Numbers Game

Three rolls TMX, 9.5 mins Xtol 1+1 @ 20C. That leaves 42 rolls of black & white unprocessed, and a color lab backlog of an additional 18 rolls — I'm guessing almost 2000 frames shot over the past couple of weeks.

Big bursts like this seem to make a compelling argument for digital. As I type this I can look over C's shoulder and see her downloading color frame after color frame from her Elph. Fast and (once the gear is paid for) free.

By comparison, the film cost is... well, let's run the numbers. Two and a half 100' spools of B&W film, about $60. Two Costco special packs of Kodak color neg, $18. About $50 of film from Yodobashi Camera (Neopan Super Presto for $3 a roll... couldn't resist!). Two five-liter bags of Xtol, about $16. I changed batteries, about $9. Some stop bath ($0.50). Sixty negative-sleeve pages, about $5. Process-only at the color lab, another $55. Total: about $165. Or to put it another way — If I shot at this rate (around 5 rolls per day) for a year, it would be about half the cost of a Canon EOD 1Ds body (and I'd need new batteries, storage, and EOS lenses from 20mm to 85mm — or 15mm to 70mm for a camera with a smaller sensor, like the EOS 1D).

Then let's add the time: if I do a run each night, I should have the B&W done in a week and a half. The color neg of course will be done almost instantly, and the slides are due tomorrow. Konica Impresa 50 Pro I ran through a lab in Japan while testing my dropped lens (everything was fine). Then of course I have to scan everything, at which point film pix and digital pix are on more-or-less an even footing, save for the potential hassle of spotting.

So between now and maybe two weeks from now, if I had a deadline, digital wins hands down, regardless of the cost. From that point onward, however, we enter the state where a viewer, seeing a photo, has essentially no interest whatsoever in how it was made or how long it took or what it cost. All they see is the picture.

So the question is then — could I have gotten the same shots with a digicam?

I don't think so, in the dense crowds of Tokyo. A digital compact could have gotten about 20% of the more static shots, but it wouldn't have had the quick response of my little Contax; a DSLR would have been quicker, but at three times the size and weight — and still probably unable to spontaneously shoot in quick succession. The film camera was instant-on, low-profile, and I could leave it ready all day and night. Seen in that light, film shooting still seems like a bargain.

September 11, 2003





Comments on "Numbers Game"

Buzz Andersen
September 11, 2003 10:26 PM

To me, the great Achilles heel of digital is low light. I tend to like to do a lot of stuff in challenging light, and I've never been satisifed with the performance and any digicam under those conditions. By contrast, I've been able to get some shots with my Leica in darkened bars and so forth that make people's jaws drop.

September 12, 2003 09:01 AM

Yup, you witnessed my frustration with the (lack of) speed of the digital. You've also seen that my pictures were by far less interesting than yours, and served the purpose of providing the typical vacation slide-show type photos. A sheer shame that I couldn't utilize any creativity.

September 12, 2003 10:15 AM

Tsk! Too hard on yourself. Actually I hadn't seen them yet, just recognized you loading them.

Here are some I rather like:ABCDEF


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