From film to digital

A Yashica Mat
A Yashica Mat
A Yashica Mat

My career as a photographer started at age 12 in Farmville, VA, when I sold a photo of the Ku Klux Klan meeting in the woods of Prince Edward County.

That photo was taken with a Yashica Mat, a poor’s man’s Rolliflex twin-lens reflex camera that used rolls of 120mm film that allowed 12 exposures a roll.  My photo that night, taken from a concealed spot in the woods, was published in Look Magazine.

A few years later, after my adopted family of my mom, a stepfather, two step sisters, a step brother, a half sister and a half brother moved to Floyd County, I became the student photographer at the then-new Floyd County High School and started using the school’s 4×5 Crown Graphic.  The 4×5, the “press camera” of the time, used film packs that contained 12 exposures of sheet film.

After school, I worked for The Floyd Press as a reporter-photographer and continued to use my Yashica Mat.

After graduation from Floyd County High School, I moved on to a full-time job at The Roanoke Times and bought my first 35mm camera:  a Nikon F with three lenses:  A 50mm “normal” lens, a 200mm telephoto and a 28mm wide angle.  I used that camera throughout my four years at the Times and when I moved on to a paper in Illinois in 1969.  Shooting photos revolved around 36-exposure rolls of film, mostly Tri-X Pan black and white.

For the next 39 years, I used Nikons, moving up to an F2, then an F3, an F4 and, finally, an F5 with lenses using automatic focus.

In 1999, the Nikon went digital with the D1 and I switched to that format, which captured photos on a compact flash card.  The D1 and later the D2 served many assignments over the next few years both in the United States and abroad.   The digital cards provided much higher capacity in shooting, holding hundreds of images from a single session.

In 2004, after leaving Washington and returning home to Floyd County, I switched from Nikons to Canons because Nikon had lagged in digital development.  Assignments were covered with EOS MarkIIs and a variety of lenses.  Image sensors improved, with the “action” camera providing 8 megapixels and the “detail” camera shooting at a then whopping 16 megapixels.

In 2008, Canon revolutionized the digital single-lens-reflex (DSLR) world with the 5D Mark II, a full-frame digital camera with a 21.1 megapixel sensor and the ability to shoot both incredible high-resolution still photos and high definition video in 1080p.  Canon developed the camera at the request of The Associated Presss, who wanted to give photographers video capability.  But the camera also caught the fancy of the independent film community and became the tool of choice for a new wave of filmmakers.

Any gave me one for Christmas in 2008.  At the time I was shooting HD video with a Sony Z1U but it ended up on the shelf as the Canon got more and more work.  With a 32GB compact flash card, I could shoot hours of video and thousands of images and still have space left over.

Memory cards for modern digital cameras.
Memory cards for modern digital cameras.

I had also started using an SHDC card — smaller at about the size of a postage stamp — in my EOS MKIII cameras for sports photography.   The MKIIIs had dual slots for both CF and SHDC cards, which provided both redundancy and space.  For video news shots, my Panasonic HMC-30 ENG shoulder-mount camcorder captured HD video on the smaller cards as well.

The 5D MKII‘s successor, the MKIII, added the dual-card capability along with improved video performance from an even higher-resolution sensor and much improved high ISO performance for low-light shooting and my gear of choice now is a 7D and a 5D MKIII equipped with a 24-70 mm f/2.8 and a 70-200f/2.8 zoom.  The two cameras and two lenses provid coverage for 95 percent of my shooting needs for a still or a video assignment.

And the 32 GB cards used in both cameras provide space for more than 2000 photos or two plus hours of high definition video at an assignment — a far cry from the days of 12-exposure 120 or 36-exposure 35mm film.

But while the media for capturing still and video have reduced in size while offering more capacity, the equipment to store edit and archive all those images and footage has multiplied.  At last count, the hard drives for my Mac add up to 24 terabytes of storage — and I’m running low on space.

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3 thoughts on “From film to digital”

  1. Sounds like a cloud may be in your future. My Dad had a camera like the one in the pic. Also had what he call a “press graphic” and then numerous 35s. Tried to get him into digital before he died, but he ran out of time to really get to play with it.

    • The 70D is a good camera and is, in many ways, a worthy successor to the 7D. It has a higher capacity sensor, a full focus video capability and a 7 frames per second capture rate, which makes it good for action photography. The two cameras I use most for news photography is a 5D MKIII and a 7D and both serve my purpose very well. it would be a good choice for a serious amateur. Some has said the build quality if not up the 7D and usage could be a factor. I shoot an average of 1500 images a day on my cameras so quality and longevity is a factor.

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