There's an insidious advantage to film cameras over digital cameras: picture quality improvements in digital cameras are improvements in the camera hardware, but picture quality improvements in film cameras come from the film. I bought my 35mm SLR (a Canon AE-1P) used for $200 with a great 50mm lens (probably original equipment) and paid another $130 for a 70mm-210mm zoom lens; in digicam marketing speak that's about a "6x optical zoom." Now, say you have a 2.1 megapixel camera you bought for about the same price, and say that you and I take a photo trip to Big Sur. We both want vivid color saturation and high resolution, so we could make 16-by-20 posters of our best shots. I spend $35 on a box of Portra 160VC film, or Velvia slide film if I'm feeling daring. To match my "upgrade," you spend--$800 on a Sony DSC-707, because CCDs are not swappable. I still have a more versatile camera, and it's arguable that the Portra film's colors are going to be better than the Sony's (which is near the top in its "prosumer" class).
I have at least one friend who doesn't believe you can get those things in digital cameras at all ("for under $50,000"). Well, yes and no. 35mm film doesn't have "pixels" at all, of course, but there are reasonable limits you can compute: what you need is a CCD capable of generating, say, 36-bit color (i.e., 8 bits per channel isn't enough) with at least 3000x2000 resolution. Guess what? The 6-megapixel cameras hitting the market now match that minimum, and both Canon and Contax's models capture 36-bit color. Technologies like Fuji's "Super CCD" and Foveon's "X3" still only capture 8 bits per color channel but generate better color information than conventional CCDs--as the name suggests, about three times as much in the X3's case. None of these are $50,000, either; several of them are around $3000 list.
But that's still a hell of a lot more than my AE-1P. And unfortunately, I don't want a digital replacement for my point-and-shoot handheld; I want one that I can take credible landscape photography with, even if it's blown up to that 16-by-20 poster.
So the alternative I'm struggling with now is whether to buy a scanner. Instead of a good film-only scanner I've found a scanner that's a great flatbed and a pretty good film scanner in combination (the Epson 2450). But can I justify it to myself?
This leads into larger questions. One of the friends I went to the trade show with is seriously considering setting up a "multimedia studio" business--video editing, filming, and maybe web design. I've flirted with doing web consulting before, and I have the skills for print design consulting. But I have the marketing and people-networking skills of a boll weevil. So.
There's more I could write about--recent thoughts about furry fandom, and my usual waffling about possible job opportunities in other states (would I be willing to take a 40% pay cut for a cool job?), but I'll leave that for another night.