BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Robert Bridges

How Has Your Photography Really Improved ?

When I browse the images posted on betterphoto I see that the vast majority of them are taken with a digital of one kind or another. Very few it seems use film anymore. I suppose my question is in part historical, part philosophical, and part aesthetical. How has your photography improved by using digital capture as oppsosed to film? Did you, prior to switching to digital primarily shoot color slide or color negative film? Do you or can you see significant qualitative differences between your digital images and those you shot on film? If so, what? Finally, how many here actively sell images for stock, editorial, or commercial usage?


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2/16/2004 12:52:49 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Nice questions. I shoot the same with digital or film cameras. I don't try to use digital to cover up something. I play around with images, like making fake movie posters, or obvious manipulations, but for me it's shoot it right when you shoot it.
And the reasons I'm using the website, I probably wouldn't have it with a film camera. Having to scan, not to mention buy a scanner. I already had the digital camera, so it was a simple step.
But for me, digital didn't do anything but let me do my own stuff. And do it quicker. I don't think digital makes very many people better anyway. At least not better at taking pictures.

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2/16/2004 2:10:28 AM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  Digital doesn't necessarily allow one to take better pictures, but it does allow one to practice taking pictures so that their picture taking skills can improve.

I used to use a 35mm with color negative film. The problem was that taking pictures "to practice" was costing money. So the end result was that I only took pictures when I needed to. Needless to say, pictures came out pretty bad.

When I switched to digital, I took hundreds of pictures. Actually, I'm about to take my thousandth picture with my most recent camera, the Minolta A1. I've only owned it for about 2 months now, but I've been shooting with it alot more than I have ever with any of my film cameras.

This alone contributes to a better understanding of the camea as well as a better familiarity with the camera. This can in turn lead to better pictures and picture taking.

As for the website posting frequency, Basically, why Gregory said: with film, you need to scan and resize and post. It is time consuming and requires a bit of effort. Wtih digital, your pictures are ready to go on your computer already. Much easier and that in turn leads to much more readily shared pictures.

With film, the quality of the development and the printing process greatly impacts the quality of the resulting image. Your efforts at the taking of the picture can be ruined by the developer or the printer. This is in turn followed up with scanning the image for digital work and the inevitable "dust" which needs to be edited out, no matter how hard you try to keep your work environment and negatives dust free.

With digital, I reduced my "blurred", "over developed", "under developed", and "un developable" shots from about 1 in 3 to about 1 in 50. From light to sensor to file to computer for any touch-ups or post-work. There is alot of control in the hands of the photographer with digital photography in terms of the development and processing of the negatives.

Ultimately, it comes down to the practice of photography being more convenient. And as it becomes easier to photograph, then more people will photograph and more often. That is what results in better pictures: practice. And I believe that is where digital cameras excel, giving people the ability to practice and develop their skill quickly and without additional costs.

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2/16/2004 12:00:44 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  It can accelerate the learning because of being able to quickly see what the picture looks like, but in practice most people get better at fixing with a computer than getting better at taking pictures.

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2/16/2004 1:56:59 PM

Robert Bridges   Gregory and Wing,

thanks for your comments to this question to date. Yes I agree that digital does not by itself make one a better photograper....something which only practice, work, effort, more work can do. I also understand the "efficiency" issue in terms of downloading images vs scanning. Wing, when you shoot color negative film you hardly ever get what you see unless you have the lab develop with NO corrections.
Just an observation there - congrats on your 1000th. I hope more people respond to this because I think that questions like this are important for us to think about.

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2/16/2004 3:28:20 PM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  Thanks for the tip and the congratz, Robert. :)

I think that was my problem with film, I took it to the 1hour/1day places and had it developed for pickup the next day. Though for the most part, it was the point-n-shoot habits that I found myself sorely needing to be rid of. :

Greg, you are quite right about the fixing with a computer as opposed to better pictures. When I first started digital, I fell into the mindset of "I'll just fix it in photoshop later" instead of "I should get this shot as close to what I'm imagining". I ended up trying to fix the unfixable in photoshop. It wasn't until my second digital camera that I really thought about what was wrong with the majority of my shots. Ie, composition, exposure, color balance, and focus. Once I got to practicing and improving those areas, I only ever used photoshop to auto-levels, crop, and/or sharpen as needed for most normal photos. (Panoramas, "artistic manipulations", and cleanups of objects later found in the picture are the exception.)

