Personal Observations on the Death of Silver-Based Film Photography and Silver-Based Printing
by Jeffrey Sward
Click here to view The Rise of the Cellular Phone Camera
Click here to view Digital Camera Sensor Size Comparison Chart
Click here to view Converting Color Film Negative to Positive Using Photoshop by Removing the Orange Cast
Origins of Silver-Based Photography - 1826

The whole problem of photography started circa 1826 when Nicéphore Niépce produced the first silver-based photograph. The first photograph was of Niépce's back yard and required an eight hour exposure. The second photograph was pornography. For the next one hundred eighty years the technology of silver-based photography steadily improved and diversified. The original photographic process was negative-positive black-and-white. Eventually color negative and color transparency were developed. There was a steady improvement in both film and paper emulsions. The Jolly Yellow Giant (Eastman Kodak) was instrumental in the technological improvement and popularization of photography. Other giants, such as Fuji and Agfa-Gevaert also emerged.

Eastman Kodak Founded - 1880

George Eastman founds Eastman Kodak in Rochester New York. The first product was dry plates. The name "Kodak" was invented from scratch and has no intrinsic meaning. The criteria for creating the "Kodak" name were: it should be short; it cannot be mispronounced, it would not resemble anything else, and it should be spelled and pronounced the same in all languages. Kodak utilized the strategy of selling inexpensive cameras and making large margins from consumables, a classic hardware-is-cheap-software-is-expensive strategy.

Kodak Brownie Box Camera Introduced - 1900

The first Kodak Brownie box camera was introduced in February 1900. The Brownie was simplicity itself, and consisted of a cardboard box, a lens, and one button to release the shutter. The Brownie was preloaded with unexposed file and took 2¼-inch square pictures on 117 roll film. When the roll was complete, the user sent the entire camera to Kodak. Kodak removed the exposed film, developed the film, made prints, reloaded the camera with new film, and mailed back to the user the newly loaded camera with the previous negatives and prints. The original price of the Brownie was one dollar. Kodak creates the slogan, "You push the button, we do the rest."

Kodachrome Slide Film Introduced - 1935

Kodak introduces Kodachrome film was introduced and became the first commercially successful amateur color film. It was initially offered in 16 mm format for motion pictures; 35 mm slides and 8 mm home movies followed in 1936.

Kodacolor Color Negative Film Introduced - 1942

Kodak introduces Kodacolor film for color prints, the world's first true color negative film.

Ektrachrome Slide Film Introduced - 1946

Kodak introduces Ektachrome Film, the company's first color film that photographers could process themselves using newly marketed chemical kits.

First Colorama Display - 1950

The Colorama was a backlit color transperancy eighteen feet high and sixty feet wide which was displayed in the Grand Central Station Terminal in New York city. The Coloramas were advertising created by Eastman Kodak with the objective of "promoting the excitement of color photography." Each colorama depicted a consumer with a Kodak camera within a photogenic scene. The scenes included grand vistas, stylized rituals of suburban life, and travel destinations. Each image conformed to the "Gospel According to Eastman Kodak" namely: recognizable subject, following the "rules" of composition, good color, good focus, forced flat lighting, idealized subject, and glorification of cuteness. The Coloramas were technically complex and labor intensive to create. Each Colorama consisted of 41 separate color transperancies each twenty feet long and twenty inches wide. The 41 separate color transperancies were spliced together manually by Kodak employees. The massive consumer film market was an oligopoly with Kodak having the largest market share. With incredibly large revenue and high profit margins, Kodak was able to dedicate extensvie internal staff to the duanting tak of creating Coloramas. New Coloramas were created monthly. Thusly, Coloramas were aesthietically vapid while simultaneously technically remarkable.

Tri-X Black and White Film Introduced - 1954

Kodak introduces TRI-X Film, a high-speed black-and-white film. Tri-X was the first modern high speed film.

Kodak Builds First Digital Camera - 1975

Engineer Steve Sasson, working at Eastman Kodak, invents the first digital camera. The camera weighed eight pounds and recorded 0.01 megapixel black and white photos. Each photo took 23 seconds to record. Beginning a series of blunders, Kodak determines there is no market for digital photographs.

