The real story on the digital push

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James Ė on your assessment of the digital hype, I agree with you totally. You see IMHO everyone is pushing this digital stuff down our throats because thereís far more potential for making money than with traditional processes. With digital there would be a huge market for capture, storage, and printing devices that even the small Ma & Pa outfits could get in on the action. Furthermore, the modern day consumer is quite inured to being on the constant upgrade treadmill to stay compatible with the latest computer bells and whistles. Like a mantra, almost everyone chants ďTechnology will keep getting better and become cheaper,Ē so they see little point in buying for the long haul. In fact our entire consumer economy is based on low quality, planned obselesence, disposable or short lifecycle goods Ė people expect this.

Now the flip side, traditional photography, is anathema to those running the show in this world of bilk and money. The trouble is that the equipment lasts too long, and there there isnít the need for constant upgrades; 50 year old cameras and lenses are still making beautiful pictures, as many this forum will attest to. Thus in the brave new economy, traditional photography must be eliminated from the marketplace and replaced with something more lucrative for the corporate bottom line. Frankly, for the most part, those producing the gear and film we now use donít give a damn about photography, itís only about making money, i.e., maximizing shareholder wealth and CEO compensation. Ditto the magazine publishers. These same people would sell their motherís grave to make a buck if they could, e.g., see Enron, the is THE mentality in the business community today.

The quality of digital vs. traditional will not be an issue either. Most people are quite happy with their 8x10 digital prints and the masses really donít appreciate the quality we are getting with our beloved LF film and cameras. Standards in general are lower these days with everything geared towards one-size-fits mediocrity. Itís not about making a quality product anymore, itís about marketing and hype.

R.I.P. LF as we know and love it, the masses wonít miss it!

-- hyperfocal (hyperfocal@attbi.com), January 10, 2002

Answers

I'd wager there is more profit margin in a monorail than in a digital. I commented on another thread that most LF cameras are based on one hundred year old technology with basic tooling and alloys, whereas a digital camera has big R&D bucks behind it, and a short product cycle - increasing everyones risk in the supply chain.

You know who I really pity in all of this ? - the advanced non-pro who is shooting really good stuff with a 2-3 megapixel camera. He's building a library of work with very limited reproduction potential.

With a 4X5 neg or trans, your reproduction avenues are wide and wonderful ....

-- Michael Mahoney (mike.mahoney@nf.sympatico.ca), January 10, 2002.


My Deardorff camera is 60 years old; my Schneider, Rodenstock and Wollensak lenses are between 30 and 80 years old. I'm 50. My camera and lenses will be about the same after I'm dead. If (when) Ilford stops making film or goes out of business, I'll go to paper negatives and/or glass plates and continue printing platinum/palladium and such. All I really need is my current equipment, paper and/or glass, and chemicals.... As far as the present or future of art is concerned, digital is irrelevant. Art doesn't improve. Digital is not more artistic than film, film is not more artistic than classic painting, classic painting is not more artistic than cave painting.... Digital may or may not be an issue to professional photographers. I don't really know and definitely don't care. I'm an amateur and I couldn't care less if digital "takes over the world" or walks off the face of the earth tomorrow. It doesn't make any difference. -jeff buckels (albuquerque)

-- Jeff Buckels (jeffbuck@swcp.com), January 10, 2002.

ditto jeff

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), January 10, 2002.

You are right, there is more margin in a monorail camera then a digital, but I will sell 500 digitals before I make one 4x5 sale new, which is why the market is going digital. Simple.

-- Eric Boutilier-Brown (ericbb@evolvingbeauty.com), January 10, 2002.

Whether or not digital will replace our beloved LF film and cameras is a moot point. It will. The only remaining question is how soon. Digital is still in its infancy...it has only been around a few years. It is already replacing film in many portrait and commercial studios, and most newspapers have changed already, even the smaller weekly papers. It's a done deal. Equipment will continue to improve along with other advances in digital technology to the point where it will be of equal or better quality. This is not years in the future...it is, relatively speaking, tomorrow morning. For those making a living doing photography it is already at the point where quality is good enough for most uses, the cost of equipment is coming withing reach, and operating cost are cheap. It also takes less time, therefore fewer employees. Digital has everything going for it that traditional photography has not, with the exception of ultimate quality and permanance. That quality and permanance is almost here. It is a lot cheaper for a photographer to do a shoot on digital, plug it into the computer, do all the needed retouching with key strokes, and spit out a print ready to deliver. Put that up against traditional film that has to be developed, retouched, printed, spotted, etc and it becomes plain why digital had made the inroads it has.

