Like many in the photo community, I have made the pilgrimage to New York City’s annual photo-tradeshow, PhotoPlus Expo, many times. As I made my way around the show floor, I reaffirmed my view: It is a great time to be a photographer.
Part of what should make us happy, is the intense competition fueling practical and low cost innovations as seen at the show. You feel the energy as you maneuver your way down the narrow aisles with other show-goers gawking as they inch forward to check out the latest stuff.
At the Apple Booth, Aperture 1.5.1 had standing room only crowds and you could see eyes lighting up, from f8 to wide open as some of Aperture’s coolest features were explained: Color by color adjustment controls, editing with stacks on the light table, the new and improved loupe and perhaps the biggest obstacle lifted from the original version–images in the Aperture library now can be stored wherever you want them to and the hi-res previews let you take your entire library with you on a pocket drive or Powerbook, easily accessing the raw files from a remote location.
The wow factor continued if you heard futurist Tom Wujek’s talk about 10 GIGAPIXEL cameras, with tiny liquid lenses capturing three dimensional data allowing photographers not only sharpen their images, but actually fix the focus later. All stored on a 100 Petabyte drive.
(A Petabyte-2 to the 50th power (1,125,899,906,842,624) bytes. A Petabyte is equal to 1,024 terabytes)
Shaking my head in wonderment, thinking about the future I saw a crowd gathering under a big yellow sign where I heard a man ask why there were 75 people waiting to get to the Kodak table, where a pyramid of film was neatly stacked under glass, like a museum piece.
“Is there some sort of sale?” he enquired.
Kodak was giving away free film, flogging their five new and improved Portra color negative films and the price was right. A Kodak representative conceded that 90 per cent of professional photographers had gone digital, “but two thirds of those shooters still shoot some film, often for their personal work”, he added.
The line up for free film was 75 deep when I saw it.
I then bumped into Ted Harris, contributing editor to View Camera Magazine who has used a large format camera since 1954. He pointed out to me that the sheet film market is the only segment of film manufacture that is still growing.
“Film is not dead”, he said.
I won’t argue with statistics, but when I embraced digital several years ago I thought I too, would be one of those people who would be see-sawing between the old and new capture methods. But the fact is, I held onto my 35mm film cameras only until they lost most of their value, same for medium format. And in some form of unconscious backlash against digital, I went out and bought an old 4×5inch Crown Graphic camera that I promised myself I would have a use for.
But the reality is, where digital is now–the ease of use and amazing color and black and white quality, and the cost savings for me, a documentary photographer, often shooting on spec–the advantages are overwhelming.
I don’t have to buy film and pay for processing, or worry about getting 100 rolls plus equipment through x-ray machines and security at airports. I get near instant gratification and turnaround speed and I am reinvigorated with photography and growing as a photographer, because I take more chances with digital because I can. My reason’s for standing by my film cameras have all but evaporated.
Back to Aperture
Regardless of how you work, Ted Harris pointed out that 80 per cent of his large-format readers were shooting film, then scanning and printing digitally. And lucky for them and the two-thirds of pro digital photographers who still shoot some film, they can still take advantage of most of the intuitive and powerful features of Aperture, short of working with raw files. Having a tool like Aperture to consolidate, archive, create books and web pages and easily process and access your entire photographic life in images, is something I couldn’t have imagined when I took my first photographs with GAF 500 ASA film. I thought back then, it was a great time to be a photographer.
Aside from the “stuff” at the show, there were some amazing and inspiring photographers who remind us that all these great tools are a means to an end, and the end result is what most of us are working towards. Like Magnum master Elliot Erwitt, who, when I asked him what his picks for some of the hottest new stuff at the show were –quipped, “I’m really not that interested in equipment”.