To Use or Not to Use, That is the Question.


It’s staring me right in the face, this beautiful grey box with a silver chrome jewel inside it. It’s precise, elegant, and very refined, yet all last night I had trouble sleeping thinking about it. You would have thought that this magical grey box would have calmed my fears and given me a restful and blissful evening but no, this little grey box required two valiums to knock out my fears.

Yesterday I paid a great deal of money for it and I’m not even sure I want it. I walked out of the store where I purchased this box and began to tremble, but here I am and I don’t think I have any intention of returning it, but I’m not even sure I will ever use it. What a confusing state I’m in!

Yesterday afternoon I bought my first digital camera, a small Leica M240, that looks almost identical to the M6 I used to use, and even the M4 I used when I was in my twenties. The only difference is that one was film and the other has a card that records about 400 images before I have to change it.

I wish it were that simple, and maybe it is but last night I tried to keep my soul in check. I felt like it was ready to abandon me, reject me for my reckless faithlessness.

Film has been my confidant, my beloved, for forty-five years and why have I even been thinking of abandoning it even if it’s only very slightly. For me the newfangled digital world is something I mostly abhor, and yet for some time I have ruminated and thought that if I ever was to shoot a digital frame this new masterpiece of a camera with it’s perfect 35mm format would be my choice. So what do I do as soon as I make a little bit of money, I go out and spend it on a camera I’m not sure I want. Oh what a state I’m in.

Here I am at this very tiny crossroad with its various ups and downs. A person who is computer illiterate, who emails almost never, who only reads printed books and newspapers, and tries as hard as possible to avoid the digital world has with great reluctance bought a camera that begins to unite me with a world I want nothing to do with.

Here I am, a person who does not like retouching, compositing, or even looking at the frame until the image is developed, usually days later, buying an instant camera.

Here I am a person who does not like most digital reproduction as it looks sterile, lifeless, and often very cool, buying a small digital camera.

And lastly why would I buy a camera I probably could have borrowed from Leica to test to see if I felt comfortable with it before I went out and purchased it?

The answer to these and most other questions concerning this camera is for the most part, I simply do not know. I have some small incite but no clear definition.

I am a person for better or worse who does not test or try things in practice. It has to be something I truly care about before I will pick up any camera and make a picture. This camera if I ever use it will be handled like its predecessors, nothing ever will be shot without an attempt to make it significant. I don’t fool around with cameras. I learn my craft full speed ahead. Every picture is for keeps, and it stands on the contact sheet for eternity. There is no taking anything back.

These four hundred frames will be shot very deliberately and precisely. Nothing arbitrary, just as the film cameras that preceded it.

I bought this camera to use only when film is not effective. As usual I will keep only my toes in the modern world while my heart and soul stays firmly footed in the life and times I know best.

This camera is well made and beautiful as the objects I hold from the past but it no longer has the mechanical Swiss movement of a fine watch but rather contains the technology of the present. It represents both worlds to me.

I will continue to shoot film almost all the time but there will be a time, a moment on a shoot, where this camera will fill in the void that is there. It will be a small special tool for that special occasion.

We will all stay tuned to when that day arises. Until then my life and my work will remain grainy and will be filled with the unknown.

Life in all its varieties will be recorded using the reciprocity of light as its guideline, and ultimately brought to life in a very dark room.


P.S. I’m off on a far far away adventure for a week. See you again in two weeks.


This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Mr. Smith,
    I’m speechless, but not surprised. I don’t know whether to welcome you to the world of digital or warn you of its trappings. You’re a legend of what some see as a bygone era, and this is now your avant-garde statement. I look forward to seeing your digital photographs, just as much as I have enjoyed your film ones. Enjoy your far, far away adventure.
    Kind Regards,
    J.S. Velasquez

  2. It is so refreshing to hear that you’re holding on to film. Even in a day when we may feel we need a digital camera, and even buy them, we can still hold fast to the tried and true. I kind of live by the rule; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There is nothing wrong with film, its beautiful and timeless. Film is not dead. Kodak Tri-X looks as beautiful today as it ever has. There are so many experienced photographers abandoning film for the convenience of digital, and my heart breaks a little each time they do, so thank you for staying true to the medium that has served you so well all of these years. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the subject as well. As someone in their early 30’s, who looks up to photographers such as yourself, its so encouraging to hear the ups and downs of a photographers life, including the digital dilemmas we are all facing.

  3. Welcome to the world of digital photography!

  4. I would really love to see your first digital photo.

  5. Long time reader, Rodney. I’m tiptoeing the other way (digital to film), and it is fantastic. I take a lot of inspiration from your words. I’m sure you’ll find some working middle ground between the two worlds.

  6. Dear Rodney,
    First i wish you well with your new acquisition.
    May your light be wonderful,your vision true.

    In the end it is merely a camera.
    true an expensive one..but so are those boxes, designed for elephant sized folks, by Canikon.
    i am now retired so that purchase is not on the horizon.
    I still shoot film.
    i hate menus,PC’s and the whole digital world.
    i shoot digital because i am lazy, poor and mean.
    I also cannot carry my old pro rig. Rats!

    My drive dispatched most of 2013 to a never see again land..
    I was not surprised or shocked.
    It was on the cards.
    I now shoot more film.
    Like saneness and insanity, there is a thin red line.
    Sometimes we are one side and others, the good side.
    The worst, you cannot mesh with the “look”.
    You return it or sell it.

    There will be a period of adjustment.
    A Leica takes more than a few minutes to become you well know.
    This is a different animal from my M3,M6.
    I used a friend’s M8.
    Except most images at full aperture, were out of focus, on the 90mm at f2.
    It’s a problem of RNGFDR.

    Available light though has a whole new meaning.
    Good luck.
    Enjoy your trip.

  7. Hello….went to an event at a Janus et Cie tonight…was thrilled to see your photos in the showroom! You are genius….trying the digital camera shows you are still curious in your profession. Your unique style will still show through.

  8. Sir, it matters not. When you press the shutter button it will be a Rodney Smith photograph.

  9. It might be too bad that you didn’t intentionally buy a toy.

    Something not taken seriously imposes no limits. This is what I like about digital photography. I shoot a lot, almost at random, and later on I work with whatever looks interesting.

    Sometimes I find a surprise. Mostly not, but that is irrelevant because there is no cost. I no longer have to pay somewhere between $18 to $25 to get back a roll of processed film, only to find (at most) one image – and what then?

    A 24mm by 36mm transparency is only another form of raw material. To make a print required sending it off, only if I really, truly, and seriously wanted a print – which required buying a frame, and glass, and mat board, and putting it all together.

    Now I play: shoot, dink around, post anything I like online, move on.

    Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape recently had thoughts along these lines: “The Art of Fooling Around” (

  10. I will be really interested to hear how you feel about process and the images you make with this new venture. Bon chance mon ami!

  11. Hooray.

  12. What a beautiful post. I keep hearing about a lot of newer photographers who are actually going back to film. Each has something about it for sure. Now that time has passed, how do you feel about this new friend in your life? Has it shaken things up? Or is it sitting pretty in it’s box?

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