Analog photography

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Analog footage from the 1980s and 1990s

Analog photography or analog photography (counterpart to digital photography ) is a retronymer term from the photo technique and refers to the photograph via analog camera or optical system on a photographic film on photographic plate , or in precious printing method directly on coated paper or metal plates, as well as instant material .


To distinguish it from the new photographic processes of digital photography , the term analog photography appeared at the beginning of the 21st century . The previous process was previously called photography . Calling the process analog is historically incorrect and the result of a misunderstanding.

The first "digital camera" by Steven J. Sasson in 1975 was actually a Still Video Camera System (SVC) in which the analog signal from the CCD sensor was stored internally digitized on a magnetic tape (outside the camera). The digital information stored on the tape could not yet be used for viewing or even electronic image processing (EBV) with the technology that was available to the pioneer Steven Sasson at that time. The images on the screen of a television set could only be viewed as a re-analogized signal .

In 1981, Sony developed the prototype of an SVC with the Mavica , with which pictures (still analog) could at least be saved on a floppy disk inside the camera. This was followed by commercially usable camera systems and the like. a. from Canon (prototype in August 1984, market ready in July 1986 with the model RC-701 ) and Nikon (prototype SVC in autumn 1985, market ready in 1988 with the model QV-1000c), which were based on this system.

All of these systems did not yet allow EBV; Here too, the images were only presented on a television set. Strictly speaking, it was not yet digital photography. After all, the image data from the camera could already be transmitted electronically to the photo editors within minutes using a telephone modem, largely without loss , and used there for printing .

It was not until 1990 that Kodak presented the first fully digital camera system in which the analog image information from the CCD sensor (later also the CMOS sensor ) was immediately fed to an analog-digital converter , saved in digital form and then processed further using EBV (turning , mirroring, scaling, alienating etc.). This camera for professional photographers, a Kodak DCS (called Kodak DCS-100 from 1991), is based on a Nikon F3 SLR camera , which has been expanded to include electronic recording components. The digital storage unit was not yet implemented inside the camera and was located in a separate module that was carried on the shoulder. In the same year, the Logitech company developed the Fotoman ( also marketed as Dycam in the USA ), the first real digital camera for the mass market. At the same time appeared in 1990 with Photoshop from Adobe 's first commercial program for digital image processing.

In order to explain this new type of digital storage technology to the public, it was compared technically in some publications with the analog image storage system used by the SVC until then. As a result of translation errors and misinterpretations as well as the prevailing lack of technical understanding of digital camera technology, some journalists erroneously referred to all of them - including the traditional film-based camera systems - as analog cameras.

The term has survived to this day and now incorrectly no longer describes photography using analog storage technology in the first digital still video cameras, but only the technology of film-based photography. With this, however, it is neither digitally nor analogue "stored", but chemically and physically fixed.


A photograph can neither be analog nor digital . Only the image information can be determined selectively by means of physical , analog measurable signals ( densitometry , spectroscopy ) and, if necessary, subsequently digitized.

After the film has been exposed, the image information is initially only latent . This information is not stored in the analog camera, but only during the development of the film by chemical reaction in a three-dimensional gelatin layer ( film has a plurality of superposed sensitizing layers ). The image information is then immediately available on the original recording medium (slide or negative). It is visible as a photograph ( unique ) in the form of developed silver halides or color couplers without any further aids . If necessary, a paper image can be generated from such photographs in a second chemical process in the photo laboratory, or this can now also be done by scanning and printing.

With digital storage, the analog signals from the camera sensor are digitized in a second stage and can therefore be interpreted and processed electronically. The digital image storage by means of an analog-digital converter after reading out from the chip of the digital camera works (simplified) with a digital interpretation of the analog image information generated only two-dimensionally and generates a file that can be copied as often as required (practically loss-free) in the form of differentially determined digital absolute values. These files are stored in memory cards in the camera immediately after the recording . Using suitable image processing software, these files can then be read out, further processed and output as a visible photograph on a monitor or printer.

