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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

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Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 11-13-2019   #81
Bill Pierce
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Originally Posted by Huss View Post
Mr. Bill Pierce, is that it? An opening and closing statement in one?
The question that I wanted to hear the answers to in this discussion was “Can digital photography be practiced with the same shooting simplicity and attention to the subject as film photography?” The answer is obviously “Yes.” So, probably the real question is why so many photographers allow the multitude of menu options often divert their attention away from the subject. The most obvious, but certainly not the only, example of this is looking at the picture just taken on the camera’s LCD and missing the moment to take what could be an even better picture. Truth is, years of film photography so ingrained the habit of prioritizing looking at the subject and not paying much attention to operating a relatively simple camera, that I don’t have a problem with digital cameras. I said I did because it is much more polite to point to your own inadequacies than that of others. And I do see some good folks distracted by evil, egotistical menus demanding attention.
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Old 11-13-2019   #82
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@Bill...

My suspicion is that the focus went from the subject to the camera well before digital, when autofocus and autoexposure became widespread. We then got the idea that you had to divide your attention between the machine and the subject - after all, we need to know what the camera is doing since it's constantly changing focus, aperture and/or shutter speed to match the conditions preciseness.

But as those who use manual cameras know well, under typical shooting conditions, things simply aren't changing that fast - if the weather's unchanging, leaving your exposure alone is often the better decision, in contrast to the automated camera that changes constantly as it's pointed at lighter and darker parts of the scene. And the same for focus: a moving subject does not necessarily mean refocusing the lens - regardless of the autofocus camera's constant lens movement as it tracks with millimetre precision, heedless that it's unreasonable for the situation.

As you say, digital cameras complicate what is essentially a simply device with further distractions, further things that the makers and magazines and bloggers convince you to know and check to take a good picture. Often, digital cameras with their complexity make taking photos appear far, far more difficult than it ought to be...

I've an MA photography, yet sometimes appear foolish to friends: they hand me their compact camera, and I fumble and fail to operate it - baffled by their complexity - because I use all cameras in manual mode!
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Old 11-13-2019   #83
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Quote:
It's hard to shoot film
It sure is.

The largest print I sold, when in biz, was 40x30, using a Canon full frame digital camera, the size of the body is the same as a 35mm film camera. Try making a 40x30 with 35mm film.
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Old 11-13-2019   #84
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Originally Posted by Bill Clark View Post
It sure is.

The largest print I sold, when in biz, was 40x30, using a Canon full frame digital camera, the size of the body is the same as a 35mm film camera. Try making a 40x30 with 35mm film.
Odd...my prints that big from 4x5 trounce and Canon DSLR. Your issue is format..not film
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Old 11-14-2019   #85
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Clark View Post
The largest print I sold, when in biz, was 30 × 40, using a Canon full-frame digital camera ...
Yawn.

The biggest print I sold so far was 40 × 60 from a 6 MP digital APS-C camera. Admitted—when looking from a real close distance, that print's pixels started to fall apart. But from a reasonable viewing distance it looked just fine. Yet I wouldn't want to print any bigger from that camera.

The biggest print I saw recently (not mine) was 100 × 150 from a 24 MP digital full-frame camera. Looks good even from reading distance.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Clark View Post
Try making a 30 × 40 with 35-mm film.
Used to do that on a regular basis. No problem, even with high-speed film. 35-mm film starts to get tricky when reaching or exceeding 50 × 60.
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Old 11-14-2019   #86
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
The question that I wanted to hear the answers to in this discussion was “Can digital photography be practiced with the same shooting simplicity and attention to the subject as film photography?” The answer is obviously “Yes.” So, probably the real question is why so many photographers allow the multitude of menu options often divert their attention away from the subject. The most obvious, but certainly not the only, example of this is looking at the picture just taken on the camera’s LCD and missing the moment to take what could be an even better picture. Truth is, years of film photography so ingrained the habit of prioritizing looking at the subject and not paying much attention to operating a relatively simple camera, that I don’t have a problem with digital cameras. I said I did because it is much more polite to point to your own inadequacies than that of others. And I do see some good folks distracted by evil, egotistical menus demanding attention.
Simplifying the complex is not that hard. But you gotta know what you want to accomplish in order to do it. New cameras often confuse me until I get comfortable using them but the main thing for me is setting them up for what I want in the pictures I take. Every one of my cameras are set up the same way. I don't fiddle with menus when shooting.

As for "chimping", I actually do that quite a bit. But I don't review the image after every shot, I check all the frames I shoot of a subject before moving on. For my type of photography, it works well. Probably because I'm a clutz sometimes and make mistakes in focus or exposure or something else. In the end, my pictures are better because I catch those mistakes while they can be corrected.

