brave new world

Slide courtesy of Gordon Brown’s talk January 2003

Toronto. Today, almost everyone has a smartphone that includes a sophisticated digital camera and editing apps. Stills, selfies, and videos are taken incessantly.

With some care, and little or no photographic skill, people capture a decent image. In fact, they don’t think twice about snapping off dozens of images – no cost and no delay to see the results. Bad shot? Trash it! Good shot? Email it!

It was nearly 90 years ago in 1931 (when Aldous Huxley wrote his book of the same title) that a roll of film often lasted amateurs – casual or serious – weeks. Cameras were mostly bulky affairs, films or plates were black and white (with the rare colour film/plate for the adventurous). Skill was needed to correctly select, frame, and expose a subject. Tripods were a necessity, not an add-on to show you were a serious photographer.

NB. I discovered Huxley’s works in the early 1960s reading “Brave New World” and a couple of his other novels. “Brave New World” seemed to be a fitting title for this post given the Herculean photographic transition from film to digital this century.

In the 1970s, Kodak experimented with digital cameras but the research was just that. Kodak made most of its profit from the sale of film and paper at the time. However; Kodak’s research into digital technology continued and for a time “Great Yellow Father” was a major factor in digital photographic technology.

By January 2003, when George Hunter first spoke to us on the topic of  “Tales of a Photographer“, professionals were beginning to scan and print. Digital cameras were still too low resolution and too expensive so many pros would shoot film and scan it allowing Photoshop technology to clean up the image and digital printers to create longer lasting prints.

On September 19th, 2007 we had the pleasure of hosting a talk by Gordon Brown called “Photography before computers and after digital“. Gordon was both a scientist and a photographer. He researched subjects for Kodak (like the T-Max name) and taught the ZONE System at the Ansel Adams school. His talk covered the history of digital photography from its beginnings in the laboratories of Kodak to the mid 2000s – spanning some thirty years. The above slide image is from his talk.

By March 2008, when Rob Skeoch (pronounced skew) spoke to us calling his talk  “Observations of a Large Format Photographer“, digital technology had made serious inroads over film. Sports photos, once worth hundreds of dollars a shot had fallen to $25 at most. Instead of a publication paying for a single slide chosen by the photographer to be mailed in; literally hundreds could be emailed to the editor and the editor, not the photographer, could and did pick and choose!

Back Story: My own venture into digital photography began around 1998 when I bought a used Chinon ES-3000 and memory card from Vistek. The camera only worked with Windows. A high resolution image was a paltry 640×480 pixels (o.3 mp). No preview panel. ISO no faster than film. Downloading to view images was glacially slow. My next digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix-900s had a decent 1.3 mp sensor and connected to almost any computer. A few years on I moved to a Coolpix 990 and a 3 mp sensor.

Unfortunately these consumer grade Nikons suffered design flaws necessitating repairs. A review on the Luminous Landscape site persuaded me to move to Sony and their massive F828 camera. This 8 mp powerhouse is still my backup camera today. I bought it with its massive Zeiss zoom lens at the end of its sales period in 2005. I still used jpegs as the 828 could barely handle a couple of RAW shots in a row before growing briefly very slow.

After seeing the electronic viewer on a mirrorless camera, I waited Sony’s version and moved to the NEX-5 in 2010 and finally I could use RAW in real time. The 14 mp sensor was a charm. The little camera had everything but an eye-level viewer. In 2014, I bought an NEX-6 to replace my NEX-5. It has both a 16mp sensor and an eye-level viewer. An adapter and cheap remote control lets me use it as a faster way to scan negatives and prints. Build construction seems far better than the older Coolpix cameras.

An accidental loss of battery capacity one evening on my NEX-6 resulted in the free gift of a Nikon P7000 kit. It has a wider zoom range, extra battery, a great 10 mp sensor and good battery life. But the sensor doesn’t handle low light well giving noisy, fuzzy results when hand held. One problem. A tiny battery soldered internally on a PC board bridges the brief blip when the main battery is changed so the date, time, and settings can be retained. This battery is dead and replacement means a repair and $$$. So I reset at each main battery swap.

Most the time today I use an 8 mp iPod Touch camera and move images to my computer via air drop. Easy-Peasy. Getting lazy these days, but the little device is always at hand and with a bit of patience takes decent photos.

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