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2/16/2004 3:52:56 PM

Damian P. Gadal
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/22/2002
  I too believe that digital will lead to better photos. The reason has been stated, but to repeat, cost was prohibitive - thus less practice, not to mention trying to remember what settings I was using in the first place.

Remove the cost and you can work on composition, colour, balance, etc.

The goal being getting the best shot right out of the camera and spending little to no time (unless you just want to play) altering the images in Photoshop.

Being able to shoot a 1,000 shots a week or more has really helped me better understand my equipment and how camera settings affect the outcome of the shot.

Understanding this allows for getting desired results by visualizing the outcome and setting the camera accordingly.

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2/16/2004 6:44:18 PM

doug Nelson   No one would dispute that first-generation digital right out of the camera is much more convenient. Howvwer, an archivist here in Washington brought out a potentially troubling pitfall with digital. It can all too easily be just a temporary image, too easily lost in hard drive crashes, server failures, or deterioration and/or obsolescence of the medium on which the image is stored.

When we shoot for the web, the image contains a limited amount of color and structural information. It all too easily falls apart. If I luck out and and get a Pulitzer quality shot at an event here in DC, I'd better shoot at a resolution that enables 300 ppi print quality, and I'd better archive that shot to CD, and keep up with changes in CD/DVD technology, so that I don't end up with my best images stored on a medium that cannot be read. From what I see in the contest entries, you younger folks are coming up with truly stunning work. I'd hate to see you shooting just to post JPEG's on screen. Your stuff is just too good.

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2/17/2004 5:34:20 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  You all have great points on this topic. Digital allows the ability to practice technique without the inconvenience, or financial burdens associated with film.

I still shoot all film, and am always learning. Every time I depress the shutter, it cost me @ $.28. This forces me to be selective, and to take my time on such things as lighting, exposure, background clutter, critical focus, composure,...etc. For me, this is the best way to practice.

Doug brought up an excellent point about the vulnerability of digitally stored archives. (CD-ROM is actually an acronym and stands for, "Computer Device Rendered Obsolete In Months") :)

All joking aside, I like having a transparency original to back up all my images. One day, I'll get a digital SLR for casual shooting, but will keep using slide film fo my good stuff.

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2/17/2004 7:06:08 AM

Robert Bridges   Thanks for the serious, thoughtful input to the above from all! Doug, I am aware of the pitfalls of digital storage not to mention the totally different work flow versus film. I hope you do get lucky and win a pulitzer some day - better still I hope you maintain copyright on that great shot so that it can generate revenue for you and not for the paper! I also agree that I am blown away by the images and the overall creativity of the images I often see posted here. I also admit to being both somewhat jealous of that creativity and somewhat concerned that the computerization of images and the massive proliferation of images.....the production, the range of manipulation, and the reproduction of them presents some serious challenges to how we understand "writing with light." Thanks for your input! Bob, I see two sides to the coin here: Heads.....getting instant feedback can be helpful but can also negate the discipline that goes into image selection and
"seeing." Tails: Knowing that each shot costs does force one to be more selective and careful. I think it costs me .32 cents per shot.

One other aspect not mentioned is the pallet of film vs digital. Digital images, to my mind, seem to all look the same regardless of camera. Whereas there is considerable difference between the old and new Velvia's, the Astia's, the Provia's
etc....between batchs and within films themselves. When Nikon/Fuji comes out with a "dial a velvia" I might have to bite the bullet myself.

