Digital Discussions

This discussion with Marko Prezelj regarding digital cameras and the crawl/walk/run evolution out of the film age preceded my recent trip to Alaska (May 2008). I'll post some of the images in the Action section of the Pictures area in a few days. His insight into the mentality of shooting digital vs. film images is astoundingly accurate, and although I enjoyed shooting and manipulating and editing images directly in the camera while I was in Alaska I also dearly missed the truth of a Leica M6 photo shot with slide film. It is too easy to change the record of our memories when we begin with a digital image and stride down the high technology path.


Hello Marko,

I am going to Alaska with Rolo next week and I have a dilemma with the camera. Rolo has been using Canon G9 and he likes it. Vince has the small Leica, Steve uses the Panasonic with Leica lens. My first solution was to take my old Canon Powershot S80 for digital pictures and my Leica M6 with film. Now I am thinking this will be quite heavy and perhaps I would lose my mind trying to have one foot in both the old and the new world. I wonder if a single digital camera would be OK. If you were taking one small digital camera which would you choose? I like the S80 because it has a 28mm lens but I think the chip is damaged because it does not handle the sun so well these days, and shooting RAW is not possible. G9 seems nice but the lens is 35mm, however it does shoot RAW and Rolo sold a double-page to Outside from this camera so perhaps the quality is good enough. What do you think? And do you use the RAW format very much?


Hello Mark,

Your excellent book in Slovenian was printed two days ago. I'm waiting for the publisher to get a copy for you. Alaska would be great for me too ... Maybe some other time.

Please note that my thoughts about digital photography are loaded with my limited personal experience and I don't want to "convince" anyone to follow me. Ideally I would stick with the film but the world goes it's own way ... Digital photography is a sort of a trap for us - old style film enthusiasts. It takes some time and energy only to understand just the fundamentals of it, not to speak about using it. I learned that digital cameras are a sort of tool (computer and scanner in a small box) to create a virtual image. When we press the shutter on a digital camera, the light creates a complex process inside the box and save processed information on a memory card. The "digitalizer" (photographer?) has to be very careful with all the settings in (on?) the camera, if he/she wants the optimal result.

Digital is time (and money) thief. I spend now a lot of time in front of the computer and I have to admit that I don't like to spend so much time indoors. Another trap from digital is the cost of all those gadgets we need to process, store, view ... our images (memory cards, batteries and chargers, portable discs, computers, hard disks, calibrated monitors, backups, programs ...).

Any pocket digital camera on the market today doesn't last for more than two years if you want to follow the basic technology standards. If you like pocket digital camera mostly for the compact size, there are not so many choices to follow high techno standards. There are some simple SLR digital cameras which are not so expensive or heavy (Olympus E-420) with excellent quality - but not super compact for climbing. And when we are on the compact size, the cameras are not so easy to work with the gloves ...

We always compromise when we want to take pictures during climbing. There are some cameras which can create RAW format. It is a great format but in the field of digital pocket cameras I didn't hear yet for the camera with normal writing speed for RAW. It takes time before you can close the camera if you work in RAW format and that is not so convenient during climbing. With the option (Photoshop CS3) to open JPG pictures in RAW window I choose to use JPG format during climbing since it is not a problem to publish usual sizes from JPG. Some of the images on the calendar were printed from small Lumix camera images. Patagonia will use some for autumn catalogs ...

I used Canon S80 in Patagonia two years ago. It was a good camera in optimal settings. I use now Ricoh GR digital and Panasonic FX-100 (Lumix). I bought Ricoh because of the RAW option without knowing the writing delay and I rarely use it. It takes a lot of time and plenty of money, if we want to keep in contact with progress and take the main advantages from digital. And it is not so easy to think about all camera settings when we are in an emotional moment, interesting for an image.

