Industry Perspective: Closing in on the End of an Era

It’s been quite some time since advancing technology finally took the teeth out of the old film-versus-digital debate, as most amateur and professional photographers have long-since switched to digital point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras. That said, there still are a few diehard silver halide devotees, and we’ve even seen some new films introduced in recent years.

The other day I read an interesting piece by Associated Press writer Ben Dobbin who put the film era in perspective—from the turn of the 21st century when Americans bought close to a billion rolls of film, to 2011 when they’ll buy a mere 20 million (plus some 31 million single-use film cameras). Eastman Kodak marketed the first flexible roll film in 1888, and by 1999 more than 800 million rolls of film were sold in the U.S., according to data from the Photo Marketing Association (PMA).

The drop in film use over the past decade, however, has been precipitous—with the film market shrinking some 20 percent per year. PMA statistics indicate that domestic sales of film cameras have shrunk from almost 20 million in the year 2000, to 280,000 in 2009 and possibly less than 100,000 by the end of 2011. Rounding out the trend is the big decline in the variety of film stocks available and the continuing decline in processing.

As Bill Dobbin pointed out, film is now an elective at major photography schools. Therese Mulligan, Administrative Chairwoman of the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology, notes “Our entire first two year’s curriculum is digital in orientation. Those that follow a fine-art option are the first to gravitate to film,” she explained, “while other genres we teach—photojournalism, advertising or biomedical—have a stronger digital emphasis because of the industry itself.”

While Kodak and Fujifilm seem willing to produce a shrinking variety of films as long as there is sufficient demand, it’s clear that when the remaining film users feel the need for a new camera they typically make the transition to digital. In short, we are reaching the end of an era, and a great one it was.

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COMMENTS
Gohxiong's picture

You, like most of the media, are much too SLR oriented. My wife and I HAVE traded all of our Canon film gear in for DSLR's (except for my EOS 3). We have even traded in our early digital for later version (top end, we have a 20D, 5D, 5DMkII, 1DSMkII). However, I still prefer to use my Mamiya 645AF with film back. I can't justify the $40k cost for a high end film back. I also use a Toyo 45AX for my money landscape work.

I've heard all of the film vs digital arguments. Mostly crap made by camera makers and sycophants. The weakest point of any camera is the lens. The optics limited circle of confusion of the lens is larger than the film resolution and much larger than all but the high end DSLR's and 645 medium format cameras.

The problem with film was never the film but the processing. I've compared Velvia 50 slides to the 5DMkII and found the Velvia 50 had a slightly better resolution when viewed under direct magnification. All labs just didn't take the time to print carefully enough.

Digital does beat film in a number of areas such as workflow and range. And it is possible to superimpose multiple exposure digital images or photo stitch. The photo stitch does allow for higher resolution images but it is not the same as a single image.

suzain66's picture

Aaron Belfour
Digital does beat film in a number of areas such as workflow and range. And it is possible to superimpose multiple exposure digital images or photo stitch. The photo stitch does allow for higher resolution images but it is not the same as a single image.

tom1122's picture

Awesome and interesting article. Great things you've always shared with us. Thanks. Just continue composing this kind of post.
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JeffColburn's picture

While the film market is shrinking, it is still alive and thriving. I recently posted an article on my blog, http://www.TheCreativesCorner.com about how digital costs more than film photography. The post has gone viral with over 1,100 hits on my blog, 110 posts on a LinkIn group and many other hits.

Many of the posters say they still use film, or are going back to film. And one photographer in Australia said that many professional photographers there are going back to film too.

You should also check out this video on CNN http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/living/2011/08/18/natpkg.film.not.dead....

It's going to be a long time before film is gone.

Have Fun,
Jeff

Zzyzx's picture

Well folks, digital has some real advantages for some types of photography. Film has some for others. One big problem with those coming up with only digital experience is a sever lack of grounding in the basics of photography. I see it in the kids every week as they don't know much more than 'modes' and pushing the button. They don't know shutter/aperture relationships and have little understanding of the process.
Having photographed weddings digitally I went back to the old Hasselblads and am glad I did. Much easier and nicer for me.

I shoot larger formats in 5x7 & 8x10 and contact print in silver as well as platinum and carbon. The hands on process is so much nicer than sitting in front of this computer screen. The concentration in shooting one fine image at a time is much nicer for me than shooting many variations and trying to figure out which works by reveiwing it on the computer monitor.

Both have their place and I do shoot some wet plate negatives... so if we ever lose film I can still shoot and print.

Add in electromagnetic disturbances, lightning storms and 100 year Northern Light storms and you have a whole digital world just waiting to crash. My negatives will still work and I can still print even if electricity is not available.

keyshiaCq's picture

Every little thing today is being turned to digital. Not just for easier access but the cost is now not a problem. Somehow, I still see a couple of people like in Jonathon Budd Companies that are still using the traditional cameras.

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The debate between the digital and old film foresees that the olden technology will come to an end and the new generation will only use the digital technology. However there are a few people who still use silver halide right now. wordpress landing page

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