I have a confession to make. I haven't shot a single film photograph since 2008.
Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest!
Why would I feel guilty making such a confession? Probably because for years I thought of myself as a large format film photographer. It's been a big part of my identity as an artist. The advantages of large format photography are compelling. I was darn proud to be a large format photographer and used this characteristic to distinguish myself from other nature photographers.
In 2007 I bought a Sony α100 digital SLR camera and stashed it in my pack next to my 4x5 film camera. I began using it as a light meter and for capturing "snapshots" to complement my film photographs. Unexpectedly, I found myself enjoying the experience of using the digital camera so much that I had to make a conscious effort to put it down and set up the big camera. Sometimes I'd pack "light" and leave the film camera at home. As time went by I noticed myself using the digital camera more and more and the film camera less and less. I still used the 4x5 camera for capturing especially beautiful scenes where the limited resolution of the Sony α100 wouldn't permit me to make the kind of high-quality big prints I'd become accustomed to from large format film. However, the excellent quality of images from my digital camera combined with the uniquely rewarding experience of shooting digital (see below) made the weight and cumbersome nature of the 4x5 camera seem more onerous. Yet, it was still easy for me to justify using the big camera because of its capacity to capture images with the kind of resolution that was simply not possible with a smaller digital camera.
All that changed when Sony introduced the α900 digital camera in the fall of 2008. My big camera now had some serious competition. With this 25 megapixel camera and high quality lenses like the Zeiss 24mm f2.0, I found myself able to capture images that held up quite well in comparison to large format film photographs. I test drove the Sony α900 in Grand Teton National Park in December and was blown away by the results I obtained. The main (and increasingly, the only) reason for me to shoot large format film instead of digital - vastly superior resolution and detail - was suddenly less compelling. The many advantages of the Sony α900 over my large format camera became impossible to ignore, and since 2009 every nature photograph I have taken has been captured with a digital camera. As a result, these past few years have been the most successful and productive years of photography I've ever experienced.
There are many compelling reasons for my transition from large format film to digital. Below, I highlight those that have been most important to me. It is impossible to discuss them without raising the issue of "digital manipulation," which is becoming an increasing concern as modern digital photography makes it easy for unscrupulous photographers to "enhance" their images in a way that presents a fraudulent portrayal of reality. The flip side of this problem is the fact that digital methods may also be used to depict the natural world with greater fidelity than was possible with traditional film photography. As you read on, I hope you will appreciate the manner in which the ethical use of digital photography is uniquely powerful in helping skilled photographers ensure that their images do justice to the beauty of the natural world.
So, what's so compelling about digital photography that convinced me to shelve my beloved 4x5 camera? Read on....