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Analogue Lifestyle: A Short Essay on Film and Functions by Severin Matusek

Wanderer Severin Matusek recounts his journey last summer of how he saw first-hand how similar and at the same time, how different, a simple point & shoot camera is with the legendary Leica. At the end of the trip, he ponders and muses some questions that we hope you can help us discuss!

Last summer I went to Italy and took my Leica CL with me. I had just recently bought this camera and immediately fell in love with its crystal clear lens (Leica Summicron 40mm/2.0) and the basic, yet elaborate manual functions that everyone appreciates with Leicas. Unfortunately someone dropped the bag I was keeping my Leica in and it broke. I had no second camera with me and snapping away with my camera phone was not an option.

As chance would have it my friend Irene just recently discovered an old camera in some shelf at her mothers place. Irene is not much into photography so she gave me the camera to try out if it still works. I looked at the camera and thought it would be an interesting experiment. The camera was a Panasonic which I’d date around the beginning of the 1990s. It was small, black and electronically powered by a battery. It featured autofocus, electronic zoom, automatic exposure settings, automatic flash and it also automatically wound up the film after each shot taken. Basically this camera had all functions that a simple digital compact camera has, only with the slight abnormality that it still used film. I asked myself: why do I shoot with this camera?

I snapped away with the camera whenever I remembered that I had this black plastic thing in my pocket. In fact I had no other option than “snapping away” with it, as the camera didn’t allow me any more possibilities to use it in other ways (its automatic functions were doing their job for me). But I like the pictures I got back from it. They are different from digital pictures and they have this typical analogue look that I don’t get with any digital compact camera.

Now, if all the functions of this Panasonic camera were similar to digital compact cameras, only the use of film (as opposed to a digital CCD chip) could make the difference. When I look at the pictures, this is definitely true: the grain is typical to the Agfa Vista 400 I used and so are the colours. Look at this picture for example:

The colours are vivid. The light is beautifully captured on film and the blue of the sea appears characteristically to Agfa Vista films. It is hard to explain the look of analogue pictures with facts – but I think we can all agree that the warmth, tone and saturation that film offers still makes a difference to the often seemingly cold pictures you get with digital cameras.

But is the use of film the only reason why we like analogue photography? This is something I seriously ask myself. I believe that it is also the functions of a camera that make the difference. Using the Panasonic camera during my vacation gave me satisfying results however, while I was shooting with it I was not very excited. I felt like with the camera doing all the work for me and at the same time, defining what picture was a good picture (i.e. a sharp, well exposed image) there was no room left for me to try out anything with capturing the light on film – which is essentially what fascinates me in analogue photography.

Let’s go back to my Leica CL (before it went to camera heaven). I shot the image below with the Leica on the same film, Agfa Vista 400.

If I wouldn’t have told you, could you have guessed the difference between the two cameras used? Is the second image any different to the first or could it also have been shot with the super automatic Panasonic instead of the all-manual Leica?

When I look at this picture on a larger scale I can see a difference in the optics. The Leica-image is clearly sharper due to its better lens. But I can also see something different: my personal relation to the picture is different than to the first one. I feel that because of the need to adjust the functions of the camera to the subject that I want to photograph, it is more my picture. The distance to the subject was my choice as was the aperture and the shutter speed. And it was also my choice when I pushed the shutter button and decided what exact moment I wanted to capture. Even though the autofocus setting of the Panasonic camera was fast, it still had a delay of a few milliseconds. Due to the automatic nature of the Panasonic camera I feel like everyone could have made the same pictures as I did. The camera took the picture and I was just the man who accidentally pushed the button – while with my Leica, I feel like I took the picture with the help of my camera.

In the end I believe the functions of a camera really make a lot of difference not only to the photographic results, but also on how to use the camera. The camera and its functions define the field I can play within (aperture, shutter speed, lens etc.) and within this field I can be creative and use these functions to serve my vision. However, the more automatic and pre-defining the functions are, the more restricted I am.

With the Panasonic camera I couldn’t have taken a blurry, out of focus shot because it didn’t allow me to. On the other side, also the LOMO LC-A+ doesn’t have as much manual options as a classic SLR or rangefinder, such as the Leica. It has only four distance settings and an automatic exposure setting just like the Panasonic. Still I enjoy much more shooting with the Lomo LC-A than with the Panasonic camera.

