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Wednesday, 14 June 2017


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I missed out on an opportunity a few years ago to sell my handful of 128MB Memory Sticks on eBay for $50+ each to people using old F717s and other similar cameras that were incompatible with higher capacity cards. Not long after I saw those prices, the market responded and you can buy lower capacity memory sticks again. We'll always be able to take pictures, most of us in ways we want to take them, more or less.

If the historical transitions of the ways photography has been and is done are an indication, it should be fair to say that we humans are an adaptable species. But then there is Eugene Atget who insisted on using old "tech" and proceeded to create some of the best photography ever.


Don't forget the software side. Kodak Photo CD format is not well-supported any more, though there is by now some free software that can extract versions of the images (last I looked, only in JPEG). How long will Camera Raw support Fuji F11 RAW format? Etc.

Oh, scanners have gone through this; Nikon no longer supports or repairs any of their scanners, they just told me. But I'm not done scanning.

One driver of change I didn't see addressed in this or the 'scary future' post was the issue of how images are viewed and displayed. Where once the only way most people could see a photo was as a print on paper, either a small print fit for an album, or as a large print on a wall or as a transparency projected on a screen. Now viewing options range from phone screens through computer screens to large wall mounted LCDs which read images off disks and can be programmed to change images hourly or daily. All in addition to paper/aluminum/other substrate prints. The family album is an endangered species.Today, the quality of phone images is reaching the level of 'sufficiency' for many users. You can take and send images quickly, for display on small screens whose image quality is far from the high end camera, but which meets the needs of the short term interest of the user.
How does this affect camera design and sales? I would compare it to the introduction of the box brownie a century ago. The large tripod mounted camera became a limited "specialist" tool, and the small, easily carried and used box camera met the needs of the 4x6 type print found in the albums of the last century. Most picture takers aren't doing it for image art, they are interesting in showing friends and family events or activities or places. Like with the box brownie. And they are being viewed on screens, mostly small ones. The photographer (as opposed to picture taker) will represent a smaller market, aimed at the advertising, art and editorial markets.Even here, the print market is shrinking, as media move on line. So, yes, the market for high performance cameras will shrink as phone cameras improve, but eventually we may see a small rebound, as screen displays of higher resolution and color capability are more economically available.
And all that doesn't include the effect of have video/motion picture capability on the phone.

"I just want good photographers to continue to have what they need to do their work. Whatever that means and however it works out."

It can never work out because Sony makes all the sensors. Digital photography is too "margin" centric for any manufacturer to make a decent camera. All features of all digital cameras, now and for the forseeable future, are dictated by Sony. An entire generation of young talent has been lost or relegated to film if they want to stay fresh, because digital will never have: Square format medium, FF mirrorless without a viewfinder, a FF mirrorless camera under $500,multishot cameras, robust multiple exposure options, interchangeable backs for things like Bronica's or old Hassy's that actually work, Xpan format, 35mm square format, cameras like the Fuji 645Zi (could you even imagine a digital camera that was dedicated vertical like that?). Let me also say, that because Sony has control, all "shell manufacturers" are not allowed to develop their own camera "OS", say, like a Leica T system, because Sony would simply not allow anything better than their own horrid menu system to make it to consumers, potentially out of fear it could threaten them. Menu's from all the system cameras, save Leica, are an unmitigated disaster. I feel like I'm stuck in the 90's when I use any of my "newer" cameras.

Digital is deader than dead, the equipment is mostly unusable and a haptic disaster, none interface well wirelessly... there are no cheap cameras with big sensors, there will never be a "large format", and the real fun of photography has been crushed. If god forbid you want to shoot with 1's and 0's you have to buy either a Leica or a Sony, or a reboxed Sony.

To think this is all going to work out, in my mind, is a little bit optomistic.

Luckily, one can still shoot film.

"The only constant is change." This is something I heard at a graduation ceremony long ago. I've been to many of these events and this is one of the few platitudes that has stuck with me ... LOL.

I recently bought a Nikon P330. It’s small, light, takes RAW photos, has a 1/1.7” sensor and a 24-120mm range. Nikon doesn’t make a camera like this anymore. Canon used to make one. Fuji used to make one. Going up a little bit in weight there were cameras by Panasonic and Olympus. Nobody makes them anymore. I think you predicted this a few years back when you wrote that the Panasonic LX7 (or was it the Olympus XZ-2?) might be the last of it’s kind.

