Snap to It: As Kodak Announces Its Decision to Stop Selling Film Cameras in Western Europe and North America, Clive Tully Examines the Inexorable Rise of Digital Photography

By Tully, Clive | Geographical, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Snap to It: As Kodak Announces Its Decision to Stop Selling Film Cameras in Western Europe and North America, Clive Tully Examines the Inexorable Rise of Digital Photography


Tully, Clive, Geographical


I will always remember my first outing with an SLR camera. Purchased with hard-earned holiday wages, I'd taken it to an air display in the late 1960s where the star of the show was Concorde 002. I snapped away happily with my new Praktica as the big white dart wheeled gracefully overhead, but it wasn't until I was on my way home after the show that I realised the film leader had never threaded up properly, and that 36 exposures worth of virgin emulsion remained rolled up and Concorde-free inside the cassette. It was a salutary lesson that I've carried with me ever since--always check your film is winding on before you start snapping.

Over the next 30 years, I blundered through a variety of Pentax models including the hefty 6x7, the entire Nikon F series from F2 to F5 and, more recently, a number of different digital compacts from both Olympus and Nikon. My own particular uses of photography on a professional level come down to supplying photographs to accompany newspaper and magazine features. I decided to abandon film in favour of digital around three years ago while shooting a cover photo for Cruise Traveller magazine. After climbing the rigging of a stunning five-masted sailing ship, Royal Clipper, I exposed two rolls of film on my F5 and came down, satisfied I had a fantastic cover shot in the bag. Imagine my anger and frustration when the professional lab screwed up the processing. From that traumatic point on, I decided that seeing what pictures I had before leaving the scene of the crime was my only guarantee of ensuring I had the shots I'd actually taken.

While many high-street photo processors will scan your film at different resolutions onto CD at the same time as they are developing your prints, there's no doubting the inexorable swing towards all-digital photography. For those new to any kind of picture-taking, it can only be a good thing. While most cameras are intelligent enough to give you reasonable exposures in all but the most adverse lighting situations, it's nice to be able to see almost straight away where you went wrong with your composition. In fact, some consumer cameras even have composition guides that appear in the display, so you can avoid those terrible 'gunsight' shots, in which the subject's face is slap bang in the centre of the frame.

When it comes to professional uses, opinion can be divided, depending on what type of photographer you ask. Mountain photographer John Cleare recognises the advantages of the digital format, but is in no doubt as to which is best for his photo library www.mountaincamera.com. "Where digital scores is with image delivery and storage," he says. "Digital cameras are fine for news and jobs where speedy results are essential, but for expeditionary work, or travel off the beaten track there's still no alternative to traditional film--tried and tested over the years. Exposure latitude and image quality are still superior, while electronics are unreliable in cold, dust or damp, and when the chips are down."

And certainly there's no doubt that the rapidly moving requirements of newspapers and magazines have taken full advantage of digital photography, I did a boating trip in Ireland last year with the Sun's royal photographer Arthur Edwards and couldn't help but drool over his Nikon D1X and monster zoom lens and admire the way he could bash off a high-speed sequence of exposures. Had he been pointing his lens at Prince Charles rather than a motionless heron, he could have transmitted his photograph to the paper's picture desk in a matter of minutes.

Top wilderness photographer John Beatty wows his audiences with incredible audio-visual shows, including his latest, "Wild, a Dialogue of Elements", which received critical acclaim when premiered at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival last November. "Until litho printing matches the superb pixel quality of digital files, and until I have clients that require instant results, I'll stay with Fujichrome Velvia 50 ISO film stock," he says. …

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