A-T Technology Death Pool

Film At Eleven

This last weekend I went up to the Sno*Drift rally. I won’t go into that here, because cars bore us unlike those cats over at Hooniverse. However, something did strike me.

I’ve been dabbling in photography. To get my feet wet, I bought a used DSLR (a Canon D60) from a guy off the List of Craig a few years ago. Some of my favorite subjects are cars, so this was a great chance to work on honing my skills. Standing on a snowy corner in Northern Michigan waiting for a car to come careening on the edge of control around a corner I realized: film is dead.

OK, maybe it’s not quite that drastic. I mean, movies are still shot on film (although digital is taking over that industry, too), and lots of people like to use old film cameras because of some of the effects it gives. However, for most people in all situations, film is dead. We grab our smartphones and take photos that are better than my first digital point and shoot could. We have fancy DSLRs that let us review our photos on a small LCD screen immediately, so we can try to take a better photo if that last one didn’t quite come out tack sharp. Then you can load the files from the camera into Photoshop and fix things like red eye or even completely change the image to something that isn’t anything close to what you actually photographed.

That wasn’t the case with film. You’d load the film in the camera, shoot a bunch of photos, get the film developed (or do it yourself if you had your own darkroom), and hope and pray to the gods of photons that some usable photos came out of all your time and money.

It’s a pain in the *ss. But for 160 years — from the first daguerreotypes in the mid-1800s to about 2011* — the image was stored on film and the painstaking process was a dance with the fates and skill. For all that pain in the *ss, you got a completely analog photo. You got a representation of the light and colors the camera saw.

I can’t say I’m wholly sad or wholly happy that film, for all intents and purposes, is dead. In some ways, the connection to the photo that can only be had by having to carefully take a shot then develop the print is something that can’t quite be matched in today’s digital world. In other ways, being able to shoot a crapload of photos onto an SD card then fix the photos up a bit in Photoshop before publishing to Flickr is more immediately rewarding.

*Film died very slowly, so an exact date is completely fabricated.

[Image Credit: Shirimasen]

  • fodder650

    Film died last week with Kodak's announcement of bankruptcy to me. I was raised around photographic equipment. My father sold what were called mini-labs. These were the large boxes you saw developing your film. At one point he even owned a camera store. The smell of chemicals is still in my nose from there. It was a time when Kodak was experiment with the Kodak disk Camera

    <img src="http://gadgets.boingboing.net/gimages/kodak4000.jpg&quot; width=600 />

    It was fun learning how to enlarge photographs using the old methods. Even as I become a better photographer in my own right using digital. There are times I miss the old film. Digital allows me to take hundreds of shots in hopes of getting that right one. Classic film meant taking the time to stage the shot.

    I even remember my family having tinplate photograps. Something most people have never seen. These were photographs actually etched onto a tinplate. The technology, i believe, dating back to the late 19th century.
    This is not one of my family shots. Just of a photo on tin.

    <img src="http://www3.familyoldphotos.com/files/images/2011/111811/American%20Sheet%20and%20Tinplate%20Co.,%20McKeesport,%20Veteran%20Retired%20Employees.preview.jpg">

    With the death of film my father didn't learn to adapt. As a computer person I saw the writing on the wall years before he did. He stuck to his conservative ways and held in the belief that digital was a fad. Something he learned he was very wrong about. Still thanks to him i have a 60's Polaroid Land Camera sitting in my bedroom on display

    • GlassOnion9

      I definitely know what you mean about the darkroom smell.
      I dabbled in photo during high school and college and we used to have a couple of real darkrooms in our building for developing X ray films for experiments.
      It was a sad day when they took out the last one. They've all been replaced with automatic developers. I suppose they're easier, but I do occasionally miss the distinct smell of the dip tank darkrooms.

      • fodder650

        I'm sure our lungs don't miss the chemicals but it does fall under the category of "Things that were better when i was a kid".

    • I worked for a photo supply company when the Disc camera was introduced. Kodak overhyped them to the max, offering one to every single employee for about 2/3rds the list price, a couple of weeks before they were released for sale to the public. It totally backfired. By the time they went public, we'd all run a couple of discs through ours and were actively telling customers to stay away from Discs because they were so totally crappy and grainy. Nonetheless, I kept using my Disc camera as a "backup camera" for years, simply because I had it. There's a period in the mid 80s where all my pictures are nearly unrecognizable.

      Disc cameras took wonderful images like this:

      <img src="http://hooniverse.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Scan06a1-650×487.jpg&quot; width="512">
      <img src="http://www.tanshanomi.com/temp/M135roadracer_01.jpg"&gt;
      Those have both been massaged as much as possible in P-shop.

