Nikon, Canon & the Death of Film?

Earlier this year the rumors began on the web and, as rumors are want to do on the web, the rumors spread like wildfire: Nikon was pulling out of the film market.

Oh horror!

The anouncement last week that Canon was following suit just added gasoline to the fire. Among the photoblogging community, and other online photographic communities, there was immediate panic. If the holy duality of Canon and Nikon were abandoning film, other manufactures wouldn't be far behind then what would the yellow godess, Kodak, do? There'll be panic in the streets; cats and dogs living together - a disaster of biblical proportions.


Let's put aside the fact Nikon and Canon aren't totally abandoning film just yet. Let's also put aside the fact that we'll probably be able to buy film for the rest of our natural lives: you can still buy glass valves for radios constructed at the dawn of the radio days. You might not just be able to pop down to your local Walgreenís to replenish your film stocks in a decade from now but it still will be available.

Let's put aside the fact that most photobloggers haven't been near a wet darkroom in a decade, if ever. We like to wax lyrical about our beloved, outdated mechanical cameras that come from an era when men were men, and their cameras were hune from a solid ingot of high-grade steel. The truth is, however, that since we bought that first Digital Rebel a couple of years ago that OM1, Nikon F or Leica M2 has been left on the shelf to gather dust. Digital is just too darned convenient. Even those photobloggers who aspire to be old school and use film exclusively are not truly analog. If they soup their own B&W they are in a tiny minority; most send their film out to a lab. However their film get's processed it's much more likely to end up in a film scanner than an enlarger. Isn't a film scanner just a specialized camera that takes pictures of film? If you're a photoblogger, eventually your images have to end up as one's and zero's on your host to be published.

The truth is that film isn't dead yet; it has just moved out of the mainstream. This should make clique photobloggers happy as, if they continue to use film, they're no longer using the same technology as the majority of snapshot photographers. Film will be still available until the last analogue photographer either dies or goes digital. Until that far-off day you'll continue to be able to buy film and get it processed. You won't be able to take it to Walgreens anymore but I thought purists despised minilabs anyway. It will cost you progressively more as it gets less and less mainstream, as recent raises in prices by both Fuji and Kodak demonstrate, but thatís market forces isnít it? Megabytes will get cheaper as film becomes more expensive. A few years ago we weíre moaning that there wasnít an affordable DSLR now weíre complaining about the cost of film; unfortunately, we canít have it both ways.

Decades ago, if you wanted to be taken seriously as a writer you had to have a Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable like Hemmingway. How many authors use a typewriter these days? Very few but I don't think the word processor has necessarily lead to the fall of the modern novel. I doubt there are many who would argue that a return to mechanical typewriters would improve modern literature and yet, even if you are in the tiny minority, the .05 percent of writers who still use your precious Olivetti Studio 44 you can still get it serviced and buy new ribbons for it.

As long as you want to, you'll be able to use film. I understand something of the romance of film; the arguments about dynamic ranges and the astounding, unmatched number of virtual megapixels a view camera with large sheet film provide but Iíve never used a view camera. 35mm was quiet sufficient then, but now, if I ever have to deal with scratches, dust, spotting, pushing & pulling again it will be too soon.

Photography is photography, be that film or sensor, digital or anologue. Stop sweating the media, just keep taking pictures and everything will be OK.

Posted on Tuesday, 6 June 2006 | Editorial