Thanks all,

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2/17/2004 9:32:18 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Don't necessarily agree about the digital and more practice points. At least not entirely. So someone takes 1000 pictures with a digital. Wing wong said that he reduced his blurred pictures to 1 in 50. But is that including ones that are instantly deleted. And as far as the cost of it all, with what you need to go along with a digital, the amount in learning probably isn't on the same level. As far as fundamentals. Most people don't pay enough attention to what is missing from their prints in my opinion.
With film, if people made more of an effort to find out how things came out the way they did, they amount they spend on film and getting to where they know the basics wouldn't turn out to be the expensive, relative to what you would pay for digital to get to the same place.
Shooting 1,000 shots a week isn't going to help more than shooting one roll a week if you don't pay enough attention to correct the same mistakes you keep making.

As far as storage. Negatives degrade over time. Get scratches. Mold and mildew. Get bent. So storage has pitfalls for everything. Regardless of what you use, you have to take care of your stuff. Yes hard drives can crash, but with negatives, you only have that one negative. You can have several cd's. And if they are going to be replaced by something new, then you once again have to pay attention and adjust. There's plus and minuses to everything. But it's always going to be fun to take pictures.

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2/17/2004 10:21:02 AM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  Hmm.. for sure, quantity does not equate to quality.

Typically, when shooting, I don't delete anything. Not even pictures which by all rights should be relegated to the trash bin or /dev/null. I keep every picture. I even have an old morgue of negatives from when I shot 35mm.

With digital, the ratio of "usable shots" to "unusable shots" improves because one gets more used to the equipment and has time to see the cause and effect of their shots. At least, that is the case for me. I tend to have my laptop with me when I'm on a multi-day shoot like that of a convention and review the pictures I've taken overnight. The next day, I compensate for mistakes I see in my first round of shots. shoot-review-correct-repeat.

For day to day shooting, the camea is as much a teaching tool to me as it is a means to capture pictures. Being able to adjust the F-stop and shutter speeds and see the resulting balance of light, color, and the histogram readout, I can get a better feel and understanding of what is going on and how to get the same kind of shot the next time around.

To be sure, taking alot of photos isn't the same as learning and practicing. What one learns depends greatly on what one is trying to achieve and how much thought one is putting into the shot.

As for losing images, I've only lost images once to a memory card failure. But my brother, also a photographer, has lost a whole roll of film as well. Once when the camera film latch failed and once when the development place screwed up his film. I've yet to lose images to a computer failure, however.

I backup my images to CDR media(no labels, pen marker only, two copies) and store them away from everything else. I also keep a hard drive with the images on them for working with. All of my computer systems have journaling file systems and raid mirrors so that losing a drive or having my computer crash doesn't cause data loss.

It is possible to lose images whether one is working with film or digital. I think this is a matter of familiarity with the risks and how to work around them. All things fail and all things break down eventually. It is a matter of preservation and upkeep.

On an off-note, I just received a camera I had bought on ebay recently. :) An old Kodak Vigilant six-16 medium format bellows camera. ^_^ I definitely have to admire the work and design of some of camera engineering.

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2/17/2004 12:06:52 PM


BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003
  I always like to take this to a discussion about music, because I can strongly relate to that, and it often has a similar relationship to photography.

I actually see the two technologies (film and digital) converging. In the world of music, about 20 years ago, maybe a little more than that, digital music was becoming a fascination. It wasn't until the early 80's where it really became popular. In my opinion, this is where we are with cameras (in the 80's, from a music perspecitve). And, you had 3 camps; You had musicians who went all "techno", you had some who went with a blend, and you had some who were dead set against it, claiming that it wasn't "real" music.

I am now seeing the same thing with cameras. I think what we will wind up seeing is the same thing that happened with the music industry. Once the technology improved in music, musicians routinely use drum machines and keyboards and computers to make sounds that are indistinguishable from the real thing. The reason is that the emulation of the real sound is exact. You can emulate a horn sound, play it back and it sounds exact, because it is.

