Several years ago a guy named Rob Loukotka wrote a science deficient article titled Analog is NOT the Opposite of Digital. Obviously Rob has trouble with analogue as an antonym of digital. Now, in the sense that you either sample a signal at capture (digital) or you don’t (analogue), there are only two choices – call me reductionist, but that’s a science thing.
After being challenged by photographers on social media I responded with a computer science answer in Film Photography is Analogue and followed through with a second article titled Explanation of Analogue & Digital (& Quanta). However, there is yet more debunking of this one before I can put it to bed.
This article is part 3 – hopefully the final part – in dispelling the myth that there is a controversy over whether film is an analogue media. There is not. Film IS an analogue media and the science has been in for a hell of a long time.
Redux of the Explanation of Analogue & Digital
Here’s the fast money version, because you should go back and read my previous two articles on this subject.
All signals from the natural environment are analogue. We have two ways of capturing a signal: either (a) take
sample in the analogue signal (represented as a wave) without sampling, or (b) take in the analogue signal and grab discrete samples from the signal, extrapolate the information between those sample points, and recreate the original signal as digital information. All digital information becomes 1s and 0s for the CPU.
The analogue signal (displaying the attributes of a wave) is a continuum, it is continuously variable, it consists of a potential theoretical infinite number of values. It just means an analogue wave has no discrete points.
Please stop trying to tell me there is no wave. If you haven’t understood by now, or been taught about signal waves in High School, then it is time to open a book on the subject and be willing to learn. Repeat: All signals from the natural environment are analogue and display the attributes of waves. Stop being silly about that. Honestly. How can somebody with an education not get what a wave is?
Therefore, if you don’t intentionally capture discreet samples… then the technology is, by default, analogue. An analogue clock. A book. A vinyl record. Magnetic tape. The POTS (plain old telephone system) when I was growing up – all analogue technologies.
Noise, confusion, corners and interferences are a part of the world. Any expectation that an analogue media needs to capture infinite values is a furphy – this short Sixty Symbols video from the University of Nottingham explains infinity. The entire argument about infinite values is somebody over-thinking a simple definition.
The Imperfect Media Argument
The imperfect media argument (also known as the chemical media argument) that film is not an analogue media stems from the nature of film – plastic, chemicals, silver. It’s that simple. Film has grain.
My immediate and simplest answer is to ask the person whether it is a digital technology? Given the previous information. No. Given something is either an analogue or a digital technology… still no.
Further, there is nothing that states an analogue media has to capture the entire continuum of infinite values of the analogue signal. In the case of photography, light. Such a claim is ignorant both of the meaning of infinity and the reality that the world is full of imperfection. There are limits to our ability to create a flawless analogue media, our ability to capture the entire continuum of any signal and our capabilities of perception.
POTS is imperfect. So are magnetic tapes. And Film. Let that infinity argument go already.
The Chemical Process Argument
Yes, film photography is a chemical process. It is an analogue technology that uses a chemical process.
Take this in context. The entire Universe, everything you will see through your telescope, is chemical. Everything humans do and achieve is through our knowledge and manipulation of chemicals. They are not magic. It is fantastic that film uses chemical development, but that is entirely irrelevant to whether film is an analogue media.
The Chemistry Storage Argument
The chemistry storage argument states that film photography is not an analogue technology / media because chemicals reveal the information. That the information does not exist on the film until the chemical processing phase is undertaken by the photographer.
OK, I want you to listen to this. I load a roll of Ilford Pan F 50 into my camera and go to the beach. I make a photograph by clicking the shutter and the aperture opens to capture the correct exposure. I advance the film. Again. Again. Then, at the end, I rewind the film and drop it into my pocket. I go home and put that film in my garage for 26 years. After that time I find it; I develop it. Are you telling me the processing chemicals magically held the information from 26 years ago at that beach? No.
Chemicals can’t reach back across space and time to reveal a picture that does not exist. That would be magic. The chemicals only reveal to the human eye, depending on variances of the mix and environment, the information previously stored by the analogue photographic process on the film, in this case 26 years earlier.
To argue that the information is not stored on the film for that 26 years, in the example, is sheer avoidance. It is most certainly stored on the film, or else the chemicals would have nothing to reveal.
Again, this is simple science. The information may not be visible on the exposed film but as long as it is kept dark then the information remains in tact. The chemicals of developing only reveal the image to the naked eye – the information is captured as a continuum at the time of exposure inside the camera.
The Linear Analogue Argument
I’m also incredulous to hear there is a linear analogue argument that basically insists that an analogue media must capture the information sequentially… like a factory production line. By this argument it is said that magnetic tape – a very similar plastic strip to film with chemical attached – takes the analogue wave sequentially one-word-after-another from beginning to end.