I’m not too upset by this. The Nikon is just a grab and go camera for me now. I have a small, light Panasonic GM5 Micro 4/3 camera that I use most of the time. But nobody has introduced an interchangeable lens camera as small and light as the GM5 in over two years.

I think the concept of “road-hugging weight” has come to cameras (from the auto industry in the 1950’s), and that concerns me.

Contax is on my list of things that sadly disappeared. The G series and the 645 were unique. I couldn't believe it when I was told Phase One wanted to buy the 645 production templates, but instead Kyocera decided to destroy it all. Such a loss...

Sadly examples abound all over the world, not just in photography. I've been on the hunt for a new car but have been highly frustrated by the lack of available manual transmissions available in the type of vehicle that it previously would have been commonplace. My options are squeezed into buying the kind of car I don't want to get the transmission I prefer or buying the kind of transmission I greatly dislike in order to get the rest of the package I actually do want.

Outside of professional pursuits, the cultural shift towards smartphone digital imaging has become so precipitous that the very practice of carrying a discrete camera in public is starting to be regarded with curiosity at best and suspicion at worst.

I just got together with a group of old friends whom I had not seen for years and they constantly had their smart phones out comparing family snapshots, video clips and social media postings. I was asked to share my own imagery but could not because I only had my camera with me.

I considered going out to the car and bringing back my laptop to share some pictures but decided against it because the conversation was jumping so quickly from subject to subject. It seems like nobody can talk about anything for more than 30 seconds before attention shifts elsewhere, never to return.

Nevertheless, I still prefer the slow-mo, low-res approach. I took an emulsion-making course at the Eastman Museum so I can use a Graflex even in the absence of 4x5 film. More recently I purchased a second R-D1 so I can continue to take digital photos with an old-fashioned rangefinder for as long as those Epson cameras hold out.

No illusions, though... the writing is on the wall for us traditional amateur snappers. More likely, the writing is on Typepad, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more...

It is not only companies stopping production. Government regulations hit us hard at times.
Beautiful tanned leather look warm tone papers no longer available because they contain Cadmium! Warm tone papers now are nowhere near what we had a few decades ago.
Azo and Michael A. Smith are a good example but saddest part is how Kodak treated him when they stopped production. Assured there was at least a five year supply Michael and Paula headed to Europe to be on press for printing a new book of their images. Came back and Kodak informed them ALL the Azo was gone! Michael was a licensed seller of it for Kodak - the biggest in the world. They did not even contact him before selling to another - after they assured him there was plenty available and they knew of his plans.

Only one small example of how makers treat jobbers and clients and customers. Sad state of affairs all the way around.

Good photographers are creative. Creative people are most focused on results and adapt to changing means. That's long been my observation. Cameras don't make photos.

I have experienced this problem myself. I had to give up using my Cirkut camera (built over 30 years before I was born) a couple years ago because you can no longer buy portrait paper (color) for optical printing and what is available has too much contrast and saturation for what I do and AFAIK there is no solution for that.

It was possible to stockpile enough film for the rest of my career, but paper takes up too much space.

So after making my living with that wonderful huge antique for over 30 years I have had to "go over to the dark side" and shoot digital.

Nobody is going to be making color photo paper in their garage either.

I read the comments above (particularly Ken's) with a shiver running down my spine. By definition, a digital workflow depends on millions of lines of computer code with a very short half-life. It does no good to resent it, but I do anyway. I'd love to see old versions of everything needed to produce my current version of photographic output archived in a digital seed vault somewhere. [Windows 7, PS 5, Lightroom 5.7, software for the Nikon 8000 and Epson film scanners, all the Nik Plug-Ins I currently use (Silver EFX pro comes to mind) . . heck, what about drivers for a disk-drive(?)]. All of the software I listed above is _already obsolete_. And I have no particular Plan B. I have had several catastrophic hardware failures in the past 10 years. I can easily imagine that the next one will leave me in the same position as someone looking for vacuum tubes to fix an old amp.

PS I still have 3 of those Mamiya interchangeable lens TLR's , They were frankencameras but the lenses were incredible.
I had that strobe too (Name was something like Mighty light) ran off HV dry cells, One of my daughters shot her whole thesis show at U Penn with one of them. They weighed a ton.

It's happening with bicycles too. It seems like all new models above a certain quality grade have disc brakes now. I don't care if they're better, the old brakes were already too good and I didn't have to worry about warping the discs. If you're manufacturing 40 models anyway, why not make some that don't use disc brakes? Grrrr.

