Is Today Back To The Future

The other day I received an e-mail press news release about a new handheld light meter. I had not seen any news of handheld light meters in some time, so of course I read it. In style and content it was much like what I probably read twenty years ago. But what struck me strangely, now that virtually all cameras are digital, is the fact a digital camera is really just a light measuring device that records the light readings of millions of pixel sites and records them in an image file. Of course that does not preclude the value of a narrow angle spot or an incident light meter, they are useful in measuring the light on and from a subject to make an informed decision on making a photographic exposure with digital or on film.

Soon thereafter I received a reader e-mail about a high-end digital P&S camera, so I looked at the manufacturer specifications and documentation, and strangely there was lots of detailed data about the camera but no indication whether a Raw saved file was in sRGB or Adobe RGB colorspace. In fact the information about the camera although extensive could almost be as if it were a film camera of a couple of decades ago.

My curiosity was piqued, so I rifled through a stack of recent photo publications to get the feel of what the writing was about. Yes it was about photography, but again other than articles specifically about software, what was being discussed were photographs, pictures and for that matter whether the original was a digital camera exposure or an image exposed on film seemed to be of little concern. In other words much of photography todays seems to ignore whether the image is stored physically on film or is just a computer file of RGB/XY measurement values.

Is there anything wrong with treating all photography the same whether digitally derived or made using film? No, not really although assuming they are the same, and ignoring we are in a digital age can result in serious technical problems and consequences. Regardless the media used, to ignore its nature seems like a dangerous way to work and function. But for photographers who have recently decided to convert from analogue to digital, if digital seems like just another kind of the same photography, old thinking will make it seem comfortable. At least until you have a technical challenge or problem to solve.

I recall about a decade or so ago around the change of the century, there were many boldly designed new digital cameras on the market trying to capture photographers interest. Some of them had really appealing features. Even so, apparently they did not sell very well, because today there aren’t any boldly futuristic camera designs, but multitudes of digital camera models that all look like film cameras popular in the past. Obviously photographers and even novices want a digital camera that looks familiar, the way cameras have for much of the last half century. I was reminded of this by a comic strip inspired movie made in 2004. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, with Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie set in a make believe, futuristic 1940’s, with Paltrow playing a newspaper reporter with a camera, it was an Argus C3. Cameras in movies always have to be familiar looking!

Photography has been a significant part of our cultural history for over a century. Still photography published in newspapers and magazines played a large role in picturing our country’s story through three major wars, and a host of other events caught on film. So how photography is thought of by almost everyone is common knowledge that is not easily changed in philosophy and meaning by new technology. It should not be surprising that the newest digital cameras, look like cameras we have long found familiar sights. If they looked different would they be recognized for what they are and be purchased so readily?

We live in both the present and our past. But getting lost in the past sometimes makes the present a difficult puzzle to solve, so don’t go missing back in the future, its science fiction and surely not real.