Now let me run this by you. There is NO requirement anywhere for an analogue media to be sequential in this fashion. It’s a plain and simple furphy. It probably emanates from the idea that an analogue signal is a wave like a beach wave that can be surfed. Environmental signals (above the quantum level) are all represented as analogue waves because they display the attributes of a wave. Sound waves. Light waves. Etcetera. I refer back to my previous article.
The Digital Camera Captures Analogue Signals Argument
The digital camera captures analogue signals argument is just a plain science misunderstanding of what a digital camera technology does. The argument is that both film and digital cameras capture an analogue signal and, after capture, a digital camera is said to convert the signal to 1s and 0s. This is fundamentally incorrect.
What a digital camera does is it discretely samples the analogue signal (wave) as the information comes in at capture. Your DSLR sensor is covered by approximately 60 per cent pixels in groups of four, as I understand it, and the other 40 per cent of the sensor includes channels so that as you shoot this massive information there is constant outflow of that captured digital data so you can keep shooting like a rock star. The DSLR does some mathematical extrapolation on those sampled points and fills in the information gaps between the points. So, at capture, the entire signal is not taken in and then digitised. The signal is digitised on capture.
The Newly Invented Word “Analog” Argument
The newly invented word analogue argument is a furphy. The claim is that due to the invention of computers (apparently in 1976) the word analogue was invented solely to contrast the word digital.
OK, the best I can find is that analogue comes from the Greek analogon, used in English from 1810. Note that 1810 was around the middle of the Industrial Revolution. This was when analogue entered the English language. In 1946 the term analogue came into existence in regards to computer science.
Please, put that newly invented word argument to bed as total rubbish. The word analogue existed over a century before 1946, when it was expanded to incorporate the newer context of computing.
The Need for a Credible Reference
There is a single deficiency in all of these arguments – the lack of scientific reference.
What seems to happen is people have general understandings of the terms analogue, digital and wave. Because they think they understand the terms they refuse to read. If they do read, they skim. And that means when they try to conceive of things happening between two known points they pretty much make up the answer that sounds like it should be true. Often, it isn’t.
Most of these arguments would also have their roots in a back-pedaling definition held by those who don’t want to let go of their earlier statements. Making this seem like a debate (like global warming) when there is no debate. The science is clear and profoundly simple. Film is an analogue media.
So, if anybody can correct me on this then feel free to send me links to credible sources. Universities. Noted physicists on Youtube. Something with a name and a field of study attached to it. Not Wikipedia or quora or a forum where five people convince themselves that film isn’t an analogue media based on group dynamics.
It is perfectly fine to be a fantastic and talented photographer and not be a scientist. However, to join a cult of belief where you get together and make that science up and then spread it around is not alright. I, or somebody like me, will eventually challenge you. At which point being wrong in the right way – without abuse or tantrums on social media like a 2 year old – is more important (as a professional) than just being wrong.
The Reason Why I Picked up this Sword of Explanation
My problem isn’t that people don’t know what analogue means. My problem is that small groups of elitist photographers have slowly been building momentum, on the basis of a scientifically incorrect article, to push the case that they are the real photographers and everybody who does Y are beneath them.
Statements that film is not an analogue media and that people shouldn’t call themselves analogue photographers – like God walked in the room and bestowed a crescent of thorns on their head to define other people’s photographic worth and experiences. That makes me irritated.
So yeah, I’ve called these people out on the stupidity of what they’re flogging. When they make fun of analogue clocks it’s moronic. I refer you off to the clip on the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
I leave you with a quote from Vancouver Island University (Analogue to Digital: Technical Notes):
When we call something an analogue medium, we are referring to the fact that there is a continuous physical relationship between the original message and its reproduction. Speech and writing are represented by print in a book; musical sounds are represented by grooves in an LP or magnetized iron particles on an audio tape; light bouncing off an object is focused by a camera lens to change the colours of chemicals on film. There is often a one-to-one correspondance between the signal and its translation into a physical medium, or reproduction.Media Studies, Vancouver Island University, Canada
They go on to point out that in modern times the definition has been expanded (not contracted), to incorporate our computer age. You might read under the heading in that article as well – The Example of Photography.
My Academic Transcript from UTAS
My academic transcript from the University of Tasmania is available to peruse – page 1 and page 2 and page 3. I have two degrees – a Bachelor of Computing and a Master of Business Administration (Specialisation). Just so you know that I have an idea about Computer Science 101 analogue and digital media and the importance of looking to credible sources.