End of an Era: Nikon Stops Making Film Cameras

nilon f.jpg

Nikon has announced that it will stop producing film camera bodies, along with interchangeable manual focus lenses, lenses for large format cameras and enlarging lenses.

We took a lot of pictures in architecture school, and this Treehugger desperately wanted a Nikon F, the big, chunky and very expensive camera that every pro used. They were the standard of quality that everything was judged against if you were not into retro Leicas. We settled on the new Olympus OM-1- smaller and cheaper. Twenty-five years later it is still working perfectly and our daughter takes very fine pictures with it, and we have spent happy hours together in our basement darkroom printing pictures.

Now, the Leitz Focomat enlarger is covered in a bag and we are storing old computer parts in the darkroom. The cameras no longer last 25 years- a very brief exposure to water destroyed our Canon Elph. A hard drive failure and poor backup habits mean that all we have as a record of a few years of our kids growing up are a few prints that are fading away alarmingly fast.

There may be some environmental benefits in switching from film to electronics. (we wrote about that here) But we are losing something- cameras that last a lifetime and can go anywhere; shoeboxes of our parent's pictures. It is inevitable but it is sad.

The entire treehugger team went nuts on this; read them below the fold. ::The Register thanks, Tipster Remy

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Warren said:

Digital photography is not necessarily the perfect answer just because Nikon, Olympus and Kodak have responded to market pressures.

Just a cursory reminder that all change, is not always change for good.

Digital is a moving market too and requires the discarding of many polluting products, not least the computer. I'm on to my fifth or six Mac in about 15 years. I work in a reuse centre where we have computers that once cost over $3,000 that we can't sell now for $35. The world is awash in pre-loved computers, especially with perfectly good, fully functioning CRT monitors — that are full of lead.

51/4'' floppy disks, 21/2'' floppies, Syquest disks, Jaz Disks, pretty much even Zip disks, and their associated drives have all become obsolete. The CD is losing the battle now to DVD and even that is about to be pushed to edge of the road by the upcoming Blu-ray disk.

the cameras and phones these days are similarly being discarded at an incredible rate.esp as digital photography moves from 1.3 megapixels to 3 to 4 to 5 to 7 and onwards. Print and slide photographers rarely use to upgrade their film cameras at anywhere near the same rate of churn these days - my SLR is 25 years old and still taking crisp images!

So all the medium used to capture, store and transport digital photos quickly becomes unwanted pollutants, but the shoe box, biscuit tin or the plain and simple photo album still remain in use, handed down from grandparents even.

While pollutants were used to produce the photos of old, once made they lasted decades, and beyond. A print or slide once developed requires no more technological upgrades, but digital most certainly does. In ten years time it is highly unlikely you'll be viewing your digital images with the same medium you have today, but you still be able to open that photo album.

Yes, there are umpteen great benefits from the move to digital photography, but there are also many less-talked-about downsides too.


Ruben added this:

I do not have anywhere near enough time to do an accurate Life Cycle Analysis on a digital camera, as compared to silver-based film, but I am fairly sure it is shocking. I have heard numbers as outrageous as ten thousand pounds of raw material being required to make a four pound laptop. Digital cameras would likely have a similar ratio, and have a much shorter lifespan. Camera phones have no option of producing serious photography, because photos need light. People want small phones, small phones mean small lenses, small lenses mean crappy photos. Therefore, camera phones can never be more than toys, taking idle snaps.

Sure, some of these snaps may be oncoming tsunami, which brings up the most important question. What is the nature of photography, memory and image? Why do we take pictures? Are digital pictures accomplishing what we would like them to accomplish? These are the questions that designers should be asking.

My house burned down when I was eight, so there are very few pictures of my childhood. My friend has a new son (fifteen months today), who is documented to within an inch of his life. A computer, camera and firewire drive are all necessary to maintain the trove of pictures. Now, my friend is going to buy another firewire drive, to keep off site as a backup, so that in case of fire, these images will not be lost. Twenty or thirty thousand pounds of resources going to pictures of a baby. And yet is my life worse for having no pictures of my infancy? I have never missed them.

I don't really care if serious photographers use digital or film. I think that the only responsible way to use digital SLRs is to design them with interchangeable optical chips, so that the camera body can be upgraded as the technology improves.

I have yet to see any indication that a vast amount of snapshots make anyone's life better. Unfortunately, until everyone starts questioning whether the latest gadget will add value to their lives, we are stuck in this consumption cycle. And, we are stuck scrolling through iPhoto, trying to find the photo we just know we have, or laboriously coding them with keywords to ensure we can find them again.

As a final note, as Warren said, silver prints will last decades. I heard that the US archives cannot access an enormous amount of their data, because the machine to read the media no longer exists. Of course that will never happen to us, as long as we keep buying new computers, and new software that converts our old jpgs to whatever format is au courant, and running updating programs and adding keywords.

