The Low End Mac Mailbag

Digital vs. Film Photography, Megapixel Myths, G3/G4 SuperDrive Upgrade, and a Newly Acquired Mac Classic

- 2008.01.11 - Tip Jar

Digital vs. Film Photography

From Stephen M Lubliner:


Some comments on your film versus digital article:

Good quality film cameras are a bargain nowadays. One can buy manual focus SLRs, e.g. Canon AE-1s, with a selection of lenses and a relatively powerful flash for less than $100. Even the most basic consumer SLR (e.g. Pentax K-1000) will exceed most digital cameras for picture quality. One advantage of this strategy is that your $100 investment is fully depreciated and you can probably recover your dollars when you sell the system. I agree with you that the Minolta Maxxum series autofocus SLRs are classics. I use an 8000i with excellent results. Even these systems can be had for under $200. The down sides are picking a camera in good shape (many of the "vintage" SLRs are over 15 years old and have lubrication issues), the bulk and weight, and having to have someone develop and print your film.

Having someone print your digital photos is not an all bad idea. Good photo printers can be expensive to buy and expensive on a per print basis to operate. Of course, if someone else is printing your photos, the digital advantage over film is mostly negated. Speaking for myself, Photoshopping and printing digital images is darkroom work without the darkroom, and I do not like darkroom work.

Digital does have a significant advantage over film for travel. I worry about the X-ray exposure of film during security checks. Even the "low-dose" machines still impart cumulative damage to film. The digital cameras are not affected by the X-rays. I had good success with my Olympus digicam during a bicycle trip in New Zealand. Of course, instantly knowing that you got "the shot" is another travel advantage.

Film has an advantage over digital in legal situations. Manipulation of a negative is difficult to do without detection. Digital files are easily manipulated.

A salesperson in a camera store summed up the difference between digital and film with the following statement: "Film is for memories and digital is for communication"

Steve Lubliner  


Thanks for writing. I remember being shown around Kendall College of Art and Design several years ago. One of the instructors gave me his old PowerBook 1400 and was showing me around the Power Mac G5 computer labs. Then he showed me a closet full of film cameras - pros and others were donating the stuff left and right as they went digital, but most of the students didn't want to use film. There's something very tangible about developing film and making prints in the darkroom that every photography student should experience.

The greatest advantage of film over digital is exposure latitude, which I didn't even touch on in my writing. You can overexpose modern color print films 2-3 stops and underexpose a full stop with little degradation in image quality. Do that with digital and you'll lose the highlights or shadows unless you shoot in RAW mode.

Yes, there are lots of classics out there to be had for a song: Canon AE-1 Program, A-1; Minolta X-700; Nikon FM and FE series; Pentax K1000, etc. What's especially nice is that Pentax DSLRs can use those old Pentax-mount lenses, Nikon DSLRs can use a lot of old Nikon-mount lenses, and Minolta and Sony DSLRs can use the bulk of Maxxum lenses. (Bulk, alas, being the biggest drawback to owning a full-fledged SLR outfit.)

We have a Kodak EasyShare photo printer at home because Kodak offered a refurbished one for $30 or $40 when we bought the refurbished EasyShare P880 camera. It costs us about 26¢ to make each print, as I buy the 160-pack from and get free shipping. But for bulk printing, it's cheaper to go to Walmart (as low as 19¢) or Sam's Club (15¢ in bulk).

I don't see any difference in the kind of pictures people take with film vs. digital. Those photos from our honeymoon are for memories, even if they were shot on digital. And all photographs communicate - that's what photography means, writing with light.



Thanks for the response. I agree with you that there is no difference in the kind of pictures taken between film and digital. The difference is in how they are handled after the camera. An entire roll of film photos typically gets developed and printed (sometimes multiple prints). The prints are often handed around for sharing. Ultimately they will go into a scrapbook or box to be discovered by yourself, offspring, friends, or relatives at some future date. Most digital photos are never printed. Many see an electronic distribution only to be erased after the "that's nice" moment. Others reside in some folder on a hard drive to either be erased (or lost) in the future.

Going back to my original statement, "Film is for memories and digital is for communication", what do you think is the likelihood of anyone opening a honeymoon MPEG file 25 years from now versus seeing 25 year old honeymoon prints? Few, if any, of the technologies used for digital photography existed 25 years ago. What is the chance they will exist 25 years from now?

