Reports on the death of film are [you know the rest]

Giddy Slashdotters are proclaiming the death of film since Kodak has announced it’s not going to sell film cameras anymore, at least not in the United States and Europe.
It proves to me that whoever wrote that story summary knows little or nothing about serious photography.

For many years, Kodak was a big name in serious photography. But come the 1960s, you started seeing serious cameras from a lot of other manufacturers. For the duration of my lifetime, Kodak cameras were pretty much relegated to the casual point-and-shoot arena.

But meanwhile, Kodak remained one of the largest producers of film. It remains so today. Go into any store and look for film, and the two brands you’re most likely to find are Kodak and Fuji.

Serious photographers have only recently begun to prefer digital. Some serious photographers still prefer the look of film. Pictures shot on film have a different look from digital shots, and they probably always will. Neither type of camera’s view on reality is necessarily more correct, but they’re certainly different, sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly.

Casual photographers like digital point-and-shoots because they can take hundreds of pictures and only print out (and thus only pay for) the good ones. And there’s the perception among certain laypeople that digital is always better. CDs sound better than cassettes, so digital pictures will look better than film, right? That’s what the girl I was dating a year ago thought, and I never convinced her otherwise.

The money is in disposable cameras, film, and digitals. There’s just not much money to be made in the traditional point-and-shoots–too many companies are making them, and the margins are too thin. So Kodak is concentrating on the areas where it can make money. And Kodak can make a lot of money selling $150 digital cameras to people year over year (people will want to upgrade so they can make bigger prints, after all), or disposable cameras to people who forget to pack a camera, or film to people buying razor-thin-margin cameras made by someone else.

Once you can buy a $40 digital camera with resolution comparable to film, you’ll be able to declare film dead. But you can’t do that yet, and you won’t be able to for a few more years.

But I’m sure you already knew all of this, so I’m not sure why I’m writing this. But I feel better now.

7 thoughts on “Reports on the death of film are [you know the rest]

  • January 13, 2004 at 10:17 pm
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    Dave,
    The local paper said that Kodak is going to push 35mm film in second world countries. (See http://www.democratandchronicle.com/biznews/01133H2UBNB_business.shtml for the full story.)
    Being a Rochester, NY citizen for all of my life and having a Father-in-Law who was head of the Organic Chemistry R&D Area of Kodak, I feel every lurch of this big company.

    John

  • January 14, 2004 at 6:40 am
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    I think digital will one day overtake film in quality. It will just take longer than with audio. Reason being there is simply more information, esp. in regards to motion pictures, than with audio. I think even analog audio can be very good, esp. with pro decks, high tape speeds, etc. And a well-thought out vinyl setup can sound pretty decent but is quite costly. A factor with audio was always the noise inherent in analog recording, it’s just generally higher than with digital. And certainly a quality vinyl seems to me better than consumer grade cassettes. But given cd’s 96 or so db of dynamic range, a record would have to be accurately tracked in the micron range to compete. I doubt that’s possible with any home setup (or professional?). I think the issue with audio now is to find codecs that are halfway decent, so one can carry around 1000 sounds in the pocket, yet not sacrifice any quality to a home cd setup.

    So is film and vinyl closer to the real experience, or is it simply adding artifacts which one perceives as depth or substance?

  • January 14, 2004 at 10:08 am
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    One point worth mentioning is that there isn’t a digital camera on the market that has the exposure latitude of a good black and white film. Kodak Tri-X gives one 9 stops of exposure latitude. Digital cameras really only give one 4 and a 1/2 stops of exposure latitude, with the majority of the information being captured at the upper end of the exposure. What can be done in one shot on B&W film will require at least two separate exposures on a digital camera to be later merged in Photoshop to give the same dynamic range.

  • January 14, 2004 at 1:37 pm
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    For some things, one may always be better than another, even if/when we get to the point of gigapixel digitals, for the same reason airplanes never overtook automobiles, in spite of their much faster travel times over long distances. For short distances, my Honda Civic will always be faster.

    Yes, part of the warmth of film or vinyl (or for that matter, vacuum tubes versus transistors) is the added artifacts. Sometimes that’s pleasing. The original print of the photograph up on the far right of my page (the one where I’m holding the glass) is extremely grainy. Gatermann did that deliberately. It made it a really moody shot. Digital can’t do that unless you put it in after you take it into the computer.

  • January 14, 2004 at 4:33 pm
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    I was reading about the Spirit rover today, and came across this link. Turns out that those pictures from Mars were taken with a 1 megapixel camera – but they rival 5 megapixel images from consumer digital cameras. Consumer CCD elements are too small (which keeps them inexpensive), so they capture less light, and thus produce lower quality pictures.

    And, Dave, I think the graininess on your site photo due to the fact that Gatermann uses a Canon camera. [/somewhat inside joke]

  • January 14, 2004 at 8:36 pm
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    I love those canon lens’, built with coke bottle optics…

  • January 15, 2004 at 5:42 pm
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    Since it’s about photography, and digital, and economy, check out the Dakota Digital camera being test marketed by Wolf/Ritz Camera. Lots of discussion at http://www.linux-hacker.net and other places

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