George Sarant

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Major changes have occurred in photography in recent years, and what follows will primarily interest those who are enthusiasts in the field. Everyone knows that the greatest change has been from film to digital photography, and the impact is even deeper on the equipment we use. Until shortly after the turn of the century you could count on higher-end photo equipment  to last indefinitely. For example, I have a Canon F1n, one of the best cameras ever made, that still work fine after more than four decades.

When digital finally provided acceptable resolution, though still nowhere near that of film, it was time to buy. We had long been treating  photos digitally anyway via Photoshop.  In addition we had virtually unlimited shots without film and didn’t have to pack thirty rolls of film on a trip or project while begging airport security not to x-ray them. There is also the almost too easy access of photos on computers and electronic devices which can evaporate into nothingness if they are not meticulously backed up. Then there is the trend towards lower, rather than higher resolution through jpg compressed files and online storage that does not support anywhere near the capabilities of most cameras today. While not as sharp as film, the best cameras are getting close enough, at least in terms of what the eye can discern unaided.

But these days  good digital SLRs sell for nosebleed prices, and worse, have a pretty limited lifespan and appeal since every year new cameras are introduced with ever higher resolution, making last  year’s model seem suddenly obsolete as well as steeply depreciated. Thus your 10-15 mp camera is blown away by a newer 20 mp version and there is unfortunately no upgrade path. Value really resides in the better lenses now because they at least are transferable.

Once photographic work is digital we then face the problem of digitizing everything we did before, by scanning slides and negatives. I’m pretty much up to date on this, but unless it was for a project I’ve left a lot of casual, family photos, etc. untreated, the result being there are boxes of slides that no one has seen in decades. Scanning thousands of slides is tedious, and I’ve tried just about every method conceivable. There are plenty of scanners selling for around $100 but they all suck if you’re serious about photography. The other low-cost method is to buy an attachment for the front of your SLR which enables you to copy each slide quite well but is totally impractical if you have a large quantity to digitize. The next alternative is to spend several hundred dollars on a Plustek converter, which does a good job, but also has an unfortunate tendency to stop working after around a thousand pictures. Since there is not a large or ongoing market for such devices there isn’t much competition, so the best are very costly and can run well over a thousand dollars. Even used Nikon scanners are in that range since the company no longer makes them. There is a company that still makes scanners for this market; Pacific Image, one of which I’m currently using to convert batches of slides automatically, although I have to use it with a PC because the Mac version doesn’t work. It’s also clunky, noisy and made of too much plastic considering its hefty cost but the results are good so far. It’s not worth it if you only want to do a few slides, in which case another alternative is to use a service, but you need this kind of thing for large volume.

I’m processing some slides now that are more than forty years old, and the results vary with the film type and processing. Those from cheaper labs are faded with a red cast. Many can be restored, but require considerable time and effort. On the other hand the results from Kodachrome slides are stunning. They look as though they were shot yesterday. It is sad that this film is no longer made due to market conditions, for its superb results prove it to be the best film of all, this side of Technicolor. Serious photographers in the past gravitated towards Ektachrome or comparable films from other manufacturers which could be developed by anyone, whereas Kodachrome was considered more of a “consumer” film, processed only by Kodak. With digital the “processing” is, of course, within photo editing programs, with limitless possibilities. Unfortunately there is a tendency towards dumbing down here too. Apple recently introduced a simple program called Photos, while incomprehensibly ending support for their pro-level program called Aperture, which I will continue using as long as possible. Apple clearly wants total integration with the IPhone and IPad which now dominate the company. The Mac is almost an afterthought, forced into emulating these devices. It is shortsighted considering that most creative professionals use the Mac, and few are gravitating to the new MacPro “garbage can” cylindrical design. The previous MacPro was one of the best computers ever made, which is why there is such a strong aftermarket for five+ year old machines whose capabilities have yet to be exceeded.

Written by georgesarant

November 15, 2015 at 10:10 PM

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We often complain about companies that perform poorly, but seldom give credit when they consistently perform well. Here are a few that I think are deserving of some plaudits.

The Eastman Kodak corporation has fallen on hard times since the advent of digital photography, but I can’t say enough good things about the products they are producing currently. They are also continues to be one of the most consumer-friendly companies around. I recently bought a printer from the Office Hero series that does just about anything one might want, notably duplex printing, network wireless connection (easily set up unlike some others), and faxing, along with beautiful color prints. When the printer I purchased had a problem with slightly skewed pages they promptly sent me a replacement. The printer also uses the special inks that Kodak developed that are significantly cheaper than other brands. They continue to make the finest grade of photographic paper in the world, as well as film, of course. I also bought an inexpensive Kodak waterproof video camera that takes remarkably good images, above or below the pool surface. I’ve always found everything they produce to be completely reliable and of good quality, and choose their products whenever possible.

Some might be surprised to hear me say good things about an airline, given how miserable air travel can be these days, but personally I have always gotten good service from American Airlines. They make good on frequent flyer miles, and when things go awry they are pretty generous with compensation. They have also put us up a couple of times with a hotel and meals due to Caribbean flights that had to be canceled because the island destination airport was unexpectedly closed. They’ve never turned down a reasonable request, and although they are technically bankrupt you’d never know it from the level of service. They also have a really good worldwide network with other airlines, so if they don’t fly somewhere they’ll put you on an airline that does and still give you mileage credit. They have an excellent website where you can book the cheapest fare directly, as well as rent a car or book a hotel at a good price. Now that they are merging with US Air the network will be even more extensive. I just hope the merger doesn’t change American from the way it operates now. 

