Digital is Dead

Just Business

Everybody thinks the biggest and best is yet to come in the world of digital photography. But I beg to differ. Not only has innovation stopped in it’s track, but, in fact, the biggies are now running at a deficit. Look at Nikon. Unprecedented losses over the last 3 years. If we are to believe some of the financial soothsayers, both Nikon and Canon will continue this death spiral, (for their photo divisions), and will lose at least 50% of their market share over the next couple of years. 1000’s of jobs lost and plummeting stock. So what’s up? Has the ridiculous practice of using 500 images for HDR actually come to an end? Have the prices of pro gear reached a prohibitive level?


Digital is dead
© Ferdinando Scianna


The Pro vs The Amateur

Well, first we have to talk about “pro” equipment. Pro cameras were ALWAYS subsidized by consumer/prosumer cameras. It was the “hobbyists” and family amateurs, (kids, vacation, etc.), who made these companies profitable. So much so that it made room for the (film) Yashicas, Minoltas, Pentax,…etc., point and shoots in days gone by. Quite a large and profitable niche. Now? Well, how are you going to get a ‘consumer’ to buy ANY digital camera when the whole world already has a camera? It’s called a cell phone. Sorry, Nikon/Canon,…whoever. 3 million + images are uploaded to Facebook alone per day. So, lots of people are taking pictures. Just with cell phones/iPads, etc.


Digital is dead
© Helmut Newton


Digital is Dead – The Bottom Line

Is this the beginning of the end? Like Kodak in 2002? Even Leica has committed to film by upping production of the M-A and throwing their hat into the Instax ring. (SoFort) Which is just a reflection of Fuji selling over 4 times the amount of Instax cameras as their own digital cameras! And while Canon did release a 5D Mk IV to “upgrade” from their 5D Mk III, the feature differential is almost microscopic. It’s more likely Canon did that just to proclaim “how big their balls are”. Especially when you consider that almost all their camera profits come from consumer level DSLR’s. But will Canon ever hop on board the film movement? I doubt it. More money in printers and business copiers.


Mamiya RZ67
© Herb Ritts


Film Rules, Digital Drools

Why film? Gee, let’s see. You don’t have to upgrade every year. Film and developing costs are a lot less than upgrading digital equipment. Your images are physical and ‘real’. Different films and developing give you unlimited organic variety and a break from “digital sameness”. And you always have your cell phone for quick snaps. Biggest question I get? “How do I get my images to look like film?” Answer; Use film.


Leica R6
© Sebastio Salgado


Digital Losses and Stagnation

And now the digital crowd is fighting over SLR’s vs Mirrorless? We’ve had “mirrorless” film cameras for 100 years. (rangefinders, p&s, TLR’s, field/view cameras) Oh, yeah, buy MORE! So, just face it; Analog shooters are no longer considered “luddites”. Film is back. Ask any of the line of young adults and teens clutching old film cameras,…from serious SLR’s to low and high end point-and-shoots. Rather than take photos on smartphones, these “serious” photographers are choosing to shoot on traditional film cameras and set-up darkrooms or go to the lab. Yes, it takes courage. Especially if you’re a professional. But, you cling to the digital mirage at what price? Is dealing with a professional lab worse than countless hours behind a computer? Are you so unsure of your talent that you need an LCD screen? Are you willing to compromise your vision to some ‘control freak’ Art Director?


Mamiya 7
© Mary Ellen Mark


But the mantra is not “Digital is Dead, Digital is Dead” across the board. Not even close. But even dedicated digital photographers, with their LCD’s and computer monitors, are opting in for various flavors of Polaroid/Instax images on shoots. There’s an increasing desire for people to have something physical. It’s human nature. Keep in mind that Fuji sold 100,000 Instax units their first year. They now sell 5 million+! And with “Instax backs” for medium format around the corner, the dam has broke.


Nikon F3
© Bob Carlos Clarke


Under 30 and Feelin’ Good

While people under 30 think of film as this new fangled invention, Ilford Photo found that 30 percent of film users were under 35 years old. Add to that, nearly 60 percent are just hopping on the film bandwagon, and that number is growing yearly. As the digital camera market continues to erode, what will the big companies do? They are not photographers. The only thing that matters is the bottom line. However,…changeover to “dead” technology? Well, it’s not only not dead, it’s not even on life support. As Oliver Zahm from Purple magazine said,...“Fashion is rediscovering the possibility and the quality of film photography…there’s a purity to film. It’s refreshing.”. Yeah, you’ll need a vision,… and a good helping of testosterone. (unless you’re a female,…then just being a badass) But a largely untapped market awaits to turn your images into something ‘special and unique’. For now. Can we start a hashtag, “Digital is Dead”? Not yet? OK. 😎 And I’m not telling digital shooters,….or those who shoot both, (most film shooters), to stop. Digital comes in very handy at times. (listing that doodad on Ebay, your daughter’s recital, uploading your party pics to Facebook,….etc.) Just adding another process to your arsenal. Or not.

Great film cameras that will end up being cheaper than any high end digitals, even after film and processing….and last 50 years. Leica M6, Nikon F3HP, Mamiya 7, Hasselblad C/M,….and on and on. Prices ARE rising,…the REAL indicator on the health of the film movement. (a Contax T3 has doubled in price within 2 years)





This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Thanks for another interesting post, Federico. I always look forward to your articles – always thought provoking and inspirational.
    Film and digital, I use both, but I prefer film. I will always use it.

  2. Hi Matt,

    I’m just dealing in facts. (like Nikon losing 15%+ stock value) And I also occasionally use digital. Like pics of my children. (although they actually prefer Instax/Polaroid 😁) However, I’ve gotten a lot of ‘hate’ mail. Dudes,…they’re just cameras. And I’m just being facetious about #DigitalisDead. I’m just pointing out the decline of digital camera sales. Don’t blame me and don’t blame any film camera users,…blame Apple! 😂


  3. This really says how it is. I am sure mobile digital will out sell what is now to the general public, bulky, complicated (sophisticated) digital cameras when they can get a usable and not too shoddy photo from their mobile devices. Film will always reign king with me but understand why specific digital cameras may well be done.

  4. “But the mantra is not “Digital is Dead, Digital is Dead” across the board. Not even close.”

    Hi Carol,

    I really wish people would not skim read. This would prevent a lot of the hate mail I received. 😁 But that’s fine. It was respected business journals and government statistics that provided the numbers. For example, that “DSLR’s” have plummeting sales and mirrorless cameras are taking over. That more and more “consumers” have only a cell phone camera. And that dismal all over digital camera sales are the result. However, this has nothing to do with film. And for all the “ranters” who wrote me, professionals in many genres choose to use film, whether you choose to believe it or not. However, I never suggested anyone throw out their digital cameras and switch over. I was just saying film shooters tend to not sit around waiting for the next “big thing”. An M3 Leica works as well today as it did 80 years ago. Shoot film, shoot digital, shoot both. I don’t care. Even with the 5% to 9% yearly growth of film, analog will never catch up. Numerous comments derogatorily referred to me as a ‘hipster’. Well, all I can say is,…Thank You. I finally made the cut. 😊 P.S. Just please stop those “creepy” HDR pictures.

    Hope you and Katherine are well.

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