Photography will wind up the same way. And I think photographers will wind up blending their art with both film and digital. They both are useful and serve slightly different purposes but have the same end result in mind - to make a great print.


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2/17/2004 12:53:54 PM

Damian P. Gadal
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/22/2002
  Jerry - that reminds me of the old analogue vs. digital - I'm not sure if Neil Young ever made the switch, but I don't think you can tell the difference anymore.

I don't take lots of pictures just to take lots of pictures, but you could argue statisticly shear volume will lead to a few good shots.

The point I was trying to make was the feed back you get is quicker, and cheaper, and enhances the experience as well as speeds up the learning process.

It would take lots and lots of film to explore every ISO, F-Stop and shutter setting combination - and then there's the different types of film (not part of this disscussion).

I enjoy taking pictures, always have, and since it's no longer cost prohibitive I take many many more - instead of just waiting for that "gotta get that on film" moment and then not always being happy with the results.

I'd rather have lots of picutes that I'm happy with then just a few.

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2/17/2004 7:55:17 PM

Jon D   Only one comment from me.

A lot of people (in general) seem to talk about the dangers of digital storage media becoming obsolete. To my mind, as an IT professional, it is not a concern. The only storage medium in common use among consumers that has become truly obsolete is the 5 1/4 inch floppy disk, and eevn then you can cannect one to a moden PC if you can find one with a cable. PC makers are insane about backweards compatibility - to the point where the latest Pentium chip is fully capable of being compatible with the first 8086 ever. The real concern is failuer of individual disks, and this is easy to deal with if you think about it and store things properly.


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2/17/2004 9:01:38 PM

Damian P. Gadal
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/22/2002
  Just like Vinyl! If you wanted to play an old 78 (if you have any) or a 45, or even a 33 rpm - you could. It wouldn't be prudent to make it impossible to do otherwise.

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2/17/2004 9:28:54 PM

Gary W. Lake
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/26/2003
  I believe that shooting digital has helped me immensely primarily because of the drastically accelerated learning curve. As has already been pointed out, shooting film costs money, and it can be a lot of money real quick if you're shooting a lot. Once you get past the initial investment, digital gives you the freedom to shoot to your heart's content. As for shooting bad shots with the mind set that "they can be fixed later in photoshop" I don't agree. Photoshop is a tool, and a great one, that can be used to perfect or enhance your image, correct minor flaws, or create whole new images and concepts. It's been my experience that the more I shoot the less I'm finding the need to make corrections on my images in photoshop, which tells me that I am learning how to properly capture the image in the first place as I gain experience. I'm also finding that when I'm out shooting I don't have to capture nearly as many brackets now as I did earlier on because I've learned how to narrow in on the results I want much more quickly - thus my workflow and production has also improved. I feel that I've gained experience in a matter of months that might have taken me years had I been shooting film.

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2/18/2004 5:28:13 AM

Victor J.    In my oberservations it seems that most digital owners came from 35mm point & shoot. If they took lousey pics before, they still do. Having a digital doesn't improve ones ability to make a better picture. Have they learned anything about composition, exposure, color balance, lighting, etc. And is digital less costly? Don't you count ink, paper, time? Sitting in front of a computer you now feel you have to improvise, what with size, resolution, etc. The advantage I believe is primarily that you can shoot numerous pics and print them almost immediately. Though I give credit to those that have gone to a 5 to 6 MP which usually is more sophisticated. Of course those really serious will opt for a Digital SLR. Then what software, that's another story. Vic

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2/22/2004 1:13:00 PM

Damian P. Gadal
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/22/2002
  I guess it depends on the person. I agree that with digital the volume of bad pictures will increase (it has to), but so will the volume of good ones.

For those of us who have been using computers since 1980 and before, digital seems like a nature extension of a tool that is an essential part of everyday life.

It's not unusual for me to spend 18 hours a day behind a computer, my camera gets me away from the computer and gives me something to do besides count beans.

