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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

It's in the Cards

I'm on vacation this week, at an unwinterized lake house in the Great Lakes region not far from the Canadian border where my family has been summering since about 1907. All the early lakeshore houses in this area were originally used only during the summers, usually by the women and children of the families who owned them, with fathers joining in as business permitted. The living has always been on the gracious side—there has never been much of an element of hardship (although in the very early days of the automobile, my ancestors' odyssey from Indiana required three days and perhaps fifteen tire changes and repairs). But traditionally the conceit was that life here was "rustic." The houses were finished with unpainted pine beadboard, and heat (when needed) came from the hearth. We didn't get a telephone until the 1950s, and in the early days it was a shared party line; a television was grudgingly admitted during the political furor of 1968. It sits silent but for the occasional rainy-day kids' DVD.

Now, many people live here year round, and the lastest fashion is for houses with expandable sleeping arrangements (my aunt and uncle's new house has a bed in a window alcove in an upstairs hall, and a Murphy bed in an office is cleverly disguised by neatly-made false drawer fronts). Hardship, now, consists of the lack of air conditioning (not much of a problem until lately, and even now only intermittently), and slow dial-up service.

With a new puppy to transport, I opted to leave my own computer at home this year. This has put me square in the way of one of the little-discussed pitfalls of shooting digital: for the duration, I'm limited in my digital shooting by the flash capacity in my two 1GB cards. I'm saving most of my digital capacity for family portraits at gatherings scheduled for later this week.

It's funny how "non-mandatory" limitations in modern technology are not really considered valid in most peoples' thinking. I've come here with no computer, no portable hard drive, and only two cards, so I've limited myself to 200 shots or so. But that's not the fault of the technology; it's my fault, for not equipping myself better. Right?

Well, yes—sort of. The fact that we're not all infinitely well equipped and prepared to compensate for occasional extraordinary needs is each individual's own fault, specifically, but collectively it's still a bit of a weakness in the system—or a cost, you might put it, of doing things differently the way we're doing them these days. I think of the difference in terms of the camera in the trunk. I used to keep an old camera body with a 50mm lens and a roll of Tri-X in it in the trunk of the car. It could sit there ignored and neglected for months—years, even—but I always knew it was there if I happened to come across Elvis's flying saucer landing on the Interstate. You just can't keep a digital equivalent of the camera in the trunk. This isn't a judgement—just an observation. Digital has a lot of "wins," but our new cameras tether us to power, storage media, and transfer devices. Fact of life.

By next year, I should have a laptop. Unfortunately, this year is the last hurrah for the old cottage—it's on the market for sale, finally. (We've been talking about the need to sell it for years. Like the way most things happen up here, this decision has come slowly.) There won't be another summer to equip myself for. Most of the rest of the shooting I do is within a short and reasonable radius of my home computer hub. As for future memories, well, I admit, I'd like to continue my annual 23-year photo project here at the lake, but it's just not in the cards.


Featured Comment by Hiding Pup: I bought a portable storage device caddy and a 60GB laptop hard-drive for £60—approximately the (high-street) price of a 1GB card.... It's good for 20GB of transfer on a single charge.

Maybe that's the glovebox solution you're looking for?

As for the glovebox film camera (Nikon EM) of days of yore, maybe the mobile phone camera has replaced that. Sure, it's battery-powered—but you're not always anywhere near your car when that flying saucer lands are you? Whereas you might be nearer your breast pocket....

Those links are great; thanks! —Mike


Blogger Max said...

Sounds like a beautiful place.
On the gear limitations, here in Argentina you can make incredible horseback trips on the Andes, a week long, for example, visiting scenery that would be impossible to get to in any other way. No power for one week, you are carrying everything on yourself and your horse. I shot a lot of film. Those are the best trips for me. Later on when pondering about buying an expensive digital slr I realized using a digital camera on such a trip would be nearly imposible (or at least quite awkward), while film has the advantage by far in that kind of situation.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Rudolf said...

"on vacation this week"?
Wow - and you are telling that twice as 1GB of storage is not enough for pictures??

Well - "200 shots or so" is about 16 rolls of film (I mean 120, MF).

My goodness, thats more then I shoot every month or two.

Tell me, Mike - why? Why do you think it is too little? Are digital pictures so much better then medium format? I knew that dslr pictures are better at all - but is there *such great* difference?

2:52 PM  
Blogger Peter Hovmand said...

Nice to hear about the great lakes these days. I am just writing my second novel - and it takes place near Lake Michigan :) Hope you are having a nice time.

3:16 PM  
Blogger jw52tx said...

I did the same thing, under the seat though, even Tri-X does funny things after a few months in the Texas heat.
Never saw the saucer or Elvis, but I may have heard him in the distance a time or two.
With digital now there no issues with film overheating and ruining but everytime I see Jimmy Hoffa the damn batteries are dead!
On a more serious note if the "film days" 200 exposures was a lot. Not for me now either.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I dont shoot digital so am not usually in the habit of defending the system but I cant really see that there is much difference here. I recently went to the Northern island of Hokkaido in Japan which is mostly a rural environment and to be sure that I was "covered" I took along around 70 rolls of film. My friend had her D50, 2 XD cards and a portable HD which was considerably smaller and able to store more photos than my 70 rolls. But size is not the point. She, like me, had to have enough or else no more photos. Battery power may or may not be an issue but I think for most people it isn't. And anyway, I cant see why you still cant have an old LX or similar loaded with Tri-X sitting in the boot.

5:08 PM  
Blogger robert e said...

200 shots still sounds like a lot to this amateur film user. Almost six rolls of 135-36? That would mean for me a good weekend, or a fair week, of casual but picky shooting, even without the ability to review and erase. Of course, to each his own pace, and I understand you face the added difficulty of erasing any memento of "the last time".