      • fodder650

        There is only so much quality you can get out of a negative smaller then a 110 in a very cheap camera shell with no zoom.

        • I also have a Minolta 110 Zoom, so I am a glutton for film-grain punishment.

          • fodder650

            You might want to look over at geeks.com and buy up all the sub $20 digital cameras. It will give you that same grainy fun you are looking for

          • I have one of these that I play with for fun every once in a while. I also have a 1st gen VGA GoPro Hero.
            <img src="http://www.biocomp.net/sakar_iconcepts.jpg&quot; width="512">
            The problem is that with cheap digital you don't get that nice, even grain texture, you get terrible color artifacts and edge "blooming." There's nothing really nice about the effect. The only cameras that I ever had that created "neat" lo-tech effects were an Aiptek stick camera and my old Umax AstraCam (which I still have. Unfortunately, I no longer have a box running an old enough version of Windoze to run the driver). I also had fun with an Apple QuickTake 150 and a Sony Mavica FD7.

          • fodder650

            I actually worked at a store called Computer City back in the day when the Quicktake was first released. It was sitting out with a Newton next to it.

            Excuse me it's time to get my Geritol

          • the QT150 was the first digital camera I bought as a middle school tech teacher. Back then, simply being digital was amazing. 320×240 was an acceptable resolution, because the largest screen anybody had was SVGA, if you were state-of-the-art.

          • fodder650

            Right and we weren't looking to print these out into posters at that point. It was in addition to film not a replacement of. I remember when the first professional digital cameras came out. I think they were 1 megapixel at the time plus a ridiculous cost. Still it gave you a lot more options then standard film.
            I'm trying to nail the year down. I'm thinking this was '90 or '91

  • domino_vitali

    i can see why "film is dead" and why Kodak is having such problems. but my first thought when i heard Kodak was going into bankruptcy was "what will happen to the film used in labs?" i remember the yellow boxes of film quite distinctly. reaching into that box meant my Western blot was almost done, and i was eagerly anticipating the results of my work.

    (film is used in chemiluminescent detection)

    • GlassOnion9

      Most of the film we use isn't made by Kodak. We get our X ray film from several other manufacturers. They're rebranded by the selling company, but I suspect they're manufactured in China or elsewhere overseas.

      • domino_vitali

        i was wondering about x-ray film as well, thanks for sharing.

        • GlassOnion9

          I got curious so I checked some of our film boxes. There were a couple old Kodak ones, but the stuff we've been using recently is manufactured by Agfa, which is a Belgian and/or German company. No idea if the film is actually manufactured there or somewhere else, though.

  • GlassOnion9

    Quite a bit of molecular biology is still done using X ray film. Western blots (mentioned by domino_vitali above) and numerous other assays require detection of photons from chemiluminescence.

    There are some pretty sweet newfangled contraptions that use a CCD to detect and process these assays digitally, but the units are still expensive (think >$10,000). For a lot of labs at smaller universities without huge budgets that $10,000 would buy a LOT of x ray film.

    Of course there are also the well funded labs run by grumpy old professors who would argue that "X ray film was good enough for me, it's good enough for my lab!"

    • True, and Kodak isn't quite dead and could (hopefully) come out of bankruptcy trimmed down and with a new focus. However, even if Kodak goes the way of the horse and buggy, there are others still making film. They just have funny names like Fuji.

      • GlassOnion9

        I suspect a decent market for 'specialty' film will remain for quite some time.
        Think of all the dentist's offices and orthopedic clinics. As long as they can bill the insurance for the films, they have very little incentive to upgrade to digital systems.

        • domino_vitali

          what is this "insurance" you speak of?


        • While working on my dissertation, the only destination I could reliably reach in our otherwise baffling med school/hospital complex was the dental store located in the far corner of one of its basements. Everyone in our research group knew how to find the way there, purchase a box of Polaroid film for our x-ray difractometer, and return alive.

          That equipment has been scrapped now, so these days the group has to pay for time on the neighboring department's all-digital rig. Sigh.

    • The Professor

      Damned straight! You young punks want to use those damned toy phones for everything. Bah! It takes skill to handle photographic emulsions correctly.

      • GlassOnion9

        By no means did I intend to imply YOU, dear Professor, would qualify as one of those grumps! 😉

  • OA5599

    You left out capacity. A decade ago, when even some of the best DSLR's couldn't match the detail of a decent 35mm, suppose you were someplace where it wasn't convenient to reload your camera–a SCUBA trip for example. You would get your 36 shots and then your dive pictures were done until you surfaced. Or maybe you took the perfect shot of your kid's role as a tree in the kindergarten play–do you want to spend ten bucks to process the whole roll today, or wait until you've shot another 23 pictures?

