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Of the mechanical over the digital

In the past few years, I had often been tempted to give up on my DSLR, and for several of my travels I did only bring along my phone, which was enough to record little mementos of the journey. The weight and size of the camera were a hindrance, and when I did have it with me, I was not taking photos at all for the most part. The phone was much more practical, but though I was using it, it did not feel right.

In hindsight, I now wish I had better digital negatives of those travel photos, instead of the phone camera jpegs, but it wasn’t the final output that was spoiling the art for me. Either way quality will soon no longer be an issue, so this article is not about praising the better images one can get with a bigger sensor.

Indeed, phones are getting constantly better, spewing images that appear nearly perfect straight out of the camera. The photo is produced according to what the user is expecting to see, thanks to the impressive software that applies all the corrections and enhancements an algorithm deems necessary in literally the bat of an eye – something a photographer would spend time working on in post-processing. Even though with my X-Pro2 bulk is no longer an issue (and it hardly leaves my side), a phone would still be the ultimate simplification.

So why do I bother with a “normal” camera?

For me the answer is simple: because I still enjoy the entire process of taking a photo. Using a camera in full manual mode makes me think of what I am doing, and there is also a hand-feel to it: raising and holding it, looking through a viewfinder (albeit a digital one), handling the knobs to adjust the settings and turning the focus ring (yes, I mostly use manual focus lenses); and then editing the details in post processing… This all gives, in my opinion, a more human, more artisanal feel to the end photograph – the added value of something “handmade”.

It is never an attempt to be different, a pursuit of something quirky for the benefit of banal appearance, it is rather a genuine love for the complete process that makes me do it, instead of simply pointing and expecting an app to do the rest. An affirmation of the mechanical (if not quite the analog) over the digital. Frankly, if I had the equipment and means, I would likely be shooting film.

Even without film, I am now perfectly happy with my Fuji, which has rekindled my passion for photography. And don’t get me wrong – photography is not about the gear used, but there are few things more satisfying than doing something you like with a tool that feels it was meant for the job.