I'm just kidding, of course, about selling my 7D. It's just that I've recently gone back to using the Mamiya 7 II rangefinder film camera (for those of you unfamiliar with this classic you will find a comprehensive review of the camera and its marvelous lenses at www.kenrockwell.com/mamiya/7.htm), and, fellas, when it comes to image quality to my eye there just isn't any comparison (even when the negative is "digitzed" via a scanner and processed as a digital image).
As I said in my review of the 7D, the Canon makes for a wonderful second camera. It will do things that the Mamiya 7 Ii can't--like shoot handheld in a near-infinite variety of lighting from bright sunlight to indoor incandescent without forcing you to change film or camera bodies, capture fleeting split-second candids that you'd still be trying to get in focus with a camera like the 7 II (unless you "zone focus"), take pictures up-close (macro photography) or at a great distance (wildlife, candids, sports), or shoot anything that is on the move or shoot anything when you are on the move--and it will do it superlatively well. There is also no denying the convenience of a really well-executed digital camera like the 7D and the seamless way it integrates with computers and digital darkroom software. Plus you get to see your initial results instantly--no waiting on a film lab or hours spent in the darkroom developing rolls yourself. No added expense for film and processing, to boot. To be honest, digital is the only sane choice.
But...there is something about the way you "make" pictures with digital cameras--something almost deadly about its foremost virtue, convenience (and convenience's twin brother, facileness)--that reminds me of the "convenience" of digital audio. (Indeed, the parallels between digital photography and digital audio are strong, pervasive, and obvious.)
I like convenience as well as the next guy, but when you're making something--be it a photograph or a short story--you want (actually, you need) to feel the effort that goes into creating it. It's the work that makes it feel genuine, earned, thoughtfully and feelingly done. I'm not saying, BTW, that you can't make great photos with a digital camera like the 7D; nor am I saying that there is no work involved (after all, snapping the picture is the first step in what, for me at least, is a long process of digital "development"). What I am saying is that it feels different to snap a picture with a camera that focuses for you, meters for you, exposes for you, even (if you've got image-stabilization of some kind) virtually holds the camera for you, and then shows you the picture you've taken a split second after you've taken it (just in case you want to snap another twelve shots or so because, in the half second you've taken to assess the image, it doesn't measure up).
I like the feeling that I'm "working" when I take a photo. I like the preparation, thought, and effort that goes into choosing the subject, setting the exposure just so, selecting the right aperture to get the depth of field I'm looking for, picking the right shutter speed for that aperture, adjusting focus, steadying my hand and thinking more than twice about light, color, composition, and framing rather than pointing-and-shooting with little chance of failure because whatever you've "made" can be redone a moment later. I like the darkroom process (used to spend hours, almost days, in the darkroom) and still enjoy it on the computer, where, to be honest, certain fine dodging/burning adjustments are much easier to execute than they were by hand. I like slowing down, pondering every step of what I'm doing, making choices rather than having them made for me. I like the process and the sense of a process. And what I like most of all are the results.
Here, for example, is an image taken with the Mamiya 7 II and the Mamiya 7 II 80mm f4 lens on Kodak Portra 160NC film (you can go to jlvalin.zenfolio.com/p77816571 for more of these shots in higher definition).
You may not be able to tell with this tiny jpeg, but this is a hard picture to take with a digital camera. First of all, the greens wouldn't be as varied in hue, saturation, and luminance as they are on Kodak's superb color negative film. Second, the dynamic range, which in this photo goes from brilliant sunlight to full shade, would be much more compressed. Highlights would be blown out; shadow detail would be crushed beyond darkroom repair. Third, textural details would "look" different. Both photos would be sharp, of course, but the digital image would tend to look like an image on a (very high-definition) TV, the film image like a still from a motion picture (one that was shot on 70mm film stock, of course). An aesthetic case could be made for either image. But perhaps because I grew up with film, I associate art photography--and the great examplars of the art--with the "look" of film. (I'm not claiming any kinship, BTW. With me it's just an aspiration.)
I know, I know. Most photographers--including so-called "fine art" photographers--have long since migrated to digital. That's a fact, but it isn't an argument. Many trained listeners and a truly shocking number of classical music lovers switched over to CD at the very start of the Digital Age--unloading their LPs for a song, bless their sweet, misguided hearts. Did that make CD "superior" to LP?
I am not trying to convince anyone to go back to film.The argument is nearly impossible to make. Film is much more expensive, much more time-consuming, much more labor-intensive (don't forget that you not only have to get the film developed, you also have to scan it), far less convenient and immediately gratifying than digital. Moreover, depending on the subject and the lighting, the results may be much worse. The only things I can point to in defense of my preference are select results and this small but critical point: If, like me, you hunger for greater involvement, for a slower, more thoughtful process, for an earned sense of "making" rather than "taking" photos, then perhaps film isn't such a crazy idea.
No, I won't sell my 7D; it is too damn good and too damn useful. But when circumstances permit, I will choose the Mamiya 7 II ahead of it.