A few months ago I borrowed two old analogue Olympus cameras from my father, an OM-1 and a slightly younger OM-2. My guess is that they haven’t been used since sometime in the 80s, yet surprisingly enough the old battery in the OM-1 has now allowed me to shoot a film with what seemed like a working light meter (developing the film next week will be the final test). Granted, it is not a complex camera — and love it for that — requiring a lot of power, but I had suspected that twenty years would drain any battery the size of a fingernail.
By the looks of it, the more complex OM-2 has been used a lot more than the OM-1, but at any rate the batteries in this camera were dead and I had feared that finding replacements would not be all that easy. Having not really had any luck with the local photo store when it comes to analogue cameras (they practically laugh at me) I gave the local watchmaker a try instead. He didn’t have the same SR44 type batteries as were in the camera and said that he had long ago switched to the equivalent LR44 type.
Fortunately I checked on the Internet before buying them as it turns out that the newer LR44 will work with the camera but may also give wrong light measurements meaning that it can’t be trusted to give correct exposures over time. The difference between the two types can be understood by the SR44 type retaining full power until it suddenly dies whereas the LR44 type gradually looses power and dies a slow death. In other words: the camera is tightly connected with the physical properties of the SR44 type batteries.
I love these things! Today so many things are based on abstracts that hide the nature of the physical objects that they are built from. On top up that we spent so much time in the virtual world that the physical objects sometimes seem just to be in the way (ever wished that ink and paper had an undo function?). However, this camera, working with the physical world, can be grasped!
I have the same feeling about film photography and darkroom development: instead of sitting with you head inside the virtual world of edition software such as Lightroom or Photoshop you actually have a physical medium where you understand how it works and can be held and processed in your hands.
Same feeling when I was driving the motorcycle last summer: in modern cars you feel detached from the road and a computer not only interprets what you mean when you step on the throttle but also what gear you should be driving in. On the motorcycle you decide everything and must work and feel with it to drive.
My final example is music. I changed my guitar strings the other day because I had worn them down, changing their physical properties so that they no longer vibrated the way they should. Contrast that to today’s electronic music which is made and played through a laptop. Sure they get worn down as well, but at such an abstract level that we can only describe it as “old”.
Abstractions are not all bad though as a memory reminded me of today. When I played games on our first computer back in the 90s, one game (I believe it was Warcraft II) was using the CPU speed of the computer as a clock, ie. one second was defined by a certain number of computations. This worked fine at that point, but when we got our next computer the game ran way too fast because the new and more powerful computer took less than one second to do this number of computations. The game was impossible to play since everything happened at several times the normal speed and I had to get an updated version where they had made an abstraction of time and no longer used the physical properties of the CPU direct.
Oh, and I did manage to find the right SR44 type batteries — at my local photo store.