"Canon Power Shot G9" would be a good choice if it would have a wide angle lens (less than 30) and a bit less weight ... I don't know how fast it is in writing RAW. Anyway, I almost bought it in Japan but then I decided to wait for 28 mm version. It is a great camera for sure. I suggest to you checking also those cameras besides Canon G9:

  • Lumix DMC FX-500
  • Olympus FE-350 and E-420 (SLR camera)with bijou 25mm f2.8 pancake lens
  • Ricoh Caplio R8 and Caplio GX100 (shoot RAW and it has a 19mm converter!)
  • Nikon Coolpix S600
  • Sigma DP1 (shoot RAW on SLR Faveon sensor)
  • Canon PowerShot SD870 IS

I can't give you an exact answer about the cameras. On the last trip to Charakusa I shot half roll of film on two film cameras ...

And above all, for me it is the question of the "content quality" in every photo, not only "pixle/noise/vigneting/detail ... quality" which is "very important" when you start to talk with the person in the shop or some techno freak. If I would have a single choice, I would go for 28 mm instead of slow RAW format. I experienced that the tool (camera) is leading me sometimes to certain images. And that is why I don't like to wait for the camera to process RAW formats what brakes the authentic moment and the presence of the camera in the moment become very evident.

I hope that you find this information useful at least a little bit. 

Please let me know about your choice. I will be very interested to hear about your Alaska trip and digital experiences as well.


Hello Marko,

Thank you for the quite incredible dissertation about digital cameras and "digitalizers". I am still an old style film enthusiast and I almost want to take the M6 just to be contrarian or against-the-normal-trend but I am trapped now by the convenience of the digital age and the demands of the "market". Quantity it seems is now our master, when before quality guided us as a reference. I am sad that I might never see an accurate "capturing" of a moment in the mountains again. It is too easy to use the computer to make an image look like how I remember the moment but the Leica would never lie and always gave me the moment exactly as it was, unaffected by time and tricks of the mind. In the Slovak Direct I shot with straight film and no filter. I know that what I see now on the slide is exactly what happened then. With the digital image we begin - as you wrote - with "processed" information, which is perhaps not the real information and later we reconstruct the image to correspond with our memory of the moment. Film allows us to scan and process an image, of course, but as long as the slide or negative exists there remains a truthful record of what actually occurred.

OK, after reading your recommendations and thinking too much I was prepared to buy the Sigma DP-1. It seems like the next step, and ahead of its time. But my mind was changed by some not-so-nice reviews about ease of handling and some color "drifting" at the edges of the pictures, which was supposedly fixed by a firmware update on 8 April but it is difficult for a film guy to understand what this means. There was not a camera available locally to put my hands on and test before buying and I don't have the time before leaving to have the camera shipped, then test it, then perhaps have to change it. Lisa just bought a Leica D-LUX 3, which seems good but not different than the Lumix (really) and it is quite small so perhaps not so easy to use with gloves, and also a new system to learn. I had an early Lumix but not a great experience with it so my perception is clouded and I could not make a decision with a "fresh" mind.

I was also attracted by the Ricoh R8 but the "joystick" control button was quite small for cold fingers, and it also has some problem with color fringing at the edges in high-contrast images (they say it can be up to 10 pixels wide and easy to see even in small prints).

In 1994 on Mt Hunter I carried a Nikon FM2 with a 24mm lens. For the M6 I have 28mm, which is quite nice and the 21mm, which is wonderful as a second lens but for climbing there is no second lens. I prefer the 24mm point of view. I cannot have this in a compact digital camera. If I have to accept a 28mm then why not accept a 35mm and if I accept 35mm why not try the G9, which Rolo is using and we can share the batteries and solar charger ... ??? As you said, we compromise.

So tomorrow I will buy a G9. I will also look at the lens converter to make a 26mm lens and see how the resolution is affected by it and the coupler. If it is OK and the converter can remain on the camera body all of the time I think I will use this camera. If the resolution is too much of compromise then I will make another choice, but quickly.

