Has technology really made the hobby (and your life) better?

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New Member
Ok, this is not a new or very profound topic. But as I was sitting here looking at old photos in the "nostalgia" section on trainorders, I got to thinking that the railfan hobby was just as fun, and maybe more fun, back before digital technology invaded our lives. Digital cameras are fine, but I recall having a great time shooting slides 20 years ago. And the anticipation of waiting for them to come back from the processor made me feel like a kid before Christmas. One thing for sure, I took way more care making each individual photo back then. With a digital camera today, I use the camera like a semi-automatic weapon, knowing that one of the random shots will hit home. Anyway, is it just me or was the hobby more fun back then? Honestly, as far as all this Bill Gates technology goes, I can take it or leave it. I know I was just as happy 20 years ago without technology -- and probably happier!


The Unwanted Line
I was just happier period 20 years ago technology or not. But 20 years ago I didn't have the foresite to photgraph everthing, i always assumed it would be there. Now i wish i would have. Thats why I like the technology today, cost almost nothing to take 1000's of pictures.


Photo Critiques Welcome
Yes. Digital cameras that let you shoot what you want, make test shots without Polaroids. 20 years from now I'll have stuff I wouldn't have shot without digital. ATCS Monitor that lets me anticipate the next movement and plan a shot. A cell phone to carry in the winter. Discussions groups. yes, better.


New Member
Yes, I probably wouldn't do much if any rail fanning if I didn't have a digital camera. The ease of use, cheapness after the intial cost of the camera, and the edibility of the pictures makes it a win for me. Not to mention the message boards and websites that allow me to learn about what is happening and other odd projects going on. No magazine would have the coverage about the Mo Valley upgrade as in depth as on this forum. The only thing I wish is I could go back in time and have the technology to take tons of useless pictures that would become interesting now.


Got RAW?
Yes my photography is better with digital technology, I have the power of the darkroom at my finger tips. I can print my shots any size with ease and predictable results. Ever try to to get a decent print of a slide?
How about instant results for night shots to make adjustments to rather than waiting for your slide to come back?
Info sharing on forums is invaluable for planning trips.
I have a great platform to share my trips.
I can put together multimedia slide shows on my computer and project them at events like GorgeRail. Lots easier than projectors sequencers and tape players.
Editing Video on a computer is a snap compare to using VCRs and edit controllers. Don't even get me started about audio editing.
How about how handy it is to whip out your smart phone and pull up google maps to assess the tracks layout and look for access roads or trails.
Yes my Railfanning life is much better.


5th Generation Texian
in addition to the aforementioned digital cameras, which I believe has truly made me a better photographer since I can learn faster, I would add some things not listed:

-GPS and computer mapping for planning my shoots. And onboard GPS on 844 et al to let me work as long as possible before I skip out….

-Maps on the phone with sun angle data to determine where the sun will be before I get there and find out that shot I’ve planned for a month won’t work….

-Internet audio stream to eavesdrop on RR communications.


I enjoy the ability to share the photos with the rest of the world. The photos I took back in the 1970's are fun to see again, but it takes alot of work to put on a slide show or to have the space to keep 1000's of slides and prints. I also think I am a better photographer. I have the ability to work with a shot a bit before I take the final version. I also have the freedom to shoot a shot of something that I may not have taken in the film days because I new something really important was coming I didn't have enough film. All in all I like the technology. I also take a lot of sound recordings of trains and the technology advances in that area are phenominal. Reel to reel to flash drives. If I had a time machine It would be super to back to the 1940's and record the steam trains from that era. TZ


New Member
I look back 15 years and wonder how on earth I got along without some of the stuff I have today. The GPS, good radio and optical scanners, digital photography, ATCS, pervasive wireless, massive hard drives and computers, and above all the internet. (Not to mention, of course, such technological wonders as multiport fuel injection that indirectly make railfanning so much better - carburetors are something that belong in a museum, not under my hood.) Honestly there's no way I'd want to revert to the technology of 1992 or even 1997.


Keep in mind that technology is really a tool and, as with any tool, the results (and the benefits) that you get with it depend entirely on how you use it. Even the best digital SLR camera won't make a world-class photographer out of somebody who doesn't (and who may never) understand the basics like composition and lighting. Likewise, there are a lot of photographers who can produce outstanding images without using a lot of fancy hardware; that doesn't mean they don't use it, or that they won't use modern technology to make their task easier (and most of them certainly do).

I don't use a lot of "high-tech" hardware myself, as I don't do much in the way of photography and I usually don't need anything other than the Mark I Eyeball for my railfanning purposes.:) Still, I wouldn't care to be without the digital camera that I always have on hand in case I do find something I'd like to shoot, or my PDA with mapping software (a bit dated, perhaps, but I don't care for so-called "smartphones" and it does what I need it to). Again, it's not the technology that matters, but how you use it.