As for missing pictures, there's a video somewhere of Garry Winogrand shooting on the street that shows him changing film and something interesting happens while he's doing it. He just smiles and says something to the effect that there are no pictures that happens when he's changing film. To me, if I miss something it's not a big deal. There's always another picture.
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Old 11-14-2019   #87
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
And I do see some good folks distracted by evil, egotistical menus demanding attention.
Menus are not evil or egotistical, nor do they demand attention. That behavior is all on the photographer. You can't blame your shortcomings on the camera.
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Old 11-14-2019   #88
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Clark View Post
It sure is.

The largest print I sold, when in biz, was 40x30, using a Canon full frame digital camera, the size of the body is the same as a 35mm film camera. Try making a 40x30 with 35mm film.
So that was your largest. What was your average size? Your smallest? Did 35mm work for those?

I've seen prints at least 40x30 (I assume you're referring to inches?) from 35mm film that looked outstanding when viewed from an appropriate distance for the size.
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Old 11-14-2019   #89
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I recall a thread some months (or years?) ago where an assumption was made that everyone shooting a digital camera most likely dives into the menus, changes ISO and white balance, reformats the memory card, switches the focus pattern and racks the autofocus back and forth all the way between each and every photo. Oh, and probably pixel-peeps on the monitor afterward. An exaggeration, obviously. Hopefully no one believes that, because I am sure most of us don't do any of those things.
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Old 11-14-2019   #90
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I don't see why shooting film is any different then it has been for the last couple decades. I made my first darkroom print in 1966 using a 4x5 Graflex as a freshman in high school. I don't see why shooting digital like film is any more difficult. Go into the program and select manual for everything or pick a date to pretend your digital was made and give it the auto features of the equivalent date film cameras.

Expose digital like transparency film and film like film. If printing in a darkroom is important then build a darkroom (something I have never had in 44 years). If not, scan the film and post to your computer.

The basics of good photography and great photos is the same(composition, lighting, exposure, decisive moment etc) on either digital or silver. My favorite film camera is a Leica M2. I like using it with a 35 or 50 and a hand held meter. My favorite digital is a FujiX100F and various jpeg film simulations. I set everything to auto and have a blast. Computer time (which is my kryptonite) is kept to an absolute minimum.

The great thing about all todays technology is you select how you like to do things from coating your own glass negatives to the latest and greatest digital sensor from Canikon.
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Old 11-14-2019   #91
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I just started shooting film again after a 6 year hiatus. Basically when I stopped shooting black and white, I stopped shooting film.

But I found that I like the look of certain color films and I haven't found a way to emulate them to my own satisfaction so I picked up a film camera and some film and I'm in the midst of a film renaissance.

A couple of observations:

1) I generally like film cameras better. My M9 is close, but film cameras still have edge. I just picked up a Contax t2 that I'm having fun with.

2) I hate scanning and spotting.

3) I miss the immediate gratification of digital.

4) I generally like the look of film better.

What I might end up doing is making my own LUTs from my film scans as I've found that yields the best results on digital but right now I'm going to keep going with film for awhile and mix in digital when I need that quick satisfaction.

I did recently see some of Joshua Jackson's digital work that has an amazing look to it. I think he's a Fuji digital guy and I'm curious how he achieved it.
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Old 11-14-2019   #92
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
The question that I wanted to hear the answers to in this discussion was “Can digital photography be practiced with the same shooting simplicity and attention to the subject as film photography?” The answer is obviously “Yes.”
I do not think the answer is obviously "yes". Photography can be practiced with the same degree of simplicity using either digital or film, but each is its own kind of simplicity.

The utter lack of electricity in a completely mechanical film camera offers metaphysical simplicity beyond what the digital camera can offer. The digital camera, like the new Fuji with the fake film pixelated merit badge on the back, can only amount to a simulacrum of the simplicity of a mechanical camera.
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Old 11-14-2019   #93
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Originally Posted by nightfly View Post
...
4) I generally like the look of film better
I´d really like to see examples for this "look of film" thing.

What is it, what does it mean and is there any conclusion of people who use this term?
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Old 11-14-2019   #94
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Forgot to mention, I think the simplicity aspect all has to do with the camera, not the medium per se. I can shoot my M9 exactly as I can my M4-P and in fact when I first got it I kept going for the rewind lever.

But most digital cameras add a ton of additional functionality that you need to navigate around or ignore.

If your film camera was a late model SLR it's probably not too much of a difference but if you're coming from a rangefinder or a fancy point and shoot (Contax, Ricoh, etc), there's a lot to ignore.

