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Tuesday, 30 April 2013


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Sounds reasonable enough to me.

First digital camera was some awful Kodak affair in 1996.

There's also any number of `N% people find {6,8,10} megapixels adequate' moments along the way (each coupled with "it's not just the megapixels, it's the quality thereof", yaawwwwn).

1990 is a better jumping off point, for the release of Adobe Photoshop. Or consider that in 1992, Kodak PhotoCD gave millions a way to cheaply digitize slides. Long before desktop inkjets, dye-sub printers, Iris and Lightjet printers abounded. Lightjet output looked worlds better than early desktop printers.

2011 seems a bit late for the end of the transition. Especially given your comment about the future of imaging no longer being in doubt. I don't think there's been any doubt about the future of imaging for at least a decade, and the transition to digital seemed to be over for five nines of the population (but maybe only three nines of photographers) by 2005 or 2006. The transition to digital was lightning fast and Kodak's bankruptcy is just the thunderclap, years later.


I agree with you about this transition period. It echoes my own experience and those of many of my colleagues.

That was quick, all things considered.


...and amazingly, well over 90% of the imagery produced worldwide is out of focus shots of food and/or relatives/kids/pets.
Which proves beyond any doubt the gear used to produce them is completely irrelevant.
Yeah, sure: the average person sooooooo needs a 30Mpixel camera/smartphone...
I think I'll be using my Fuji f31fd 5Mpixel images for years to come for all web-destined imagery!

[Well, in fairness, Kodak estimated that 60% of all photography was pictures of kids back in the 1970s. And the reason for 30 MP smartphones is for extreme cropping in lieu of zooming, not (necessarily) to have huge files. --Mike]

+1. Very perceptive beginning and endpoint. I have lived through this exciting but bittersweet transition, and yes, it started without too many experts noticing the start and without too many experts understanding the cataclysmic end of an era.

Cataclysmic is a word more often associated with the beginning of a disruptive event, but in this case, I think the end of the era rather than the beginning is the more relevant fork in the road.


As one who was closely involved with the equipment side of the photo. market in the ’90s, I would disagree that "...output was what was holding back many photographers from taking their first tentative steps with digital." That aspect may have been a minor factor for a select few with access to the ’96-’99 Kodak/Nikon series digital cameras (that sold for $15K-$20K) in that period, but mainstream digital photography didn't achieve market significance until the advent of the Nikon D1, in the Summer of 1999. The first production batches of the D1 reached early buyers (like me) that fall, and it was those deliveries that marked the real start of the march from film to silicon.

It's been interesting to watch the development of the Internet as an outlet for all these new digital pictures in the same timeframe. We've progressed from services like AOL to dedicated photo websites like Flickr to the Instagram craze. All the while traditional printed outlets like newspapers and magazines look like they're doing their best Kodak impressions more and more everyday...

This is an important notion ... the transition from one technolgy to the next.

Perhaps a better measure of the "tipping point" is when the number of digital photographers exceeded the number of film photographers, and perhaps also throw in the tipping point of consumer-level colour digital imaging being equal or better than film.

This brings the end point to around 2007, IMHO.

2011 is also the year when the low end DSLR's (eg Nikon D3100, D5100 and their canon equivalents) became "good enough" for the serious amateur. I speak as somebody who shot 35 mm and medium format for many years.

May I propose that it was 2012, not 2011, when the "transitional phase" ended:

1) It was the year that, with 20+Mp cameras now being more readily available, the blogs were suddenly talking about "the last camera I'll ever buy".

2) Adobe's "Process 2012" engine was to provide easy images that no longer looked "digital".

3) Ctein recognised that inkjet printing beat the use of a darkroom.


Hewlett-Packard actually marketed a useable consumer inkjet printer about the same time Epson released their Stylus photo printer, circa 1995. HP deserves some kudos, because their Photosmart printer actually used pigment rather than dye for some of the ink colors, and the resulting prints aged far better than those from the contemporary Epson, which by comparison seemed to fade while you looked at them. I have a few prints I made back then that still look pretty good. Prints I made on an Epson Stylus 1200 a year or two later have faded horribly.
Furthermore, HP actually released a compact photo scanner at the same time, one able to scan small prints, slides, and negatives. Okay, it was clunky to use, but it kinda sorta worked.
I'm not quite sure why Epson gets all the credit for its first generation of inkjet printers while HP gets no respect for its more comprehensive effort. Partly I think it's because Epson marketed to photographers via photo magazines, while HP advertised mostly in computer magazines. In addition, HP's printer was huge, with the footprint of a large pizza box, yet didn't make prints any bigger than 8 x 10" like the much smaller Epson Stylus.

