Monday, June 22, 2009

An Era Ends

Image credit: John Naughton

You probably have to be a certain age to appreciate this story, but for those of us whose early experiences with photography involved trying to thread photographic film into a camera, this Reuters story will be especially interesting:

Kodachrome, the film brand touted as the stuff of memories, is about to become a memory itself as Eastman Kodak stops production due to overwhelming competition from digital cameras.


"The majority of today's photographers have voiced their preference to capture images with newer technology -- both film and digital," said Mary Jane Hellyar, president of Kodaks Film, Photofinishing and Entertainment Group.

Kodachrome was once the film of choice for many baby boomers' family slide shows and gained such iconic status that it was celebrated in the mid-1970s with a song of the same name by Paul Simon, with the catch-phrase: "Mama don't take my Kodachrome away."

Kodak Kills Kodachrome Film After 74 Years

I've viewed this change with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the convenience and economy of being able to take lots of pictures without having to have them processed, together with the ability to import the images directly into a computer, has been nothing short of revolutionary. It's now possible, for a cost of $100 or so, to record high density images and moving images and then store them on disk. Thanks to sites like Flickr and Photobucket, it's now possible to share those photos on the Internet.

On the other hand, commodity digital cameras still don't quite match the color and clarity of the best film technology. Nearly all the digital photos I take, even in bright sunlight, seem a little off color to me. Their resolution, while good enough for small images, inevitably gets worse with even a modest amount of optical zoom. Still, that's a price we pay for convenience.

The move to digital technology has also had a profound effect on how we communicate with each other. Flickr sites such as .faramaz's Iran Election can show us what's going on in a country even when its authorities are trying to black out the news. On a more personal level, we can share information about our experiences with others without having to make them sit and watch a slide show.

For that last benefit alone, I suppose I can do without vibrant colors.


NP said...

My first camera needed threading. My mom had to show me how to do it a few times before I could get it on my own.

I love taking pictures, and I love my digital camera, but it makes me a little sad that my children won't have film memories like this.

Cujo359 said...

Back when I was in college, I worked with 35 mm film cameras. The camera was complicated to operate, but with a little practice it was possible to produce high quality pictures. There was also the anticipation of finding out whether your photos developed - that's something you don't get with digital.

spincitysd said...


Being a lover of the green box- Fujichrome the demise of Kodachrome leaves me ambivalent at best. Plus if you ever really worked with any slide film you must remember that you had to take multiple shots of any subject to nail the final image. Slide film had zero latitude so you had to bracket like a mad-man; one and half stop in either direction in half-stop increments was the minimum. Home processing was a bear with slide film and Kodachrome required very special chemicals that were only available to professional labs.

Still when done right slide film still is the best media for images and I do miss the old days of "match the box" for the colors you want to display. Fuji was green so it was best for that color, Kodachrome was red so it did firetrucks like nobody's business, and agfa was orange so it was best for sunsets.

Cujo359 said...

There are better films, to be sure. But I think that the end of Kodachrome is more emblematic of the end of widescale use of film photography.

My own experience with Kodachrome is limited. In fact, to be perfectly honest I haven't noticed much difference between what Fuji, Agfa, and Kodak offer. Nonetheless, I was able to take photos with better color and more detail than with any digital cameras I've encountered.