    My 18MP DSLR holds nearly 1000 shots on a $20 SD card. If I want to shoot them all before transferring them to my computer, I can. If I just need to capture one shot to go to flickr, I can do that, too.

  • Number_Six

    You know what else is dead? Old photographs in the future. I have a box of negatives that my father took in the 1950s – I can get them reprinted over and over and I just have to keep them from getting moldy. When my nephew is old the record of his uncle's life, for example, will end @2006, which is when I got my first digi-cam and started carelessly throwing CDR/Ws and old laptops around.

    • Number_Six

      Lookit me being a ray of sunshine…

    • You're assuming hard/physical copies of pictures are easier to keep as digital ones.

      If you do a halfway decent job of backing up (preferably offsite), you never have to worry about fire, water, dogs, age, forgetfulness or whatever else destroying your boxes of pictures. Obviously there are ways for digital copies to be destroyed, but they're so much easier to copy that the likelihood of having a redundant leftover somewhere is pretty good.

  • The biggest disadvantage to film is the fixed per-frame cost. When my wife and I went on an Alaskan cruise, we took about 1700 digital photos. I did a lot of bracketing and rapid shot sequences, even for casual snapshots, which I NEVER would have done with film. When we got back, we trashed about 50% of them off our hard drives immediately. Then we culled those that remained down to about 100 we really liked and had those printed in a Snapfish book. Digital media is cheap; we actually had plenty of SD card space for more. The only really cost was the time it took to go through and organize them.

    • FЯeeMan

      Yup, I agree.

      My daughter played high school soccer this year (freshman). After showing up to the first game with a monopod, I was asked to be the (un)official team photographer. I took a minimum of 700 shots per game, upwards of 1200 for some of them. I think I ended up with over 15,000 shots for the season.

      When I was in high school, I shot a lot of B&W for the school newspaper. I would go through a roll of 24 exposures for a boys basketball game. retire to the darkroom and pray that I got the film out of the canister and onto the developer reel properly. Let 2 layers touch, and both pictures were toast. I do miss asking the girls if they wanted to go back to the darkroom to see if something developed. It never did, but it sure was fun asking!

      Just checked… 15,469 photos, 61.4GB. One kid. One soccer season.

  • aastrovan

    Kodak failed to see what was happening technologically around the globe,tunnel vision.
    Damn shame.I exposed many rolls of Kodak for many years,but in the end Fuji was a far superior film.

  • As a very amateur photo-ist, I have toyed around with black and white photography in the past with a old Argus camera that came from a church yard sale when I was about 8 or 9.

    <img src="http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7012/6792694433_85b719dfaf_b.jpg&quot; width="500">

    I never got far enough to do darkroom stuff, and most of my attempts to take night shots just resulted in blackness. But the depth of shading on black and white film seem irreplaceable by simply clicking "Black and White" in Picasa.

    Maybe there is a camera quality issue there, maybe software. My top of the line right now is a Canon point and shoot, although usually my phone's camera ends up being what I have with me.

    I still have a roll of Kodak TMax black and white that I am going to take one day, if I can figure out a place that will develop it–actually for that matter I still have an undeveloped roll I took years ago that I would be interested to see if it will still develop. Maybe the TMax will be a collectors item–New in Box!

  • I have been photographing cars at Road Atlanta for over 20 years. What is amazing is the resurgence in the last 5 years or so of REALLY HIGH end photography equipment. Even 10 years ago most of the guys without a photo pass where doing good to have a SLR with anything more than a 210mm lens with a high F stop and mono-pods were very rare. Now about every 4th person taking photos seems to have a $1000+ rig. It took me about 10 years of Christmas presents and work to get a decent Minolta SLR setup with a fast motor, F 2.8 lenses from 35-210mm and a 135-400mm zoom.

    My cost of going to races has dropped dramatically. I used to shoot 15-25 rolls of film on a weekend, not even 1000 pictures. At about $10/roll (36exp) for film and developing, that added up.

    • The Professor

      I have just been looking at getting a decent DSLR camera that can compare to my old Canon F1 setup. I've been pricing bodies and lenses for Canon EOS Rebels, and it all adds up very quickly. Good lenses haven't gotten any cheaper in the past 30 years. Bummer.

      • I was lucky. I was able to keep all my Minolta AF lenses. They work just fine with the Sony Alpha DSLR cameras. In retrospect I really wish Grandma had gotten a Nikon or Canon SLR for me for Christmas instead of the Minolta Maxxum 5000i in 1989 or so.