Steve Lubliner


Different strokes for different folks. I'm happy to view my photos on my computer screen. My wife, a scrapbooker, wants to print almost everything. We delete the obviously fuzzy and otherwise really terrible images in the camera, some right away and some before we take them in for printing, and then print everything at Walmart or Sam's Club. And the vast majority of those images make their way into her scrapbooks.

We're different types of photographers. I like to compose my shots, think about angles, play with the zoom, look at the lighting, etc. She takes pictures, which means zooming, sometimes turning on the flash in poor lighting, and letting the camera do the rest. As someone who worked many years in photographic retailing, I think it's a big step when people learn to turn the camera 90° and shoot verticals. It's a big step in learning to compose a photograph rather than just shoot a picture. My wife does that, a lot.

We can't predict the future based on the past. 25 years ago we had new technologies like CDs and VHS tape. Today you can still use them, although videotape will eventually fade away. CDs are likely to be with us for some time, as they can be a cheaper way to buy music than iTunes. Odds are pretty good that 25 years from now we'll still be able to listen to CDs, MP3s, and AAC files.

Apple makes it very easy to migrate everything to a new computer: your software, your preferences, your iTunes and iPhoto libraries, and more. So as Mac users upgrade, everything should come with them. (Apple also makes it easy to back up your iTunes and iPhoto libraries, which is important because hard drives fail, houses burn, and computers get stolen.)

Thanks to emulators like Mini vMac, I can run software for the Mac Plus on my G4 or on an Intel-based Mac, and SheepShaver does a good job of letting Intel Macs run Classic Mac OS software. I suspect we're going to have a lot of ways of getting backward compatibility with JPEGs, MP3s, Word .doc files, and the like as we move forward.

Finally, take a good look at color photos from 25 years ago. Lots of them have changed color, often going red. You can scan and try to fix that, but you probably can't find the negative to make a new print. Had those images been digital, no color shift and no negatives to lose track of.


Megapixel Myths

From Gregory Kelley:

Dear Dan,

I am an enthusiastic amateur photographer, and I respectfully submit that "megapixels" are more important than you suggest. In my opinion, there are several important factors that relate to the quality of the pictures produced.

1) The Size of the Chip (and the quality of the chip design): As you correctly noted, the size and design of the light sensing chip is directly related to the quality of the image produced. Generally, small cameras have small chips and larger cameras have larger chips and more pixels.

2) You only very briefly touched on how important the size of and the quality of the lens is. That is a big deal in the production of quality photos.

I'm fortunate enough to have a Canon 40D (new), and I can clearly see the difference between the image it produces and the images from my previous digital cameras. There are several reasons for that, but megapixels are part of the answer. As an expert like you would obviously know, the lenses in the 40D are relatively large compared to the little digital cameras. More light equals better images.

And the Canon 40D produces much better pictures than my previous series of smaller digital cameras. (And just to complicate the issue more, the experts at Olympus state that the angle of the light when it strikes the surface of the chip is very important. My current impression of the state of the art on digital cameras now confirms this.)

Generally, the optics on the lenses of larger cameras is significantly better than the optics of little lenses in the lower megapixel cameras.

3) Software Counts! - The importance of the underlying software operating inside the camera is essential to success in this area. (Nikon and Canon have clearly invested many millions of dollars getting the camera operating software to work well.) Auto Focus and Image Stabilization are great improvements.

Finally you noted the David Pogue article on megapixels. I've read that article, and my memory is that David later retracted some of his comments because of feedback from many readers. David made an error when he was trying to do his comparisons. He used a large camera and then "turned down" the image size in the software in order to run his "comparison." By doing his test that way, he was shooting through a large well made lens and used excellent camera software to get to the final result.

Take a few pictures with your cell phone (assumption is that you have a picture taking cell phone) and compare those pictures with some of the larger megapixel pictures from quality large digital SLRs. I think you will see the difference.

4) Expectations. The cost of larger prints is plummeting down at photo labs. That 4x6 that you like so much now would sure look better in an 8x10 or even 20x30 if you could afford it. Well, a 20x30 through the Costco is now $10 Fujicrystal Chromira. You will need all the megapixels because images of your family and interests will soon appear on your walls in large sizes.

Thank you.

Gregory Kelley


Yes, the size of the chip is a huge factor. A typical DSLR may have a sensor with 6-8x the area of the sensor in a compact digital camera. That mean larger, more sensitive, much less noisy receptors at the same number of pixels - or more pixels that are still larger, more sensitive, and less susceptible to noise than on a compact camera. Bigger sensor elements is the key.