I have been a photographer since the late 1950s, and every change has been accepted by some and fought by others. At first the change to smaller cameras was going to ruin photography, then color was going to kill it, then sending processing to outside labs would kill professional photography. I was a photographer when newspapers thought changing from 4x5 Speed Graphics to the Rolleiflex was the worst thing that ever happened. The change to 35mm was purely a work of the devil. Just give a 4x5 five camera with 25 sheet film holders to a photographer now and ask him to shoot a football game. I don't want to change to digital, and will not, but I am at the stage in life where I won't have to. If film and paper manufacture stops, I will just say thanks for many years of good memories and put the old workhorses in the closet or mount them for display. On the other hand, I am afraid to shoot too much digital. I might love it.

Regards,

-- Doug Paramore (Dougmary@alaweb.com), January 10, 2002.



Eric is right - and all of the LF photographers bemoaning the coming end of film-photography - who have never batted an eye at shelling out $3-4,000 (and more) for a camera less sophisticated and less mechanically precise than a 30 year old 35mm SLR, have no one but themselves to blame.

-- Matt O. (mojo@moscow.com), January 10, 2002.

Traditional photography is an extremely mature industry. Profits are steady but unexciting. From a finance perspective there is no expectation of growth. This is fine for small companies that are happy producing for a limited market with adequate returns, but it will not generate the kind of returns that keep a finance capital economy growing. Digital, on the other hand, is a very young industry. Typically in this stage of the lifecycle of an industry expenses (typically R&D and marketing) are very high, but returns are also very high. Note that this does not necessarily extend to the retail side (as one merchant aptly noted). The expectations of future growth and revenue are also extremely high, particularly looking forward to the period of maturity when prices are still high and expenses begin to decrease.

I don't think it is fair to say that this system is due to greed. The fact is in a free economy money flows to where returns are greatest and that is always in the growth cycle industries - or the industries that have managed to reinvent themselves (e.g. telecomms). If investment is prevented from flowing to the fastest growing industries than returns will decline and the economy will stagnate. We have seen that in command economies such as the old USSR where investment was deliberately directed to industries on the basis of political instead of financial reasons, and to a lesser extent in Japan, where a too close relationship between big business and government allowed old inefficient methods of doing business to remain dominant.

So don't blame greed or stockholders for the new excitement in, and shift to digital. Whether or not companies "give a damn about photography" is irrelevant. They have to sell products that sell and keep customers coming back for more. Although sometimes there is a disconnect, eventually they will learn that quality "sells" - marketing and hype cannot ultimately overcome quality problems. Digital has proven that it can serve most customers needs. The industry is not turning its back on or abandoning fine arts or high end photographers it is simply concentrating its energies on the choicest segments of the market.

The good news, for those who like myself prefer traditional film for aesthetic reasons, is that there is no reason to expect film to go away. As big firms begin to shift resources to the more profitable, growth sectors, like digital, there are small companies that figure out how to make a profit serving a niche market. I am continually surprised and pleased to see how many small, new firms are doing business supplying a small niche market. Look at Really Right Stuff, or Bergger Papers, or even Ilford. We will likely see big changes in the composition of manufacturers, and in the way we obtain supplies and services, but I don't think we will have a problem getting the supplies we need. As a parallel to this, I think the art and science of traditional photography will continue to advance. It has always attracted among the most innovative and inventive engineers and scientists. They will be the ones contributing to small firm's r&d and improving products for the market. The greatest threat to traditional photography, in my opinion, is a tightening of wastewater regulations that could all but eliminate the use of toxic chemistry. We will have to respond by creating more benign darkroom chemistry, or by finding a hazardous waste disposal system that is not prohibitively costly.

