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Digital Camera Chronicles

29 -- Digital passes film (Sep 2003)
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

Well, it is happening. According to a report by the InfoTrends Research Group, Inc., North American sales of digital cameras are expected to pass those of film camera sales this year. Who'd have thought that this day would come so soon? Back in 1997 when we were among the first to recognize the monumental potential of digital cameras and started Digital Camera Magazine to chronicle and explain the development and growth of this exciting new technology, even we didn't think it was going to happen this quickly. And neither did anyone else. As believers in digital imaging, we were laughed at when we predicted that digital would eventual surpass film. "It'll never happen;" said those self-proclaimed experts "digital cameras are just expensive toys for computer nerds and gadget freaks." Well, I guess those experts were wrong (though they'll undoubtedly have changed their tune and loudly praise digital now).

And digital pulling ahead of film is clearly not just a temporary phenomenon. InfoTrends predicts that five years from now 80% of all cameras sold will be digital. All that'll be left for film will be those cheap one-use throwaway cameras you pick up at the drug store and some high end professional equipment for certain types of special purpose photography. The report further predicts that under US$1,000 digital SLR cameras will soon be here--one of the last bastions of film.

In nations like Japan, the situation is even more dramatic. The Bloomberg information service reports that digital camera shipments by the traditional Japanese camera makers are almost twice that of film cameras during the first half of 2003. Sony alone expects to sell ten million digital cameras in 2003 as compared to 5.6 million last year.

I think it's safe to say that digital cameras have become a mainstream, dominant technology faster than just about any other revolutionary new or replacement technology. And this despite digital cameras being far from easy to use and understand. Think of other technologies that took the world by storm: VCRs? Simply stick a tape in and push "play." CD players? Stick in a CD and push "play." DVDs? Ditto. The rapid acceptance of those technologies was based on factors like convenience or superior performance.

Digital cameras are more like PCs. Early models cost a lot, didn't perform very well, and they were quite difficult to use. But though PCs are now ubiquitous, it took about 20 years for them to become common enough to be considered a true household item. So what makers digital cameras so special? After all, picture quality isn't superior to film, most of them are more difficult to use, connecting to a PC is anything but simple, and getting paper prints can be an ongoing exercise in extreme frustration.

Further, there is essentially zero standardization in user interface, power sources, storage media, or included computer software.

Well, despite being confronted with CF Cards, Memory Sticks, Multimedia and Secure Digital cards, SmartMedia, xD-Picture cards and a slew of optical storage options from the likes of Sony, consumers apparently are not deterred. A friend of mine who recently ditched her beloved Pentax for a digital camera simply refers to the cards as "little sliver digital thingies" and the card reader attached to her notebook as "Mr. Camera Slot."

And what about those near-incomprehensible on-screen menus that provide access to more options than the price lists of a Chevy dealer, or the tiny little LCDs that wash out in the sun so that you can barely see what you're shooting? No big deal. People happily snap away and most pictures come out just fine. After all, as our new Editor-in-Chief Shawn Barnett points out in his inaugural column in the front of this issue, "the capabilities of their internal electronics far exceed the capability of those of the original space shuttle." Digital cameras are smart.

So it's not ease of use or quality or performance that did it for digital cameras. It's something much more powerful. Digital cameras give people power and control. No more reliance on some photo lab. No more fears that the post office will lose your pics. No more kid at the photo counter ogling your private pics before you do. No more of the "what you see is what you get unless you pay us again to enlarge or fix your prints" of film photography. No more paying for bad pictures. No more waiting to see if things went right.

Instead, digital cameras give people instant gratification and complete control. You can see an image immediately. You can throw out the bad ones and play around with the good ones on your computer to your heart's content. You can watch them on TV. There's nothing you can't do. That's what did it. Next we'll see prices come down. Digicam vendors are used to asking for big price premiums. But as digicams become the norm, people will want more realistic pricing, the kind they used to pay for film cameras. So things will just get better and better.

Isn't progress wonderful?

Digital Camera History
01 - The Newman Factor

02 - Living with digital cameras

03 - Traveling with digicams (I)

04 - Traveling with digicams (II)

06 - All isn't well yet

07 - Digital camera experiences

09 - Is it camera, or not?

10 - Go for the gold

11 - The CoolPix 990

12 - Confused by digicams?

13 - From film to digital

14 - Megapixel madness

15 - Digital film

17 - The horseless carriage

18 - Why I wish the Mac had won

19 - What makes a good image...

20 - The Coolpix 995

22 - 9/11 - A low point

23 - Time is precious

24 - A bright, sunny morning

25 - Digicams and road warriors

26 - Wonders of digital imaging

27 - We've come a long way (I)

28 - Beyond image capture

29 - Digital passes film

30 - Where are we headed?

31 - Digital imaging saves lives

32 - Making hard copy

33 - PictBridge, PIM, Exif, etc

34 - Strugglingw ith autofocus?

35 - We've come a long way (II)

36 - Zoom-zoom

37 - Megapixel madness (II)

38 - What should I buy?

39 - Changes in digital cameras

40 - Konica Minolta RIP

43 - What separates cameras today?

46 - Digital cameras at the end of 2007