Archive for Thursday, January 8, 2009

Land camera grounded in digital age

January 8, 2009

You can tell the world is moving very, very fast when a modern technological marvel of just a few decades ago is now obsolete. I recently read that the Polaroid camera is no longer being manufactured and that film won’t be available much longer. In short, the Polaroid camera, which was once the emblem of photographic progress and has since become somewhat of a status symbol, is now on the scrap heap of history.

Actually, that was just one of the shocking stories that I read in late December. The other was an announcement that Nikon was no longer making film cameras. That, of course, means that my beloved Nikon N2020 is now obsolete. In fact, I wonder just how long it will be before film is no longer available.

The Polaroid camera was developed by Edwin H. Land after his freshman year at Harvard. He started his research in the late 1920s and patented his work in 1934. His research led to three-dimensional photographs that became popular.

The polarized sunglasses that he developed made money for his company. The biggest success and moneymaker, however, were the government contracts enabling the use of 3-D technology to train antiaircraft gunners and also to take 3-D aerial photos.

According to one story, the idea for the camera was inspired by Land’s three-year-old daughter who wanted to see Christmas photos taken earlier in the day. Land apparently went back to the laboratory and soon came up with the Polaroid camera, first demonstrated in 1947. The camera first sold in November 1948, just in time for Christmas buying. The original Polaroid was very heavy, weighing about five pounds, and sold for almost $90. An eight- shot package of film was nearly $2, which was extremely expensive for the time. That, however, didn’t stop the system from being a success.

The camera gained popularity during the 50s. If you recall, you took the photo and pulled the film strip from the camera. After waiting a minute or so, you pulled off the outer paper and you had a photo. Of course, you had to treat the photo using a sponge tipped applicator, which applied a liquid to set the film.

I remember that at the time the Polaroid came out, there were those who said the film developing industry would be ruined. However, newer and faster films came on the market, and it was obvious the quality of Polaroid pictures would never equal that of those developed from film.

The lack of quality didn’t halt the popularity of instant photographs. The fact that you could have a photo in a matter of minutes led to commercial uses. In years past, youngsters would settle in on Santa’s lap and have a photo snapped. By the time they were through telling Santa what they wanted for Christmas, a photo was ready. It was a quick and relatively inexpensive marketing tool for retailers.

Newspapers utilized Polaroid cameras, too. When we bought the Mulvane News, we discovered there was no dark room or camera. We were advised that was no problem, since you could use a Polaroid and have pictures without the drudgery of spending time in the dark room. The first piece of equipment we purchased was a Polaroid camera, and I soon learned about its limitations. Quite simply, photos were of one size and of marginal quality. The pictures were okay if the subjects were standing still. If they were moving, that was another matter.

It wasn’t long before we had a 35 -millimeter camera and made arrangements for processing. The increasing use of photos in the late 60s and early 70s doomed the Polaroid for use in weekly newspapers.

Any benefit the Polaroid had in terms of instant photographs has been usurped by the digital revolution. And that same revolution is dooming film cameras, too. Nikon cameras were regarded as the most durable and provided the best quality for media use. I have no way of knowing, but I doubt that many newspapers in Kansas are using film-based photography. The new digital cameras have made tremendous strides. When digital first came on the market, the rap was they weren’t fast enough for sports-action shots. Now, digital photos are of tremendous quality and are better and more economical to produce than any other method.

There was a time when you had to carry a heavy camera bag if you wanted to take pictures. Now, many just use their handy cell phones and come up with photos that would take a lot of work to replicate in the darkroom. There is no doubt that photography has changed from the early days of glass plates and slow film to today’s pictures, which are of excellent quality and can be viewed instantly. Yes, the world of photography has definitely changed and improved over the years.


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