Kevin Bjorke
Kevin Bjorke
4 min read

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Los Angeles, August 2004 (C) K. Bjorke

On a busy day, it’s not uncommon for me to shoot two or three hundred photos. I used to gauge this as a “six roll day” and now think of it usually as a “half gig day” for the amount of space used by digi-cam JPEGs.

Unless I shoot RAW, or use the high-quality JPEG settings. A six-roll day of RAW files is a “gig and a half day,” though to tell the truth I’ve never had one — for all their dynamic-range merits, RAW files are significantly slower to use on my camera, so most of the time I stick to JPEGs. As a bonus, a half-gig’s worth of pics will all fit onto a single CD.

There’s a tendency, given the abilities of the digital camera, to drift towards even higher numbers of pictures. It’s just storage, right? And storage keeps getting cheaper (and hopefully faster – burning a CD and a backup usually takes about 20-30 minutes on my laptop).

The real limiting factor, I’m finding, is the storage and processing capacity between my ears. Often, I find myself shooting multiple cards full of snaps, shuffling them onto the laptop, making contact sheets in XnView, transfering the orignals and contacts onto CDs, filing the CDs in big 3-ring binders and deleting the directories from the PC, reformating the cards to start shooting again, and never going back to look at the pics.

Sure, every few months I’ll go through and print a big mass of the contacts, but the pictures disappear, Rosebud-like, into the files. I’d know just where to find them… if I knew to look.

Taking a good gander at 300 pics takes time, focused time. My habit of using the Mac OSX slideshow feature to review pics only works for JPEGs, not RAW (generally okay) but even at 5 secs per shot it’ll take at least half an hour of staring at the screen to see them all (if in fact they really all get displayed). So I’ve started using XnView for the slideshows too (meaning also: pics on the PCs, perhaps never to make it to the Mac at all). But either way it can mean that it takes massive, focused slices of time.

Despite the best efforts of Adobe and its competitors, it’s not like a light box or a proof sheet — you can really only see one pic at a time properly on the screen. If any slideshow makers are listening, here’s an idea: for two-monitor systems, let the user run the slideshow on monitor #2 (or even in an arbitrary window, rather than full-screen), while they’re working on monitor #1… that would make a great improvement in practical use. Of course, if the user is just shuffling the CDs off into the binder, never to be loaded again…

In the last isse of Mono, Leigh Preston mentioned someone buying 10 rolls of film in rural India, only to discover that they had three exposures each. Ripoff? or a sensibly-correct size for someone who perhaps only wants three pictures (like the 100ml Cokes sold there)? Chances are, the purchaser will get a good chance to see all three shots.

The problems compound further if you like B&W, and do the conversions offline in Photoshop — now there will either be lots of bulk automated conversion or even more time is needed for editing. It’s inescapable — pictures take time and attention, and no amount of CCD technology will change that.

It really seems to me that there’s a need for something better. a different paradigm for reviewing and redaction. Maybe it’s a matter of getting over the thought of choosing the “best” images, or maybe it’s accepting that I should set them aside (like Garry Winogrand’s famous trashbarrels full of undeveloped rolls, waiting for months or years at a time) and only look at them much, much later?

Over on Contientious, Joerg (in an uncharacteristic move) collected a batch of useful technical links comparing film versus digital. People love numbers, and these pages are full of charts and tables and test results. All of them valid, of course, but why is there such attention to competition between these media, save in the service of the corporate markets that feed both worlds? (I’m remendid of the massive book Color Science — 900+ informative pages and not a word about why a brilliant green can make you feel happy)

Increasingly, the differences between the two are clear to me, and each has its own character (also: I’m not interested in comparing a DSLR to Velvia, I want to compare it to pushed Tri-X. And who shoots ISO 400 Velvia, anyway?). Just as a cornet is not a trumpet, digital is its own thing, a mature and useful form. Sure, it’s eating away at film sales, which used to be the only game in town. But rather than worrying about how digitals fare against 35mm or 645, isn’t it better to just sort them out for what they are, in and of themselves? Almost no one is going to shoot 35mm and digital side-by-side and compare later — the real question is, how can you make the best pictures you can with what you’ve got?

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