When dye transfer died Ctein adapted and reinvented himself as an ink jet man. There are at least two companies in the UK making refillable cartridge systems for the Epson P800. Ilford (the Harman Ilford) are making a profit from silver halide materials. There will always be change but there is no need to be pessimistic about it.

The collective We - presently reading TOP - are all part of the marketplace upon whom the corporations we are presently whinging about rely to make money. So hit the email, send those flat things called - um, I forget - letters, and demand from them what you want, and if what you want appears, buy it. If you don't, you'll take what you're given. Or not.

"The source of all suffering is attachment to impermanent things." ;)

A couple of quick thoughts though...

The vast majority of picture taking on smart phones isn't the picture-making that the audience of TOP is interested in. It's more akin to talking than the role that printed photography played.

The dramatic shrinking of 'serious' or 'dedicated' photography as a profession doesn't mandate the obsolescence of dedicated or 'serious' cameras. The vast majority of high end consumer goods — think sports equipment (including cars), artistic supplies and luxury goods (luxurious either by way of status or the simple pleasure of owning and using) are to ammeters. ['are sold to amateurs'? —Ed.]

I think it's more interesting (and distressing) that 'talking with pictures' in the smartphone era is too often conflated with 'photography as an art'. Fewer and fewer people encounter or seek out real mentorship or knowledge in picture-making. Even if they are (or would be) very interested in it and there are two sides:

1. Beginners are exposed to peer groups and influences that are not experienced or expert in guiding artists (in the methods of seeing, composing, understanding colour, tone, shape, contrast, line, scale, repetition, reflecting on authorship, purpose, empathy, expression etc etc etc)

2. Those who would probably be the best mentors are grumbling into their beards about disappearing equipment and materials and talking-with-pictures.

On the other hand —

I can learn from Ashley Gilbertson, Ron Haviv, Ed Kashi (CreativeLive), Dave Allan Harvey (who's Instagram stories are highly educational) and a bunch of others online for free or crazy little money. And it's increasingly easy to access supporting expertise from other fields — what might photographers learn about portrayal, character and narrative from a class in dramatic writing? https://www.masterclass.com/classes/david-mamet-teaches-dramatic-writing/

Swings and roundabouts in so many ways.
Work with what you've got. Keep moving.

A bit of additional info to follow up on Lee Rust's comment about emulsion making -- wet plate isn't the only chemical-era image capture system or printing material for those photographers who want to master a process or know that they can use a particular process for as many years as they choose. Silver gelatin dry plates, film, and silver gelatin paper are all easy to make and the results can be indistinguishable from commercial products, or as artisany funky as you want.

"It seems like nobody can talk about anything for more than 30 seconds before attention shifts elsewhere, never to return." - Lee Rust


I'm still debating about the Pentax K-1. I'd probably only use it for color photos and use my old Pentax SL (Spotmatic without a meter) for my black and white photography.

So, maybe I'll never switch to digital. Who needs more time in front of a computer screen?

My black and white negatives and prints have survived just fine in the cool basement. I hope the JPEG format survives forever. Otherwise, who needs the headaches of switching formats to each new "format of the year". Plus, there are enough usable parts cameras around in the old Pentax screw mount that the guy in Kentucky (Mike probably knows) can use to repair any problems my SL might have in the future.

Scary might not be the right word, but surely many lost their confidence. First in clergymen, bankers and politicians and now also in manufacturers.

Personally I am almost done with Apple. The discontinuation of Aperture and the change from iPhoto to Foto’s turned my archive upside down. An upgrade to Sierra made my excellent Canon printer useless. Not to mention the extra costs because you’re forced to use iCloud for many things. In the past Canon suddenly changed their FD mount and later my sweet Contax G line was discontinued. I could understand that. These things had to happen. But Apple? It feels as if I am on earth for them, instead of the other way around.


About fifteen years ago I had a chat with some friends, professional photographers who mainly used sheet film. They were scared at the time that the days of large format were numbered. As a happy snapper I care-free bought one silly digital camera after another. I think I already upgraded nine times since then. My friends are still using the same old field cameras.

and for my ten cents worth I now find however runs Kodak and manufactures Portra and Tri-X film no longer provide frame numbers on their film making my beloved Holga cameras rather useless. No frame number in the little red window and you've no idea where your next frame is. I think it's called cost cutting.

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