I love old cameras. I love their design. The weight, the heft of them. Their quirks and foibles. These idiosyncrasies make them wonderful and exciting to use but sometimes you just want to take the best possible picture, without worrying how it is going to turn out! Whip out a modern digital mirrorless camera you can happily snap away and capture gorgeous images – worry free! With my modern cameras I can take as many pictures as I like and I don’t have to think about parallax error or the cost of film or whether I really have enough light to take that important picture.
Recently when I was talking about this to a photographer friend he laughingly pointed out that my Box Brownie was to many THE original mirrorless camera. Of course there were others that came before, but it was arguably the Brownie that brought photography to the masses. This started me wondering, how do the two really compare? What are the pros and cons of the old versus the new – does the Brownie’s 21st century cousin win hands down every time or is there something to be said for the vintage, the antiquated and the downright basic?
I decided that the proof must be in the picture.
To put my idea to the test I have gone out and recreated some of my favourite Box Brownie photographs using my modern mirrorless camera.
This is not a high tech exercise, believe me but shall we just talk quickly about what makes the two cameras we are discussing mirrorless . . .
As I have written in previous posts the Box Brownie is a delightfully simple camera, unlike my old Minolta which uses a mirror to redirect the image to the viewfinder then when you take the picture that mirror jumps out of the way exposing the film to the light, with the brownie when you open the shutter there is nothing between the light and the surface of the film but the single lens. Boom. The image is rendered. It is as simple as that.
And what of the modern mirrorless camera?
Panasonic launched the first popular mirrorless camera, the Lumix DMC-G1, back in 2008 and in recent years they have quickly become one of the most popular systems for professional and amateurs alike. Surprisingly they actually work in a similar way to their Box Brownie ancestor. In a nutshell in DSLR cameras the light enters the camera and has to hit a reflex mirror and pentaprism before entering the viewfinder. In a mirrorless camera however the light comes through the lens and straight into the image sensor and the information (picture) is captured instantly, digitally.
The mirrorless camera is also lighter, more compact and more economically priced than the equivalent DSLR and are considered by many as better for continuous high speed shooting.
But back to my original question, how do the images compare?
I set my digital camera to black and white and did my best to recreate some of my favourite Brownie images.
It is clear right away that there is a sharpness, a clarity to the modern images but there is a part of me that loves the textured appearance that the older camera gives.
Should the inclusions in the brownie images be considered faults? That is after all what they are, dirt on the lens, and dust on the film. Those light flares and lens aberrations around the edges are due to problems with the camera’s seals after all. Funnily enough however, most mobiles now have ‘vintage’ filters on their cameras. And editing software, such as Photoshop, allows you to add these kind of ‘old school’ effects to your sharp digital image. The imperfect is desirable then or is it all just nostalgia?
In the process writing this and of returning to the locations trying to recreate photographs that, in some cases, I had taken years previously, I was reminded of one feature of the modern camera that has become essential. With the Brownie I have just 8 shots per film, each image is precious, but with my digital mirrorless camera, as I have said before, I can take multiple shots until I find the one that works the best as a match to the early picture. Convenient and useful in these circumstances but also a reminder to take a moment, think about the picture a little more – not just point and shoot.
Comparing the images side by side the differences are obvious but for me that doesn’t mean that one camera is necessarily better than the other.
They both have their pros and cons.
And what about my Box Brownie?
Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below.
Which of the images, the vintage mirrorless or the modern mirrorless camera, works best for you?
Do you have a vintage camera in your life or are you digital all the way?