Your guide to digital living

Jenneth Orantia talks about all things digital.

Old school photography

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I've been up to something a little different this week. As a borderline generation X/Y-er, I've only ever taken pictures with a digital camera. So when my photography teacher suggested I try shooting with a film camera for a change, I thought it would be a great experiment.

As an early Christmas present to myself (or so I assured my ailing bank balance), I bought a 22-year-old Bronica ETRS, fell in love with its retro styling and tank-like construction (still ticking after 22 years), and filled my pockets with colour and black and white film so I could start shooting with my new treasure.

I've been using a digital SLR almost exclusively for the last three years, but even so, many of the buttons on the ETRS mystified me, and I had to watch an online tutorial three times (thank God for YouTube videos!) to learn how to spool film into its backplate. For all my fumbling, I'm proud to say that I can now load film on this camera in less than a minute.

The results were far more interesting than I what I could achieve with a straight digital camera. But between the hassle of finding the right film and a photo lab that could develop it, the considerable expense of it all (a single roll of medium format colour slide film cost me $50 altogether: $15 to buy, and $35 to develop, print and scan — and for only 12 pictures per roll), and the fact that I was never really sure I had any good shots until I got the whole roll developed, I've developed a whole new appreciation for digital photography.

Shooting on black and white film, cross-processing colour slides, and trying toy cameras such as a Holga or Diana can produce effects that are far more charismatic than the standard "perfect" digital image, but you don't need to buy a new camera to achieve them. Smartphone apps such as Hipstamatic and CameraBag for the iPhone, and Vignette for Android devices, add all of the retro camera effects that you'd otherwise have to pay a lot of money for, and cost less than $5 each to download.

While mobile phone cameras fall far short of the image quality you can get from a digital SLR (or even a good compact camera), this shortcoming works in their favour when it comes to retro photography, as the graininess and imperfections all add to the charm and quirk of old-style images. Plus, you get the immediacy of digital, letting you quickly check whether you took a good exposure. It may not be authentic, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper than the real thing. And most people will be hard pressed to tell the difference.

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