September 12, 2007
We are living at a fork in the road of technology. Just look at nanotechnology or robots.
Just like the GNR (genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics) turning point, photography is changing a lot, whether we are talking about our hobby or our profession. Let’s talk about a term I coined - “Photo Digitalism”.
I invented the term “Photo Digitalism” as an adjective to describe this era, not as a conceptual idea. However, I soon realized it also conveys the idea to live and use digital pictures.
Today we use digital cameras in every area of our life. Even our cellular phones have built-in cameras. The digital nature of most cameras now make them much more convenient than film.
We don’t just use them for quick snapshots or for utilitarian purposes. We use them to transmit precious memories to family or friends via email; even as the action happens. It is the speed and ease of use that makes digital cameras so popular.
With film cameras, it was impossible to share photos via email in a quick and easy manner.
Some target audiences have really benefited from Digital Photography. A good example is astronomical photography. With film, it was not easy for amateur astronomers.
Today we can get such beautiful astronomical photographs using CCD, even from amateur backyard astronomers. So when a specialized target audience benefits so greatly from Digital Photography, I think digital is only the way to go.
Some people try to compare digital with film. I do not think you can compare them. People who like analog film say “Digital? It’s junk”, or “I just don’t like it”, or “Real photographs are always film”. I think this attitude is wrong.
Because film photographs are made up of particle dots. The only difference between digital and film is the limit of digital technology or optical and chemical limits to show a certain amount of dots.
Take Black & White for instance. Our eyes and brain do not see the object as monochrome. And a CCD sensor is the same as our eyes. Then the data is still kind of like “color”, even though the final outcome may be monochrome.
On the other hand, the chemical process makes light diffusion between the film and paper through the lens. Then we image the gradation step might which appear smooth. But it really isn’t smooth. We now can understand this just means steps of gradation. Very tiny particles - 1 micron meter or less in film, 0.1 micron meter at ink-jet printer - makes infinity steps at both digital ink-jet printer or film. If you bring your monochrome data as 8 bits grayscale, it only has 1 bit depth transparent level data. If you use 8 bits indexed color data, each RGB has 8 bits depth transparent level data. Which steps are possible to make rich details?
Needless to say. Film enlargement makes the gradation smoother than digital until better printers become available. I think we have good printers today, and they are only getting better.
In the era of photo digitalism, I think we do not really need to concern ourselves with capturing on film vs. digital. But we must not change the information or message that gets captured. Sometimes we want prints, and other times we want to simply view on screen. Broadband and archive technologies make it possible to exchange large images with a lot of information, mostly via the Internet. And without the internet, this would be almost impossible.
I believe original prints like Ansel Adams’s are true art. Same thing goes for oil paintings of the last several centuries. However, when studying these works of art even in a book, the original message is not lost. In addition, the original value rises after because of the materials they are made with (paint and canvas). This is something that makes photo digitalism so different (and positive).
But there are negatives. For instance “How can one protect his or her copyright or income?”.
One famous commentator says that we will have a pension soon after birth and all labor will be done by robots or computers. But when taking photos, target selection, angle, framing, and shutter timing are impossible to do by robot or computer.
Cameras are taking over in many areas already. One is security cameras, and other one is the cellular phone that everybody has.
When AF started, I was skeptical. Even today, I do not use AF, except when using the fisheye lens (can’t see the focal point but AF does), or when taking photos in darkness where it is also impossible to see.
This was during a time when Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake happened. I could not focus because it was hard to see the victims. So I set my camera to AF then pushed shutter release without looking in to the finder. My eyes were too wet to do that. It was not digital yet then I carried film up to the newspaper company by bicycle. It was amazingly far because normally I used a car or train. If this happened today, we could easily transmit so many photos containing large data, immediately.
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I’d like to say this is term Photo Binary really means film + digital = a matched pair.
If you are learning photography, digital is a great way to save money. How much I spent for film, development and enlargement when I was learning! People who starting out today are very lucky to learning using digital cameras. Take as many photos as you want, they are basically free. See the results immediately. Shoot some more until you get the result you want; without wasting film.
However, if you have the chance, please experience the darkroom. I do not want to see film photography gone in the future. Because there is still a lot of know-how that is available to make great art that is based on film and paper, from shooting in the field all the way into the darkroom.
A good example is Adobe Photoshop’s interface. The command words in the menu are familiar to film photographers. So even the beginner will have some exposure to film terminology, even within Photoshop.
I hope film makers like Kodak, Agfa or Fuji will make a museum with a workshop to experience shooting, development & enlargement. Otherwise, it is impossible to keep darkroom running by individual because environment reason. We can not waste the chemicals and washed water today. Actually I still have a darkroom with enough gears in there but not in use anymore. And can not waste the chemicals - so Kodak D76 B&W film developer chemical package are on the shelif like museum display.
