Digital Camera Chronicles
30 -- Where, oh where, are we headed?
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
The digital imaging genie is out of the bottle, and much sooner than anyone expected. 2003 was the year when digital camera shipments passed film, and many reports show film being more or less in free-fall. Sure, we could gloat about this and tell "Told you so" to our various detractors, those who felt we were insane to start a Digital Camera Magazine in 1998. But hey, we'll just leave it at having been right. Problem is, now we lost our niche market. As a small independent publishing company we early on decided to seek niche markets that were too small or too specialized to attract the attention of big publishers like Hachette or Primedia. With digital imaging now in the mainstream, everyone is starting to cover it and everyone is, of course, an instant expert. So that leaves us with the task of making a better magazine for you, our faithful readers who have been with us from the start, you who always knew that digital imaging was the way of the future. But we're not the only ones affected by this sudden cataclysmic shift in the photography industry. We'll also be seeing:
For now, this is an incredibly exciting time for us digital photographers. Cameras, software and peripherals get better and less expensive seemingly by the week. Let's enjoy the ride and hope it never ends!
- A split among photographers into those who accept the new technology and those who do not. This will be very similar to what occurred 20 years ago when PCs came onto the scene. They were eagerly adopted by some and completely rejected by others. As a result, a gap developed between "PC haves"and "PC have-nots," a gap that is still there almost a quarter of a century later. With digital cameras it's pretty much the same. Some bought into the new technology from the start, spent big money on early models and saw the wondrous, tremendous potential in them. Others kept buying film and mocked digicams. Those people lost out on the learning process of the last six years and many may never catch up. So after the PC have/have-not gap we'll be seeing the digital have/digital have-not gap, the former being completely at ease with digital imaging concepts, the latter never really getting it.
- A serious upheaval in the photographic industry. A couple of months ago I read an article in BusinessWeek on the uncertain future of Kodak, the company that once ruled photography with an iron hand. Kodak, while dabbling in various aspects of digital imaging, never made a concentrated, all-out effort to dominate the digital era as it had the film era. My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic 100, my films were developed by Kodak labs and the pictures printed on Kodak paper. Later on I got higher end cameras, of course, but they also used Kodak film and Kodak paper. It didn't matter to Kodak that I used a Konica or a Canon as long as I bought their film and their paper. But look at what has happened: digital "film"is not made by Kodak. It comes from the likes of SanDisk or Lexar instead. If I were head of Kodak, I probably would have snapped up one of those two and made sure the public identified digital "film"as much with the name "Kodak"as it did film. Didn't happen. We can still use Kodak paper for prints from digital images, of course, but that's no longer the imperative it once was. My seven-year-old son doesn't even know that pictures are supposed to be printed out on paper. As far as he's concerned, you look at pictures on the LCD of your digicam or on the computer. And when online photosharing came onto the scene a few years ago, Kodak could have either established itself as the center of that world, or at least picked up one of the leading early photosharing sites but they missed that opportunity. In fairness to Kodak, the company did not sit idle. They tried almost everything in the emerging digital market. Their rechargeable batteries and chargers are among the best and I use them every day. They have a good roster of lower end digital cameras. They are exploring new display technologies. What they don't have is a cohesive plan for the digital imaging era. The Kodak moment is in danger.
- Imaging technology will become cheaper and smaller and more advanced at a rapid pace. In this issue I review Sony's incredible new Cyber-shot DSC-T1. It's a 6-ounce digital camera barely larger than a credit card, yet it does 5-megapixel pictures, has a 3x optical zoom, and a large, terrific LCD display that can be seen equally well indoors and outdoors. It's a triumph of technology and a harbinger of awesome things to come. And herein lies a potential danger. The little Sony showed that digital cameras do not have to be big and bulky to have advanced features and great performance. And it doesn't even cost a lot. In fact, the price of digital cameras is coming down very quickly. What if, as digital imagers become cheaper, prices continue to come down until they no longer sustain all that costly development? What if digital becomes seen as merely "cheap?" There is a precedent. 30 years ago digital wrist watches all but killed the analog watch industry. Digital watches were new, cool, more accurate than analog watches, and they had many exciting new features. Then the unexpected happened: digital watches became seen as cheap and analog came back. When's the last time you've seen a digital watch from a respected maker? Today, plastic digital watches are in cheap drug stores and kids' Happy Meals. It is unlikely that this will ever happen to digital imaging, but the industry better remember that.