When it comes to another form of transportation, the cruise ship, I am very enthusiastic about the Holland America line. The disasters that always seem to happen on cruise lines beginning with a “C” never occur on Holland America. Unlike other lines that keep making bigger and bigger ships that become cattle boats, their ships are mid-sized and optimum for a pleasant voyage. There is a great consistency from one ship to another so you feel right at home in a familiar setting. I know something of ships from when I was in the shipping business many years ago, and find the design of their vessels to be excellent. The dining experience and crew performance are consistently good, and you don’t get charged for a lot of onboard extras. They are generous to repeat customers, which they continue to get because the experience is so positive. Overall they are a step up from the other, larger cruise lines, but still have voyages all over the world, so that you can almost always find a ship going to destinations you want to visit. 


There are some others, but as I prepare for another trip these readily come to mind because I’m using them and think they deserve a shout out. 


Written by georgesarant

February 23, 2013 at 8:50 PM


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One of the saddest developments in corporate history has been the decline of the once-mighty Eastman Kodak company. For the better part of the century the company was so dominant in photography through the production of film, processing and materials, that it was subject to constant anti-trust suits. There were competitors, but Kodak was dominant in photography because of its consistent high quality. It was a household name known to all. I remember the huge picture displays they used to advertise in Grand Central Station, and the photo gallery on 42nd St. and Sixth Avenue in New York. They are history now, along with its overwhelming presence in Rochester, New York that benefited that city immensely. All that has been swept away due to digital photography and the decline of film, even though nothing matches its fine resolution. Once digital arrived, the camera market was flooded with products, not only from the traditional camera makers, that previously were not players in photography, but other companies, such as Sony (which absorbed Minolta’s system),  Korean companies (which I personally would not touch),and even cell-phone makers.  Kodak manages to trudge along humbly, still making good products, like a small underwater video camera and a printer system that uses the most inexpensive ink refills on the market and works wirelessly.

 I am now in the process of scanning and digitizing thousands of those ubiquitous yellow boxes full of slides taken over decades, with those legendary names Kodachrome and Ektachrome, along with an occasional Fujichrome. It took many years before I could find a satisfactory reproductive system. I tried a couple of consumer scanners, but the results were poor. Then I used camera attachments to make duplicates, but this was a tedious, one-at-a time process. Finally I bought a high quality scanner (Plustek OpticFilm 7600 with Silverfast software) and got excellent results. Although the cost was higher it was well worth it. With this kind of configuration you can get high resolution scans that faithfully reproduce pictures from slides or negatives for almost any size you realistically might want to print, or you can further edit them with something like Photoshop or Aperture. However there is still no way to match the fine resolution of a slide or negative, and so some people stick with film even now.


On the other hand there were also many inconveniences, such as changing film rolls, waiting to get the results, and getting into repeated fights with x-ray security personnel on airline trips, to avoid having my batch of film ruined by x-rays. (It’s a good thing that is in the past because I’d probably get arrested for doing that these days). The cost of pictures has also dropped radically as digital shots don’t cost anything, although high quality SLR camera prices have increased significantly. I didn’t fully switch to digital until I bought a Canon EOS 7D, which enabled me to use all my old interchangeable film camera lenses, and produced pictures with a high pixel count. But I still take pictures the old-fashioned way, through the viewfinder. This also significantly extends battery life. I find the digital screens on the back of cameras useless in bright light, and I’m baffled as to why they aren’t making many cameras with viewfinders these days. I personally recommend getting one with a viewfinder if you can find it, so you can actually see what you’re taking, never mind at least doubling your battery power if you turn the screen off.

 Computers have also been a major factor in changing photography, along with so many other things. Way back in the film era pictures were first digitized in order to be enhanced on the computer. The first program I had was called Digital Darkroom, which eventually became Photoshop. It’s just amazing what you can do these days to correct pictures. With the setup I have, I’ve been able to revive photos given up for dead because of darkness, and pull a serviceable image out of it on the scanner. Thus, overall, technology has been a blessing, especially to the extent that most people just want to point and shoot and don’t care all that much about high resolution. That, however, is a subject for another essay.

Written by georgesarant

August 9, 2012 at 4:28 PM

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It is the height of the photo season in my country garden. Each day brings changes in a parade of new blooms. The heavy rain this season has produced a rich floral yield. I’ve been into serious photography over four decades, and except for some early Yashicas I’ve used mostly high-end Canons over the years. For most of that time I shot slides, and it is really sad to learn that Kodak will stop making Kodachrome. I switched largely to a digital Canon a while back once the megapixel count became high enough, although nothing can match the fine grain of film and probably never will. On the other hand film is costly compared to digital, perishable, and a real nuisance to get through airports undamaged.

I finally got a digital SLR last year because it had a very high 15 megapixel count along with some lenses. It was a Sony and now I regret switching away from Canon. It’s an A350, and although there is a phenomenal 18-250mm lens, the lenses are noisy even when no taking pictures, and the thing I hate the most is the viewfinder, because what you see is not what you get. After some experimentation I found that in order to get something in the center of a picture you have to view and shoot it at the top. This is apparently true for most other digital cameras. I haven’t seen anything like this since back in the rangefinder days, and in a supposedly advanced technology this is totally unacceptable. That said pictures are okay.

What is really scary is that a lot of people have their entire photo collection on a computer. If it isn’t backed up if the hard drive fails everything is lost. That’s the downside of digital. I’m watching nervously as my IPhoto library expands to well over 100 gigabytes wondering when a glitch is going to ruin everything. If you’re shooting digital photographs it pays to have at least one, if not more backups of all your pictures or you’re out of luck.

I still have a batch of film left so I pulled out my old Canons and took some pictures. I still find that experience far more rewarding than any digital camera.

Written by georgesarant

June 20, 2009 at 6:35 PM

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