The natural cycle of things has been working its way through my life. Back in the day I was an enthusiastic shooter of black and white film and printer of black and white prints. I even had someone rebuild a bathroom in our house to use as a small darkroom where I cranked out what I think were credible prints of reasonably interesting pictures. Of course, I can’t show them to you unless you come over to my house, so you will never know. You’ll have to take my word for it.
Well, that was then, this is now.
Over the last year or so we have been doing some more renovation on our house, and the bathroom is a bathroom again and the darkroom stuff was shuttled down into the basement to collect basement dust instead of bathroom dust. I have not touched a developing reel, or the D76, or even an unshot roll of black and white film for the last eight years or so. We all know why: pictures are delivered digitally now. I can show them to you instantly, if I wanted to.
I figured the darkroom stuff would continue to collect basement dust until I gave it away. But then fortune came my way again. A friend of my wife’s, for whatever reason, is setting up a darkroom in his house and needed all those little odds and ends that cost a lot of money and time to acquire:
3. A print washer. He’s gonna print on fiber paper. What a nut.
4. My 11×14 easel.
5. My bitching grain focuser. I’ll explain what this is later.
Anyway. He needed it all. I gave it to him. I’ll get a small amount of cash back. He’ll be happy. Besides the minor cash infusion, I also get to wallow in a bit of nostalgia for a few hours, especially for the bitching grain focuser. What this device does is magnify the projected image of the negative so that you can adjust the focus on your englarger. What you do is move the focus around until the grain in the film is sharp. Then, if everything is aligned correctly, the print will be sharp. If the picture was soft anywhere, it’s your fault and not the enlarger. I bought an expensive device to do this. It was expensive because it had beautiful optics so that you could really see the grain without moving your eyeball around too much. I loved that thing.
My nostalgia for that device is almost enough to make me believe that I could get back into printing. But I know better. The chemicals give me a rash. They trigger my asthma. Spending hours in the dark bent over trays is not really that enjoyable. I do miss the “hands on” aspect of it, since my hands are otherwise fairly lacking in talent. I’m not really good at anything done with my hands. Except printing.
But, now is not the time to dwell on the past. As part of the cycle towards the future, the darkroom funds will be put towards the next digital camera. I have finished my yearly survey of the available digital camera systems, so I can save you some time by summarizing my findings here. I always start with Nikons, which I already own.
The Nikon bodies are clearly the most desirable right now. For $900 I can buy the “consumer” D90, which just happens to do everything my D200 does and a bit more, while giving up very little and improving the image quality a great deal. For $700 more, there is the D300/D300s which is even more, well, just more. Nikon has really beefed up its AF and sensor technology over the past few years and their engineering teams have really come through. For $700 more than that is the D700. This camera takes that same kick ass AF system and adds a sensor that is so good that you can shoot pictures where you and I can barely see.
Where Nikon falls down is in the lens line. They have a stunning line of huge pro zoom lenses. But if you want something smaller and still modern, you lose.
Canon wins with their cheaper “prosumer” zoom lenses. The 24-105/4 and 70-200/4 are the best pair of lenses I can imagine owning for what I do with a camera. Add a fast prime or two and you can shoot anything. Too bad the affordable Canon bodies have bad viewfinders and an autofocus system that hasn’t been updated in a long long time.
Pentax and Olympus are the main also rans. They both have intersting lenses (the Olympus 12-60 and 50-200 pair might even be better than the Canon). Sadly, they have never kept up with body technology so if you look into your heart you know the AF won’t work and the sensors will not be as good as the big C and the big N.
Sony is not in the running because of memory stick. And because Sony is really Minolta.
So there you have it. The answer was pre-ordained. I’ll get another Nikon. And while I shoot with it and make soulless digital prints at Costco I will, every once in a while, dream about developing film by hand in a dark room while poisonous chemicals drip over my hands and down my arms. I can already feel my lungs clogging up, and my hands flaming up in a rash. Good times.