I’ve recently been working on a lecture about my history with digital art. Here is part two of three.

Here comes that question again, Before the age of digital if you were going to make a photograph you had to ask yourself, “What size?” Not the size of the photograph, that’s a question you have to ask yourself too, but what size film format will you work in. The main sizes were is 35mm, two and a quarter inches, four by five inches, and eight by ten inches. Those are all negative sizes. The last one is large format, the middle two are medium format, and the first one we just called 35mm.

Along with negative size came cameras and lenses. A 35mm camera was the most common by far. You could get a cheap snapshot 35mm camera, an expensive professional 35mm camera and all sorts of ones in between. You could also spend lots of money on lenses for those 35mm cameras. Fixed length lenses, telephoto lenses, zoom lenses, and wide angle lenses. The 35mm market was huge and that’s what almost everybody shot.

The medium and large format cameras were almost exclusively for professional photographer or maybe high end hobbyists. The negatives themselves were pretty big. The bigger the negative the more detail it could capture and the bigger you could make a print showing off that detail. So if you were a fine art photographer and wanted to make a three foot by four foot print you would want to use a eight by ten inch negative. That would be the equivalent of a very high DPI Photoshop document.

The other choice that came along with size and format with pre-digital photography was processing. It took chemicals to develop filming photographs. Your choice was negative film or positive film (slides) and black and white or color. With negative film (or negatives) you had to make a print. The film itself captured the light from the camera in a negative fashion. Then the image had to be projected onto light sensitive paper to create a positive version of the image.

Slides were a positive image. They were meant to be projected in a slide projector and shown on a screen. They were easier to develop since there was no positive print to be made but they also had to be cut apart and mounted in slide holders before they could be projected.

Lots of hobbyists took slides because they could develop them themselves. It became a running joke in movies and TV shows that people would put together boring slide shows of their vacations and want to watch them with their suffering friends. Professional photography for magazines, books, and newspapers also often used slides because the quality was first generation. The slide was the original. A print would be second generation and therefor the quality might be lesser.

Black and white film was easier to develop than color. It was a one step process. Color film often needed more than one step of chemicals to process them. Most beginning classes in photography were in black and white. You could even set up a home black and white photo processing lab if you really wanted to. The next level of classes were shooting on color slide film and color prints came after that.

Most people who weren’t professionals got their prints processed by the corner photo lab. Or maybe it was a photo store that sent the film out to be processed. They were everywhere. You would shoot a roll of snapshots, drop the exposed roll of film off at the photo store, and pick your processed negatives and prints of each photo in a day or two. That’s how most of us got photography done. The professionals sometimes did their own processing and sometimes sent their stuff out to high end professional photo labs.

With moving images it was just as important to choose a size and format. There was 8mm film, 16mm film, 35mm film, 1/2 inch tape (VCR), and 3/4 inch tape (Beta). If you were shooting motion picture film you had to send it out to be processed just like 35mm film. That cost money. Hobbyists and home movie makers shot on 8 or 16mm film. Anything bigger than that was shot by professionals. Film was measured by the foot. You’d have to calculate that into time yourself by how fast it spun through your camera.

By the 1980s VCR tape had taken over the home video markek. VCR camera were relatively cheap an there was no need to process any film. It could also playback right on your TV. Professional news cameras used 3/4 inch tape for better quality but home users used 1/2 inch tape.

If you really wanted make something with film or video you had to edit it. That was a whole other process that took a whole other set of equipment. With film it was cut and paste. You literally had to cut the frames of film out of the big roll of film you shot and use clear tape to paste it to the next scene. They had big editing machines with a hand crank so you could roll the film back and forth and watch your edits on a small screen. That’s how they put movies together.

Tape made things a bit easier for editing. Whether it was 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch tape all you needed was one tape deck for playback, one for recording, and a monitor to watch on. You’d put the master tape in the first deck, fast forward to the scene you wanted, hit play, hit record on the second tape deck, and then it would make a copy. Put another scene after the first and eventually you had a movie. This was called linear editing.

Nowadays in the digital world you need a camera and a computer. That’s about it. You still have to choose what size video to shoot, HD, Full HD, 4K, or even 8K but that’s just a matter of setting a switch on a camera. I have a fairly inexpensive, five year old camera that shoots up to 4K video. All I have to do is tell it do.

Most computers come with basic video editing software. So do phones and tablets. I edited a 45 minute video that was shot on a VCR back in 1991 on my iPad. First I digitized the video (smoothing you can do on a home computer), transferred the raw footage to my iPad, and then edited it in iMovie. It was remarkably easy. No giant film editing bay needed. I did it in an easy chair.