Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Why is it that each decision that can be made attracts so many zealots. While there are decisions where a clear verdict can be reached based on facts and intelligence, like that Mac or Windows question, in many other cases the verdict won’t be as clear. A favourite example of mine for that are the questions about analogue media.


I am a big fan of both vinyl records and analogue film. And yet I am appalled when I see the numerous zealots of both areas repeating their lines for the umpteenth time.

Vinyl is nice. It feels good and you get better cover art when buying LPs. Its downside is of course that handling it takes more effort than using CDs and that it’s terribly inconvenient when it comes to issues like hearing records while travelling. It also needs a little (although not that much) extra space in your shelves and thus is a bit of extra pain when you are moving.

Look, I didn’t even mention sound quality. And that’s because judging the sound quality would come down to zealotry. Possibly because of two reasons. The first of them being the technical one that none of the two media is clearly superior. The second being that it is very hard to do a reasonable comparison: To begin with you’d need media of the same sound. That is difficult to achieve as even when buying the same album as a both a CD and an LP you will most likely end up with different mixing processes that are tweaked for the medium in question.

And thus if you have an album that was made by people who have experience with CDs only, it’s not unlikely that the vinyl will sound worse. And the other way round – when an album has been post-processed and compressed beyond recognition so it sounds better on radio (or whatever) at the expense of the actual sound quality, the vinyl can easily win the battle. It’s a case by case thing. And as both media can sound very good, I am convinced there is no substantial difference in principle, even though there may be a disappointingly high number of low-quality CDs in circulation.

The next question is that of the playback device. You can buy both CD and record players between €20 and €10000. Of course there will be differences between those. So to have a reasonable comparison, you should use devices that are somewhat comparable in their target audience and possibly even price tag. From when I went around shopping for my CD and record players, I got the impression that at the low end you will probably be better off with a CD player. It will sound bad but at least there’s no danger it breaks your records.

But once you reach a slightly elevated level of quality, my impression was that the CD players matching the quality of a record player tended to be more expensive than that record player was. Again, there are exceptions to this, but it seemed to be a general trend to me. A trend that only says record players might end up being a bit cheaper, not better.

And finally, I don’t want to hear any comments about vinyl having this static or crackling sound in them. If your albums and record player are in a working condition, they won’t. Everybody who writes that kind of nonsense probably doesn’t own a record player at all or just inherited one along with a few mis-treated albums from his grandparents.


The other area where I like the analogue world is photography. Taking analogue black and white pictures and taking them from the moment I open the shutter, through development to when I can take the dried print from the line is just great. It’s a process which I can do from the beginning to the end. And in which I can influence most things and understand many (though not all because the precise chemical reactions are unkown to me). And once again the main drawback of doing this is the effort you have to put into it. It’ not just pressing a button and clicking a mouse, but you have to concentrate all the way through and set aside a fair amount of time for it.

Again, digital photos do away with that inconvenience and with current SLRs should be roughly en par with analogue film. I still tend to think that digital photos often look a bit different from their analogue counterparts, mainly a bit smoother, but that may well be a consequence of the processing done by software and I can imagine that careful manual RAW processing would make this harder or even impossible to spot.

For sure, digital photography changes the way a photographer thinks because it sets the cost of taking another shot pretty close to zero. While this may give more careless and truly crappy shots on the low end – it also enables people to experiment more freely and quickly on the high end. So, again, as a matter of principle, I don’t think either technology wins on its merits.

Of course it is more about the photos people actually take. And if someone has a good eye, a well-timed finger, reasonable understanding of the technicalities along with an interesting thing to photograph – it seems likely that he will take good photos regardless of the camera he used.

When trying to find out things about developing films myself I ran across a number of photography related ‘forums’ (fora?) and people there seem to be eager to have digital vs. analogue debates. Debates which often deal with technicalities like counting pixels. Of course those can be important for some images. But I suspect that those are very rare and specialised cases. And that in most photos and uses such technical aspects will only be secondary issues.

[When browsing those forums I was also shocked how many of the people there seem to be totally convinced that you can’t even take an acceptable photo unless you have a Leica, Rolleiflex, Hasselblad or whatever. I am sure you can take wonderful photos with those cameras. But I am equally sure you can take equally wonderful photos with other cameras and horrifically terrible photos with those. ]

March 26, 2007, 0:10

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