Lens quality is not a factor of size. Olympus is well known for tiny cameras that doctors can use to view the insides of patients, and many optical companies have been involved with microscope lenses. The key issue is that the smaller the film or imager, the sharper the lens needs to be to provide similar quality in your prints. Lenses on 120 roll film cameras tend to have 2/3 the resolution of lenses on 35mm cameras, but because of the larger film frame, they look great.

Just as you need a sufficient number of megapixels to have a crisp image, you need a certain level of sharpness (lens quality). Again, a more expensive lens, as found with a DSL vs. an all-in-one digicam, means better quality. You also have phenomenal focus accuracy and generally amazing focus speed with DSLRs, where smaller cameras tend to focus more slowly.

David Pogue's two-page article discusses his methodology, which I believe is legitimate. Had he taken the same photo with a 5 MP, 8 MP, and 13 MP DSLR using the same lens, the results would be the same. And he had a pro simulate that using a zoom lens and cropping, as explained in the article. Again, the results were that the images were difficult to tell apart.

My wife scrapbooks, and while we do make an 8x10 from time to time, 99% of our prints are 4x6. Shooting at 3 MP is overkill for snapshots and plenty good enough for that. If I were shooting for big output, I would definitely pick up a DSLR, buy some awesome lenses, and haul around a tripod. If I were going 16 x 20 or larger, I'd definitely want to be in the 6-12 MP range.


From St. Catharines, Ontario?

From J. Carter:

Hi, Dan

I often read Low End (good resource), and just spotted your reference to the Camera-Stereo Centre in St. Catharines, where I grew up. Was that the one at the corner of Lake Street & Russell Ave.? What era were you there?

Regards. Keep up the good work.

J. Carter


My folks moved to St. Catharines in the summer of 1975, and I did my final year of high school there before coming back to the States for college. I worked part-time at the Camera-Stereo Centre in Grantham Plaza.


G3/G4 SuperDrive Upgrade

From Steve Secker:


On the D/A profile page, an 8x SuperDrive is listed as an upgrade for $149. Clicking through several MCE pages lead to the discovery that the drive has been replaced by a $49 version with far more impressive capabilities (such as dual-layer DVD). A glance at the requirements indicates "Mac Pro, Power Mac G3, G4 or G5 running Mac OS 10.2 or later". Evidently, OS 9 support is not included with this drive (the 8x in the D/A profile evidently has OS 9 support).

Blue & white G3This may be of value to smurf, graphite & G5 users.



Thanks for writing. SuperDrives have come a long ways since 2001, when we first linked to that 8x SuperDrive from MCE. It's easy to find $50 16x and 18x SuperDrives (many made by Pioneer, who supplied most of the SuperDrives Apple uses). I've got three 16x dual-layer Pioneer DVR-110D drives that I picked up for $60 each 2-3 years ago when the SuperDrive in one of my eMacs died - buying three was cheaper than having the computer dealer put in a genuine Apple 8x SuperDrive.

Yes, OS 9 users will probably need to use third-party software such as Toast, but it's a small price to pay for the extra speed and the dual-layer support.


Newly Acquired Macintosh Classic

From Sean M. Kelly:


I've become even more of a "Low End Mac" fan as I recently acquired (for free!) a 1991 Macintosh Classic that runs like a charm. Only 18 seconds for a full boot! I have it loaded with More 3.1 and MacWrite II, and it has become my ideal writing machine. It's simple, useful, has no distractions. I have no idea yet how I could network it, but right now floppies are fine, since I have two other original G3-266 Power Macs on my home network with both floppy and Zip drives.

Mac ClassicWould I trade it for my MacBook Pro? No. But I have had a lot of fun using it and showing it to other folks. Nobody can get over how quick a restart is with OS 6. Maybe I'll haul it down to Panera Bread and plug it in next to the fireplace and blow people's minds while they see me sitting there typing away and sipping on a double-shot espresso. Yeah, now that's low end! . . . and happy!

Endeavoring to make a difference,

Sean M. Kelly


Those old Macs can be wonderful writing machines with System 6 installed - anything later really bogs down the 8 MHz CPU.

Since your beige G3s have Apple serial ports, it should be possible to network your Classic to one of them using an ImageWriter II cable. Set up Internet Sharing, and your Classic could access the Internet, albeit slowly and with outdated browsers.

Enjoy the experience. Those old all-in-one Macs are a lot of fun.


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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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