Mar 14, 2006

Fade to Black-The twilight of film photography

Source: Opinion Journal
Written by Douglas Gantenbein

Weston Naef sounds almost misty-eyed when discussing Kodak Tri-X, a black-and-white 35mm film first made in the 1950s and a staple of photojournalism for decades. “It was a wonderful 400-speed film,” says Mr. Naef, curator of photography for the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, referring to Tri-X’s ability to capture an image in low light, known as its “speed.” “And then it could be ‘pushed’ [chemically altered during development] to 1200, or even 2400″–meaning it could be used in even lower light.

Tri-X–along with Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Fujicolor and all those other mellifluously named films–and the Nikon, Minolta and Canon cameras long used by amateur and professional photographers alike are becoming anachronisms. According to the Photo Marketing Association, digital cameras are likely to account for 90% of all cameras sold in 2006. In January Nikon, one of the most revered names in photography, announced it was largely abandoning the film camera business. Days later Minolta (now known as Konica Minolta) followed suit. Kodak now earns more from digital photography than film, although so far it hasn’t profited from that trend.

Film was magic–the process of pushing a button to open the shutter, forming an invisible image on a strip of coated plastic, then making that image visible by bathing it with chemicals and projecting it onto a sheet of paper that in turn was soaked in more chemicals and sometimes rubbed and massaged to manipulate the image.

Now, I still press a button on the Canon PowerShot I often carry. But it’s a digital image that appears instantly on the camera’s LCD screen, and in a few seconds I can transfer it to my Dell computer, to crop and change it in seconds with Photoshop, then email it anywhere.

The sentimentalist in me wants this to end, everyone to go back to film, and to hell with Photoshop. The practical person in me asks, where would I set up a darkroom these days? And when would I use it? Besides, notes Mark Federman, who teaches at the University of Toronto’s McLuhan Program, there’s no point in labeling a change such as film-to-digital as “bad” or “good.” It’s just a change.

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5 Responses to “Fade to Black-The twilight of film photography”

  1. Ned Ludd Says:

    I feel sentimental, too.

    I long for the day when if you wanted a picture, you carried out your easel and painted it. None of that instant accuracy of this new-fangled photography. You had to have draftsmanship skills. Your hand interacted with each color, every shadow. We rubbed and massaged the image to create reflections.

    Hell, we made our own paint. None of this store-bought-premade sissy stuff. Too high-tech and soulless, I say.

    And I’m not giving you my recipe for my special purple, so don’t ask.

  2. Andrew Rodney Says:

    You kids, I remember doing on the cave walls! Now that was work.

  3. Amber G Says:


    If someone design something he shouldn’t have to give his recipe.

  4. Gilbert James Says:

    Silver is Better!

    Click, click, click, is not!

  5. tramadol Says:

    Hell, we made our own paint. None of this store-bought-premade sissy stuff. Too high-tech and soulless, I say.

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