Archive for Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Film a thing of the past

October 19, 2011

It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but the photographic film industry is about to join buggy whips and typewriters as obsolete. In less than a decade, film-based photography has become outdated, and it won’t be long until you have to be a senior citizen to remember its use.

I can’t guess how many photos I took in my years in the newspaper business. It seemed that I always had a camera hanging from a strap around my neck and an extra roll of film in my pocket. There was always a camera in my car and, in short, photography was a daily task. Of course, after you took the picture, you returned to the office and went to the dungeon, better known as the dark room, and spent an hour or so converting the gray images on the film to a photograph. Maybe I should add if you were lucky you had a photograph. Many things could go wrong, and one mistake meant you lost your picture. Photography was a real skill, and the more that you practiced it, the better job you were able to do.

To get a photograph you had to have the right settings on the camera. If any light hit the film as you were unloading the camera your image was ruined. It was a very precise process to say the least.

In one short decade all that has changed. When I left the newspaper business in 2000, film was still the basis of photography. Now everything is digital, and many reporters do not even use a camera – they take pictures with their cell phone. I have a very high quality Nikon film camera, lens and flash in a bag collecting dust in my closet. I don’t remember the last time I took a picture, but it was at least seven or eight years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, digital photography is much better than film photography and I wish that it had been as highly developed as it is now when I was in the newspaper business. I really would have liked to have known I had a good picture instantly as they do now. Digital photography has made anyone with a cell phone as skilled as a person with dozens of years of experience. It truly is a modern marvel.

It won’t be long before the red and gold Kodak film sign is a memory.

No matter where I’ve been in the world — from Australia to Europe — the familiar Kodak sign was always there. Now, tourists don’t need to burden themselves with film. With the digital camera you always have plenty of opportunities to take pictures. I know that there are lots of stories about folks running out of film just at the wrong time. When a tornado hit Ottawa in the late ‘50s, a photographer was shooting what would have been award-winning photos. But alas, in the excitement, he forgot to put film in the camera.

I started taking pictures on an old Speed Graphic camera, which was large, cumbersome and heavy. It allowed you to take a couple of photos before changing film, however you had to have a pocketful of golf ball size flash bulbs. The development of .35 mm film allowed smaller cameras. In addition, faster film such as Tri-X made sports action photography easier. There is no doubt that color film converted many to the hobby of photography.

I have no idea how many photos I took during my career, but I am sure that it would be in the thousands. I don’t know how the figure was derived, but I read that it is estimated that more than 12 trillion photos are in existence around the world. That number will certainly increase with the ease and availability of digital photos.

I really don’t know what to do with my faithful, old Nikon. It will soon be eligible for a museum.

I think the best thing for me to do is get with the 21st century and learn a new skill — cell phone photography.

Comments

pdexposures 2 years, 6 months ago

This article is depressing as well as blatantly wrong.

Film isn't the standard anymore, that much is clear. However it is far from being dead. What we are seeing in the industry is a shift in who is using it and for what purpose. Because it is going from the only way to capture an image other than sitting down and sketching it out to a personal choice there are large scale reductions that need to happen. Unfortunatly, companies such as Kodak and Fuji aren't able to create small batches of film and keep it profitable. What will happen within the next few years is smaller boutique companies popping up that will be able to produce film at the quantities it is needed in. These companies are already showing up today. Lomography and The Impossible Project for example. The entire lomographic society has been created around film as an artistic medium. I doubt they would be willing to let it go away that easily. The Impossible Project also proved to the world that instant integral film was still wanted by many people. And if anything, Polaroid should have been the first to go because of digital. Digital offered that instant satisfaction without the need for expensive self processing film. Yet here they are pushing hard and bringing a unique esoteric film to the masses, and being profitable to boot!

I'm unsure of what development processes you used that were so difficult that worried you about your images showing up. But since starting with traditional black and white film photography in high school around 8 years ago. I can count the rolls that I have botched on one hand. This includes countless 35mm rolls (not .35mm, as someone who has been shooting this long I would expect them to know the difference) 120, and even 5x7 sheet film.

Cell phone's have certainly brought the ease of photography to everyone. Before you were required to carry around a camera and as you said "and extra roll of film in my pocket". But now because of the size and quality that these cameras are able to produce it is much easier to have your phone on you than even a small digital camera. However all the photographers I know, including a few who work in the newspaper industry would never consider a cell phone capable of replacing a real camera. The dynamic range, sharpness of glass, and high ISO sensitivity are abysmal. My camera is a part of me, I never go anywhere without it and forgetting to bring it with me is like me forgetting to bring my foot. It has never been cumbersome or inconvenient.

I feel sad that you have this outlook on the photographic community, as in the end it really only hurts yourself and the images you take. And if you truly don't have any idea what will happen to your old Nikon feel free to send it my way. I'll pay for shipping and make sure that it sees the use it deserves. My email address is pdexposures@gmail.com if you want my address, until then, happy (cell phone) shooting.

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johnmilleker 2 years, 6 months ago

Good reply PDEX, there's nothing I can add to your rebuttal. I too have no problem when shooting film. With experience comes repeatability and knowing how to give your frame of film the perfect amount of light. I have respect for film photojournalists but it's a trial by fire - you adapt, learn and make the shot or you get replaced.. Quickly.

I must however add a comment to the statement "Digital photography has made anyone with a cell phone as skilled as a person with dozens of years of experience."

How is this even possible? To my understanding there are no cell phones on the market today that tell a user what is a good scene and what is not, at which angle to shoot the scene, when to go zoom or wide and cropping options. Composition? Choice of aperture/shutter speed? Heck, even the overused 'instagram' doesn't recommend a filter for images that I'm aware.

