- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Traditional, or film, cameras are expected to remain in the picture, at least marginally, for the foreseeable future. Even though digital cameras get more advertising, promotion and sales, camera manufacturers and those who teach photography insist that the film format will endure.

“I would say in five to 10 years, [film] will progressively disappear,” says Roberto Bocci, assistant professor of digital arts and photography at Georgetown University in Northwest. “Some companies will make film cameras, but it will be a specialty, like black-and-white printing is becoming a specialty in schools.”

That specialty will be used by art photographers, as film cameras provide them with a direct, hands-on approach to the “magic that occurs in the darkroom,” says Peggy Feerick, assistant professor and division coordinator of photography at George Mason University in Fairfax.

Other photographers, amateur and professional, already are working more with digital cameras. An exception is portrait and wedding photographers, whose clients want access to negatives, Ms. Feerick says.

“It’s a leap they haven’t totally made yet. If a client requests it, they will still shoot digitally, but I think they are still working more with film,” she says.

Suna Lee, owner of Lee’s Photography in McLean, is one of the few who has made that leap. The portraitist, who also does wedding photography, switched to digital photography more than a year ago.

With digital, Ms. Lee, says, she does not have to change rolls of film and has more control after taking her photos. She can crop or adjust the colors for the proofs, then do her own touch-ups in house.

“All the manipulation is icing on the cake,” she says. “The choice of film versus digital is what the photographer chooses to use. It has nothing to do with their skill or expertise.”

Digital-camera sales account for 70 percent of revenue generated in the camera market in North America, Europe and Japan, says Jan Woelfe, digital camera product manager for Hewlett-Packard, based in Vancouver, Wash.

“Over the years, primarily price wars and declining prices of digital cameras have dominated and driven digital cameras to the mass market,” he says.

For instance, digital cameras are a more likely purchase for those who already own a film camera, says Chuck Westfall, director of technical information for camera products for Canon USA Inc., based in Lake Success, N.Y.

“There is no question the sales in film are declining rapidly,” he says, adding that sales of Canon’s 35mm compact camera are half what they were three years ago. “Customers are speaking with their wallets that digital is the way they want to go.”

Like Canon, Fujifilm is continuing to produce film cameras, though “the number of film cameras being sold is declining as digital grows,” says Tom Shay, director of corporate communications for Fujifilm, headquartered in Valhalla, N.Y., with its parent company in Japan.

Eastman Kodak Co. discontinued selling reloadable film cameras in early 2004 in the United States and other developed markets, responding to a decline in demand as interest in digital cameras increased, says Joe Paglia, senior manager of public relations for the Americas division of digital and film imaging systems at Kodak.

The company still produces film and plans to do so for years, he says, adding, “It is the film business that generates much of the cash that we are investing in the digital businesses.”

Photography, which has been around since 1839, depended on film until the late 1980s, when digital cameras came onto the market. The evolution of digital cameras was similar to that of film cameras in terms of shape and the main input dials. It’s how the images being photographed are processed that differs from film to digital cameras.

In film cameras, the shutter opens to let light through the lens so that the silver halide or grain in the film can physically record the pattern of light. The film is processed in chemicals that react to the silver to produce a negative.

Alternatively, light entering a digital camera hits an image sensor instead of film. The sensor converts the pattern of light into numerical data, or pixels. A chip, essentially a miniature computer, processes the data into an image that is recorded on a removable memory card.

The aperture, or lens opening, and the shutter speed, the amount of time the shutter stays open to let in light, can be controlled automatically or manually on both film and digital cameras. Manual controls cost more in digital cameras than in film cameras, Ms. Feerick says; they’re found as an option in high-end digital cameras of $1,000 or more,

Another feature that costs more in digital cameras is interchangeable lenses, which are optically corrected for various viewing angles and distance. Less expensive digital cameras with a zoom lens for narrow and wide angles of viewing have a lens that, because of its multiple functions, is not as accurate as a single-focal-length lens, Ms. Feerick says.

“With film, when you talk about resolution, you’re talking about the optics of the lens,” she says.

Resolution, which describes the fineness of detail a camera captures, is measured in digital cameras in megapixels, 1 million pixels. A digital image is made out of pixels, or squares, placed next to each other. More pixels provide a better-quality picture and allow for larger prints.

There is a “slight difference” between film and digital prints, Mr. Shay says.

“Some customers might not notice it at all. Others who are more advanced in their appreciation of photography might notice a difference,” he says.

Digital has its advantages, though.

Images are displayed on a liquid crystal display monitor on most cameras and can be erased if they do not turn out. An interface that connects the camera to another device, such as a computer or a printer, allows retrieval of the images from the memory card for printing, storing and e-mailing.

“With digital, things are much more immediate. You are able to view a picture on the camera within seconds,” says Rosemary Valenta, senior manager of corporate communications for Fujifilm. “Film takes some time. … You take the whole roll, then develop the film.”

Film photography costs more than digital because each roll must be purchased and printed, Mr. Westfall says.

However, printing gives tangibility to the images through the negatives and prints, Ms. Feerick says.

“Whether it’s a good or bad negative, most people keep it. With digital, they’re not going to do that,” she says, adding that she is “concerned with that sense of loss of images,” whether they are personal or historical.

“What’s going to happen to visual history?” she asks.

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