        • The Professor

          The old Nikor or Canon lenses won't work with the current cameras, will they? If the old Minolta lenses still work, you're money ahead, I would think.

          • I'm pretty sure the DSLRs require at least AF lenses. The Canon ones use the EOS/Rebel lenses. Not sure about Nikon.

          • GlassOnion9

            I seem to remember that someone manufactured an adapter for non-AF lenses so they would fit on the cannon EOS lens bezel. Not that I have any idea where I saw such a device.

          • FЯeeMan

            Some of the older lenses will work, but you may not get full AF or IS. There's a lot of tech packed into those lenses that the older, film lenses never had. The one tech they all have is the ability to refract & focus light.

          • The Professor

            That's the important part. If I can still set the shutter speed on the camera body while using an old lens, I'll be fine.

          • FЯeeMan

            Find a good local camera shop & ask them. You may pay a touch more than the Low-Low-Internet-pricing!!!!&lt;™&gt;&lt;sup&gt;TM&lt;/sup&gt;*, but you'll get invaluable advice.

            Also, re: 'neerds comment below, there are two different sensor sizes used in DSLRs. The smaller size has an effective increase on the focal length. Again, get with your local camera shop – they'll help you out.

            *IntenseDebate only allows limited HTML, or I'm a complete ijet

          • GlassOnion9

            Some useful info:

            Apparently it will vary widely depending on the particulars of the lenses you want to use and the camera body you have.

          • The Professor

            Thanks, that has lots of useful info in it. It looks like I'm S.O.L. on my FD lenses, but I might be able to use a couple of my old Nikors. How weird is that?

          • As FЯeeMan said, most older lenses will work in the new DSLRs with a loss in function. One of those is that the focal length will be off due to a difference in the distance from the lens to the CCD vs. the lens to the film. As long as you take this into account, it should work. One of the guys I was at Sno*Drift with was still using lenses from his 35mm SLR.

          • I think the lens multiplication factor is about 1.5 depending on camera brand. Now all my zoom lenses zoom even more, the 210mm lens is now effectively about 315mm. This is great for zooms, bad for the wide angle lenses. What I'm waiting on for my next camera purchase is for 35mm size sensor DSLRs to come down below $1000. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/APS-C
            The one artifact of the crappy APS film system is that 98% of current DSLRs use a senor size based off it.

      • OA5599

        Good lenses have gotten a bit lighter, though. The wallet load is still heavy, but not so much for the shoulder load anymore.

        Actually, I got an EOS Rebel T2i a little less than a year ago. It was a Costco package deal with the body, 2 lenses, a bag, and some small stuff for about a kilobuck. I think the price has dropped $100 since then.

        • GlassOnion9

          Kilobuck is one I've never heard. I like.

        • The Professor

          That's the camera that I'm looking at. How do you like it?

          • OA5599

            I got one with QC issues that showed up over the first couple of days, so I returned it for one with a different serial number. The replacement one has been flawless. I got this model on the recommendation of someone who shoots corporate video for a living, and he uses one of these in his work. It does tend to chew up memory in video mode, though. My wife says the video has stopped on her in the middle of a recording, but I haven't been able to duplicate the problem to diagnose.

            Still shots are great. I only have the one battery it shipped with, and I can take a ton of pictures between charges. I have let it "auto-shutoff", though and returned to a dead battery the next day.

            Indoor shots are decent without the flash, except when ambient light is low (candlelight, for example). My biggest complaint is that if you have the flash on, it will wait until the flash has fully recharged before you can take another picture; for example, if you want to take a picture of the cue ball hitting the 9 ball, you probably won't also be able to snap the 9 ball as it drops into the pocket unless the room is well-lit.

  • ptschett

    I still have my Christmas present from 1992:
    <img src="http://i55.tinypic.com/2igd1qv.jpg&quot; width="500"/>

    When you turned it on, you definitely turned it on.
    <img src="http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5247/5372256015_8cd829f071_z.jpg&quot; width="500"/> (Img stolen from someone's flickr)

    My sister and I each got one for Christmas that year, and I remember that by January our Dad was unhappy with how much it was costing to develop our inane photos (mine were mostly of Lego cars.)

    Here's a terribly digitized version of the 3rd to last photo that i took with it, in 2006. (The glow is the flash from my Sony DSC-H2, it only looks like an atomic weapons test in progress over the lignite mines of ND.)
    <img src="http://i41.tinypic.com/hrhblz.jpg"/&gt;

    Since then, I've probably shot more photos with my iPhone in the last half-year than I did with the Samsung in its 14 year run. The iPhone photos might even be higher quality (though there have been a bunch of blurry, badly shot "here's an issue on a prototype to remind me later" shots.)

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