I would place the inflection point for the digital photography revolution at the release of Canon's Eos-1Ds and Kodak's DCS 14n, because their output arguably matched or exceeded the image quality of the best 35 mm film, removing the last barrier to widespread adoption of digital capture/processing. This milestone also sidestepped all the problems and gotcha's associated with scanning film.

The end of an era is always unclear but one looked for convenient point. One example is the Baroque music which end is defined by an easy milestone as J S Bach's death at 1750. This is like we point to Kodak "death" as end point. The truth is most people do not use film quite a few years before. Just like quite a few year before J S Bach death, his type of music is not popular. To the extent many of his score is sold as warping paper! Like classical to Baroque, film to digital is similar but different medium of expression following different rules and result in different expression. We have no choice but let the world evolve. Well, someone still like Bach to this day (and in fact it was strangely asserted that out of all classical music LP, only one about Goldberg Variations are common in those who do not listent to "classical music".) But most stick to the current medium. BTW, if you do not tell me, I do not sense the death of Kodak. I saw their logo same freq as the Fuji as street level printlab (they print mostly from SD card) and do not see much closing lately.

The ability to print on physical paper seems an odd milesstone to mark the beginning of the transition, After all, it's a digital medium. Better, I think, to use whatever date marks the first practical ability to share images digitally, i.e. via the Internet. There were such sites in the mid 1990s, but maybe Flickr is a good place to start (2004)?


[The ability to print on physical paper seems an odd milestone to mark the beginning of the transition only if you're already thinking like a digital photographer. --Mike]


I am not sure home printing is really the driver you make it out to be because mass market sales of digital cameras didn't take off until around 2000. Six years is an age these days. Home printing was only a factor for a few of us that started scanning negatives, and that was as much to do with home scanning devices (I still printed the JPEGs at my local camera store for years).

Indeed, you could just as easily make a case for home scanners, Photoshop, high powered PCs, flash memory, high resolution colour LCDs, the Internet or Social Media sites. But I would argue these were all developed or enabled as a by-product of a larger digital trend that started with the digitisation of the press in the mid-1980s.

This created a new infrastructure for scanning and digitising film images, editing them on computers, and incorporating them into pages for printing. From that point onwards, the potential to capture a digital still image represented an opportunity to cut another expensive step out of the process (video was already digital and TV was destroying newspaper sales).

The fact that a demand (and therefore potential profit) existed spurred manufacturers to develop and produce digital cameras. It was also Fuji and Kodak who did all the early running. They saw the writing was on the wall for film sales to the press and PJs. Indeed, arguably the first viable camera was a press camera, the 1.2MP DCS in 1991 based on the Nikon F3.

The extremely high cost was offset by the cost savings and the low res didn't matter for news print. Expensive digital backs for MF started emerging in the mid '90s for magazine work, but again the cost was only viable because of savings on the production side.

But early consumer cameras were largely a flop. The Kodak DC40, Apple QuickTake 100, Casio QV 11 and Sony CyberShot, all produced from about 1994 to 1996, were horribly clunky, only the Casio had an LCD, and resolution and memory were horribly limited (remember the ones with CD burners?). They sold in thimble fulls. I don't think home printers encouraged anyone to buy them.

But wide scale adoption took off from about 2000. I believe there were three reasons.

The first two were cost and quality. Y2K saw the first fully formed (LCD, solid state drives etc) 3MP consumer AND DLSR cameras hit the market at an "affordable" price of around $1,000. Quality was good enough for A4 prints or a magazine page, and the cost was within reach of many enthusiasts and freelance PJs, especially if you factored in film costs.

Cameras like the D30 and Coolpix 990 really kick-started the market.

The third reason is Japan Inc. The basic research was done (thanks Kodak) and now it was all about development, mass production and sales. The "big brands" (Nikon and Canon) formed close working relationships with electronics companies, received sympathetic financial backing from Japanese banks, and had many cheap Asian manufacturing locations. In addition, their huge worldwide distribution, marketing and sales arms meant high volumes and profitability for all concerned.

The market continued to be a top-down, SLR dominated business for some time. Nikon and Canon used higher margins from their top end cameras to develop trickle down technology for consumer products, and off-shoring and outsourcing to reduce the cost of P&S cameras. Their huge sales volumes meant they could also demand lowest prices from suppliers.

In the meantime, no-one outside Japan could build DSLRs. Not only could they not license the mechanical technology, but they didn't have the same access to components and finance (Kodak had to use Nikon bodies still).

However, as the market became more consumer driven and social media took off, the mass market became so important financially that a lot of technology is now bottom up. Even Canon and Nikon are suffering (badly).