As far as standards for photography I think the public's expectations have risen greatly. Compare an old snapshot from a brownie to any machine print from a point and shoot. Of course, we are not adequately educating people as to the aesthetics and quality of really good photography, but our school systems de-emphasize that sort of thing. As people learn to use and like digital they too will begin to demand higher and higher standards for the medium. Ultimately, I think this respect for quality will bring about a new appreciation of the artistry of film, and that will help both mediums to survive, side by side and into the distant future.



-- Andrew Held (Heldarc@yahoo.com), January 10, 2002.


Doug, your post reminds me of working as a kid as a part-time stringer for a pretty large newspaper...one of the old-timers told me once that he could "cover a football game on one sheet of film"...going on to tell how he could stand in the middle of the field (sidelines) and blow off one shot...the neg was so big that he'd get 4-5 plays out of it....well, I never really believed him until years later, working here--I printed an old press neg of the Rose Bowl game during WWII, when it was held in NC during the war....with Choo-Choo Justice. That neg was so loose, it had about 4-5 plays on it, and they were all tack sharp almost even though it was a hell of an enlargement just to get an 8x10 off it....anyways, newspapers have been moving digital for a decade almost. ....that paper I spoke of, had about 75 employees in the backshop who did pasteup and ran the stat cameras. I went back there about 8 yrs. ago, and they had gone all-digital...the whole way. Straight to plate. AP picture desks, the whole nine-yards....gotten rid of the entire darkroom--8 Leitz Focomats, 2 big Durst Labradors...a wetline, and 2 paper processors--one Kodak, and one Ilford--the best darkroom I've ever seen. they had 12 full timers, who each shared their own processing room (2 each) with mini-tank lines and chemistry on tap....all the film labs gone. Scanners & computers in their place. The backshop employees were all gone. This was a big paper, but even the tiny ones now have followed suit. It makes perfect sense in the newspaper business....and in most others.

I also worked for a few years in a small offset printing shop running stat cameras & doing pre-press grunt work like basic neg stripping....we had a couple of typesetters and a bunch of Compugraphics typesetting equipment, as well as paste-up folks who knew all those arcane rules of type & layout that have all but vanished from "good" design now. Well, desktop publishing came along and literally drove that trade under....our typesetteres pretty much laughed this off, and refused to change...so they eventually didn't workl there anymore, and the compugraphic stuff was sold off...and we started running more & more lousy crap and the customers were happy because it was THEIR lousy crap, and they didn't mind because they designed, they laid it out...we just got the plates burned and ran the jobs....

What's this got to do with digital and photography....well, this is where we're at now...the same place the typesetters were about 12 yrs. back or so....typesetting was an age-old craft, older than photography...and yet now, it's pretty much a lost art only to be found in really high-end print houses, or cottage trades like letterpress printing shops.....

Blame it on consumerism, bad taste, stupidity, whatever...it's here to stay, and it's only get worse. My opinions only, as always.

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), January 10, 2002.


Architect. Dentist. Doctor. Lawyer. Tailor. Engineer. The waiting room. Bland. Incongruity. Dusty wall-mounted prints. Dated magazines in disarray. But the professional wears bespoken suits. Upgrade needed. Thin-screen HDTV. 2 x 3 feet. Digital input. Photographer provides input. Art images. E.g. Doctor's office. 50% of patients have emotional overlay. Alpine light. Serene. Sex organs of plants. That means flowers, Armin. Anti-anxiety images. Tailor. Images show various fabrics and patterns. Holland and Sherry Superfine 120, 130, 140's. Dormeuil cloth. How measurements are made. Making of suit. Architect. Key projects on display. Artistic rende

-- dean (djackson@333law.com), January 10, 2002.

The only constant is change. One such change is the assumption that one buys an appliance and keeps it forever, as many of us have done with oour Deardorffs, Graphics, etc. They are appliance, tools we use to create the images that poke and probe inside our gray matter.

But apparently now the day of the long lived appliance is coming to an end. At my college we trash VCRs because they cost more to repair than to replace. We move every one of our 500+ computers out the door three times per decade. A commericial photographer friend wrestles with the fact that his Nikons and Sinars will last forever, but his Digital cameras will be archaic in a few years.

