Film Mode for a Digital Camera (or “Lightroom should smell of vinegar”)

Photography purists love pointing out how much better “my gear” is from “your gear.” I find it peculiar when the argument manifests itself along the lines of:

  • my gear = film.
  • your gear = that totally uncreative electronic gadget that just happens to make things that look like real photographs.

I haven’t done any academic research on this topic (this is a blog post rather than a dissertation, which also explains why I don’t mind using such nebulous statements as “a few arguments” and “some people”, etc.), but this list of links might form something akin to a bibliography: film better than digital

Film photography is not dead, it’s alive and very bitchy:

A few arguments are based on legitimate technical differences, but most of the time it boils down to personal preference (whether it’s a penchant for the artist to use such a tangible creation medium as film, or jealousy of the simplicity of the digital medium disguised as a technical complaint against it). The topics are all over the map — they range from the quality of the finished image, to button placement on cameras, to the post-processing software. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they wanted Lightroom to output a little puff of atomized stop bath every time it started.)

Here are two things that some digital photographers do that piss off film photographers:

  • Spray and Pray: We shoot and shoot and shoot, dig through all the photos to find that lucky shot in the middle, and then delete the rest. This technique uses the storage and processing features of the camera to increase the chances that the photographer will have a “good” shot.
  • Chimping: We take a shot, gather around the back of the camera, stare at the photo on the display, and go “ooh ooh” like chimps when we see how it turned out. If it’s bad, delete it and shoot again! (ooh ooh!) This technique uses the confluence of technology in the camera to satisfy our desire for instant gratification.

With digital, the camera is basically a computer with a lens on the front. Modern equipment has seemingly unlimited storage capacity, ridiculously fast continuous shutters, and an onboard storage management system rivaling that of a full PC, offering us the ability to delete and re-capture ad infinitum. Film purists argue that digital photographers are spending more of their creative process on leveraging those features rather than putting that creative energy into fundamental techniques that improve the ability to take good shots in the first place.

So is it a problem that those are standard features in the equipment?

I kinda agree with the purists

This argument plays with the idea that the presence of constraints during the creative process leads artists to create better work. It implies that digital photographers shoot with few constraints, and therefore the digital environment doesn’t encourage the the best art.

Yet another relevant post: Can Limitations Make You More Creative?

Proposal for ‘Film Mode’

All new grade schools must be built on snow-covered hills, with bus stops at the bottom.

Camera manufacturers should offer “Film Mode” in every digital camera. The menu options might look like this:

  • Enable Film Mode — The master switch, it allows you to use the following options:
    • Limit Number of Exposures (24, 36, custom number)
      Set a number, and once you shoot that many photos, the card is “FULL” and you can’t shoot anymore until you insert another card, or format the current card. (Prevents spray and pray.)

      • Limit This Card or All Cards
        This would apply the exposure limit to either just the current card, or any card used in this camera.
    • Limit Review
      Turns off the ability to review any photos that you have taken. JPEG previews will not be saved in the raw file. (Prevents chimping.)
    • Limit Delete
      Turns off the ability to delete individual photos. (If enabled, the only way to delete photos would be to reformat the card.)
    • Reformat Upon Changing Options (yeah, life is brutal)
      If the user attempts to change any Film Mode options, the memory card will be reformatted — the user will be prompted first. (Prevents the user from changing their mind halfway through a shoot.)
    • Film Mode Password
      Sets a password for enabling or disabling Film Mode. (You don’t want your friends turning on Film Mode without your knowledge.)

Adding this should be a trivial firmware update.


Imagine if you were limited to only 36 photos (per memory card), you couldn’t delete any bad photos, and you had to wait until you got home to see what you actually shot. Would this really force you to take better photos?

This entry was posted in Ideas.

One Comment

  1. Kathryn Jones February 19, 2015 at 10:34 am #

    I recently submitted a print of one of my paintings to a fund raiser. It was a painting of a local popular tourist spot. The painting sold. Well, I was in earshot of the table of submissions for the auction. A man said, “That is just a photo of the painting”. So, nobody bid on it. What??? I thought it was a signed and numbered print!