I find it discouraging that someone with as much experience as yourself Mr. Smith would even undermine proper photography education. I have accepted that cell phone cameras are going to make my dSLR as obsolete as film in only a few short years (yes, I shoot both) but until they make a device you set in a field and have it take perfectly shot, composed and thought out images - experience and education, especially dozens of years worth doesn't come from buying a cell phone.

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SteveManiscalco 2 years, 6 months ago

Let me see if I can summarize this....

You're an idiot.

Yep, that about covers it.

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FotoLeven 2 years, 6 months ago

What is the point of your article? There are still many thousands of people in this world who love film photography and do not think of it simply as a "daily task", as you put it. There are several websites and forums dedicated to just film. For instance , take a look at a website called the Analog Photography Users Group (www.apug.org) where there are over 50,000 members from all over the world. Check it out and look at the work these photographers are doing. It's their passion. If they saw your article (and they will) they would wonder why this article was written.

Also, you're doing a disservice to people who have not yet discovered film. Many young people look at film as an alternative art form (which also means it's a cool thing to do). :)

Digital cameras in their various forms are great tools and fun toys. But so are film cameras. Don't disrespect one for the other. An article that helps both sides would be more constructive. Instead it seems as if you're trying to bury film....for no good reason.

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ShawnHoke 2 years, 6 months ago

Well, things are sure different in Kansas, I guess. And I can see how someone who is older and maybe less in tune with the internet and photography in general might think this. Heck, you don't see film for sale in most places anymore and every week there is a new article out about film's death.

But that's just not the case, Clausie. Far from it. I do think cell phones and digital cameras will continue to be the norm in media and the majority of the people like how simple and failproof digital is.

There are a lot of us that still shoot film almost exclusively. Many artists and photographers wouldn't think of using digital for real work. I live in New York and there is a huge community of film shooters here. We have dozens of labs that cater sell and develop film. Everytime I go to drop off film, there's at least one or two other s there dropping off or picking up rolls of film. The schools here still teach film.

As mentioed above APUG has over 50,000 members. There are hundreds of groups on Flickr devoted to shooting film and even specific cameras. The "I Shoot Film" group has over 65,000 regular members.

I've shot over 220 rolls of film this year and have dozens of rolls in my refridgerator. I just picked up 8 rolls of 120 film on Monday and developed two rolls this morning in my kitchen sink.

And even more promising, there is a whole generation of kids raised with digital cameras and cell phones who are discovering that there is just something special about film. I get a couple questions each week from teens and young people who are curious how to shoot film and where to get started. I developed an online guide to show people how to deelop their own film, because I had so many requests.

It's clear you're not an idiot and that you've shot a lot of film in your life, you're probably just like the rest of us- misinformed by the media. If you ever want to talk to someone who only shoots film and spends a good part of his time teaching and encouraging others how to shoot film, drop me an email at shawnhoke@gmail.com. My website is http://www.shawnhoke.com/

And get that battered old Nikon out of your bag! She probably still works. I'll even send you a few rolls of Tri-X. Shawn

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nhoriginal 2 years, 6 months ago

I'll add my voice here to those who find film a valuable and enjoyable photographic tool... even in this digital age!

I grew up with film in the 80s, and abandoned it for nearly a decade as I've shot a succession of digital cameras. In the past few years, however, I've added film back into my toolbox, shooting at least 50% of my photos on it. I've been getting more Konica gear to add on to my original 35mm bag, and - more recently - I've just purchased a Bronica SQ medium format camera after playing around with a Holga for a couple of years. I love experimenting with the unique looks different types of film emulsions have to offer.

The author clearly hasn't taken a look at the countless, active groups on Flickr dedicated to film shooters of all kinds. Interestingly, many of the users of film today aren't the jaded old-timers of 30 or 40 years ago, but teenagers who are rediscovering the attraction. As a previous poster mentioned, one need only to take a look at www.apug.com to find an active community of film enthusiasts posting hundreds of threads each day. If that still doesn't sway anyone's opinion, check out the prices on classic film cameras on eBay, where demand is translated into dollars.

No, film is not dead. It may not be the mainstream choice for average snapshooters today, and that's OK. But it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

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FotoLeven 2 years, 6 months ago

....the Analog Photography Users Group is actually www.apug.org.
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JohnMeadows 2 years, 6 months ago

Oh my, where to start ....

.35 mm film? Do you mean 35mm, or 135 format? In an article like this you'd better get your terminology right.

In the camera store I frequent in my home town, film sales are going up, not down, and more and more young people discover the attraction of using digital film; your comment about senior citizens is just a lame ad hominem attack, and certainly not very original.

You also focus (no pun intended) on the Speed Graphic in a poor attempt to make all film photography seem difficult. How about comparing something like a Nikon F4 or F5 35mm (with fast film loading, autofocus lenses etc) to digital. Just as convenient, but it uses film. So much for your argument.

Regarding the Speed Graphic, press cameras, 4x5 view cameras, even medium format cameras have the advantage of large negatives. I can scan the negatives from my Pentax 6x7 and get resolution that in the digital world take a digital back costing 5 or 6 figures to even get close to.

And yes, some of the bigger formats aren't as convenient, and force the photographer to take a slower, more methodical and thoughtful approach to photography. Is that such a bad thing.

If the only kind of photography one cares about are badly composed "selfies" or party snapshots then yes, digital is the perfect format: no skill, thought, intelligence or compositional sense required.

Anyway, I think you should run along ... your toy camera is calling you.

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