New Member
What technology? Oh, the thing attached to my ear. I always have a digital camera on me. The hard part is making sure I spend time getting important things done which is why my smart phone doesn't have games. The parts of life that require hard work don't get easier with technology, unless its a tractor or robot vacuum cleaner. Technology has its place and so does old fashioned hard work.

sent from my thunderbolt


New Member
The anticipation of waiting for pictures to come back was often drastically offset for me by some of the awful results.

I recently tried my hand at sports photography using a digital camera with a big lens. During the course of a single soccer game I shot around 800 pictures. Some were badly out of focus, but amongst that many pics there were some real gems. So, digital wins for me every time.


The two things that are the best for me are digital cameras and the Internet.

Going to a train museum or excursion train with a digital camera and being able to instantly see your shot is a lifesaver! No more going home 2000 miles away to find when you get your pictures back that your shot was crap knowing you can't get back there anytime soon.

The Internet has a tremendous wealth of knowledge on railfanning that just wasn't available in years past. Know, new railfan spots to include everything you need to know about food, lodging, best photo locations, etc is at your fingertips 27/7. In days past, you had to find your own railfan spots and find out via word of mouth from others you meet for more. It is also awesome to be able to share photos with your friends and see others photos which give even more knowledge on places and types of traffic to expect.


New Member
Yes to all forms of technology. Only bummer is so much crap to pack for the trip!

I have been contemplating setting up a self-contained ATCS Monitor (scanner feed), but I really don't like being tied to my car. We usually end up hiking aways from the car, so I use ATCS Monitor on my cell phone. When in the field I have been using someone else's secondary computer monitor (monitoring the actual servers, allowing "screenshots" of their screen. Not sure how better to describe it), accessing via my Android phone. It's a simple "refresh" of a JPG screenshot to get an update. Works virtually anywhere you have cell service.

I tried setting up a remote desktop connection to my home computer, and viewing ATCS Mon live, but it slowed things down, and if I got a phone call it'd sever my connection.



Over 45 years of photography and it just keeps getting better.

Not just stills. Motor drive 35mm SLR was like burning money. I remember double 8mm film, three minutes, no sound, expensive, not so impressive. Breaks and splices and burned film, projector bulbs... dark rooms and screens.

Beta, VHS and I was impressed by Hi-8mm video tape.

Now I can take movies on a pocket camera in HD, with sound, and edit them on a computer, non-linear clips. And if I want I can show them to someone in Brazil or Orkney without moving from my office desk.

Stills? I used to back up to CD, then DVD, and last year I copied all of that to an external drive, which is much better. 2010 and 2011 filled a 500GB drive, by themselves. Will 2012 fill a 1T drive? :confused:

Yeah, I'm loving it.

Tacoma Tom

New Member
There is no doubt that digital has taken my railroad photography to a whole new level. I could never afford the expensive slide film so I was always at the mercy of Kodak and Fuji film which I felt never captured the colors they way I saw them. I would get the photos back and the sky always seemed to be gray. With Fuji the greens were way too green.

On vacations you really had no choice but to keep you used film in the hot car. I remember parking my car with over 20 used rolls in the trunk. I love to shoot in New Mexico and it was often 105 outside and 130 plus in the car with the windows rolled up. The high heat did not help the film.

Anyone ever chase trains to have that perfect shot only to hear the film rewinding? It's amazing how fast a 24 or 36 roll will get used up. How about trying to load film while the train is coming? I actually shot so many rolls of film that I still have about 50 I need to get developed and I went totally digital around 2005.

One of the hardest areas of railroad photography is night photography and digital has made it into childsplay. Photographing a speeding train at night (once thought nearly impossible except with banks of flashes) is now a reality with some trial and error. Night shots of standing trains can often be made with out the use of a tripod.

The great thing about digital is I know what the photo should have looked like that day. I knew what colors the sky was, what colors the trees were, what colors the trains were. If the colors are not right I can make the right. With film who knows how the colors would come out. To further complicate things you had a person in the photo lab tweaking the colors on the machine. I lost count of how many times a roll of photos would come out bleached out, or milky white. If it wasn't bleached out it was way too dark. Some times I would have to pay to get a roll of film re-developed three of four times before it would look right.
I can't see how anyone could possibly say that technology has made it worse. Let's be very honest here...who is forcing you to use digital?


Yes and no.
It has made it much easier for an amateur like me to take very good photos with point and shoot equipment. It has made it tougher for professionals, however.
Ten years ago, I had a 35mm Kodak I had picked up at a pawn shop. It worked well, but I would never be confused with Ansel Adams. I now had a Polaroid digital I bought new for $50, and can take and view my photos within seconds. Even my "bad" shots are better than my good ones on film.
With so many good amateur photos to choose from, a pro would have to have an awesome photo just to stand out from the herd.


New Member
ummm.... I don't remember not having a digital camera. I think my dad had a 35mm film camera, but I never saw him use it.

I was 12 when I first accessed the internet in 1995, so it is something I have grown up with. Besides my dad, I do not know a single railfan that I did not find on the net.

A new generation of railfans will get to experience a whole new wave of tech in the next 50 years.

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