Cultural aspects

A photograph is subjectively perceived as good , interesting or impressive , but never digital or analog . For the viewer, the recording technology now hardly plays a role, because the difference is no longer recognizable with small image formats. The image impression when looking at a photograph is largely determined by cultural and physiological factors and not by the storage technology used . In cultural studies , however, the two techniques are treated differently:

  • For the creator of the image, it is very important whether he is holding a unique original (the slide or negative) in his hands or a binary-coded description of what has to be restored as an image.
  • The manual production of a classic photograph is a cultural achievement; a craft that is directly linked to a number of traditional and proprietary processes, knowledge and skills in the studio , studio or photo laboratory , without which the picture cannot ultimately be realized. With this craft you create a new, unmistakable original every time.
  • The cognitively perceptible information of the image is immediately available to every viewer in photography. A photograph that is found regardless of the situational context immediately shows that it is a photograph. You hold the slide / negative against the candlelight and recognize: A photograph! This is what makes it possible for even structurally weak cultures to access the photographic image.
  • Image information stored digitally on a DVD (or an older storage form) requires at least one compatible digital decoding structure for basic interpretation , which, at least as far as reading the storage medium is concerned, must be available as hardware . This necessary structure is subject to a rapidly changing development, which individual cultural groups cannot easily follow in their breadth.
  • The speed at which photographic image information is available worldwide has increased significantly through the use of digital networks, but the latter is an imperative.


The use and importance as a general imaging instrument in everyday life is receding more and more in the industrialized countries. However, some amateurs and hobby photographers have never taken the step to digital cameras and continue to use analog photography as usual.

Among some professional photographers and “fine art” artists as well as with the use of large format cameras , photography with analog cameras up to the classic processing of images in the photo laboratory definitely enjoys an existence. Professional repro cameras with film material are sometimes still used today for the archival storage of image material over long periods of time.

Another important field of application for analog photography that continues to exist is professional instant photography. Immediately available paper images are important for the documentation of technical or legal matters, except in the arts and crafts. In principle, instant images (paper images) can be obtained from digital as well as from photochemical image recordings. Some photographers also use analogue instant photography to achieve both a unique original and an unusual and special image effect.

Analog photography renaissance

Helac Fine Art. New York

Analog photography is experiencing a renaissance as an art form just a few years after its supposed end . So-called fine art prints are appearing more and more in exhibitions for large-format photographs . It is mostly an elaborate hand- made enlargement .

Since the end of the 20th century, some photographers have been rediscovering the early fine printing processes and the technique of collodion photography . The process and the complex production are often perceived as a challenge. The results show e.g. Sometimes extraordinary tonal values ​​that cannot be achieved with modern techniques.

Since the 2010s, conventional 35mm photography, as well as medium format , large format and instant photography, have enjoyed increasing popularity as an artistic hobby; The imperfect style of particularly old photos is considered fashionable even in modern digital photography and is used as a stylistic device. This renaissance is supported by the ever easier access to old knowledge via digital media such as blogs and forums.

Hybrid photography

At the beginning of the 2010s, there was a trend to use existing analog cameras again professionally for recording on film material . The developed negatives are then no longer enlarged in the darkroom , but rather scanned in so that they can then be digitally processed. This hybrid photography technique is part of analog photography. It combines the advantages of both systems, digital and analog. The fast and convenient storage option and electronic processing as well as the possibility of having an unmistakable original in your hands and being able to use the high resolution and irregular structure of classic film material. For the latter, the classic photo laboratory can be used as an option. In the meantime there are also manufacturers of new cameras within this niche market.


  • Udo Berns: Photography and photo laboratory technology. Verlag Beruf + Schule, 1990, ISBN 3-88013-410-3 .
  • William J. Mitchell : The reconfigured eye: visual truth in the post-photographic era. MIT Press, 1994 (English, → term 'analog photography' is used for the first time).
  • Klaus Kindermann: Photography for the advanced Franzis Verlag, 2008, ISBN 978-3-7723-6777-9 .
  • Michael Fried : Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before . Yale University Press, Yale 2008. ISBN 978-0-300-13684-5 (English).
  • About the value of photography. Scientific criteria for the preservation of photo collections. Protocol, international and interdisciplinary conference Aarau (Switzerland), 23. – 24. March 2012.

See also

Web links

Commons : Development  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Berlin is worth a trip - the IFA is not ( Memento from May 21, 2013 in the Internet Archive ). Article in CP from September 6, 2001 - The term analogue photography appears for the first time in the German-speaking area .
  2. Patent US4131919 : Published December 26, 1978 .
  3. Steven J. Sasson: We Had No Idea ( Memento from March 16, 2012 in the Internet Archive ), article from October 16, 2007 about the first digital camera (English)
  4. Harvey W. Yurow: Whither Analog Photography? (English).
  5. Article from January 1987 in the Swedish magazine 'aktuell fotografi' (Swedish) .
  6. Alex Timmermans: Collodion Photography (English).
  7. Accessed December 22, 2019 (German).
  8. Forum of the photo community. Retrieved December 22, 2019 .
  9. Stephan Wehowsky: Hybrid photography . Online at from December 26, 2010.