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from John Naughton, tech reporter for the Guardian (and quite a few other places)
I share some of his sadness at the demise of film photography – but have to admit it is so much more convenient having digital kit and being able to share your content so quickly and easily…
[FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif] The end of Nikonography[/FONT]
[FONT=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif] John Naughton
Sunday January 15, 2006
[/FONT] Last week, the Nikon Corporation of Japan dropped a bombshell: it said it plans to stop making film cameras. To anyone interested in photography it’s as if Volkswagen had suddenly announced it was to stop making cars.For as long as I can remember, Nikon has been one of three leading brands for serious photographers – the others being Leica and Canon. For news photographers, it generally came down to a choice between two – Canon and Nikon. And war photographers seem to have preferred Nikons: most of the photographs which changed US public opinion about the Vietnam war, for example, were taken using Nikon F2s, which weighed a ton but were virtually indestructible and came with wonderful lenses.
But times change. A Nikon spokesman said its decision had been made because sales of analogue cameras have fallen catastrophically. In the most recent fiscal year, ended March 2005, film camera bodies accounted for only 3 per cent of its $1.5 billion sales – down from 19 per cent on the previous year. Sales of Nikon digital cameras have soared to 75 per cent – as compared with 47 per cent three years earlier.
Nikon’s decision is as profound as the switch from vinyl LPs to CDs in the early 1980s. And the arguments which rage about the merits of analogue and digital photography have echoes of the debates about vinyl versus CD. Digital music is created by sampling the audio signal 44,000 times a second, and hi-fi buffs argued that this degrades sound quality. As someone who could never afford high-end analogue hi-fi systems, however, CDs seemed immeasurably better to me.
But then, I’m no hi-fi buff. I do, however, know something about photography, and there’s no question that digital images are currently inferior to analogue ones. At even moderate levels of enlargement, the differences are obvious. Areas of sharp contrast between light and dark are problematic for digital imagery (try a digital photograph of a leafless tree silhouetted against a bright sky); and colour rendition in low-light conditions can be wacky and ‘noisy’ (flecked with what looks like digital dust).
But to average snappers, the images coming from a digital camera are as good as anything they ever got from film. In fact, they’re better, because more of the duds will have been snuffed out in the camera. They come in a much more convenient form – as files that can be emailed to friends and family or posted on Flickr. And although the camera may cost more to buy, subsequent savings on processing may compensate.
So, for the average punter, film lost the argument with digital ages ago. That explains why Kodak decided to stop making film cameras last year. But Nikon catered to a different market: people who were fastidious about quality and often technically knowledgeable. By abandoning film, Nikon is really signalling the advent of a radical shift in the technology that will satisfy even these picky folks.
The key to it is better image sensing: in 10 years’ time, cameras will produce huge, razor-sharp images with exquisite detail and good colour rendition.
So the time will come when I can auction my beloved old Nikon F3 on eBay as a prime ‘collectable’. But not yet.