Friday, August 15, 2014

Looking into your crystal ball

Gazing into my crystal ball and reading the future is hard. At first the ball looks clear with nothing visible. The harder I stare, the less I see until I am concentrating totally on the ball. That clear glass ball through which I can see the stand upon which it rests and spectral reflections of the lights in the room. I dim the lights and continue to gaze into the ball, developing a minor migraine as I do so because I'm not wearing my glasses. I continue to gaze into the ball and concentrate even harder but no - it's not possible to see into the future. If crystal balls really worked or tarot really worked then how come all the practitioners are merely classed as entertainers for tax purposes and how come none of them can ever predict the lottery numbers?

The camera world has changed rapidly during my short lifetime. I have only been taking pictures for 40 years. Indeed my late aunt gave me my first camera at the tender age of 7. I still have it and it still works though finding film for it is now not possible as it took 126 cartridge film.

That was in the 1970s and Man had just walked on the moon and was in the midst of a series of lunar escapades that almost ended in tragedy the year before I had my camera. I remember well the solemn faces of all concerned and how everybody tuned into the radio for the latest bit of news. There were announcements on the radio that if anybody had any ideas they should submit them to the local police station.

Roll on a few years and 35mm became my film of choice. Certainly I'd tried other formats - 110, 120 and Super 8. I even changed systems a couple of times, starting out with M42 mount Praktica cameras and then going for a bayonet mount Pentax before ending up with Nikon 35mm. When I went digital I changed again and went for Canon since it didn't make much odds what system I used - everything was different. Nikon's 35mm lenses were only nominally compatible.

Back when I was getting my Nikon equipment, I went for manual focus on the basis of lower cost. People tried to persuade me to go for autofocus as it was "the future". Just about then APS film came in and that recorded information about the exposure on a magnetic strip or at least that was in the specifications for the film. I remembered looking at that and predicting that this combined with autofocus were just a step along the way to digital imaging. Sure - I was laughed at by people that assumed digital cameras would remain as big as professional television studio cameras but as we can now see, I was right.

Photographic history is littered with things that fell by the wayside. Some of those things had a good long lifespan while others lasted a very short time. Film in general had a very good run, lasting over a hundred years. Types of film and types of camera came and went. Now it is the time of digital imaging.

Right now we have a war of formats for digital imaging. Different sensor sizes and different devices using the different sensors. In terms of quality, even the humble cellphone image has far surpassed the quality of what could be done with most compact film cameras back in the heyday of film.

Realistically, the high megapixel counts of traditionally 35mm formats have eliminated any real need for larger formats. This is why medium format has all but vanished and why large format cameras have vanished.

Slowly and grudgingly different varieties of film are vanishing as people turn increasingly to digital. I have not used film in 10 years. People bemoaned the death of their "beloved" Kodachrome yet they loved it so much they didn't buy enough to make sure it continued. Digital is just so much more convenient.

The key overriding thing is convenience. Convenience is why mobile phones can upload pictures straight to the internet and to email for sharing and for storage. Convenience is why people don't like film any more - it's easier to upload to the computer than to have to drive to the shop to get the film processed then hang about for an hour while it's processed and printed. Because digital compacts had a step involved between taking the images and uploading them, they died out and phones with cameras took over.

Looking forward and fearing that digital SLRs with their clunky size and tiresome method of transferring images via a card that has to be physically removed or a cable that has to be located and connected to both computer and camera, the camera manufacturers sprang a new format - the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Largely these have controls designed for simple use for people that don't really care about the complexities of cameras and photography. They're also largely wifi devices that can connect with mobile phones.

I hear people calling down the wrath of God on all these new fangled gizmos. Truth be told, there's a place for all of them and yes - even for film. What will be the future? I don't know. I suspect that since the new mirrorless cameras have issues with low light, there might well be an improvement there, including perhaps limited infra-red capability. One thing is certain - we don't saddle up horses and ride them to work any more because cars are so much more convenient. Progress always goes for the easy option. Who knows where cameras will be in 2 years from now?

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