Photography innovation through the years


While looking for a particular camera lens that I used to use on a film camera, the other day, it suddenly occurred to me that I had not exposed a roll of film in over 10 years. Fortunately, most of the good lenses I used on old Nikon film cameras will still fit on the digital camera bodies that Loretta and I have mostly used since 2005.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t really miss using film to shoot photos all that much but I do believe that there is something good to be said for the work ethic and skill level that film photography required and still requires to get a decent picture as opposed to pointing a cell phone at something and having the scene or subject photographically captured on a whim.

I have not seen the photo spread but I am told that National Geographic Magazine (NGM) recently published a series of photos that were shot with a cell phone or phones. For some reason that seems obscene to me because I can remember a time, sometimes feels like yesterday, when every photograph NGM published had to be shot with Kodachrome slide film.

In fact, I still believe that one of the two biggest photography innovations that were developed in my lifetime was the invention of Ektachrome slide film that photographers could develop themselves without even having to have a dark room. The other huge innovation was the Polaroid land camera, instant print film that rarely produced a photo worth the paper on which it was printed.

Kodachrome had to be processed at specialized Kokak laboratories and there were only three or four in the entire country that could do it. By the late 1980s, there was only one commercial lab in the country that still processed Kodachrome and I’m reasonably sure it shut down in 2010. In other words, Kodachrome is now completely obsolete and Ektachrome’s days are numbered. Ditto for other forms of film photography because it has become economically infeasible to manufacture the chemicals necessary to support the industry since there is virtually no demand for the product.

I remember hearing the news that kodachrome processing would soon become impossible in the late 1990’s. I had a couple or 3 “bricks” of the film in the refrigerator that I knew I would never use because I lacked the patience to package up the individual rolls, mail them off to Chicago, and wait two weeks to get the slides back. Additionally, the processing cost was pretty steep when compared to Ektachrome and a host of other slide film brands that could be rapidly and inexpensively processed at home or very quickly/cheaply returned from a commercial lab.

Still, Kodachrome had a cadre of fans who believed it to be far superior to its upstart rivals and I have to admit that it rendered some colors, especially reds, conspicuously better than any other film that has ever been available to the average consumer.

Anway, Loretta and I were going to a slide photography competition one week-end at one of the state parks and I decided to take along the kodachrome film and see if I could unload it for a few bucks. I was not expecting to get back what I had invested in it because it was already a couple of years out of date.

We showed up at the registration desk on Friday afternoon and I asked the clerks to spread the word that I had upwards of 30 rolls of outdated but refrigerated kodachrome I was trying to sell for the best offer.

To make a long story short, I almost immediately sold one brick (cellophane encased package of 10 rolls) for $100.00 and the rest was gone for ten bucks a roll within minutes as fast as I could get it out of the gadget bag. This was more than double what it had originally cost me and I was feeling quite lucky and proud of myself.

Then, on Sunday morning, I learned that the fellow who had bought the first brick had sold it off at $25 per roll except for a couple he had kept for himself, at which point I experienced the gloom of realizing I had left a lot of cash on the table.

Unfortunately, there have been no such similar profit opportunities in the big, practically overnight revolution from film to digital photography. The old Nikon bodies I still have would have sold on EBay for upwards of a thousand dollars each 15 years ago. Now they wouldn’t fetch $25.

But at least the lenses still work on the digital bodies we now have for anyone who still remembers how to adjust the settings. Our grandchildren think it’s hilarious that we lug big bulky cameras around that we can’t even use to take a selfie.

Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Ike Adams at [email protected] or on Facebook or 249 Charlie Brown Road, Paint Lick, KY 40461.

Ike Adams

Points East

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