Why is that so? What makes the difference between two cameras? Is it their functionality? Or does the moment count and the camera you shoot with is secondary? If so, do different cameras evoke different shooting situations? Do cameras have something like a “character”, an auratic field that is defined through your personal relationship to the machine? What about analogue and digital then? What do you think?

written by severin

9 comments

  1. wil6ka

    wil6ka

    very keen severin.
    i thinkthe distance-aperture at the LC-A makes a huge difference.
    It speperates brillance from mediocrity.
    Also itt demands you to move closer or farther from the subject.
    I think this is a very organic process.
    you basicly live the picture.
    there is such bliss in a lomo-picture that has the main subject in 2 meter distance in full focus, but the objects in front and in the back of the main subject have a certain blur.
    for me that is storytelling as we know it from the movies.
    Also the choices of films and development give the picture it's on character.
    I think it is a discussion rather of touch and feel above mind and facts.
    something like this ;)

    about 4 years ago · report as spam
  2. lawypop

    lawypop

    To me, films and different functions of the camera do play a part of what i want to capture especially when i'm on a trip. that's why i end up taking 3 or more analogue cameras (LC-A+, Holga & Spinner) and a digital point&shoot (just in case).

    about 4 years ago · report as spam
  3. boredbone

    boredbone

    It will always be the message and not the medium for me. but sometimes a great medium really make a big difference. And to make a really good picture, it's the combination of camera and film plus your "taste" on how you want to capture a moment. it sucks when you capture a moment with the wrong camera, it's like "this shot should've been better with a rangefinder." and it goes the same with film. sometimes i want to kill myself because i should've use an ektachrome rather than a provia. it's an acquired preference and experience dictates it. and experience also teach me to bring a second(or even a third) camera. what sucks the most is that you don't have anything to shoot at all.

    what a coincidence to compare a panasonic and a leica:)) the lumix uses the leica lens:))

    about 4 years ago · report as spam
  4. adamscott

    adamscott

    Big difference. The Leica has a shot of an old man and a kid. The Panasonic shoots a young guy and a young girl

    Jokes aside, the quality seems the same but people "believe" in the leica. They are culturally duped into thinking it's better. Just like mac users believe they are better than PC

    lets stop believing and start doing!

    about 4 years ago · report as spam
  5. user23847987

    digital photographs definitely don't own a specific aura but analogue ones do. an analogue photograph is the "original" final output of an artist's or photgrapher's mind... most of the time it's the final unique artwork (of course there are several developing processes to make it complete, but...). digital photography mostly begins by pressing the release button and ends in the cold digital world of a computer. digital imaging processes may grade up the character of digital photographs but they remain what they are: just one-to-one reproducible bits and bytes... (remember walter benjamin - it's a never ending discussion ;)
    about 4 years ago · report as spam
  6. coldkennels

    coldkennels

    In terms of quality of the end result, there is a definite problem for me with automated electronically-controlled cameras, whether digital or analogue - either:
    a) it chooses to focus on the wrong thing, or sets the exposure based on the wrong part of the image or
    b) it sanitizes the shot, allowing for no interesting depth of field arrangement or other such 'artistic effects'.

    They're fundamentally for snapshots, and snapshots only. They're great if you just want quick photos to show your friends at the end of the holiday, but I wouldn't ever use one to take a shot I wanted framed and put on the wall.

    But, of course, there's the problem regarding the actual feeling of detachment for the photographer (or, more precisely, user) that you refer to. While, yes, your fancy digital SLR or automatic point-and-shoot will stop you from being able to take a technically 'bad' photo, it also leaves you feeling alienated from the process. That's why people still bother learning to use fully manual cameras. There's a sense of achievement in it, as you so rightly point out; whether you're metering by eye or using a light meter to read a certain part of the scene, you control every single aspect of the photograph.

    Also, there's a tactile response issue here: while computers make things easier, they also don't satisfy that basic desire to get physically involved, to touch, to feel, to tinker. Sometimes, using outdated, old, clunky machinery satisfies that urge much more than a shiny, polished touchscreen or voice activated tablet.

    Of course, all the above points go even further if you're driven enough to develop your own film. I've had very little experience developing anything, but the sense of achievement was amazing. I can only imagine how satisfying it must be to be doing that with every roll of film you shoot.