As much as everyone praises the Ricoh GR digital series, I often wish it totally mimicked the film version with a dedicated, marked top dial aperture wheel and basically nothing else.

Also unfortunately in digital, you can't get full frame and compact and simple the way you could in a film camera. Full frame pretty much means large and complex, Leicas sort of excepted.
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Old 11-14-2019   #95
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Check out the new Sigma fp. Its small, full-frame. And can make images at crazy-high ISOs.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #96
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Clark View Post
It sure is.

The largest print I sold, when in biz, was 40x30, using a Canon full frame digital camera, the size of the body is the same as a 35mm film camera. Try making a 40x30 with 35mm film.
Hi Bill,

I've made many 30x40 prints from Kodachrome and, there was a 4x5 internegative in the process. They looked great, from a foot away. The normal viewing distance is much greater.

FF digital is sharper but, doesn't look as good as Kodachrome. Not to my taste, anyway.

Digital for work, film for me.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #97
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Originally Posted by Axel View Post
I´d really like to see examples for this "look of film" thing.

What is it, what does it mean and is there any conclusion of people who use this term?
It's an easy term to use I know it's about escaping the answer which would be technical and objective, however, I have to admit - I think the same way very often. Every time I shoot digital and look at my pictures I rarely like them (unless I manage to post process them so they look "like film"). What is this "looks like film"? I am not able to spell it out in terms of technical aspects (I am sure there are people on this forum who can) - maybe it is color, grain, tonality, resolution... I don't know, but I look at film and I see that it looks like film So, when you ask for examples of "look of film" - almost any film image is an example of that look.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #98
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
The question that I wanted to hear the answers to in this discussion was “Can digital photography be practiced with the same shooting simplicity and attention to the subject as film photography?” The answer is obviously “Yes.” So, probably the real question is why so many photographers allow the multitude of menu options often divert their attention away from the subject. The most obvious, but certainly not the only, example of this is looking at the picture just taken on the camera’s LCD and missing the moment to take what could be an even better picture. Truth is, years of film photography so ingrained the habit of prioritizing looking at the subject and not paying much attention to operating a relatively simple camera, that I don’t have a problem with digital cameras. I said I did because it is much more polite to point to your own inadequacies than that of others. And I do see some good folks distracted by evil, egotistical menus demanding attention.
I think the reason I struggle with shooting digital the way I shoot film is, being a tad too "perfectionistic", I have a tendency to check exposure when I have a digital camera, something I obviously can't do with film. Knowing I can quickly check to see if I blew out the highlights or crushed the blacks, in the moment, when there is still time to "correct" my mistake and "reshoot" is too much of a temptation. And it takes me out of the moment and out of what I really want to be focused on. But this is a personal bugaboo, and something that other digital shooters may not wrestle with.

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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #99
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Originally Posted by Derek Leath View Post
I'm also an analog kind of guy. I still listen to this LP's and wear a watch.
This

I’ve been an analog kind of guy for as long as I can remember. There are a multitude of reasons for doing the sort of things that I enjoy, but the key is that I do enjoy them all.

- Still enjoy listening to LP’s
- Still enjoy having access to a watch on my wrist
- Still enjoy playing acoustic guitar
- Still enjoy driving cars with manual transmissions
- Etc., etc., etc.
- Still enjoy shooting film

If I were to really think about it, this would be a fairly lengthy list. Ironically film photography is the one thing that I took an extended break from. The rest of these things stretch back continuously through many decades of my life. Exactly what ties all of these things together is hard to put into words, but in part it has to do with enjoying the processes involved with each.

In addition, these days as technology becomes further intertwined with more and more of what we do there remains a part of me that likes to keep my tools and toys on the “simpler” side. As a result I feel that my interactions with them are bit more involving while I am a bit less isolated from the overall experience. This is not to say that I reject technology in general (most of my career has been spent in the high tech arena). I just like to keep a certain balance in my life. In the case of film photography I also don’t mind having the resulting negatives and transparencies when all is said and done.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #100
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Shooting film or digital is as simple or as difficult as you want. Film photography with a Holga,a P&S or an AF in full Auto is hard to beat in terms of simplicity. The same applies to digital in full Auto nothing simplier than that. Weirdly enough I know quiet a few very good photographer who prefer Auto everything to full Manual because they feel that the whole technical part stands in the way of creating a good Photograph. I somewhat agree with that Notion, photographers especially Amateurs tend to give the technical (Control) side to much importance they think About F-stops etc.. instead of the scene in front of them.
Digital can be just as simple as film photography and vice versa it's the photographer who complicates things.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #101
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RichC View Post
@Bill...