A former student who owns a good home theatre shop admits that even the most expensive equipment he sells will probably not last much beyond 10 years,and his clients know and admit that. He yearns for the good old equipment--the Crown Pre-Amps and the DAhlquist 10 speakers which can still be repaired.

The question unanswered is whether or not the equipment will make a difference. The image lurks inside our head, about two inches behind the eyeball. Are we all certain the final print--and I assume that remains a constant--will be decidedly inferior if it is produced by a Nikon D-1 and an Epson printer and not be a Nikon F100, the film of your choice and a Saunders Enlarger?

It will be different, but ???

Bob

-- Bob Moulton (bobmargaretm@home.com), January 10, 2002.



well that doesn't matter...we will learn to accept it, maybe not all of us, but enough so that the "new" medium whatever it is, will take root for awhile until the next new thing comes along....your analogy to PCs at your school is similar to alot of places...it's what happens I guess, when things are moving this rapidly. We've got a "state of the art" couple of year old digital slr that's an obsolete albatross now, but it's probably the only one we'll be able to buy for another ten years or so, so tough luck for us, I guess...we're stuck using it and making the most of the thing, while if I mention it online some wiseass says "what a piece of crap"....ahh, the price of progress.....it doesn't bother me though, because it _was_ state of the art back then, and that doesn't diminish it now...big deal.

And then I look around here, I work in an exhibits shop & production facility...we also do silkscreening for signage. Now we mostly use wide-format inkjet printers, or use something like Lambda output signage if we can afford it, or need something durable. Is it the same? Is it better?....personally I think silkscreening is the way to go...but it's nasty to work with, can be a real pain, and is expensive as all...the inkjets are inferior to the silkscreening, and the photos look horrible compared to the cibas we used to use....BUT, you can do some nifty things with digital output that weren't possible (easily) with silkscreening....so, it's good & bad, but in the end--only the pros know. Only the people looking for what's wrong....the majority of the public will never know, it has no bearing on their experience as a visitor or a viewer....something's only inferior or wrong most of the time, only if you're looking for it...if the client, the patron, the visitor or the viewer is happy, then there's no problem.....period. The problem may be in your head though, and that's okay, but it will be lost on most folks.

as always, my opinions here only.

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), January 10, 2002.


Ansel Adams(dare I say it?) equated the negative to a musical score and the print as the performance. I see digital stuff akin to a moog synthesizer or Roland keyboard and my Deardorff as a Steinway(one that looks like its been dropped off a three story building, but I digress) A good musician, I feel, can get good music from either instrument, but some compositions sound better when played on certain instruments. A classical symphony might be amuseing when played with digital instruments for awhile, but they tend to remind me of elevator music. Likewise a cello isn"t going to be found on an Arrowsmith album anytime soon. Digital, I feel will be useful in certain areas certainly, but in art I think it will be more limited than most believe. Certainly anything thats going to be produced in large quantity will go digital somewhere along the line. Commercial work, assembly line portraiture, even family snapshots and probably wedding photography(if the colors don't shift like photographs are prone to do---are your wedding pictures orange?)will no doubt benefit from digital. However art is another matter. A silver or platinum print kind of has a soul. Each one printed by hand. Each one slightly different. Each one a vision in it's own right. I'm not slighting digital artists. It takes skill and talent to twiddle with all the opportunities that photoshop affords, but after the image is put on a disc, what happens? You punch out ten, twenty, or a hundred duplicates? In an earlier thread, someone observed that Ansel Adams later prints were darker, moodier than his early "performances" of the same negative. This is what seperates digital from traditional. Just as photography never really made painting obsolete, I don't think digital will make traditional photography obsolete. They are really two quite different approaches to making images. I am concerned that traditional sources might discontinue many of the products I enjoy using(Kodak giveth and Kodak taketh away) but I'll bet there will always be somebody somewhere who will recognize a market that needs to be filled. Well, thats my 2cents(hey, theres no cent symbol on my keypad?)

-- John Kasaian (www.kasai9@aol.com), January 10, 2002.