I'm wondering how far you would be from a place that can offload and burn your cards to CD/DVD?

As for the camera in the trunk:
How about an alkaline-powerable camera and fresh disposable CRV3 cells? You have yourself a high tech version of the beater and Tri-X, with years of shelf life. Plus, it includes developing.

For the option of digital-age profligacy, add a portable image storage device in the glove compartment, for not too high a price. That's only a stopgap, too. Considering the popularity of ipods and MP3's, I don't think it will be long before built-in digital storage and USB ports are popular options in new cars.

I recall some of those cabin pictures from your SMP columns, if it's the same place. Looks and sounds like a wonderful family retreat. Enjoy!

5:24 PM  
Blogger Robert Meier said...

Mike-- have a good time at the cabin. I'm surprised you're not taking the film camera you took last year. Bob Meier

5:26 PM  
Blogger David A. Goldfarb said...

We're spending two months this summer on the similarly rustic island of Moloka'i, pop. 8000, no traffic lights, speed limit 45 mph.

I do have my laptop so I can do some work here, but no digital camera--just about 200 sheets of 4x5" and about 10 rolls of 120 to shoot in my 6x7 back. Feels like plenty of shots to me, but if I had a surge of productivity or if the UFO landed, I could always order more film, as I suppose you could order another card. They do have a post office there, don't they?

6:58 PM  
Blogger Andy Smith said...

"I admit, I'd like to continue my annual 23-year photo project here at the lake, but it's just not in the cards."

But you do have great memories, and I'm sure lots of great photographs. :)


9:43 PM  
Blogger john carney said...

ummm. yeah. Just like in the old days we were tethered to film. I don't understand how how being limited by the combined capacity of cards you have is different from being limited by the combined capacity of the rolls of film you are carrying - except that with film you can't delete that blurry snap of grandma asleep in the recliner to make room for your Elvis sighting :)

10:25 PM  
Blogger ARConn said...

Yah Mike, U'r so hard done by. Limited to the equivalent of eight or nine rolls of 24-exposure film.
How will U ever survive?

But, I do suppose that the point of it all is that back in the good/bad old days, U could have bought the local drug store out of film a month in advance of U'r vacation (and saved any unused film afterwards for next year's little outing or for little Timmy's birthday party or...) for less than the cost of an extra 1GB card that U'ld only have use for a dozen or so times before it disintegrated.

Amazing how inconvenient all this convenience can be at times.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Dierk Haasis said...

Since film rolls are bigger, heavier and more sensitive to heat and humidity, I'd say you could stack a box of CF-cards into your boot.

200 photos - that'd be 7 rolls of film.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Svein-Frode said...

I still keep film cameras around for the "in case of" situations, and since I got the dSLRs, my old SONYs are now rarely used anymore, so they will become my glovebox cameras soon.

I see what you're saying though, and boy are the times changing. I just spent a whole day trying to clean a dSLR sensor. Another great joy of the digital age...

2:23 AM  
Blogger Nick Meertens said...

The end of 100 years family history; a wonderfull but sad story Mike. It makes me want to see 'On Golden Pond' again.

2:53 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

I also just got back from a week away. I was in Maine in a cabin on Frenchmans Bay. I was also w/o a computer or HD but I did bring 6G of card with me for the D2HS. Insanely I shot a little over 4G of photos. Why insane? I now have to edit 500+ images. Sure there are tests and experiments in there, the kind of stuff you may not do with film 'cause that is a more finite commodity. TX in Hancock Maine? What strikes me is that I know w/o a doubt I'd have never had shot that much film. Never. It's just a trend and widespred trend I don't like for some reason. "We shoot over 1200 images" wedding photographers boast. I think I envy the 200 image limit you've put on yourself.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Maciek said...

don't sell the house!!!!
it's part of you and you will regret it one day :(
my parents sold the country house i spent most of my childhood's summers in.. wish i could come back there some day with my kids..

and to the main subject... i'm going on short holiday next weekend and this time i go 'film-only', leaving all the chargers, batteries, cards, huge lenses, tripods etc behind, taking only my 28 years old mamiya 35mm slr. i miss all the waiting for the film to be developed, the time when you don't know what will come out of each roll and the happiness when you finally see the shots...
my last holiday was partly analog, partly digital. digital came out nice, but when i saw the analog part... it just has more life and emotion in it. hope never to be forced to quit analog photography ;)

best regards and thank you for keeping this blog;)


5:03 AM  
Blogger Hugo Angel said...

2 GB for 200 shots -
I bet you won't consider shooting jpg and/or choose a lower resolution (so the shots could be up to 2000 or even more).
RAW has it's price.
Hugo (Italy)

5:44 AM  
Blogger Hiding Pup said...

I bought a portable storage device caddy and a 60gb laptop hard-drive for £60 - approximately the (high-street) price of a 1gb card... It's good for 20gb of transfer on a single charge.

Maybe that's the glovebox solution you're looking for?

As for the glovebox film camera (Nikon EM) of days of yore, maybe the mobile phone camera has replaced that. Sure, it's battery-powered - but you're not always anywhere near your car when that flying saucer lands are you? whereas you might be nearer your breat pocket...

7:45 AM  
Blogger Hiding Pup said...

Can we have a shot of the puppy? Cheers, Puplet.

7:46 AM  
Blogger speedtrials1975 said...

200 may seem like a lot to film guys but keep in mind with the tiny almost useless viewfinder and focusing screens on dslrs, you gotta overshoot to make sure one of the shots is in focus......spray and pray anyone?

12:48 PM  
Blogger eolake said...

Me, I have yet to be able to tell any significant difference between RAW, Hi JPG and medium JPG. So I am getting over 600 pictures on my D200 with 2GB.

8:28 AM  

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