Notes On Some Dearly Departed Friends, Part II

It seems only a few months back that I did a similar obit/reminiscence on black and white printing papers from Kodak. The subjects of this month's eulogy include both film and digital passings, with one being a venerable company that has departed photography altogether. I don't write these items for morbid or even sentimental reasons, but to note the passing of an era in photography and how quickly change is occurring all around us.

By now the news of the departure of Minolta and Konica from the photo industry is well-known, as is the dropping of Nikon of most of their 35mm SLR and manual focus lenses from its line. By the time this item hits the newsstands we may have more such news to report. Last year's show report in the June 2005 issue of Shutterbug, if you remember, carried a report that no new 35mm SLRs were being brought to market and none were anticipated soon. Our blank page was in essence a memoriam to a venerable class of tools, ones that served photographers well for many, many years. After a 50-year run, which by today's standards is an era, manufacture of the 35mm SLRs is for all practical purposes over.

But the most vivid indicator of how things are changing in photography came with the news of Konica Minolta departing the business and concentrating on what, to us, is the much more mundane world of copiers and office business machines. And with Agfa gone as well, a good portion of the film stock produced in the world is gone. Konica and Agfa had made some amazing advances in film technology, and even supplied most of the film that was in those private label single-use cameras. And Minolta's advances in camera technology, both film and digital, changed how we all take pictures, with the popularization of autofocus being one of their most distinctive achievements.

But Minolta came to the digital party late, with their digital SLR being a year or more behind those from Canon and Nikon. They were never able to regain traction and those fascinated by the possibilities of digital SLR photography simply passed them by. The news is that Sony will be picking up many of their patents, and that the coming Sony digital SLR will have Minolta mounts for lenses.

While the 35mm SLR as a class of photographic tools is going away, at least in new products and developments, we note an increase in the introduction of 35mm rangefinder models, two of which are reviewed in this issue. This is quite curious, since what seems to have survived, and perhaps will thrive, are a class of cameras that predated the 35mm SLR by many years. With manual focus and advance, and the need for coupling finders, it is ironic that new 35mm cameras will be represented by "old tech" models.

One of the purposes of a journal like Shutterbug is to note the comings and goings of the photography world around us. In the rush onward, however, we feel it's sometimes a good idea to pause and consider what came before and to give a note of thanks and appreciation. To all the people from Minolta, Konica, Agfa, Bronica, Contax, and even those in Nikon who designed and engineered those great 35mm SLRs (and who continue to bring us the F6 and FM10 SLRs) we say thanks, and farewell. Photography continues to evolve and change and it won't pause long before new tools will be introduced that make what we work with today seem quaint and certainly obsolete, and with that change will come more comings and goings. If there's one sure thing it's that the tools we all use to record the world around us now will be quite different five years down the road.