Post-Christmas iGadget fun, analog photography and the ever-elusive Surface

Christmas 2012 has come and past, retailers are still tallying the take and I sit alone warming by the fire wondering what we did before gadgets.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

No, this isn't going to be one of those flashback episodes of, "Back in my day...". Quite the contrary. I love computers and gadgets and all the digital nonsense that you can toss my direction but I do have one complaint, or rather an observation, about it all. It's that our almost completely sterilized, digital, overcompensated, enhanced world of bits and bytes leaves me a bit underwhelmed at times. Although I love it, I have my ties to the past, to the thrilling days of yesteryear, to a simpler, analog time. Although I wouldn't want to return to rotary dial phones, manual channel flipping, vinyl records or 8-track tapes, I stay connected to those rusty roots by painting, block printing and doing quite a bit of analog photography. Oh sure, most of it can be reproduced, almost convincingly, by apps and software but there's still something magical--something unique about the work of our hands and of our eyes.

The first 'analog' camera I can remember using with any regularity was my Kodak X-15 Instamatic. It made a loud 'SNAP' sound when you took the picture so you could never take pictures without your subject's awareness, without it flying off or fluttering away from you. It used the now nearly extinct 126 format film and took about a week to get pictures back from the developer's by snail mail. But, it was always a thrill to get them. My heart rate would climb. My stomach would be jittery. And, my anticipation was too much to bother with worrying about the envelope's survival. I had to see those pictures.

Most of them turned out pretty well. A few, of course, didn't. My mother thought my experimenting was a "waste of money." It might have seemed that way at the time, especially in those days when paychecks for my stepfather were a bit too scarce. The flashbulbs for the blasted thing cost $1.00 each and you bought them in packs of either four or six. That's twenty-five cents per shot plus the cost of developing and mailing. In all, each roll of film probably set us back about ten dollars after flashbulbs, film purchase and processing. Expensive but worth it. To me, at least.

This Christmas, I received two analog cameras off of my Amazon Wish List. A black Holga 120N and a Golden Half half frame 35mm camera. I love analog photography. My thought is that anyone can take good pictures with a digital camera but true creativity comes from being able to manipulate position, light and exposure to create interesting photographs with something simple like a plastic point-and-shoot camera. And on film.

I take dozens of photos with my iPhone 4 too. In fact, I even bought a book about it (The Art of iPhoneography) because I wanted to see what other people were doing in that medium. You'd be surprised and impressed. Because I like iPhoneography so much, my "Surface" son bought me a Holga lens case for Christmas, although it has yet to arrive. I'm patiently (Not really) awaiting its delivery. The iPhone 4 has a pretty nice camera but the enhancements of filters and special lens attachments makes it all the better.

I couldn't take pictures or movies with my iPad 1. No camera. But, for Christmas this year, my wife bought me a 4th generation iPad that has two awesome cameras on it. Both cameras are very impressive although the rear facing one is extremely nice at 5MP. Incidentally, the iPad mini has the same camera specs as the regular iPad. I bought my wife an iPad mini and we bought my daughter one. They like the smaller format because, as they say, "It's purse-sized." 

As you know from a previous post, my oldest son got a Microsoft Surface for Christmas. The Surface, if you recall, is all the 'rage' at the University he attends. I still have yet to actually touch the Surface. He's messed with it since Christmas morning and never lets it out of his sight, even for a moment. I'm not so sure that there isn't a proximity alarm on the darn thing designed specifically to keep me away from it. The funny thing is that I've never actually touched any Surface tablet--his or any other. My initial experience with the launch of the Surface and Windows 8, if you recall, wasn't positive. So, at this point, I don't know if I want one or not. I suspect that, since I now own an iPad 4, I don't want one.

I've had a lot of fun with my new iPad so far. I'm starting to make some iMovies and trailers, some stop motion videos with iStopMotion Pro and taking a lot of pictures with Photo Booth. The new iPad opens a lot of possibilities for me. I'm happy with it. I'm thrilled that my wife got it for me. It was highly unexpected. And now, I can enjoy all of those cool video and photo apps on it that I have on my iPhone.

It's too bad that I have to work for a living. I would really like to take a month off and do all kinds of crazy things with my new iPad and its incredible list of features. I would shoot a lot of video, thousands of pictures, create stop motion animations and discover a whole new world of digital overload.

I'll still pack an analog camera or two for those creative moments--I'm still me, after all. I can't let go of paintbrushes or rolls of film for long. Digital and analog can live in harmony. It isn't hard to make the transition from one medium to the other. One requires a little more thought, a little more care and a little more creativity to get good results.

Yes, I get lost in my analog and in my analog to digital worlds. I'm no different than any random teenager pecking away to some friend on his iGadget. I text. I Twitter. I Facebook. I do all sorts of videography and photography with my iStuff. Gadgets are fun. They seem a natural fit. But, thank goodness for other retro types like myself who want to dip into the past every now and then but remain firmly planted in the present.

I remember wasting hours upon hours painting and snapping pictures, while my mother commented that, "I'm in another world when I'm painting, drawing or taking pictures." So, what did we do before digital gadgetry took over our minds? The same thing we do now: Escape. We lost ourselves in something we loved. Then it was canvas, paper and film. Now it's little blips on a small, multi-megapixel screen. I can't give up either one. Neither can anyone else in my house. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Wait, I think I hear my son snoring--I'm off on a quest to steal explore the Surface once more. Will keep you posted.

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