View Full Version : Could people tell me what they think of this?

04-04-2005, 01:00 PM
I have just posted an article on my research project's web site on the wisdom (or rather otherwise) of using digital rather than film photography in scientific and particularly archaeological recording. That might sound rather a minority interest, but it covers much of the more mainline film v digital debate. If anyone from this list feels like reading it, I would be very grateful for any feedback, and to have any mistakes pointed out. The article is at

Hopefully you will have a look at the rest of the site while you're there.


04-04-2005, 01:30 PM
Good article. I would add one thing, the current crop of "professional" digital SLR's lack a vital capability - that of interchangable viewfinders. A low angle (waist level), high magnification finder is a tremendous help in macro photography when the camera is down at or near ground level.

Tom Hoskinson
04-04-2005, 02:41 PM
An excellent article.
I would add that the NASA method for archival storage of digital pictures is to print the digital positives to silver film and process the resulting negatives to archival standards. Color images are stored as B&W color separation negatives.

I have used this technique to archive my color transparencies (film) of archaeological subjects.

04-04-2005, 02:43 PM
Good article. You make some good points. I think the biggest concerns are the longevity of the image, and the ability of a computer to withstand the rigors of the field.

The research project I worked for in the mid nineties was checking the viability of digital cameras in the field as a means to aid in three dimentional computer reconstructions of sites. They destroyed three cameras in one summer. The Pentax and 50 mm lens that looked like it went through a war had lasted for ten field seasons and showed no sign of wearing out. I am sure the quality of the cameras have improved but the ccd issue you raise has got to be a big issue. For instant feed back they were great. We could take images of strata and evaluate them that night against the maps we had drawn.

Your concerns with longevity and readability of the files in the future, you would think, would make many weary of moving to the digital format entirely.

Claire Senft
04-04-2005, 03:08 PM
I read your article with interest. I have a couple of suggestions. You mention the superiority of large format cameras. Why not mention what is capable of being done digitally with a scanning back such as the Readylight... slow but very detailed images. Why not mention the capability of modern medium format to be able to take digital and film photos seconds apart after changing backs?

I hope that your article is thouightfully and well received.

Baxter Bradford
04-04-2005, 03:10 PM
An interesting and well written article David.

As someone who, this afternoon, whilst trying to supply image files for a rush magazine request, discovered corrosion on some 2 yr old backup cds rendering data lost; the volatility and vulnerability of digital media ought not be underestimated. Although not overly enamoured about the prospect of having to rescan the images, I can feel ever so slightly smug that the film originals have a rather longer life.
But then we all knew that, didn't we APUGs?

Will they allocate the budget for all of the photographic gear which you feel is needed to cover all bases adequately?

04-04-2005, 05:32 PM
Thanks for the reactions so far. By the way. I am not sure how I managed to put this thread in the antiques section. It was meant to be in articles.


Claire Senft
04-04-2005, 06:44 PM
Perhaps you used thread found on the job.

04-04-2005, 08:04 PM
I read waiting for one item: longevity. My concern is that the digital community is in a fantasy world if they think continuous re-mastering will = continued longevity. That is un-proven and indeed can't be proven. 80 years from now an important digital photograph of JPII in repose is re-mastered for the 16th time but all of the subsequent losses have finally had an additive effect so that the data is meaningless. Interesting point about NASA. Interesting also that the library of congress is recording musical sounds that define our era on 78rpm shellac. Heartbreaking that the patent office has gone the other direction and thrown out old hardcopies wholesale.

Bob Carnie
04-04-2005, 08:29 PM
Hi David
A good article as others suggest.
I think your observations regarding using digital as a tool reflect a lot of different aspects of digital and its encroachment on traditional camera image taking.
The argument about the mb size I think is soon to be a non issue, as we are very close to the 20mb 35mm camera. I would use traditional film as you are right it does contain more information. But if the budget is there a medium format camera with a digital back will give you the file size to make the type of prints you are suggesting. No it will not match a 4x5 negative or 8x10 negative quality you were speaking of .but the advantages of looking at the work on site and sending files to counterparts makes a lot of sense to me.
Maybe two cameras , one digital for the grunt work and a good medium to large format camera loaded with film for the quality records.
Regarding storage. Of the 3000 images plus you are storing , how many of them are of real value. I think recording the important images to an image setter may be of value.
If this is too simple of an fix , I do imagine that the storage and filing of digital
images will improve as well as the price of the equipment itself.
Regarding film storage, traditional black and white and colour, if these images are not properly maintained there can be major problems, lets not kid ourselves here.
I think your profession is on the digital wave and much like a lot of our facets of photography , digital is here and is going to stay.
I think if one can mix the best of both, digital/traditional , you are on the right track.
If you are using laptops in the field then I think you will be able to use a digital camera as well.

I think the proper tool for your job would be the one that suits you the best and the people that have to work around you. Whether it be digital or traditional.

