One of the saddest developments in corporate history has been the decline of the once-mighty Eastman Kodak company. For the better part of the century the company was so dominant in photography through the production of film, processing and materials, that it was subject to constant anti-trust suits. There were competitors, but Kodak was dominant in photography because of its consistent high quality. It was a household name known to all. I remember the huge picture displays they used to advertise in Grand Central Station, and the photo gallery on 42nd St. and Sixth Avenue in New York. They are history now, along with its overwhelming presence in Rochester, New York that benefited that city immensely. All that has been swept away due to digital photography and the decline of film, even though nothing matches its fine resolution. Once digital arrived, the camera market was flooded with products, not only from the traditional camera makers, that previously were not players in photography, but other companies, such as Sony (which absorbed Minolta’s system), Korean companies (which I personally would not touch),and even cell-phone makers. Kodak manages to trudge along humbly, still making good products, like a small underwater video camera and a printer system that uses the most inexpensive ink refills on the market and works wirelessly.
I am now in the process of scanning and digitizing thousands of those ubiquitous yellow boxes full of slides taken over decades, with those legendary names Kodachrome and Ektachrome, along with an occasional Fujichrome. It took many years before I could find a satisfactory reproductive system. I tried a couple of consumer scanners, but the results were poor. Then I used camera attachments to make duplicates, but this was a tedious, one-at-a time process. Finally I bought a high quality scanner (Plustek OpticFilm 7600 with Silverfast software) and got excellent results. Although the cost was higher it was well worth it. With this kind of configuration you can get high resolution scans that faithfully reproduce pictures from slides or negatives for almost any size you realistically might want to print, or you can further edit them with something like Photoshop or Aperture. However there is still no way to match the fine resolution of a slide or negative, and so some people stick with film even now.
On the other hand there were also many inconveniences, such as changing film rolls, waiting to get the results, and getting into repeated fights with x-ray security personnel on airline trips, to avoid having my batch of film ruined by x-rays. (It’s a good thing that is in the past because I’d probably get arrested for doing that these days). The cost of pictures has also dropped radically as digital shots don’t cost anything, although high quality SLR camera prices have increased significantly. I didn’t fully switch to digital until I bought a Canon EOS 7D, which enabled me to use all my old interchangeable film camera lenses, and produced pictures with a high pixel count. But I still take pictures the old-fashioned way, through the viewfinder. This also significantly extends battery life. I find the digital screens on the back of cameras useless in bright light, and I’m baffled as to why they aren’t making many cameras with viewfinders these days. I personally recommend getting one with a viewfinder if you can find it, so you can actually see what you’re taking, never mind at least doubling your battery power if you turn the screen off.
Computers have also been a major factor in changing photography, along with so many other things. Way back in the film era pictures were first digitized in order to be enhanced on the computer. The first program I had was called Digital Darkroom, which eventually became Photoshop. It’s just amazing what you can do these days to correct pictures. With the setup I have, I’ve been able to revive photos given up for dead because of darkness, and pull a serviceable image out of it on the scanner. Thus, overall, technology has been a blessing, especially to the extent that most people just want to point and shoot and don’t care all that much about high resolution. That, however, is a subject for another essay.