So, thank you again, your thesis was very helpful. It allowed me to understand what is missing in the digital age but also what we have gained in the same era. And even being older we must evolve like growing children if we are to remain current and productive. To remain in the old way is much too hard. When it comes to tradition old means 100 years, and it is easy to understand and respect the history and reason of the tradition. But when we discuss technology old means three years and it is difficult to use what is old technology in conjunction with the current demand. And if we change one thing (the computer operating system) then we must change everything we connect to the new system as well. You are right, digital is a thief.




Thank you for your good thoughts about "holy digital" age. I guess that we have (again) similar opinion. Digital media strengthen the Rashomon effect of our unique experiences in the mountains. I'm aware of that on one side and on the other side is the "plastic fantastic" demand from the market ... Film has certain fixed point, but with digital, there is nothing like that - we can always adjust our memories of certain moment and thus we don't have any fixed point at all. It is sad indeed but I take it  as it is - collateral damage. My "problem" is that I know about and see all the manipulation in climbing photography - it is difficult to resist from cynical standpoint.

With Manu Pellissier we climbed a "new" route on the Aig. du Midi gully which is leading to the toilete drainage from all the fest rooms on the top Midi station. We climbed it in winter when there was a lot of fresh snow around and it was very cold - to keep the "mixed" character of the climb. We called the "route" Digital Smell - because of its character: we smelled the mixture only in Chamonix when we entered the warm bar with our climbing clothes. Since then, I have that smell connected with digital experiences ...

Vince used Leica D-Lux 3 in Charakusa and I think that he didn't take any RAW images during climbing. It is same as the Lumix with probably a bit different software.

I'm extremely interested to read your experience with G9: shooting RAW and using the wide converter as it is what I want now (but I don't like the long processing time and bulky shape with the converter ...). Nikon P5100 seems well designed camera for my current digital mind but (ah, again this word) it doesn't shoot RAW and it needs converter for wide


I will wait a bit more.

Have fun in Alaska.


Hello Marko,

Rolo and I have returned from Alaska, which was a fun trip, and successful (for the work). Our military is not like yours so we had no chance for any route but the normal way, and several of the "clients" had not worn crampons before or had only used them to climb waterfall ice. So the instruction and safety aspect was challenging. We had good weather for the most part, though cold, and took six of the eight soldiers to the summit, all from the 14k camp (I went to the top twice in three days). The trip lasted longer than we hoped so we had no time for any extra climbing for ourselves. Still, it was a nice welcome back to the real mountains even if on the west buttress route and overly social. I had fun.

The G9 worked well, even in the coldest conditions. The controls could be manipulated with gloves when needed, and although I did not love the 35mm lens the limitations were not great enough to prevent me from taking 10-12 good pictures. I shot RAW (with jpeg back-up) and filled many cards. I also carried a battery powered hard drive to back up the cards in case of some accident, which one does not ever consider when using film. Now, as you mentioned, the digital style will steal even more time and money because I need to buy a new computer and upgrade from CS2 to CS3 if I will manipulate them into something useful. It is a good introduction to the new way.

I'll write more later, when I learn some more and review the images more closely but for now I attach one picture, which I like very much - for a variety of reasons.

When I returned home there was a package from Kyle with two copies of Kiss or Kill. Thank you. I surely wish I could read them but for now I can say the layout is quite pleasing, and as Rolo suggested, perhaps the nicest version of the book to be printed. Could you please pass me the address for Janez so that I may thank he and his wife. I will, of course, be interested to hear how the book is received in Slovenia, and if the readers "understand". Recently, my first climbing partner read the book for a second time, with more experience and wisdom in his life, and he wrote that the book is, "painfully honest, self-deprecating, self-promoting, and artsy and macho all in one." The comment tells me that he truly understood what he was reading ... finally.

I hope you are well, and not spending too much time indoors, in front of the computer.

Mark Twight
Mark Twight