04-06-2005, 05:14 PM
Excellent article. I have been photographing excavations since 1975, and started serious lab photography of finds about ten years ago. Your coverage of the advantages and disadvantages of digital photography in archaeology was comprehensive, but I think the issue of image permanence is the most important. Even if the photography/IT industries come up with "archival" digital media (in terms of materials stability), I feel that the discipline required to manage digital image data over time, as file formats and media technologies evolve, is going to be too great to promote systematic preservation. As a museum curator, I once managed a 70,000+ image photographic collection going back in time to the 1860s, including media ranging from ambrotypes to motion picture film, and most of the material had a history of informal storage and treatment. I can't imagine digital images surviving so successfully over time: they will take so much more work in terms of administration to preserve. For example, the wholesale adoption of digital imaging in newspaper publishing could lead to a large gap in the visual recording of our current "history", until better storage media and archiving protocols are developed and adopted - and they will have to be economical.

As for the field, using both systems does make sense. Capitalize on digital's capacity to confirm documentation at the moment, and use film for the record. And digital techniques are a godsend for lab analysis work, for sending artifact photos around by e-mail for discussion, for preparing lectures and presentations, etc.

Thank you for your thoughtful critique. It would be a good resource for people teaching methods courses.
cheers, mac

04-06-2005, 06:45 PM
Good article. I would add one thing, the current crop of "professional" digital SLR's lack a vital capability - that of interchangable viewfinders.Also true for the F6!

you should look at the High Dynamic Range features in Photoshop CS2 (just out) btw -- I would think they have a lot of scientific imaging potential.

Digital or not, there's really one good way to ensure longevity -- PRINT STUFF.

It's not digital itself that will make history disappear, it's people forgetting that pictures are more than jpegs

04-07-2005, 02:57 AM
Your article is an excellent synthesis of the state of photography in archaeology. It describes our situation to a 't'. As the architect and person responsible for digital imaging and IT for the excavations in Ancient Corinth we find ourselves on the cusp of a new era of electronic information that we cannot wholeheartedly embrace. Yes, we consider ourselves a bit backward or behind being both understaffed and underfunded to go digital but it is still very much for the best. We still carry two 35mm cameras, a B&W and a slide, plus the supplemetary 3MP digital. We also have 6x6 and 4x5 site shots, though these unfortunately may become a thing of the past in the next couple of years. The only thing I might add is to emphasize the convenience of digital. Ease of accessing digital images has allowed the jpgs from our budget digital to replace film for daily reference: since everyone on staff has a copy available from the network or even locally, one instinctively runs through the computer before going to the binders of contact sheets or prints. We still do all our object photography on film (none digitally due to aging photographers and budget) but because of this conveinience we feel the need for a digital copy. Our city cousins in Athens (with Packard Foundation money) have, I believe, done away with film for finds and objects. I'm not sure they are doing regarding a digital archive, however... We create a hard copy of all our digital documents.

Thanks for your article. I'm sending the link to the whole staff as I write.

04-08-2005, 02:49 PM
Very nice article. I am the collections manager (insects) at the Museum of Zoology, and a few years ago I catalogued hundreds of old b&w negatives that were made in the 1918-1930 period. They had not been stored in the best of situations, but were easily viewed and of course, could be printed or scanned. Since they were roll film negs, most of them could be easily contact printed. I have to wonder what will happen to images taken digitally today, 80 years from now. A physical thing is harder to lose than an electronic file (most of the time). I foresee people losing all kinds of images for a variety of reasons.
The other thing you bring up is ruggedness and reliability. There is no way any modern DSLR will be as rugged as say, a Nikon F2. Dust, sand, moisture, are all the things that will befall photographic equipment on a site; coupled with the need to have all the infrastructure that digital requires, working in remote and inhospitable areas really makes film a better choice. Someone will point out that once you have your images on a chip they are safer than film with latent images. Maybe. I think of the Shackleford expedition as a case in point. A Kodak vest pocket camera recorded some amazing images from that near-disaster. No batteries. Just film and a dry pocket (somewhere).

05-04-2005, 03:09 PM
I just want to thank everyone who has commented on my paper, and indeed found it, despite me putting this thread in the wrong place. I have re-written it somewhat to take account of ideas expressed here and elsewhere and submitted it for publication.


05-15-2005, 11:10 AM
When the Smithsonian wanted the ultimate documentary photographs of their collection of hominid skulls, David L. Brill did them using 4x5 Sinar and an amazing lighting setup of his own development. His photographs have become the end-all of such images and I strongly doubt they will be rephotographed ever again. The films can be scanned for that particular archival effort. (Almost every photograph published of homind skulls for the past several years are his. Nice niche.)

The subject of D. Brill's lighting would be worthy of an article in itself: dozens of tiny mirrors on flexible stalks so that every shadow was illuminated and every highlight squelched/balanced.