You press the button, we do the rest

Of the importance of convenience in photography, and how it will drive conventional digital cameras to irrelevance for casual photographers.

kodak1890ad

Before they lost everything, Kodak had built an empire on convenience. They had made a process which was seen as extremely complex and cumbersome – taking photographs – into something as simple as pressing a button.

Apple, Google, Facebook, Instagram and a few others have made an activity which was discouragingly complex for billions of people – taking pictures, uploading them to a computer, editing them and sharing them with family, friends or perfect strangers over the Internet – so simple that a 6 year old can do it.  For the casual photographer, there is no better camera than a smartphone.

paris_iphone5s
Paris-Plage – iPhone 5s – August 2016

How is the obsession with simplicity and convenience going to impact photography as we know it? 

It may take a few years, but digital photography as we know it is going to leave the mass market and become a niche:

  • Smartphones and their cloud ecosystem will only get better at meeting the needs of casual photographers. They will not only take better pictures, but will also offer more functions and even more convenience than today, in a way that will be impossible to match with conventional digital cameras. Imagine the possibilities of combining Presence, Search, Face Recognition, Augmented Reality and Video to make pictures more beautiful, more flattering for the subject, more relevant, easier to share and easier to retrieve for the average user.
  • Conventional digital photography, with its big and heavy cameras and its cumbersome workflow requiring PCs or Macs and Terabytes of storage will not be able to compete on convenience with smartphones. It will leave the mainstream, and will increasingly be the field of people passionate about creating the absolute best pictures. Those photographers will form a small niche – with its forums, its Web galleries, its exhibits, its sub-culture. The situation of digital photographers  will be comparable to what photographers shooting with film experience today. They will form a new minority of enthusiasts.
  • I don’t expect photographers working with digital cameras to abandon their 50 Megapixel sensors and the Terabytes of disk space where they store their RAW or DNG files to go back to film.
  • But you can wonder what newcomers to photography will do. If they have an interest in photography as a craft or as a form of artistic activity, and want to go beyond the pictures that the smartphones of Apple and Google will have prepared for them, will they invest in digital cameras and in the digital workflow, or will they go to film? I don’t know. But I’d like to bet on film.

Londres-82100021 copy
Bagpipe Player – London – Jan. 2012 – Nikon F3.

Pictures of Venice on Kodak film processed by Ritz-Camera – Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” revisited?

The last time I used a Kodak film - so far
One of the many canals of Venice. Nikon FE2 – Kodak CN 400 film

I was in Venice during last year’s holiday season – a family reunion of sorts. I did not suspect that it would be the last time that I would have Kodak film processed by Wolf Camera (a local brand of the Ritz Camera empire). Admire the irony. Is there a better subject than Venice to illustrate the decline and fall of the glorious.

Venice - Nikon FE2 - Fujicolor 400
Venice – Nikon FE2 – Fujicolor 400 – Dec. 2011

The weather in Venice was absolutely splendid, except for a few days of rain and fog at the end of our stay. There was so much to shoot that I felt I had no time to lose fiddling with manual (film) cameras, and I shot primarily with digital cameras and with my smartphone. After one week of robotized photography, though, I felt like using a “real” camera again, and loaded my beloved Nikon FE2 with Fuji color film and with Kodak’s chromogenic B&W film, the CN400.

After heading back home, I was immediately absorbed by the daily routine, and forgot about the rolls of film from Venice. A few week-ends ago, I finally cleaned my desk and found the unprocessed film cartridges. The following day, I stopped at a rather large Wolf Camera store which still processed film, and generally did a decent job at scanning the negatives. The day after, I heard on the radio that their parent company, Ritz, was being liquidated. I was a bit concerned for my film.

In the evening I stopped at the store (which had yellow liquidation posters all over its windows). The guys said they had not processed my film yet (by the sad look of it, it was obvious that their film processing machine had some sort of problem) and they promised they would call me when the job was done. Three days later, they had not called. I stopped by again and I was decided to ask them to give me my film cartridges back. To my surprise, the processing machine had been fixed, and my CD was ready.

I was glad to get it, but I was sad for the staff of the store. Those guys were more competent and more helpful than the average of their colleagues working in smaller Wolf stores, and I don’t know what they’re going to do now.

I live in a rather big metro area – 4 million people call it home – but with Wolf going out of business in a matter of days, we’ll be down to one single walk-in, full service camera store for the whole area.

As for Kodak, they announced a few weeks ago that they were planning on selling their consumer film business. It’s likely the buyer will have the right to use the Kodak name – at least for a few transitional years, so there will still be Kodak film on store shelves for a while, even if it will only be very remotely connected to the Yellow Grandfather.

I love Venice. It’s beautiful and weird, a world in itself. The city used to rule the Eastern Mediterranean world but today it has lost all of its influence and most of its inhabitants. It is primarily a tourist destination. But it still lives and keeps on inspiring writers, musicians and all other sorts of artists.

May film photography follow the same tracks.


Venice - gondoliers
Venice – Gondoliers in the sunset. Nikon FE2. Fujicolor 400 film


And now for something completely different. My father in law gave me his old Canon A1 (pristine) as well as battered Canon FT, with an incredible 55mm f:1.2 lens. As strange as it may sound I had never owned – or even used – a Canon SLR before. I’m planning on testing them in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.