Two Towers, Two Cameras, Two Views on Photography

Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers make interesting photographic subjects – not because they are the tallest twin buildings in the world, but because of their shape and the textures and patterns on the outside of the building.  At night, they are lit in such a way that these shapes and patterns are even more emphasized.

So during a recent trip to the city, I was carrying a Ricoh Super Kr-5 II, made in the late 80s or early 90s, loaded with black and white film, during the daytime.  Then at night (New Year’s Eve, as a matter of fact – the park below the buildings is the epicenter of the city’s massive annual fireworks display) I carried my Sony NEX digital camera, which has a huge sensor by camcorder standards (the same size as most DSLRs).  And I took similar photos both times.

When I got home and processed the film, I failed to take note of the fact that I had already used my chemicals for a few rolls more than the recommended amount.  As a result, the pictures came out especially grainy, and a bit dim, so I had to enhance them a bit using software.

The cost of the film and chemicals is a big factor, of course.  But the cameras themselves have a significant price difference.  The Ricoh is essentially free – I can easily get back the 25 bucks or so I spent on it on eBay.  The Sony is a $2,000 disposable camera. Yes, disposable – just like your DSLR.  My Sony’s sensor has a bit of damage from the Namibian desert, and it’s not cost effective to replace…and I’d be told, “You might as well buy a new one, this one is obsolete” anyway. It’s only a matter of time before this happens to every modern camera.

Other than a light meter, which may or may not still be accurate 25 years after its manufacture, the Ricoh is fully manual.  The Sony is completely automatic; you just point it in the right direction, and it does everything else.  So obviously the pictures from the Sony will be much, much better – probably nearly perfect, right?

Take a look at these samples and compare for yourself:

Oddly perhaps, I find something appealing in the black-and-white photos that I just can’t find in the color snaps.  It reminds me a bit of the compact disc / phonograph record debate.  Somehow both media have become so “perfect” that they wind up somehow sterile and characterless.

Others may disagree.  I’m the kind of person who prefers driving a VW Beetle over driving a luxury vehicle.  In the latter, you’re completely isolated from the driving experience somehow.  The same goes for barefoot running, which I also do.  The foot is a sensory organ, filled with nerve endings and blood vessels.  Compared to cradling your feet in a perfectly engineered container made of nylon and separated from the road by nearly an inch of blown rubber, barefoot running can be gritty and at times even difficult.   But in somehow it feels more authentic – more real.

I’ll end with a couple more examples of photos I really like, not of the towers but from the same trip.  I really like these, but I’m 99% sure that, taken with the other camera and all the technology it contains, they would have been completely unremarkable.

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