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Texas Professional Photographer-Couple Sticking With Tradition

The cheery voice on the answering machine of Benbrook photographers J.B. and Susan Harlin tells callers: "We're busy at the moment. We're having fun the old-fashioned way."

In a world gone digital, that means the Harlins are pursuing their love of photography without memory cards or computers. They use large-format film and brass-and-wood cameras, complete with old-fashioned bellows, dark cloth and upside-down images in a viewfinder. And while many darkrooms are vacant or remodeled for other uses, the Harlins still spend hours in theirs.

The film and camera industry is changing to accommodate the spread of digital cameras, which use sensors instead of film to record images. A shrinking but resolute number of photographers still cling to film cameras, although generally not as old as those used by the Harlins.

Now many people talk of pixels instead of grain, and some of the most popular and innovative cameras will fit in a shirt pocket.

And in the world of film photography, some iconic camera models will become harder to find.

Nikon Corp. announced in January that it would stop making most of its film cameras to concentrate on digital ones, and Konica Minolta announced that it would stop making cameras, film and color paper by March 2007.

Although many professional photographers and ardent amateurs are migrating to digital, some have been reluctant, area photographers say.

"A lot of people that have spent years with film hated to go to digital," said Ken Spencer of Fort Worth, a former president of the 75-year-old Fort Worth Camera Club.

But he estimated that 90 percent of the club's 120 members have made the switch.

Spencer said he still uses film when he shoots large-format images, because "there's no digital that can give me that resolution -- although there may be soon."

The Harlins, who travel frequently, say they use digital cameras only to shoot "reminder" images, quick shots of spots they want to revisit so they can photograph them in a more leisurely and extensive manner.

"It can be slow and tedious to process all that, but it's what we do," said J.B. Harlin, author of several books on photography.

Besides spending long sessions in the darkroom, J.B. Harlin also builds some of his own old-fashioned cameras.

"A lot of my friends who print digitally scan film because they think the film resolution beats digital," he said. Scanning film allows photographers to import a digital image of the negative or transparency to their computer.

His wife, Susan Harlin, puts it simply: "Digital just doesn't sing to me -- especially for the size we do."

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