T-Grain Negative Technology Introduced - 1982

Kodak introduces T-Grain technology in Kodacolor VR1000 color negative film. Kodak soon follows with T-Max black and white films. High speed versions of T-Max black and white films had finer grain structure than Tri-X.

Last Colorama Display - 1990

The last Colorama display was removed in February 1990. Refer to 1950 above for a description of the Colorama. There were 565 different Coloramas. Remodeling of Grand Central Station caused the elimination of the backlighting equipment which housed the Colorama. The demise of the Colorama was directly the result of building remodeling, but days of the Colorama were numbered By 1990 the beginning of the end of silver-based film photography was occurring, resulting in the gradual decline of Kodak silver film revenue. Within a few years the Colorama would have become cost-prohibitive for Kodak and would have ceased to exist for financial reasons. The Colorama epitomizes the silver based film era both in scope and chronology.

The Beginning of the End - 1990

Various experiments with photography from digital sensors began in the 1980s. During 1990, the first generally available digital camera appeared, the Dycam Model 1, aka Logitech Fotoman. The first professional-grade digital camera was the DCS-100, produced ironically by the company with the most to lose from the demise of silver photography, the Jolly Yellow Giant. Original digital cameras offered poor quality compared to the heightened state of the evolution of silver-based photography. However, digital cameras improved steadily in a variety of ways, including dynamic range, color accuracy, and resolution.

Film Sales Peak - 2000

Film sales peak in 2000 per statistics kept by Fujifilm Holdings Corporation.

The Demise of Optical Color Silver Halide Print Paper - circa 2000

Prior to the digital era, color prints were made optically using traditional photographic enlargers. Type-C color silver halide prints were made optically from a color negative. Type-R silver halide color prints were made optically from a color transparency. However, the the Fuji Frontier print making machine and its cousins, used a type of color silver halide print paper which responded directly to electronic impulses from RGB lasers. Around 2000, all of the major manufacturers stopped making optical color silver halide print paper of both type-C and type-R and began making only color silver halide print paper designed for digital laser printers. At this point, all color prints became digital by definition. A silver halide print from either a negative or transparency was made by first scanning the silver original transparency or negative, creating a digital version, and making a print from the electronic RGB laser impulses.

First Cellular Phone with Camera - 2002

Nokia introduces model 7650, the first widely available cellular phone with a built-in camera.

First Professional Grade High Resolution Digital Camera - 2004

In November 2004 Canon introduces the 1ds-ii, which enabled the creation of a digital original which could be printed 11x17 at 300 dpi without extrapolation. (11x17 being a typical two-page magazine illustration.) This is essentially the first professional grade high resolution digital camera. The resolution of 4,992 × 3,328 equates to 16.64"x 11.09".

Film Dies - 2005

2005 is year when many types of professional film became difficult to obtain. An anecdotal example follows. For decades, the author had been buying various professional films locally from several vendors. Late, in 2005, the author entered store #1 to buy a brick of E-100G. The question was asked "When do you need it?" At first it was difficult to understand the motivation for this question. Was the expected answer "sometime next year"? The motivation for the question was that store #1 had split its local film stock between to geographically diverse stores, and E-100G would take two days to obtain. The author then went to store #2 and bought the brick of E-100G, which was the entire stock of E-100G in store #2. This was the last film author shot. The message was received. Film has died. It was now time to calibrate the digital body and go over to the dark side. As of 2012, film can still be obtained, but obtaining it is getting more and more difficult, and fewer and fewer varieties are produced.

Film Cameras Die - 2006

In 2006 Nikon stopped making all film cameras except one high end F-series and one entry level point-and-shoot. Canon soon followed with a dramatically reduced film camera product line. As of 2008, Canon still is offering a few 35mm film bodies, but the end is near.

Polaroid Instant Film Dies - 2008

As the specter of digital grew, traditional silver-based gigantic photographic corporations struggled. Not the least of these photographic corporations was Polaroid. The demand for Polaroid. film steadily declined. Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2001. A few years later Polaroid exited receivership with a reduced instant film product line and more emphasis on electronic products. At this time Polaroid professional proofing instant films were still extant, such as the 4x5 packs and 4x5 individual sheets. In 2008, Polaroid. announced the final demise of the production all instant film products. The elimination of Polaroid instant film is particularly apocalyptic. All digital cameras have an instant-feedback LCD display. When the image is instantly viewable, the need for instant film for proofing or final product no longer exists. Polaroid is now another indistinguishable producer of electronics.

