It's not your father's camera

Linda Appleman, co-owner of Dixie Theatre Supply, believes that film is better is many ways than digital, she said, and is concerned that the devices that can open our digital files now may not exist a few years down the road.

Linda Appleman, co-owner of Dixie Theatre Supply, believes that film is better is many ways than digital, she said, and is concerned that the devices that can open our digital files now may not exist a few years down the road.

ALBANY -- For more than a century and a half -- since 1839, when Louis Daguerre successfuly fixed a focused image to a sheet of silvered metal -- the dynamic duo of film and paper dominated the world of imaging. Daguerre's innovation provided a way anyone could have a picture of themselves or loved ones.

It was a simple thing to do: Just put the sheet or roll of film inside the camera and push the button. Of course, the film was then removed and "developed," "fixed," "washed" and "printed." Most of us had someone else to do those things, but still we had to wait to see if our shot had turned out.

They had a great run, those two, but now it's over -- right?

While most are declaring digital is king, there are some who aren't so sure.

Linda Appleman, who, with her husband Raymond, owns Dixie Theatre Supply Company on Slappey Drive in Albany, doesn't think digital is all its cracked up to be.

Appleman is concerned about reliability and possible loss of digital image files. Her thinking mirrors that of her late father and Dixie owner, Wayne McClung, who remains an icon among area photographers.

"Daddy was an MIT graduate and was using computers before just about anybody around here," Appleman said. "He thought digital was OK, but not to depend on for your important pictures forever and ever."

Appleman reached behind the counter for a stack of specialty blank CDs she keeps for sale.

"You see what it says here?" Appleman asked. "A hundred years of permanence guaranteed. The images may be on here, but the way things change these days we don't know if we'll have something to open the files (in the future). We do know that negatives will last. They've stood the test."

Bill Williams, chief engineer at WALB agrees, saying he uses digital imaging only when he "needs something really quick for the company," or to shoot something he'll come back for with film.

"I'm in broadcasting," said Williams, 65," and I've seen what's happened to every single electronic medium we were told would be permanent. I watched a roll of videotape literally fall apart, and it had been stored with all the right conditions. It's just not so."

Williams said he likes the historically rugged nature of film cameras.

"They've been making 35mm cameras since the 1930s," he said. "You don't have to worry about a megapixel count or having a computer to print it out. I sit behind a computer all day, and I don't want to do that when I'm enjoying myself."

Williams doesn't worry, he said, that photographic film, especially the popular 35mm variety, could be destined to follow buggywhips to the halls of the famously obscure. He's certain that worldwide interest in film will be enough to keep manufacturers interested. His optimism endures in the face of Canon's discontinuation of its film camera line in 2009. Canon is the largest cameramaker in the world.

"Digital capture and output has overtaken the silver-based photo market and is continuing to gain in popularity worldwide," said Chuck Westfall, technical information advisor for Canon U.S.A., in an online interview Thursday.

Toby Tucker, an Albany woodworker, said he thinks film images are just plain better-looking than digital.

"I'm not all that technically minded to begin with," Tucker said. "But it it riles me a little when I see a perfectly good picture someone has put on a computer and just screwed it all up."

Tucker said that many of the digital images he's seen just "don't look right," with "missing tonalities" and "unrealistic color." Tucker said he thinks that film will hang around for quite some time to come.

According to Tucker, he can spot a film-originated image from the far side of sizable room.

"There's just something about them," he said. "It happened just the other day at the Carnegie Library. I saw it from several feet away and said to myself, 'That's from film,' and I was right. Digital is too sharp, for one thing."

Tucker also said that digital ease and the automatic nature of today's cameras don't lend themselves to learning the photographic craft.

He doesn't have to convince John Dimino, assistant professor of art at Darton College. According to Dimino, students who work with a silver-based process do better when they move to digital

"(The students) just have a better grasp of the whole thing if they see the process from the inside," Dimino said. "You can't really show that with digital."

In Dimino's class, students like Cathy Evlakhov have an opportunity for a hands-on photography experience, working with one of the more basic photographic devices: a pinhole camera. With that simple camera, which students craft from oatmeal boxes and other inexpensive containers, there is no shutter. Light will strike a sheet of sensitized photographic paper through a tiny pinhole in the front of the camera. The exposed and developed negative is then reversed to provide a perfectly viable picture.

"I like digital better," said Evlakhov, who plans to become a professional photographer. "But this is a great way to learn."