by Guy Lerner

Listen up photo buffs: digital is here, it’s here to stay, and film is dead.

Don’t take my word for it, check out the facts: digital cameras are outselling film cameras by over two to one. That means two dads bought their kids a digital camera for Christmas for every one dad that shelled out tom for film.

Never before has it been possible (and by that I mean economically viable as well as technologically accessible) for so many people to picture the world around them and share their images instantly with so many others.

And because so many more people can experience the joys of photography – even those that are simply inspired by the curiosity value of the suddenly accessible technology – more photographs will be taken, which can only be good for the longevity and further development of photography.

Bottom’s up
The demise of film won’t, of course, be universal, and it won’t happen overnight. Millions of dollars have been invested over many years in the advancement of film-based imaging, and for most applications film still rules the roost for commercial and professional photographers. Even though recent breakthroughs in CCD (charge coupled device – the light-sensitive sensors that replace film in digital cameras) technology have matched the resolution of a 35mm film frame, it’s still a few years off from becoming affordable enough for all but the most prolific professionals to adopt digital cameras in place of their tried-tested-and-affordable film gear.

But while digital technology eats its way slowly and systematically into the professional photographer’s psyche, semi-professional, amateur and novice photographers – consumers to you and me – are buying up digital cameras in their millions. For them, digital cameras are just part of a rapidly changing arsenal of digital devices designed to make life easier, faster, cheaper and more memorable.

This buying power alone is driving the development of digital photography from the ground up. Just take a look at the latest catalogue from your electronics retailer and chances are digital cameras will be right up there in all their flashy glory sharing the spotlight with other “cool” gadgets such as digital walkman’s, digital stereos and digital fridges.

The pro divide
Will consumerism change photography as we know it? Perhaps, but then photography has always been a consumer pursuit, and most consumers have used their cameras, film and all, to preserve their worlds in pictures rather than make money from them.

Still the death of film necessarily impacts photography. No, it doesn’t change the way we express our world through photographs, either printed or pixelised. Nor does it change the way we see our world, frame it, and preserve our visions for future generations.

What it does change is how quickly we can turn what we see and experience into what we can show others through our photographs. It changes how many pictures we can take at one time (without running up the film bill), and the chances of getting just the right picture at the right time (Aunt Betty blinked? No problem, shoot her again!). And it changes our desire to photograph. After all, if it costs nothing more to shoot 100 pictures as it does 10, why shoot 10?

For professionals the changes will be less evident. True pros will make the most of almost any equipment, and money’s usually no object for clients that want the right shot. However, as prices fall and technology is bettered (remember Moore’s Law now applies to cameras as well as computers) more people with a modicum of talent and a bit of money will be able to supply more photographs at a higher quality and a lower price, substantially increasing the number of photographers that can do the same job. Unless the market for professional photographers grows accordingly it can quickly become saturated, overcrowded and stiflingly competitive.

The more things change…
So digital photography will, over time, change not only the nature but also the business of photography. But it won’t change its soul. After all, it doesn’t really matter what we use to make pictures; the joy of photography is in creating them, in sharing them, in watching them go up in lights.

For many decades we used film to do that – cameras were just the tools that helped us put better pictures on film. In that respect nothing’s changed; true, cameras today are more adept at helping us make better pictures, but as film takes its final bow, digital sensors will simply take over where it left off. The very ingredients that make photography the wonder that it is are all still there.

So don’t shed any tears for film. It’s served its purpose, coloured our collective histories, and helped us share our lives with friends and loved ones the world over. It’s made some of us fabulously wealthy, and others fabulously famous. In using it we’ve found form and function, learned about colour and composition, overcame the limitations of technology with creative expression.

If digital photography attracts just a fraction of these credentials in its ultimate obituary, then we as photographers have nothing to fear.

Goodbye film, old friend; the new face of photography is smiling and waiting. Picture it.