The Year Digital Took Over

This issue contains our annual new products report in which we look at a number of product groupings and discuss what's been introduced in each in the last few months. The main inspiration for this flood of products comes from our attending America's largest photo/imaging trade show, known as PMA (Photo Marketing Association). Our staff and a host of our contributing editors, each covering their "beat," attended press conferences, walked the floor, and explored the two large halls of exhibits for a number of days. In our coverage we avoid the "laundry list" approach (every product in every category) and instead report on what interests us most. In a sense, we hope to act as your stand-in and place ourselves in the shoes of you, the savvy Shutterbug reader. Of course there are many more products at the show than we could report on, so we all did our best to find and reveal those that caught our eye.

We view this issue as not so much a full product guide but more as a mirror on the state of the art of photography, at least gear-wise. The PMA Show lacks the galleries and exhibitions that make photokina such an inspiration, with most images shown at PMA meant to reinforce the marketing message. But if gear is your thing then PMA is the place to be.

Now, about that headline. It stems from one of the more startling statistics that emanated from the show--that 2007 marks the first time that more prints will be made from digital than "analog" (film) sources. How the folks in the stats business came up with this is beyond me, but it does have a certain "truthiness," as Stephen Colbert would say, to it. Regardless of whether the number is 51/50 percent, or not quite at a tipping point, is unimportant--what is important is the fact that the infrastructure is in place that would make this stat plausible. That infrastructure includes home printing, and all the great desktop units now available, camera stores and minilabs, kiosks, and of course the Internet. This is a stat that we might have doubted quite seriously last year, and very seriously the year before that.

The same goes for the number of exposures made, which is also said to be approaching the "analog"/digital tipping point. I couldn't begin to guess how many film frames, on everything from 126 to disc to APS to 35mm and larger format, are being made out there, but after almost a century of accumulation of cameras it has to be quite a bit. And how the industry mavens know how many digital images are exposed each year baffles me completely; no one ever polled me, and I take lots of images with various digital cameras.

Nevertheless, the numbers are an indication of a perception--that being the decline and fall of film cameras. I don't doubt the decline--anyone walking down a busy street in a tourist town can figure that one out. And film throughput can be measured by the number of labs doing business and chemicals and meters of paper used. But most of those labs, and all the lab equipment shown at PMA, mark the fact that most labs still turning on the lights in the morning have been converted to digital image factories.

So the perception/truth is that digital has not only overtaken the hardware side of photography--it's overtaken the image, or "soft" side as well. But does this mark the "fall" of film? Not as far as we're concerned. But do mark 2007 as the year the industry officially declared that digital took over.