3.06.2009

Digital Cameras: the thrill is gone

Espinazo, Mexico, 2008, Mamiya c33

Judging by the offerings at this month's PMA Show, the digital photography juggernaut has come to a screeching halt. Blame it on the "economic crisis" if you like. Whatever the cause, neither Nikon nor Canon, the only two dSLR manufacturers that matter, released a relevant body. There's nothing to replace, for example, Nikon's D40x, which is two years old now.
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Nikon's point-and-shoot digital cameras are crap. Canon released 10, new, digital happy-snappys, none of which do anything that my $100 PowerShot A470 can't do. And today, just like a decade ago, there's no digital camera, at any price, that can do what my Mamiya C33, built somewhere between '64 and '69, can do. I got mine for $250 used more than 10 years ago at an antique store in Homestead, Florida. It's still grinding out 6 x 6 centimeter negatives at a cost of about two bucks a roll. Here's an example in color, shot on Fuji Provia transparency film.
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Not even a $7,999 Nikon D3x can outperform a 40-something-year-old Mamiya medium format film camera.
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These pictures of Mexican prostitutes were shot with either an Olympus XA, or a Nikon FM2 and a 50 mm lens. Pretty good for 35mm, which was originally considered a mini format but is now being marketed as "full frame." These photos of Central American immigrants were all taken with a used, $100 Contax 139 and a 50mm lens.
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Further proof of digital photography's 8-track-like demise is the fact that many of the film oriented products introduced at PMA are far more interesting than anything digital that bothered to show up to the party. Kaiser has announced a new, optical enlarger for $1,600 US. If film is dead, somebody better tell Kaiser.
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Kodak has announced that its new 100 asa Ektar film will soon be available in 120 size to fit medium format cameras.
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Leica, which makes cameras that are too expensive to be worth buying, offers up a new 18mm lens which will likely sell for $4,000 US.
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Zeiss, meanwhile, is offering package discounts on its Ikon camera/lens combos. A Zeiss Ikon, which shoots 35mm film, will cost you far less than a Leica and do the same job with equally good lenses. Here's a used one for less than $1,200 bucks and you'll still be using it when your dSLR has gone to Goodwill.
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Or you could keep all that money, get a Nikon FM2 for $250, a pair of excellent lenses for another $250, and be on your way out of the digital photography quagmire for less than $500 US.