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Fay's Beach Buzz

Smile, you're on digital camera

© 2008 Fay Jacobs

Fay Jacobs

I'm in a love-hate relationship.

Everywhere we go, there's tension. I'm scared the relationship will fall apart. I've sought professional help. I love/hate my digital camera.

I was a little dykette when I got my first Brownie Starflash. I've been through Instamatics, Flash Cubes, strobes, 35 millimeter, single-lens reflex, Polaroid and point and shoot.

Taking pictures was simple. You plopped film in the Kodak, took pictures and left them at the drug store, waiting expectantly, sometimes for a week, to see if the photos "came out."

Well, since those days, almost everyone I know has come out but that doesn't help the evolving state of photography. Going digital seems like a good idea, but so did Phen-Fen.

Truthfully, I like taking digital photos. I shoot multiple shots until I get one with everybody's eyes open. But the fact that there are no negatives makes me positively nuts. A hundred years from now historians won't have a clue. Most people take digital pictures, send them to friends over the internet, store the pictures on their hard drive and never even print them. What happens when the Dell detonates? Will a whole nation wander around in a daze like tornado survivors, having lost their wedding pictures? Yeah, yeah, we're supposed to be backing things up. But you know how THAT goes.

I'm the kind of person who believes if you don't have a picture of it, it didn't happen. Today, you can hold Matthew Brady's Civil War photos and negatives in your hand and see history. Where will our negatives be? In the bowels of some computer in a landfill at Mt.Trashmore? I'm telling you, there will be no evidence we even existed.

Now this truly makes me nuts because my secret obsession is photo albums. Bonnie will tell you, one time when we thought our house was on fire she practically herniated herself running down the stairs with a dozen leaden photo albums in her arms. Our fire drill is Women, Dogs and Albums first. I'm such a photo album lunatic that years after everyone else was sliding pictures into plastic album sleeves, I was still licking little black photo corners. When the company making them went under I had to detox from picture corner glue and there wasn't even a support group I could attend.

So I have a long history of understanding things like aperture, back lighting and red eye reduction. So why don't I get the pixel thing? What I don't get is why my 5 Mega-Pixel state-of-the-art camera, which cost as much as my sofa, can't deliver a picture as clear as those cardboard and plastic single use cameras from the drugstore.

It's probable that I'm doing something wrong since the first time I printed an 8x10 from my new camera everybody looked like Doris Day in those movies where she was filmed through a gauze-covered lens to make her look as young as Rock Hudson. Besides that, for some reason, the flash ricochets, making everybody wearing glasses look like Tinkerbell landed on their frames. Animal eyes are particularly vulnerable to the flash. I can't get a Schnauzer shot without my boys looking like the poster children from Night of the Living Dead.

But as worried as I am about blurry photos and the lack of a permanent negative collection, I'm more bereft by the devastating psychological toll of going digital. I used to rush from vacation directly to the camera shop, eat lunch next door while my umpteen rolls of film got processed. Vacation budgets included big bucks for the après trip picture glut. I didn't care what it cost because the thrill of ripping open those envelopes and seeing what you'd been doing for the past week was absolutely exhilarating.

Well, there's something far less satisfying about having already seen your pictures and then thinking about paying somebody to print stuff you've had hanging around in the camera for ten days. Just like that, the thrill is gone.

Hoping to reclaim the excitement I decided to try printing the pictures at home. My speedy printer managed to turn one-hour photo back into one-week photo with just the click of a button.

And the cost is staggering. Know why printers are absurdly cheap now? Because they practically give you the hardware and software, but make you pay through the nose for the wetware - ink. After just two or three 5x7's and right in the middle of cropping somebody's thighs out of a family portrait my computer starts flashing "cartridge almost out of ink." And if you've ever stood in the aisle at Staples trying to figure out which cartridge goes with your printer then you know the fresh hell I'm talking about.

Of course glossy paper isn't cheap either. Between paper, ink and the time it takes to print the pictures, I could go on the vacation again.

So for me, the answer was to bring my camera to the nice folks at the photo shop for digital printing. But unlike regular one-hour equipment that prints from that antiquated stuff called film, new digital machines are merely big, stupid computers with slots for your camera's memory chip. The machine had a slot that accepted Memory Sticks, Magic Memory Cards, digi-chips, cow chips, and pop tarts, but it didn't take the memory chip from my hot-shot camera.

I had to ask the local photo shop to order, at best, some kind of exotic adapter for my chip, or at worst, a whole new $20,000 machine so they can print me and Bonnie standing in front of stuff. It's humbling, to say the least.

So there you have it. I love playing with the camera. It's excellent for e-mail pictures and snapshots. It's fun at parties. But I hate how much it costs and what an ordeal it is to print the photos. While I love pressing the delete button after a goofer shot, I hate worrying that my hard drive will crash and take all of 2007 with it. And I detest making back-ups of my back-ups.

So as far as I'm concerned, digital is fun for now, but the second I head off for a major vacation or important family occasion I'm stopping by the drug store for a cellophane-wrapped $7.95 disposable. It's the least I can do for posterity.
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Fay Jacobs, a native New Yorker, spent 30 years in the Washington, DC area working in journalism, theater and public relations. She has contributed feature stories and columns to such publications as The Advocate, OUTtraveler, The Baltimore Sun, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, The Washington Blade, The Wilmington News Journal, Delaware Beach Life and more.

Since 1995 she has been a regular columnist for Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, and won the national 1997 Vice Versa Award for excellence. Her columns are collected in the books, As I Lay Frying: a Rehoboth Beach Memoir and the newly published Fried & True - Tales of Rehoboth Beach.

Fay is Publisher and Managing Editor or A&M Books, the publisher of the 14 classic Sarah Aldridge novels.

She and Bonnie, her partner of 25 years, relocated to Rehoboth Beach, DE in 1999. They have two Miniature Schnauzers and a riding lawn mower.

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