Friday, June 26, 2009

Adios Kodachrome

Within the space of one generation, a product came and went - Kodachrome is gone. And the analog camera will, soon. It is amazing when you come to think of it. Yes, yes, it is still alive, you scream, but it is a short road to obscurity from here. When I was born (not too long ago), the camera was an elitist product - not too many people had it.

Not too long ago, photographs of people were hung on the wall of every drawing room of every self respecting house. We went to studios to get pictures taken or a photographer would come home with all his equipment and take pictures. Well, not too many could dream of owning a camera, like a car. This was in the 50s and 60s. The 70s saw a few cameras escape studios and find their way in the hands of some well off people. Slowly the strings began to loosen, but camera ownership was still hard to come by.

Indeed, the first pictures we ever shot were on a borrowed camera - with those 24 exposure cartridge reels shaped like binoculars. After we got the camera, we posed in front of almost every piece of furniture of our house before turning our attention to the other places - including the building courtyard, nearby temple, garden, somebody's cars and what not. From then on, we progressed - we bought our own camera, carried it along to the tourist places we went, faithfully taking pictures (sometimes, they did not turn up very well and you would know that only after you developed it), filing it in albums, noting memories on it, sending copies to relatives. Wherever we toured, we had designated photographers - those who could handle the camera well (and I was on that prestigious position for a few tours). Also, the best photographers got called out to take those group photos (until somebody invented the self timer). It was a neat ecosystem.

And then along came the digital camera. Expensive at first, it rapidly dropped prices and became affordable (now, with cameras on mobile phones, everybody has a camera). But more than anything else, it turned something that was "limited" into something that is "limitless". Also, the technology did not complicate things, it made it simple. Now, a monkey with a camera could get you decent pictures - and make you feel like a genius (but then they have taken their art further, so real genius is still not easy to reach). Earlier if you budgeted for two "36 exposure" rolls for a trip, now you can take a zillion pictures limited only by the memory card. (Imagine, we did a 15 day trip of Himachal and spent a princely 4 rolls of film. Today, we would have shot a thousand pictures between the 6 chaps who went.)

What is equally amazing is that all this happened across barely one generation - atleast in India. Cameras were becoming popular only 20 years ago. And 20 years later, it is digital all over. No, I am not lamenting the passing of an era - indeed, I am glad that all the developing and printing and sorting is now much simpler. And you can send pictures over email.

What is more important and interesting is that, we are going to witness a similar passing of many things we grew up over the next many years. One thing, I would like to see go soon is the IC engine.

And before we start on our lament that the digital picture is destroying photography, read this priceless piece written in 1999 by Douglas Adams. DNA/How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet. (via Gaurav)


Ambuj Saxena said...

I think you are being hasty dismissing the analog camera. Although it might become a rare find in popular, everyday use, professionals will continue to use analog for a long time to come. The best in class digital cameras provide upto 20 MP resolution, which is nowhere near the 500 MP (equivalent) provided by the best in class analog cameras. Most photography magazines still don't allow digital submissions for precisely the same reason.

neelakantan said...

I dont deny that Ambuj. This is the mass market - the 80% or probably the 95% of the camera market...

Professionals, clearly yes, clearly a different market.

BharGo said...

Brilliant post... standing ovation!

BTW, the last roll in Himanchal got buggered up and the "Switzerland 6200 Kms" snap @ Khajjiar was lost forever!

Kavi said...

I am just back from a trip to Kodaikanal.

And i have 2500 odd snaps. And that would have meant a 100 rolls !

Life changes. Doesnt it !

Anonymous said...

hi.. just dropping by here... have a nice day!

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