I don't print out any of my pictures, so there's no additional cost there, and rarely do I get any printed, when I do I go for 20 X 30 on Kodak Paper and then get them framed. The bulk of what I do ends up on cd (to collect dust in the closet) or on the other end of delete key.

Digital has definately improved my photography, but more importantly, I think if it wasn't for BP and all the kind folks here, I probably wouldn't have taken the interest I have in photography.

Make that I KNOW that the folks at BP are responsible for what I consider the blessing of Photography in my life.

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2/22/2004 1:28:19 PM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  I think Victor's post points out an interesting distinction between different kinds of photographers.
Ie, casual photographers who just want to take a snapshot and be content with what they take and those who seek to improve their photography.
Those who are just in it to take a quick picture will, naturally, improve at a much slower rate, if at all since the focus was not to improve in photography, but to have what they take more quickly. For those, the tool is just another tool which won't help their photography since they still lack the understanding and skill.
The photographers who are serious about learning photography will improve regardless of whether they are using film or digital. It is the intent and the goal and desire behind what the photographer wants to achieve which will determine the effectiveness and results. On that line, it might be prudent to note that the tool does not the photographer make. :)
You can be a serious photographer learning the basics on a 2MP camera or a 10MP camera. There is a learning curve either way, but that is not longer photography, that is technology learning.
Having said that, I tend to agree that there is a progression from lower rez cameras and simpler controls to more advanced systems. The barrier at this point then becomes that of price.

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2/22/2004 2:08:03 PM

Derek Holyhead   Hi All,
I actually think that the Compact 35mm camera did more harm to photography than digital ever will. I started with a Canon AE1 way back in the seventies, progressed through all the other Canons, A1, F1, EOS600 etc. I recently purchased a EOS Digital Rebel and thought that I had better keep hold of my Canon EOS film camera because I would'nt get the same quality results. I have not shot film since, the quality is excellent, the fact that I can see the results instantly is a big bonus. Am I better photographer, yes and no, yes because my new camera gave the reason to go out and take more photographs, no because I am still the same person making the same mistakes that I made with my AE1! I just get to see the mistake straight away and even time to put it right on occasions! Look at the pictures Ansel Adams took all those years ago, could he have made them better with digital today? Maybe not, but he could have made them as good, equipment, media are only tools of the trade, the photographer is the tradesman. Just my 2 cents worth.

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2/22/2004 7:31:33 PM

Robert Bridges   First let me just say thanks to everybody who has taken the time to put their 2 cents into this discussion That, in itself was one of the primary reasons I posted it to begin generate ideas and discourse. As I read each anwser posted some idea, some aspect, some new or different way of thinking about the issues is raised for me. So secondly, let me thank each respondent for giving me new things to think about.

I currently teach photography at a community college. Our school has a very good and well respected multimedia department. However, it is perhaps of some interest to note that in the last few years enrollement in the media department has dropped and enrollment in the photography department has increased. While we do offer
digital darkroom, photoshop, digital photography classes as well as more traditional ones, by far the most popular classes are those which use film and teach darkroom/printing skills. Most, if not all the students have digital or access to digital cameras and yet again the majority are more intrigued with the mystery of film. Could it be that the current generation of 20 yr olds for whom the computer is simply another
convenience (taken for granted) are moving back towards the more traditional (to us) the more esoteric (to them) arts?

As for Del's question regarding Ansel Adams and digital....I think I'd say "NO his
digital prints would not have been as good or the same." Reason being that the process is very different after the shutter is released and I think, and here I could be an old fuddy duddy, that process does matter.

Anyway lets keep the discussion going ....


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2/22/2004 9:47:16 PM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  You are hardly an "old fuddy duddy". I understand what you mean about the process mattering. Ironically, the more interested I get in digital photography, the more interested I also get into traditional film photography.

Digital and film are intrinsically different. Digital emulates film up to an extent, but in the end, the underlying technology and physics of it all is quite different and so the resulting images have a different "feel" to them.

Btw, did Ansel Adams use poloraids to test some of his shots before exposing film? I seem to remember having read that he used poloraids to test the exposures and such for his photographs before taking the final shot.

