In thinking about the innovations shaping the photography industry today, it’s interesting to consider where yesterday’s innovations have taken the medium. Looking back at what was touted as the “next big thing” a decade ago can temper enthusiasm for today’s supposed “game-changer.” Looking at where we’ve come from can be instructional as well as good fun.
In the Tenth Anniversary Issue of Photo District News, published in February 1990, writer Peter Moore considered the changes in film photography over the previous decade. After lamenting the “color uniformity” in transparency films, Moore noted, “One thing we have gained in abundance is film speed.” Slide films of the day were “remarkably good” at ISO 1600!
Moore also noted that amateur-focused color negative films were displacing pro-focused transparency films in the market. “The vast majority of amateurs have embraced the tolerant, ‘snapshot’ films … Serious SLRs are being set aside for ‘decision-free’ pocket cameras. Ironically, the results are often better than the slides of yesteryear.” Substitute “smartphone cameras” for “pocket cameras.” Sound vaguely familiar?
In the 2004 PDN Photo Annual, writer Jay Mallin celebrated Wi-Fi technology as a major “player” in the photo industry, which seems quaint as we look at reviews of increasingly sophisticated smartphone-camera hybrids. Mallin touted “two new products … that will allow wireless transmission directly from a camera, without even a laptop,” before wondering: “How many photographers want clients and editors to see images direct from their cameras before they’ve had a chance to hit the delete button?”
In that same issue, the release of the Kodak SLR/c, which accepted all Canon EOS lenses, was the big digital camera news.
For our September 2001 issue (which, by the way, featured a Patrick Demarchelier image of an actress with retoucher’s notes—something we can’t imagine a publicist allowing these days), editor David Walker wrote about editorial photographers who were making the switch to digital photography from chromes. “The hard part” for one photographer, Walker wrote, “is convincing editors to let him shoot jobs digitally.” Now we occasionally write about photographers trying to convince editors to allow them to shoot film.
In an article looking at the future of digital cameras from October 2005, which was our 25th Anniversary Issue, writer David Schloss countered the prevailing wisdom that DSLR sensors would not exceed 20 megapixels, and predicted the “megapixel-war” would continue long into the future. In discussing how file storage for digital cameras was affecting technological development, Schloss suggested that readers “look for future cameras to include higher-velocity storage systems.” Pretty good call, but then he continued: “Compact Flash, SD and other cards will be relegated to the dump within a decade.” Could still happen.
Which of the innovations noted in this issue will have truly shaped the industry when we look back at the present decade? History discourages declarative statements, but we’re certain of one thing: the rapid advancement of photographic technology won’t grind to a halt anytime soon.