Kodachrome Film and Kodachrome Film Processing Die - 2010

After a run of 75 years, in 2010 Kodak stopped producing Kodachrome slide file. Unlike Ektachrome, Kodachrome had an incredibly complicated 25-step processing requirement. The last place on earth which was processing Kodachrome was Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas. Dwayne's processed its last roll of Kodachrome on December 20, 2010.

The Ascendancy of the Cellular Phone Camera - 2011

As of 2011, more photographs are now taken with cellular phone cameras than with all other types of still cameras and camcorders combined. 

Kodak Cameras and Ektachrome Film Die - 2012

Eastman Kodak files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In February 2012 Kodak announces that it will stop making digital cameras, pocket video cameras and digital picture frames. Kodak had long since stopped making film cameras. Kodak will still manufacture cardboard disposable preloaded point-and-shoot films cameras. In March 2012 Kodak announces that it will stop making Ektachrome film. At this point Kodak is making only color negative and black and white film. The de facto Kodak slogan has thusly became "You push the button, we kill the product."

Apple Claims iPhone Now Dominates Camera Market - 2013

Apple runs television commercials which claim "every day, more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera." These commercials are presented without any obvious intended irony. Two ironies are patent. The first irony is that taking photos is a secondary function of a cellular phone, while the comparison is being made to device (a camera) where taking photos is the primary function. This is equivalent to Avon claiming "more mosquitoes are avoided by Skin So Soft than with any other insect repellent." [The primary purpose Skin So Soft is a body moisturizer. Skin So Soft was subsequently discovered to be an effective mosquito repellent.] The second irony is that, while the Apple iPhone has cumulative smart phone majority market share as of 2013, the current volume of Android smart phones sales far exceeds current iPhone sales. In a few years Android smart phones will have a greater cumulative cellular phone market share than another other cellular phone type. Android smart phones generally also have built-in cameras.

Cellular Phone Camera Domination Makes Separate Camera a Niche Product - 2015

The cellular phone camera has become so ubiquitous that the separate camera is declared a niche product.

Nobody carries a separate camera anymore, and that makes sense. Smart phone cameras have gotten good enough that, in most instances, they take perfectly passable photos. And they can't be beat for convenience. But a smart phone will never be as good as a camera. It can't be. A quarter-inch slab of metal doesn't leave room for important features like lenses or large sensors — necessary things when you are shooting in less- than-ideal light or want to zoom in without hideous pixelation. The shots you want to get just right — the ones of your kids that you may want to one day appreciate on a screen larger than 2 x 5 inches — deserve to be taken on a real camera. — Davey Alba. Popular Mechanics, January 2015.

Without any hint of editorial irony, the January 2015 issue of Popular Mechanics also includes a guide to a non-cellular-phone toys for children, many of which have cellular phone interfaces. The same issue has an adult gift guide of 27 electronic gadgets, six of which are cellular phone accessories.

Ektachrome Slide Film Resurrected by Kodak Alaris - 2017

In 2017, a surprising action by Kodak Alaris resurrects Ektachrome slide film. Kodak Alaris was created in 2013 when the Kodak British pension fund bought bankrupt Kodak's personalized imaging and document imaging businesses. In 2013 the only Kodak Alaris films in production were Ektar, Portra (both color negative), T-Max, and Tri-X (both black and white negative). It is difficult to predict whether any of the Kodak Alaris silver films will survive, including Ektachrome. Apparently there was a perceived demand for silver slide film. Official reasoning:

Resurgence in the popularity of analog photography has created demand for new and old film products alike. Sales of professional photographic films have been steadily rising over the last few years, with professionals and enthusiasts rediscovering the artistic control offered by manual processes and the creative satisfaction of a physical end product. -- Kodak Alaris press release January 5, 2017

Digital Photography Editorial Entities Die as Digital Image Technology Plateaus - 2019

Both the Image Resource web site and Digital Photo magazine died effective December 2019. These entities started in 1998 and 1997 respectively, when digital image technology was new and evolving. Autobiographical obituaries are remarkably similar. Both note digital image technology has stabilized and the rate of change has dramatically slowed. The rise of the cellular phone camera also diminished the market for traditional dedicated use cameras. The web site also noted that modern digital cameras are reliable enough to last for years, and the image quality and performance they offer mean that photographers do not upgrade to newer models nearly as often. The magazine gave no explicit reason for its demise, but it was probably related to a decline in readership.

