Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Digital Lomography

 Taken at the weekend on a 5mp 2003 Olympus c-50 Zoom.

‘Digital Lomography’ is actually oxymoronic. Like using mono quadrophonics to describe a hi-fi music system it suggests two totally contradictory photographic processes; one based on a analogue film processing, the other rooted in the dominant digital image capturing system used by 98% of still photographers these days. However, the term is useful when describing what we could call a lo-fi approach to taking digital photographs. An approach where first and second generation digital cameras are utilised to take photographs which are elementally different to those images captured on the latest state of the art DSLR cameras. If you know nothing about Lomography then read here

Aforementioned early classic.The 2003 Olympus Camedia C-50 zoom

My first digital camera was a 2mp Sony Cybershot which cost me a hefty £250 in the 1990’s. This was a time when digital photography was very much in the ascendency and camera manufacturers were falling over themselves to dump film and get a foothold in the new digital market. My recollection of image quality taken on these early digital cameras is that while they fell well short of what is accepted today in terms of sharpness, noise and definition; the odd saturation and colour temperature was reminiscent of lomo film photography in its unpredictability.
I recently bought a job lot of old digital cameras which included a 3.2mp version of my old Sony Cybershot and several early classics. The brick like Samsung Digimax, Nikon coolpix, Canon Powershot, Olympus Camedias and early Polaroid digi cameras amongst other manufacturers who never lasted the course.Testing these cameras confirmed my recollections of their quirky image capturing quality, yet something else soon became clear. By the time we had reached the early part of this century, with compact digital cameras becoming ever more sophisticated and now sporting shooting modes (auto, man, pic, landscape, macro etc) and with the mp size increasing almost by the month, a lot of these early compact cameras from the leading players in the industry- like Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Olympus- were actually extending out of the digital-lomo field and into what I suppose you would have to call ‘proper photography’.

 Early 4mp Nikon Coolpix image

Ten years ago, the digital compacts were already almost as good as anything you can buy today. My little 2003 5mp Pentax Optio has taken photographs used in Climbing Guidebooks and its tiny size and quality made it an ideal climbing or mountain biking camera.(Until I stood on it taking a selfie!) Recently I added a 5mp Olympus Camedia Zoom to the three earlier Camedias I already own and like the Pentax Optio, it’s a contemporary design classic. With a brushed metal case, mode dial and retractable zoom lens triggered by the sliding lens cover, the camera takes a pretty decent shot and looks and feels pretty good too. Despite it dating back to 2002, this is a little compact that you could whip out in a smart London eatery or on The Marin Trail without it looking out of place. And bought for less than fiver complete with charger, spare XD cards and usb lead.

Of course the compact camera industry has been battered and bruised by the rise and rise of the smart phone with more people apparently taking images on iPhones than certainly compacts. There’s no doubt that iPhones etc take decent images but despite using an iPhone myself I don’t actually like the tactile experience of taking a photograph with an iPhone. I’d rather slip a little compact in my pocket for everyday use although I still lug my Nikon DSLR out if the occasion demands it.

Recent shot taken on an early Canon Powershot 5mp

So...’Digital Lomography’; where do you draw the line? 2mp’s..3mp’s...5mp’s??? To recreate the quirky unpredictability of early digital photography then perhaps the lower the mp’s the better although personally, I think 5mp’s sits about right. That would accommodate both the weird and the wonderful. With older digital compacts costing peanuts these days-I bought an immaculate 3mp Olympus Camedia for £1 recently!- then there is a huge potential for a  photographic movement which like film lomography, rewards imagination, vision and artistic interpretation through the creativity of the photographer. Digital Lomography, the antithesis of hi tech photographic geekery!
 Another Olympus C-50 image.

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