I shoot color exclusively these days and without a digital darkroom, I seriously wonder whether I'd be involved in photography. What is lost in terms of potential quality is more than offset by the ability to do color printing at home, with me calling all the shots. To achieve the same degree of control over results using conventional processes would require a lot more time and effort, and an even steeper learning curve than Photoshop offers. It would also require more space and cost even more on a per-print basis, both of which are important concerns around here.

And while it also gives me the ability to create hundreds of copies at the touch of a button, I frequently go back and rework my images after living with them for a while. This, IMO, is perhaps the biggest plus, since I can quickly and easily experiment with different approaches to a print -- keeping only what I like and changing what I don't -- and I don't have to start over from scratch each and every time, either.

That said, if I were shooting b&w, I'm not sure that I'd have switched over to the digital side as the results, quite impressive as they are, seem to be lacking a certain something ... I can't define it, exactly, but I know it when I see it.

As for shooting on digital instead of film, no way. Although I admire the best digital originals I've seen, there's something to be said for keeping your options open and when my CDs have deteriorated beyond the point where they can ever be read again, my little pieces of film will still be around, ready to be scanned again as necessary.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (audidudi@mindspring.com), January 11, 2002.


LF will be around for quite awhile, even though the choices of materials will become more and more limited. I think we are in the golden era of LF cameras also. As more professionals move from LF to medium format to take advantage of digital we will se the market for LF cameras shrink. This is good and bad. You will see less of the medium priced cameras from calumet, toyo, linhoff and probably more or steady demand for field cameras like Wisners. Oh, and lots of used cameras for cheap!

My other worry is that large companies such as Ilford will reduce their inventory of silver based products and concentrate efforts on digital. I know many on this forum will say as long as there is a market for the products companies will produce them, but if the margins are small enough the justification is not there. This is the reason I have decided to build a simple box camera for making some 11x14 negs instead of trying to buy one used. I just don't have confidence these ULF format films will be available in the not so distant future.

I have no problem with the march of digital. The problem I have is the idea being pushed that digital is far superior to traditional methods and that you can get quality results with modest investment up front. In my previous post on the subject, someone listed the cost to scan a neg and make a lightjet print. $39 for the one time scan and $29 for 1 print. I guess that is a bargain. Maybe I am the only one, but that seems pretty expensive compared to making prints in my darkroom.

I know there are those who will say they get great prints from their Epson(insert model # here) and special paper with archival quadtone inksets. I have yet to see one that matches a silver print that I can produce. If you have to reduce the quality of the work you produce to get into digital, what kind of a artist/craftsman are you?

-- James Chinn (jchinn2@dellepro.com), January 11, 2002.


Probably, Jeffrey Goggin said it best. Short, concise and to the point! The digital solution gave us the chance to be able to prepare our color prints without relying on some moody printer who has no idea or interest in our artistic intention.

-- Geoffrey Swenson (amicor@hotmail.com), January 11, 2002.


I don't buy those estimates for the lightjet scans...although it probably has to do with the quality in the end....for some of the projects we're doing now--the work goes out on bid....I suspect the bids will come back split between analog & digital means, the final outcome doesn't matter much to us as long as they meet the specs....that said, I have priced a bit of this stuff, and I don't see the front end scans (drum) as being all that cheap. I'm sure it's less labor intensive on the operator to do a drum scan off a 4x5 CT rather than having to bump it up to an 8x10, but still in the end, we've actually gotten more murals made cheaper the old fashioned way over the past couple of years, than any of the lightjet labs could provide.

The problems I see with your arguments though about fine-art saving LF sheet films and all that is that I think you underestimate the actual market for those materials...it may very well be all that's left right now, and those companies are still producing film...but I think we're headed for some lean times ahead....I'm sure someone will pick up the slack, some smaller company...but that 8x10 film wasn't being made for fine-art shooters exclusively...it was being made for the labs, the furniture studios etc....and they're all going over to digital in droves now. The labs quit using all the specialty dupe/copy films and got into scanners....the archives' labs that use these films lost out....they're almost all discontinued now. I always thought the big archives & institutions would be the reason films like Pro Copy would be made forever....not so. That market is nothing--zilch--compared to the commercial labs. Same goes for Dupont Mylar D--the best storage plastic...the one that's used by almost all museums & archives for encapsulation, film storage, mounting etc.....this has been discontinued because it was made for the graphic arts industry who aren't really stripping negs anytmore....you'd think maybe Light Impressions, with 50% of their products made out of this stuff, could warrant it to stay in production....or all the archives using it as well? Good news is there may be some import materials that will work.