My suspicion is that the focus went from the subject to the camera well before digital, when autofocus and autoexposure became widespread. We then got the idea that you had to divide your attention between the machine and the subject - after all, we need to know what the camera is doing since it's constantly changing focus, aperture and/or shutter speed to match the conditions preciseness.

But as those who use manual cameras know well, under typical shooting conditions, things simply aren't changing that fast - if the weather's unchanging, leaving your exposure alone is often the better decision, in contrast to the automated camera that changes constantly as it's pointed at lighter and darker parts of the scene. And the same for focus: a moving subject does not necessarily mean refocusing the lens - regardless of the autofocus camera's constant lens movement as it tracks with millimetre precision, heedless that it's unreasonable for the situation.

As you say, digital cameras complicate what is essentially a simply device with further distractions, further things that the makers and magazines and bloggers convince you to know and check to take a good picture. Often, digital cameras with their complexity make taking photos appear far, far more difficult than it ought to be...

I've an MA photography, yet sometimes appear foolish to friends: they hand me their compact camera, and I fumble and fail to operate it - baffled by their complexity - because I use all cameras in manual mode!
Here, here! And, by the time I wade through the endless array of options provided by most digital cameras either the moment's passed or something else changes that results in recomposing or walking away in frustration.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #102
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I do not understand the concept some people have that using a digital camera is more complex than using a film camera. Sure, the cameras themselves are more complex but the actual operation is identical.

Now, if you're handed an unfamiliar digital camera...sure, you probably would be a bit bewildered. But owning and using a camera you have properly familiarized yourself with and have set up as you want to use it, certainly you would have no difficulty.

One of my friends who has many years of photography experience bought a Pentax DSLR some years ago. It was his first digital camera. I realized sometime later that I had never seen any photos he had done with it and he had not mentioned using it. He mumbled something about not being interested in it like he thought he would be. When he had left the room, his wife told me he doesn't use the camera because he is afraid of it. He doesn't understand it and he doesn't feel comfortable learning the process.

If you're uncomfortable with the process and unwilling to study the procedures in using a new camera, it's not the process itself to blame.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #103
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It’s hard to be a film photographer. ... Which brings us to the question - why use film?
For me, it boils down to:

Photos captured on film don't look at all like reality. It is a representation of reality that makes no attempt in being accurate: the contrasts are different, the tonality, you can see grain, if you shoot b&w, you can get pitch black skies, high contrast, all forms of colors are gone. It is my representation of reality that is only loosely based on what actually happened in front of you. And the fact that it is difficult and that you need to master the craft makes it even more appealing to me because I have the sense that I have accomplished something if everything went the right way. Days, sometimes weeks have passed after shooting until you see for the first time what you actually tried to capture. By then, you might have even forgotten what pictures you took which makes you more removed from the actual act of taking the photo, and hopefully more objective whether you have a good picture or not.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #104
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My Nikon Z6 works pretty much just like my Nikon FM2n. In fact, they are remarkably similar, in size (the Z6 is basically an FM with a motor drive attached) and weight. Sure, the Z6 can do a lot more things, but it doesn’t have to. It’s still just a camera.
Now, I prefer the FM overall, but that could just be years of muscle memory at play. But I may get over that eventually.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #105
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For me, it boils down to:

Photos captured on film don't look at all like reality. It is a representation of reality ...........
No, it does not have to precisely reflect reality, but with some aggressive post processing editing, neither does digital. With that said, I like your point.

In regards, to the ease of film or digital capture, most of my film cameras have entered their sixth decade or are getting ready to. When compared to the built-in artificial intelligence found in modern day cameras, my film cameras are dumber than sack of rocks, but I'm fine with that. - I prefer being forced to think about available light and the angle it is striking the subject. -
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #106
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One thing that I appreciate about film photography is that the medium is stabile. With the constant evolution of digital technology as a whole there is no telling where cameras and computers are headed going forward.

Chances are that today’s interfaces (in the cameras and in the computers both) will soon be replaced by something entirely different. Today’s cameras would remain functional of course but compatibility issues might present numerous challenges. Some who enjoy owning the latest and greatest gear might find this to be a bonus. Either way, people should use what they like to express their creativity through photography/digital imaging/whatever it might be called next
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #107
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With film you can still use very old cameras, this one was made with a Leica I from 1930 in 2018 or 2017. Digital technology can be used to share the image with the rest of the world.

Erik.

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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #108
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The great thing about all todays technology is you select how you like to do things from coating your own glass negatives to the latest and greatest digital sensor from Canikon.
Amen to that...
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