    However, we must also consider one final factor: in some cases, it's simply a perceived sense of difference, of individuality. The modern day capitalist machine continues to run by making us each believe that we are special and that we are an individual; that choosing Pepsi over Coca-Cola somehow sets us apart and helps us create an identity. I can't help but think that in many cases - possibly myself included - this is what our preference for film or our preference for the Holga over a Kodak APS camera really comes down to. A single walk down the high street in my tourist-filled town on any sunny day will be filled full of the sight of DSLRs slung around the necks of middle-aged men. Do I sometimes feel a sense of superiority, or individuality, when carrying a Yashica TLR at my side? Sometimes, yes. Is it right to do so? Not at all. Both the DLSR user and myself are engaged in the same futile and ultimately pointless activity, spending money on equipment that, while bettering or enhancing our personal experience of life, will not better it, nor actively better the lives of those around us - but this is a separate nihilistic and polarizing debate that is best left well alone at this moment.

    I guess to sum up, in terms of actual picture quality, a good photographer with a crappy camera could produce a better shot than a terrible photographer with a great camera; there's prime examples of this on this very website. After all, a pinhole camera made from a matchbox and duct tape can, if used properly, produce stunning, stunning images - but only if you know what you're doing. At the end of the day, knowledge - both of photographic, stylistic and aesthetic conventions and the limitations, intricacies and quirks of your equipment - and skill will always reign supreme over the price tag of your camera.

    about 4 years ago · report as spam
  7. fash_on

    fash_on

    For some it's all about the sharpness, for others it's about the feeling, some just love the process(es), and others like collecting gear. I used to be into the sharpness and all the tricks you can do in-camera, and digital allowed me to master those tricks with it's instant feedback, I owe a lot to my first DSLR (2002).

    A few years later I saw a Colorsplash Flash camera in a trendy store which led me to the lomography website. I acquired a few toy cameras and experimented with films for the first time. Soon it seemed everyone had a DSLR, the marketing machine was very effective because I don't think so many people had analog SLR's?

    I think most people have been conned into buying a status symbol, the most expensive they can afford, maybe even believing their pictures will be superior (due to sharpness?). I truly believe a lot of these people would be way happier with a very basic camera if they would just give it a chance.

    You see, my feeling is... "it doesn't matter what you've got, it's what you do with it that counts" On this site there are some stunning images taken with very basic cameras, sometimes it's luck perhaps? Though one of my photography teachers told me Luck = Availability + Talent, in other words don't dismiss your happy accidents so quickly. Maybe the "Talent" is the film or the camera, they can be selected specifically for their unique qualities or even their "defects".

    The nice thing about analog is you have the choice ahead of time, to choose the film, the camera, and the processing style. It's very satisfying to pick up a film or prints after a shoot and see how your recipe has turned out. I'm even acquiring a taste for the texture my films sometimes get from the mini-lab.

    If I'm using a point and shoot, it's because I chose to use it, I know it's possibilities, and it's limitations, and I may use either of these to creative effect. For me, photography is fun, so I prefer small cameras and fun cameras, and happy accidents.

    Not sure why, but my Lumix LX-3 doesn't get used much. I was impressed that it has film modes, and manual settings, but I think my main problem with digital cameras is menus. Most of the time I just don't want to navigate thru menus, or have to try a few different settings to get the look I want. Switches, knobs and levers are easier use and master.

    Another problem with digital is knowing when to stop. Most people agree they take too many pictures which means a lot of editing later. But also knowing when to stop with the post-production, the website photoshop disaster's is a good source :)

    Though I have lot's of gear both digital and analog, it's always the image that matters most to me. Either it works, or it doesn't. It might be good, it might be great, it might be boring - just a visual record, but to make good art (or baked goods, etc) you have to make a lot of art. So, I prefer a simple process (camera) whether capturing an interesting subject, a perfect moment, juxtaposition, holiday experience or a natural phenomenon - I don't need it to be infinity sharp or technically perfect. I prefer the freedom shooting with small simple cameras allows, their simplicity can give pictures more meaning, honesty and longevity, if you choose to use them in this way. And, tricks are possible too (doubles etc).

    Interesting subject/essay, it brought a lot of ideas to my mind :)

    about 4 years ago · report as spam
  8. ohmic

    the camera is just a tool. it's about the man behind the camera.
    about 4 years ago · report as spam
  9. fookshit

    fookshit

    for me, a digital camera is just like a microwave - it conveniently cooks food fast and makes it tasteless and i can compare automatic film cameras to a digital stove - it is modern, stylish and boils soup automatically! i can just focus what there is to shoot with my Mju's and Big mini's and snap away, but then again as my grandmum always tells me - it will taste differently and tasty when you cook using a clay pot so this is why i always swear to the analogue abilities of my FED5.

    about 4 years ago · report as spam

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: 中文(繁體版).