Current and Future Prospects

Certain people are quite fond of the topic, "which is better: film or digital?" The short answer is neither. Film and digital are different, not better or worse. Excellent results can be obtained using either media. The art school adage, "make the materials work" applies to both. Ironically, it is easier to obtain a higher quality result digitally, due in no small part to Photoshop editing tools. Digital is inevitable.

Comparison of Film and Digital Universes
  Film Digital
Image creation process Experience plus measurements of exposure determine image creation. Delayed gratification. Results viewable after development and proofing. Automation of exposure, focus plus instant feedback and the ability to delete unwanted images facilitates an instant-feedback trial-and-error approach. Instant gratification and instant viewing.
Instant proofs Polaroid only Always available through LCD
Post production Lab does processing and printing. Photographer advises. Photographer prepares final versions of images by editing digital originals with image editing tools such as Photoshop.
Role of commercial lab Creative and consultative. Commodity. Most often "print as is." Work previously done by lab now done by photographer.
Portraits Era of commercial portrait photographer. Professional portrait print of Aunt Mildred and Uncle Harry on every desk. The demise of the primacy of the professional portrait photographer. Consumer-created print or consumer-created electronic frame of Aunt Mildred and Uncle Harry on every desks.
Social distribution of personal photographs Prints made from one-hour labs distributed through social interaction or snail mail. Email and web posting of electronic images. No prints.
Stock Rights controlled stock. Thumbnail paper books or thumbnail cds. Transportation of original media. Penny picture stock. Thumbnail images on internet. Electronic transmission of images.
Photojournalism Professional photojournalists on newspapers and magazines. Newspapers publish black and white professional silver images produced on tight schedules. Demise of professional photojournalism. Digital images uploaded instantly from the field. Direct solicitation and publication of still and video images from the general public.
News Newspaper and magazine. Professional image makers. Internet. Mix of professional, part-time professional, and amateur image makers.
Image Quality Marked differences in quality between professional caliber images and amateur images. Professional and amateur quality often indistinguishable. Image quality much easier to create by amateurs via digital editing tools. Blurring of the definition of professional photographer.
The "fine print" or "art print" So-called fine prints, especially blank-and-white print, are individually created by the photographer or highly skilled assistants via a labor and time intensive extremely technical process. Each print slightly different. All prints are created electronically via image editing tools such as photoshop. Once the original digital image is created, the print is produced mechanically either through an inkjet printer or "print-as-is" through a commercial lab. Each print is identical.
The Darkroom A light-tight dark room with an an enlarger, safe light and trays of chemicals. A computer with image editing tools such as photoshop.
Low Light Photography Requires grainy high-speed specialty film. Most digital cameras have high speed ISO setting. Noise an equivalent problem to grain. However, increasingly high-end digital cameras have very low noise levels at high ISO, making digital low-light images superior to film low-light images.
Creative Prognosis Make the materials work. Make the materials work.

Optical color silver halide print: A light source passes through original silver media such as negative or transparency, through an enlarging lens onto type-c or type-r silver halide paper. 

Digital color silver halide print: An original digital file is converted into RGB laser light impulses which are sent directly to digital silver halide paper  The original digital file can be created directly by a digital camera or by scanning silver media such as a negative or transparency 

Type-C Paper: Optical color silver halide paper optimized for printing color negatives in a traditional darkroom..

Type-R Paper: Optical color silver halide paper optimized for printing color transparencies in a traditional darkroom..

Digital color silver halide paper: color silver halide paper optimized for printing from RGB laser impulses, such as those on a FujiFilm Frontier print machine.


All written content of this web site is solely the editorial opinion of Jeffrey Sward. All images, graphics, and written content of this web site, including the html files, are creative products covered by copyright law. All content copyright Jeffrey Sward 1975-2019. All rights reserved. No portion of this web site or its constituent elements may be reproduced in any form, by any means, without prior written permission. So there.