Film will never go away. The question we need to ask is what gives us more pleasure, staring at our screen, or hanging out with the crotchety old hobbyists at the community centre film club; spooling film in the dark, carefully loading the developing tank by feel, watching the images develop in the safelight, and showing our friends the book of our few, precious pictures, that show only a moment of the story, not the whole story. We are the storytellers, not our camera phones.


Mike from Ottawa:

You sound like a vinyl lover in the above :D

As a would be audiophile, I can understand the charm of analog technology.

Film vs. digital: I don't have time to write much, but consider this:

For the *same use*, the digital very probably comes on top (I'm talking about real cameras and not camera phones).

ex: Two families each take 24 shots and want to have them printed.

Family with film will go to the store and get 24 "silver" prints.

family with digital will only get prints of the pics they want (because they can select on screen) and the printing process doesn't require as much chemicals.

So the real question is about the EXTRA things we do with digital that we didn't do with film, like take more pictures than before and upgrade camera more often.

On that front, I think that taking more picture isn't a problem as long as the sum of pollution produced by printing them is lower than the sum of pollution produced by silver films, and most digital pics will never be printed -- sent by email and such. Cheap tools and cheap publishing (internet) is allowing the democratization of expression: it is no longer only the rich that has access to the supply side of information channels, and I think that this empowerment (mostly due to the internet) will be very important in changing the world even if there are downsides to all that technology.

As for upgrading cameras more often, I think that past a certain amount of megapixels, the upgrade cycle will SERIOUSLY slow down because nobody blows up pics big enough to see the difference except maybe professionals. As for the cameras themselves, I think that standards for upgradeability, and regulations for production and disposal should be mandated before they just join all the rest of the e-waste. Europe and Asia are coming up with good things for computers and cars, I'm sure it could be done for cameras (it is easier to improve the model than to tell everybody that they can't use cameras anymore).

As for the question of "is all this necessary?", I think it's a loaded question. We can ask the same about music and movies and books and sports equipment and such.. I won't try to answer that.

nikon old.jpg

John Laumer on Reuiben's comments:

I'm guessing you too have realized that photography is a "way of seeing". Several times I have had the experience of taking a photo next to someone else who was doing the same; and later, comparing images, having one of the shoot-+partners claim that "there was now way that picture was taken next to me, at about the same time". They and I saw the world different ways and it came out in our pics.

At one point I gave up photography altogether, and only lately have resumed. I think that happened when I got to the point when I could pick out avid photographers in a party by following their eyes.

I have made it a practice to delete any digi-pics I do not like right out of my camera. It ends up that only maybe 15% of my shots go into iPhoto. I have yet to figure out what to do with them to archive, but when I do I will have fewer "grabs" and lots more memories with emotional impact.

Still loving Kodachrome. JL

Reuben again:
I am not surprised that I sound like a vinyl lover. Everything that you read about record collectors talks about how immersed they are in the experience. Where they found the record, what issue it was, how it sounds, the ritual of putting it on the turntable. Vinyl lovers are people who know what they value about something, and are not willing to give up that value in order to have the latest bit of chrome plated plastic. They are total TreeHuggers, using something until they can't use it anymore.

You may be right that the environmental damage of digital is less than film, I do not know. Just being less is not enough. We are altering our planet with "less damage", we must design regeneratively. What can we design that makes our life better, not just "more". This is why I demand that designers ask what we value, not what we can achieve. Do people value their digital pictures as much as they value their film photos? Do people immerse themselves in digital photography as a record collector does in playing their vinyl? In general I would say No. Watch how people hold a digital camera. It looks like it smells bad; they are distancing themselves even as they push the button.

As for "same use", one of the first things you learn in Design School is that you have no control over your products. Do you think that the people who developed text messaging ever imagined flash mobs? If cel phones were "same use" we wouldn't have to listen to so many inane conversations telling the world that they are on the bus.

Let us also remember that photomats are a great product of service system. What have we exchanged it for? A new camera every three years, a computer, two firewire drives and a photo printer with disposable cartridges. Not what I would call a net gain. Email printing services are a good start. Google is clearly leading us to a world in which we do not own computers, which is good, if you can trust your government. I don't know what the future will hold, but I know that we cannot even imagine.

I think the question of "is all this necessary," is, in fact, the only question. What are we doing, why are we doing it, is it worth doing, and then, how are we going to do this with zero impact, or negative impact. Not the same impact. Zero or less.

End of an Era: Nikon Stops Making Film Cameras
Nikon has announced that it will stop producing film camera bodies, along with interchangeable manual focus lenses, lenses for large format cameras and enlarging lenses.