However, it was the Coolpix 990 that made me jump. I remember juggling the decision to buy a new Nikon F90 or a Coolpix 990 in 2001. I went digital and never went back. I suspect a lot of others jumped between 2000 and 2005 when the real innovation was happening.

So technically, I would argue that digital news production was the driver (1985), Kodak was the enabler (1991), and Japan Inc. was the delivery vehicle (1999 ->). And now, one may argue that social media and smartphones are the nail in the coffin.

That said, when an image is described as "film-like", it is still a compliment. When an image is described as "digital-like", it's still an insult. I'll take my Spotmatic any day, even in 2013.

I can certainly agree that it was digital printing that came as a revelation to me. In the late 80's and early 90's - a time when I was taking fewer and fewer photographs. The first Epson Stylus printers got me started again, because I'd always felt that prints were the thing. Of course for the next ten years I was still capturing images using film and scanning them (still do). Only really started with digital capture around 2003-4

Well, I'm not sure photographers can be credited with pushing the digital image wave. In my mind it was the millions of kids who discovered the fun of sending images from one cell phone to another. Not sure when that started but I distinctly remember the recognition of an immutable step away from the past(film.)

I think to really get a handle on this you have to consider all aspects of the photographic workflow, as it were.

1. Capture: moving from film cameras to digital cameras

2. Processing/Manipulation: moving from darkroom to computer

3. Final delivery: moving from mostly prints to mostly not prints.

I think each of these aspects evolved in overlapping windows of time that were also loosely synchronized.

Manipulation of images in computers probably moved the soonest. But also has the longest tail of people who still have some reason to work in the old way. Certainly for many purposes (and motion pictures) there was a distinct period of time in the late 90s to early 2000s where film capture + photoshop was probably more popular than a complete digital workflow. And, computers around then were fast enough to deal with scanner output, but not yet beefy enough to deal with 300 12mp images from your D700.

I think the shift in capture came next. Here the introduction of the D1, D1x (Nikon) and D30 (Canon) cameras probably marked the beginning of the period when it was clear that direct image capture was going to be better than film+scan pretty soon, in most ways.

I thin the shift in delivery from prints to not prints is probably the last window, and at least among "serious" practitioners perhaps the longest time period. But, for the main use of photographs (kids, travel, food) the evolution of the flickr + facebook + twitter + whatever services on the Internet finally started to drive almost all image delivery to screens rather than prints probably in the early to mid-to-late 2000s.

I made my own web site for pictures in 2002. Mostly for kid pictures. But that delivery mode was the main reason I picked up a D100 and went almost all digital soon after even after spending a lot of time printing in darkrooms in the late 90s.

You can also observe that the period between around 2000 and around 2005-6 was when most film lab service really disappeared. In 1999 there were 3 or 4 long standing pro labs in Pittsburgh. By late 2006 there were zero. I even wrote a nostalgia piece about it


Anyway, if I had to pick one window of time where all of these forces were working together and peaking, I'd personally say 2000-2010. The stuff wasn't good enough or widespread enough before 2000. And film was almost completely gone by 2010 (actually earlier).

Enthusiasts (if you are reading this you are either an enthusiast or a bot) often fail to recognize how much the average snapshot consumer hated film: buying it, loading it, running out of it, unloading it, waiting for developing, paying for developing, end result a lot of lousy prints and a few good ones. I thought the end of consumer film would take far longer than it did because of the cost of digital cameras and the need for some kind of computer or other infrastructure. I've seldom been so wrong; as soon as Mr. and Mrs. Snapshot saw cameras that didn't need film, they were hooked.

I'm sorry to say Mike, but your love and bias for all things print-related is showing. You're going to have to work harder to explain why a home printer was chosen as the impetus for the digital transition and not a more obvious choice like the creation of (the now industry standard) Photoshop in 1990, the standardization of the JPEG in 1992 or the rise of cheaper internet access in the late '90s. But then again, it may just be my confusion on the photo audience who most benefited from the printer: the professional photographer and editor, the artist, or the general consumer.

People are remembering this differently from me. In particular, I saw people all around me with digital P&S cameras before the Nikon D1 (not the first DSLR, but MUCH cheaper than the Kodak series and marking an important tipping point there). (The d1 was introduced 15-Jun-1999).

I got my first digital, an Epson P&S, in the spring of 2000. They were quite common before that.

I started using digital output with HP printers around 1993. I also ran a photo web page showing images from an SF convention as it was happening in 1995. Photo CD was crucial to lots of early uses.

Dear Robert F.,

By 1990, the world of film photography was 99% color prints. That's not a bias, that's established fact.

B&W and slide films were such small niche players that it's only the fact that some very important photographers used them that kept them from being irrelevant.

Photoshop was not a significant influence in 1990, nor was JPEG in 1992.

pax / Ctein

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