It's always that same old argument..that art is pure somehow, untouched by any commercialism...but you're using products....the thing that might save LF actually, is the fact that you can make some sort of light sensitive material to fit in the holder back there if you absolutely have to....paper negs or whatever...even full plate tintypes. Try that with fancy new Hasselblad system, or F5. My opinions only as always.

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), January 11, 2002.


Somebody compared his Deardorff to a Steinway, and digital equipment to Roland keyboard. So, may traditional photography will be like jazz, when digital photo techniques will establish new kind of hip-hop or techno-disco-pop? Any way, digital cameras are now common in studio use, and its fine, people are more creative with light setups and cropping, because they can immedietly see how the photo is looking like, and make some changes to do it better. I'm not worring about the future of negatives and diapositives. It will stay with us like vinyl discs (music from vinyl is very popular among DJs in Europe, especially those playing "new music" - ambient, electrohouse, etc.). I think that I will have to wait about 8 to 10 years until I could buy a small format digital camera which will produce 30-40 MB tiff's, will have 5- 10 GB microdrive disc, battery which last for 100 hours (not 100 minutes like it is today), and cost no more than $ 1000 - 1500. If that comes, I would say: "now I can sometimes leave my FM2 nikon at home, because my digital camera can produce images, which are technicaly simillar to small format slides.

Regards,

Lukasz

-- Lukasz Zandecki (lz34246@gsk.com), January 11, 2002.


"...Any way, digital cameras are now common in studio use, and its fine, people are more creative with light setups and cropping, because they can immedietly see how the photo is looking like, and make some changes to do it better."

Actually I don't think that is the case. More likely, psychologically speaking, people are trying new lighting schemes and framing because they have a new tool (or toy) and that is putting them in the "head space"/ mindset to experiment and try different stuff in other creative areas. As proof of this, watch how many of those you mention settle into a 'style" which become a groove which will become a rut.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), January 11, 2002.


I didn't mean to sound like I was down on digital, but I agree that this is a golden age for traditional LF. Many castoffs of the now digital graphic arts industry and commercial studios are useful to LF shooters and are available at pennies on the dollar. Thats the good news. The disturbing news is that materials will probably become scarce without the demand of those same labs and studios driving production.IMHO, there will always be a place for quality art no matter what the process and the creative 'bug' will always drive creative people to experiment with either cutting edge technology, traditional, or historic processes (or all of the above)to find thier own creative niche. I found mine with big pieces of black and white film and stinky chemicals, and although I shoot for my own pleasure I think traditional LF will remain a viable art form. Many sculptors still carve wood and stone with chisels and hammers and often command comparable, if not higher prices for thier art than those artists using power tools. Right now, digital is "in" so I guess I'm "out" but I'm really too busy with problems like "Do I ski or snowshoe out to the mountain ridge where I want to shoot star trails?(and what do I do for six hours besides freezing?")Or, "How do I get this !@%#@! studio shutter to work?" to be too concerned about not having a $30,000 digital back .

-- John Kasaian (www.kasai9@aol.com), January 12, 2002.

Several years ago I fell in love with landscape photography with my Canon EOS IV. Even though a good system, producing respectable resulty, I quickly found out what it will not do. Digital is coming on fast, but I am not convinced at this date digital cannot give me what I am looking for. Something about taking my time in the mountains, feeling the air around me, and seeing what nature will give me, slowly, very slowly stirs my heart. This intimacy will be destroyed in a flash with a quick draw digital whose image will be mediocre at best. Even in amateur competition, I can discerne the difference between a film image and a digital image. So I am presently purchasing a LF camera and will be building my own dark room. Maybe the LF is part of my maturing process. One big benefit to the digital era, however, is the darkroom equipement being given away. All right!!!!

-- Tim Gearin (timgearin@yahoo.com), January 13, 2002.

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