Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I bought a truck load of old photography magazines a few weeks ago. Being a bit of a history buff and especially the history of technology, I have been enjoying reading the articles from the time that digital photography was being introduced through the transition from film to digital.

The month I put all of my 35mm Canon equipment on eBay, because digital had finally passed film in quality, the cover story in Popular Photography was “89 Color Films Compared.” Amazing. The tipping point was a pro-quality 5-meg camera with a lens developed especially for digital, priced under $2000. That was in 2001.

One of the basic truths of technology is that the first generation of a new technology is never as good as the well-developed old technology. The only exception I can think of is LPs to CDs. The first CDs were as good as the best LPs of the previous generation. Not better, but just as good.

The first automobile fuel injection systems were so bad that GM (after doing the initial development work) gave them to Bosch in Germany because GM thought that fuel injection would never replace carburetors. AT&T invented cell phones and then gave away the technology because they didn’t see any commercial potential. Kodak invented digital photography, but didn’t pursue it because they were in the film business. Kodak had previously passed on the system that would become Xerox because it didn’t fit their idea of photography, so they hadn’t learned their lesson.

It took a relatively long time for digital photography to take hold because the first digital cameras were so bad that many “experts” didn’t take them seriously.

It is my opinion that just as CDs and digital recording didn’t improve the overall quality of music; digital photography hasn’t improved the overall quality of photographs. But it has certainly increased the accessibility to the average snapshooter. Camera-phones are now replacing point and shoot cameras, just as PS cameras replaced box cameras.

However professional and other serious photographers who have taken the time to learn the nuances of digital and the subtle skills of software like Photoshop, have benefited greatly. We can now do things with digital cameras and Photoshop in minutes that it took hours or even days to do with film and chemicals. I know, I owned a successful custom photo lab for 23 years. Many of those darkroom skills I have transferred to the computer and digital imaging.