Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Progress Steamrolls On!

Remember the eighties? Sure you do - you're just in denial. I personally embrace the decade of excess because that period in my life was the most defining. I grew up in the eighties and as such I was fortunate enough to witness first-hand the great many changes that integrated circuits (or “microchips”) brought about.

Those of you who know me also know about my passions in life: motorcycling, photography and music. All three of these interests greatly evolved in the mid to late eighties thanks to contributions by modern technology. Motorcycles became lighter thanks to modern alloys and started using more efficient fuel-injection systems rather than antiquated carburetors. Music went from scratchy vinyl and noisy audio cassettes to pristine digital audio on CD’s. This wasn’t necessarily a smooth transition; many audiophiles and purists held on to vinyl as being “warmer” and having a smoother “compression ratio”, etc. Audio cassettes didn’t have any defenders however, ‘cause they really sounded like crap! You’ve got to keep in mind that cassettes were originally designed for taking verbal notes – not recording music. So what happened to these purists, you ask? They gave up and gave in: they’re listening to CD’s now.

The same thing is happening in photography right now. A few years ago digital cameras were nothing more than technological gadgets for the few geeks out there who enjoyed that kind of thing (Mea Culpa, I'm guilty as charged). Nobody would have ever taken a digicam over a film-based camera because there was such a large gap in quality. The first digicams were also incredibly expensive. On top of that, you had to go to pro-quality photo labs to get the things printed (that’s if they actually offered the service at all).

Back then purist photographers kept saying that they would “never” switch to digital. Again, they argued the “softness” and “purity” of silver-based films rather than the “pixelated” and “noisy” images of digital. Then something wonderful happened: technology progressed! A few well known pro-photographers started doing digital – and bragging about it. One word: WILDFIRE! Now the photographers that are still using film-based photography are being left behind and the ones that have converted to digital are leading the way.

In photography, as with music in the eighties, it all comes down to economics. Digital is cheaper and more accessible than analog. Entire recording studios can now be carried around in a laptop (ex. Latin pop-star Ricky Martin’s self titled 1999 hit album was entirely tracked, mixed and mastered on a Mac G4 tower, not in a multi-million dollar studio). A photographer in the “digital darkroom” can now retouch images on the fly and in a fraction of the time that it used to take. Not to mention that if they mess up, there’s an “undo” button! No more complex chemical baths, darkrooms or tricky airbrush techniques.

So what’s the next big thing? I’d be willing to predict that within the next 10 years cinematic production will go entirely to digital – no more Panaflex cameras. Small high resolution video cameras will feed directly into a mainframe computer and the splicing will be done digitally.

Here’s to progress!

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