scandinavia. In each case the people were the real highlight of the trip.

Now that I am shooting digital I've increasingly become the servant of my computer and the never-ending supply of batteries, chargers and power adapters. I find myself timing my formerly spare hours into 90 minute chunks based around recharging my camera batteries, and desperately searching for power outlets in towns without electricity. Or fiddling with wires and clamps to try to get the most out of my portable solar panel.

Don't get me wrong. I know I don't have to do most of this. I could just let my digital images pile up on a portable hard-drive, but I can't make myself do it. The lure of reviewing my images and having my filing finished every evening is too appealing. It saves me countless hours back in the office and absolutely makes me more productive. And writing articles like this one on my laptop while I'm traveling is another way that I can be "doing two things at once" on a road trip.

Of course, I might be hauling around a laptop even if I was still shooting film, and by now I probably would be, so it isn't fair to blame all of my loss of free time on digital itself. Part of the change is driven by the increasingly electronic and connected lifestyle many of us now lead. Then there is the best and the worst advance of the last decade--the Internet. In addition to hunting for loose electrons in every corner of the planet, I now spend my time gamely testing my wits against the phone systems in various venues. I carry a bewildering variety of adapters and calling cards, especially if traveling overseas. More time is lost getting these to work or fretting over downloading email on a line better suited for communicating with my daughter's tree house.

Not only does the Internet ensure that my email catches up with me in every corner of the globe, but those few pearls of real mail from human beings open the door wide to a veritable tidal wave of SPAM which washes over me and drowns what little modem bandwidth I have been able to scavenge. Once I come up for air after deleting the SPAM, then I can while away entire hours responding to various queries, adjusting to schedule updates, or even dealing with real business correspondence. Yes, I'd be lost without the Internet, as it makes it possible for me to run a business and travel as a wildlife photographer without cloning myself, but sometimes it gets to be a bit much. When do we get to relax?

Would I go back? Perhaps, if the clock could truly be turned back. If it was good enough to travel, shoot, and dump my exposed rolls in a FedEx box and call it a day. But, like the rest of our lives, the pace of the photo business has picked up--at least for many of us. We are competing in an increasingly tough business climate and everyone has access to these same productivity tools. If I don't respond quickly to an editor who needs an article or photo, someone else who is more in touch will.

What is my solution? Like so many things, the answer for me lies in balance. Sure, I need to be a production machine when I can. And as much as I miss spending long plane flights in quiet contemplation of the world's great issues while reading a deep book on biology or history, I love being able to get work done on those same flights so that I can spend the hours after I arrive home with my family instead of huddled over my desk in a desperate attempt to catch up with days or weeks of unattended issues. And with digital I was able to have a blast with Indonesian children by showing them their images in the camera LCD. Many of them had never seen a television or any digital device so this was the next best thing to magic for them. But then of course I was off to find a sunny field to recharge my camera battery. I won't even start on the pros and cons of having a cell phone that can be reached nearly anywhere in the world!

...Sent from the North Woods of Michigan on a rainy day.--David Cardinal

Please join us on the DigitalPro forums and let us know how you feel about moving to digital!

DigitalPro Tip of the Week

Dom Furore of Golf Digest writes with a great tip on making even better use of your Aquatech SportShield, "Instead of using the included eyepiece ring, just use a rubber eyecup (on the f-5 or D1) and push it through the eyepiece hole on the rain cover. It speeds up using it, and gives a bit more rain protection on the eyepiece." My only concern with this was whether the eyecup would fall off, but Don has been shooting all day golf tournaments in the rain this way and hasn't had any problems yet. Thanks, Don!




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