Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Death of Film

The clock is ticking and the death of film is nearing. We live in a digital age now. Everything is processed and recorded with digital technology these days, music, television, movies and of course, photographs. Yet we still hear the word "film" all of the time.

I cringe when I hear people misusing the word ‘film’. You cannot film anything with a video camera. It’s physically impossible. Similarly, you cannot “run to the store” in your car, or phone a friend by dialing a brick. You cannot make a “short film” with a digital camera. Film is a dying medium, and a dying art form. We've been recording photographs and movies on film for over one hundred years - surely it deserves a little something. Can't we please give it a little of the respect it deserves? If you were on your deathbed wouldn’t you want a little respect? Maybe a parade is in order.

When Kodak, the world's largest film producer, announced last year that they were halting the production of 35mm cameras in North America and Europe to focus on digital imaging I was aghast. While they are maintaining their production of film, papers and processing materials, surely the announcement marked the beginning of the end for film. The exodus to digital has been going on for a few years now and seems to get worse every day. In 2003, for the first time ever, digital cameras outsold film cameras. That was the end of that. How much longer will film be produced at all? This is pure speculation and opinion, but I’d be really surprised to see film around in another 25 years. Why bother?

Processing chemicals are already getting hard to come by. Even in a large, cosmopolitan city, you really have to look for processing materials. Smaller camera shops are refraining from carrying chemicals anymore. You have to specify that you do not want paper for a digital printer. If you rent a darkroom, most of them use dry processing now. The old fashioned, romanticized idea of darkroom where you pour your chemicals into trays and watch the picture develop before your eyes is all but gone. Maybe I’m being a little nostalgic.

There are a few purists left out there, and no I would not count myself as one of them. I do own a digital camera and I love it. It’s so easy to use. It’s great to take on vacations because you don’t have to fuss with it too much, and it makes it that much easier to catch those spontaneous photos. It’s perfect if you have kids. You can set everything to automatic and just push a button. You don’t even have to worry about film selection or film speed or light balancing or anything – a decent digital camera will do all of that for you.
Digital cameras are still in that weird consumerist race right now where the newest, coolest camera with more mega pixels is released every week. If you buy a digital camera today, it will be worthless in a year. I frequently suffer from ‘camera envy’ these days when just two years ago I had a top of the line model. I’m sure that pawnshops treat older digital cameras the same way they treat film cameras: thanks, but no thanks. They have enough overpriced paperweights. The technology changes and improves so quickly it’s incredible. The newer CMOS chips capture images faster and more accurately than the older 3 CCD cameras. CCD (Charge Coupled Device) cameras had trouble recording detail in highlights and shadows. Anything too bright would be rendered white and anything too dark showed up black or muddy at best. I just can’t keep up with all of it.

When I want total image control it still has to be film, and I prefer to use medium format. The reproduction of lines, contrast and colors is still unmatched by my digital camera. The shadows and highlights look great, and I can blow up to poster size or larger without noticeable grain – or worse – pixelation. If I buy into all the hype though, for just under $10, 000 I could get a digital camera and lens that would do the same thing. That is, if I wanted to trade in my car for a camera.

For the time being I’ll stick to using both media: digital for capturing memories and film for art. When the death of film does come, and it won’t be long now, I’ll be sure to send flowers.

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