Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Thoughts on Digital Photography from a Film Luddite

I recently exchanged an email with my good friend Decrepitoldfool (aka DOF) regarding the state of analog/film cameras in the past year. I forwarded some thoughts by Tom Abrahamsson on the year past, in which he celebrated the release of many new lenses for rangefinder cameras, and the release of new RF bodies from Cosina and none other than Zeiss, the new Zeiss Ikon using the Leica M mount.

DOF replied that he was working on a blog entry on film vs. digital from a broader perspective. This prompted me to put together some of my thoughts in reply. Partly I was simply expressing myself as thoughts flowed, and partly I was happy to give DOF food for thought.

So, here is what I wrote. I'm not trying to steal his thunder, and I don't want to spark a film vs. digital debate. If anything, I see the advantages of digital being thwarted by inferior industrial design. OK, it's not just inferior, it's just plain stupid and idiotic.

Look at what Perez said about film and current digital cameras; he envisions image capture in glasses, jewelry, anything wearable. Huh? Technically achievable, but apart from spies, what consumers really want it? Most consumers can't operate the arcane digital interfaces that Kodak and others are giving them. 80-90% of a camera's capability are wrapped in a shround of menu/symbol mystery. Just when the interface is understood, a totally new generation/paradigm comes along. And... How will you frame image in your engagement-ring-cam?

What drove photography both as a hobby and as a profession was the stability of the controls interface that dovetailed with advances in lenses (the camera itself advanced only insigificantly) and film technology. I could pick up my OM-1 and transfer the knowledge of its control to an older Asahiflex IIa (pre Pentax/Spotmatic) or to a newer OM-2 or OM-4. Or a Leica, etc.

Now if I own a Kodak digicam and switch to a Fuji, Canon, Olympus, etc., it is much harder to re-learn the interface. Not impossible, but relatively fewer will do so than with film, and the remainder will use their cameras less. Given that the consumer digicam industry is built on product churn and repurchasing relatively frequently (the upward trend in total sales can't continue forever), this is a stupid thing. When equipment sales plateau, consumable revenue becomes even more important. Can the manufacturers entice users to regularly consume paper and ink to print their own images? I'm not so sure the current state of printing technology is acceptable, both in terms of ease of production and cost. My lord, I'd much rather have casual snaps printed at the corner grocery store on good quality Fuji or Kodak materials.

Cameraphones are "the thing" right now, but I haven't quite figured out how the component manufacturers can make good money with them. The real revenue goes to to the wireless service providers. If Zeiss provides lenses for a Nokia cameraphone, does Zeiss get a percentage on every image transmitted? Does Kodak get a cut on each transmission by virtue of supplying the sensor in a Motorola phone?

Interesting times, but my Olympus 35 SPs have a spotmeter and my head can do matrix metering calculations. Betcha I can't get that in a cameraphone.

Another problem is that photofinishers have been moribund in providing good service and being innovative. I'd post some ideas here, but they might actually make sense and be valuable. Hmmm.

1 comment:

Janet L. Wissmann said...

I agree with much of what you wrote here. It's one of the reasons I don't want to invest in a digital slr system yet. The technogeeks have made it difficult to get thru the maze of all the bells and whistles when all I want is access to basic shutterspeed and aperture settings. I don't have time to mess around with it.
This takes me back to the old saying,
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.