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— Though it's probably not breaking news and I may be one of the last to know, I learned just last week that Wal-Mart stores are going dry.

No, I'm not talking about a cessation of liquor sales but of the services available at their photo centers. As the stores go through their major redesigns, the wet film processing equipment in the photo centers is being taken out and not replaced.

And, yes, I'm disappointed,

not because I took film to Wal-

Mart for processing - I amtoo picky about the care of my negatives to drop off film just anywhere - but because Wal-Mart's going dry will likely mean even less people will still shoot film, making it harder to buy film locally and harder to find quality processing without sending film off through the mail.

Some folks think my continual lament over film's slow demise is because I'm just old fashioned, but that's not entirely the case. Sure, I like to listen to the sound of a "real" shutter curtain in one of my old Nikons, and I like to shoot a camera that's not made of plastic. But the real reason I lament the replacement of film by digital is the quality.

And, yes, I am picky about photo quality. I don't like outof-focus eyes or washed-out faces. I can't stand to see pixelated images, jaggies, noise or hot pixels. It even bothers me to watch the late night news when video clips are overexposed, causing washed out faces, or when the cameraman didn't properly set the white balance before shooting and the reporter's face is green.

That's not to say many of the same kind of mistakes couldn't have been made with film, but film shooters know that you have to do things right the first time and not just hope to fix all the mistakes with photo-editing software.

It kind of comes down to whether or not a photographer wants to consider the lighting, take the appropriate measurements and shoot it right from the start, or shoot it and then make adjustments to fix the problems. Unfortunately, with news and sports photos, an opportunity to shoot, adjust and re-shoot doesn't always happen.

As an ex-cop who was around during the transition from the revolver to the highercapacity semi-auto pistol, some of the debate was over whether it was better to take careful aim before shooting because ammunition in a revolver is limited and reloading more time consuming or to shoot away quickly with a high-capacity semi-auto pistol and hope to get in a lucky shot somewhere along the line - I believe some called it "spray and pray."

When I shoot digital, I find myself doing the latter sometime. Instead of carefully composing my shots, I start shooting, look at the results and then make adjustments if I have time. And sometimes I find myself shooting 20 or 30 frames instead of one or two just because I can. And surprisingly, when I go through the photos to choose the best one, it's usually the first one I took, making me wonder why I clicked away and took all the rest.

But my reasoning for lamenting whenever film suffers another loss, is not because of technology or the fact that I sometimes get lazy when shooting digital and just click away.

It's over image quality when everything else is equal - careful composition, exposure and aperture settings, and the like.

Some might not believe me, but I can go out with an old film camera worth less than $100 and literally blow away - in image quality and color saturation - anything I've been able to do with digital using cameras costing 10 times as much. Though I don't get to doit much, I like to take some of the old rangefinder cameras - made in the 1960s and '70s - and shoot nature scenes and sometimes portraits. The cameras aren't worth much. I've rescued one or two from boxes headed for the trash bin and picked up a couple more for just a few dollars. But the quality that can be achieved with these old film cameras rivals or beats that of digital SLRs costing thousands more. I keep watching for a bargain on a quality medium format camera so I can shoot some 120 film again and make even larger high-quality prints.

If film's so good, why do I shoot digital? Well, if I had the time and money to shoot film, process it and do quality film scanning, I might shoot film for the newspaper. But, with time being of the essence, digital has some huge advantages. I don't have to wait for results. Within a few minutes of shooting, I can edit and publish a digital photo - film's not that fast and easy.

And truth be known, digital image quality is more than sufficient for most newspaper publishing.

However, when it comes to shooting for fun and achieving results to hang on the wall, I usually do choose film, and especially so if I can take the time to do things right - take light readings off my subject, choose the best apertures and shutter speeds for the composition and use a tripod to steady my sometimes-shaky hands.

And so, yes, I'm disappointed every time I hear of another photo lab giving up the quality of film for the speed and convenience of digital - even if I take my film to another lab which has consistently given me good service and professional results at a good price.

And, in all fairness, I don't know that film processing won't be available at Wal-Mart stores. I expect it will, but it will be sent off from the local store to a lab for processing and returned days later. That may not be all bad if the quality of work and care of negatives improves, but customers will have to wait or take their film to one of the other stores that continues on-site processing if they choose the quality of film over the speed of digital.

Forum, Pages 5 on 07/29/2009

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