This discussion IS interesting. The fact that you are seeing students going to the film field is actually not too surprising. It is almost like a pendulum swinging. What is old hat to one group is the latest thing to another group.

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2/22/2004 10:36:47 PM

Robert Bridges   Wing,

Hmmmm not sure about Ansel. Thats possible I suppose. Though hardly gives you (me) the sense that he fully trusted his zone system. Oh well. Keep up the comments!


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2/23/2004 12:43:15 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  How do you get that compact 35mm cameras did harm to photography?

I don't see the popularity of the film classes as a pendulum swinging back. I see at more as requiring more involvement, and as students, although there's a sterotype that students don't want to learn, they actually a drawn in to learning because they don't know what happens to film when you develope it. They want to see what does it look like when a picture developes in a tray right in front of me. Until they took your classes, they've never done that before.
Now I wouldn't be surprised that after the class is over, once they get back to any picture taking that they do in their day to day lives, that they would then go back to more digital, knowing that if they stayed with doing their own film, that it would require the chemicals, enlargers, as area for a darkroom, etc.. Most of those students probably already have a computer, so any further exploration would probably be into the digital areas.
Right now many of the aspects that are required to get the most out of digital prints is not common knowledge, or it's not available. With film, it's common knowledge about who has good film, and it's common knowledge about slower speeds being best for big enlargements. Digital still has some mystery as to setting resolutions, compression of files, do you need raw or can you use jpegs, where do I go for good digital enlargements the size of 20x30. Does it need to be so many megabites, or does it have to be so many dpi's. Then you have which inks, which papers, which printers. Then there's noise reduction programs that are common to magazines, publishers, that the public dosen't even know exist.
So there are some changes still to come.
The microwave never turned the person who you could count on to set off the smoke alarm, into a good cook. It was the person who payed attention to mistakes as well as successes, and that wanted to get better that ended up learning how to cook.

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2/23/2004 8:30:11 AM

Robert Bridges   Hi Greg,

I agree that there is alot of mystery involved both in film and digital. Hell, I still make mistakes when I dink around with image files while trying to figure out how much resolution I need for project X. As for the "pendulum" I was only making an observation and your assesement is true for some of the students. Perhaps I should have added that many of the students have had the luxury of several years of prior
photography in high school. I should have been so lucky. As it is I had to learn how to "cook" mostly on my still learning. So in general, I totally agree with your ending vs digital presents and interesting debate but when all is said and done no one cares how the cake was made provided that it tastes good.
Thanks for your comments.


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2/23/2004 9:01:26 AM

Alison A. Thomas   I bought my VR lens at the same time I bought my digital camera so it is hard for me to say. The combination of the two has vastly improved my photos. When I was considering digital my husband asked me - won't you miss the anticipation of getting photos back from the developer - and my answer was absolutely not! In fact, it was that question that sealed the deal. With so many computerized processors it was getting hard to do anything "different". Every picture I took was color corrected, light corrected etc. I once used an entire roll of film to calibrate a light meter and got back shots with barely a discernable difference. Bracketing was useless. I suppose if I had used slides I wouldn't have had that problem but I was already halfway digital, getting prints on photo CDs and printing on a photo printer. Getting slides put on a photo CD is much more expensive than negative film.
I've taken a couple of expensive workshops lately. It is real nice to be able to take a quick look at the pictures and adjust accordingly. I can't always tell a good shot from a bad shot with the little screen but I can tell when I'm really off. I'll never go back to film.

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2/23/2004 1:47:07 PM

Robert Bridges   Allison,

I would have sent this to your personal email but couldn't find the link. Hopefully you will read this. The fact that you went to such great lenghts to calibrate your meter says a great deal about your commitment to photography and your understanding of its nuances. You might still need to calibrate that digital meter to the extent one can (camera dependent). Do us all a favor and yourself as well and get your self a gallery here so we can see your work!


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2/23/2004 1:57:43 PM

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