There is a well known technique called “Zone System”. It means to adjust the exposure value to match the paper’s dynamic range (usually 2EV narrower than film), not film. Therefore, now we can use the digital zone system instead film-paper’s zone system. This means we can adjust the exposure for digital development. RAW data has a lot of details but is weak at the overexposure side (+ EV). Then we can use a little bit of dark exposure and adjust using RAW software. It is already here, and it is called HDR (High Dynamic Range) . However, maybe we can say “digital zone system”. This could be summed up as “Let put all lights and shadows in the zone of Adobe RGB” instead the photographic paper. And it sounds better than HDR doesn't it? DZS is the answer for better digital photo processing.
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I invented the word “pictinas”, and it means all kinds of photographs, without exception.
For instance, if a photograph is fake and made with very unnatural Photoshop effects, it is “pictinas artificial”. If a photograph is for journalism, it is “pictinas journalism”. Understand now? Pictinas can also mean pictures via network access storage. It is exactly the way we are using servers on the Internet today. Let use word play, but also sort of use it like scientific names.
I created pict.com 12 years ago. 12 years is the unit at Asian culture as one cycle which is characterized by animals. So this is a good turning point to switch from the first era to the second era. My task is going to the second stage with digitalism.
During the first stage, my task was started with early models of digital cameras and film scanners. Also I experienced the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and then understood about power of information technology and Internet.
So I started pict.com to make things normal like we really doing today. This task was started with photographer Mr.Tsutomu Otsuka who I respect.
Since now, pictinas com is starting into the 2nd era of digital pictures and information technology. I am not sure what we can do with cyberspace yet. Maybe it will be a place to show the future as it is unveiled.
My big concern is in 12 more years, will we still get joy from photography, or will everything be automatic?
Kind of sounds like “I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph / So mama don't take my kodachrome away” (Kodachrome by ©Simon and Garfunkel).
With motor vehicles, sometimes due to human error in manual operation, live are lost accidentally. But taking photographs does not kill anyone (except for those with superstitions about the camera taking life away).
Maybe it is because some people do not want to leave the comfort of film. They are afraid they are losing grip on the joy of photography. For example, some people return to the pin-hole camera as a hobby. Why? Because they’d like to have fun, of course. But, if even so, why not mass produce the pin-hole digital camera? Or the twin-reflex digital camera? Hopefully we can keep these variations alive so as to have fun with photography, even if they are not technically superior. (* Feb.11, '08 I found pin-hole cap for digital camera)
So, welcome to the pictinas world!
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Angle, framing, and lighting are always going to require human interaction. Just about everything else can be adjusted through software.
With high speed shutters, rapid-fire burst mode, and features such as “best shot”, both amateurs and professionals benefit.
Exposure and focusing are already handled in the camera (I do not use AF though). Color balance is also handled in the camera. Or, we can adjust it on the computer (similar to negative film color adjustment at enlargement step).
(Just before release this report, Japanese company OMRON made smile value sensing system and SONY or Olympus bring them into compact digital cameras. It is one of the new that camera finding the shutter chance. However, maybe it does not works to me because my mustache.)
So, really, the most important thing is the subject matter. In other words, what are we going to photograph today?
Regarding lighting, we have a very good option called a “lighting box” (light diffusing box) readily available in the market. Even Costco carries them.
Because people need to present their items nicely for eBay. What a big difference these inexpensive inventions can make!
Anyway, pictures for online presentation are not really for professionals. Professional photographers can take them better, of course. However, the problem is, people who need these pictures cannot afford to pay professionals, as there would be no profit.
Similar things are happening at the supermarket. Customers are looking for the lowest price possible. So the supermarket lowers the price to sell as many as possible.
Photography is also in a similar situation. However, “photography” is an art form and a lot of categories are left for professional photographers because of individual personalities and creativity.
At this point, I’d like to suggest one thing. We can see a lot of “stock images” on the web. It is easy to use for make something like a brochure. On the other hand, stock images kill the professional photographer because people can just buy the photos as needed wholesale. The stock image market is something we really need to be afraid of.
Digital cameras and equipment for professional photographers are expensive items, and the results show.
To keep the professional market alive, we have to keep a reasonable price. Otherwise, everyone will use stock images, and no more new images will come out (except news photography like sports). If the professional photography market shrinks, the equipment will also shrink.
For example, Mamiya has sold their professional camera business. Pentax also has quit, and merged with HOYA. No more professional cameras, and no more professional pictures with wide valuation of the each unique personality. This is what I am really afraid of.
In that sense, I feel negative towards the digital era. There are so many positives, but this is one of the negatives.
We can have the world-wide market as a professional photographer because photography is a visual language. There is no barrier, and the internet makes it even easier to order, send, & receive the images.
However, I can not say yes to the digital stock images so easily. It is fine for a rough sketch step for presentation. But not for the final result.
Photo digitalism is no doubt to welcome for today and the future. But we have to think carefully how we can keep the culture of the photography alive. Those who just use it to make money are going to destroy the entire culture. This will cause a lose-lose situation because when they realize people are bored with the existing stock photos that are used again and again, the stock images will disappear. They will need new images but no professional photographer or professional photographs are available.
Who destroyed them? Themselves!
Photo digitalism is already giving us some exciting things. One of the best examples is family photos that can easily be printed on a low cost ink-jet printer, even at full poster size. This is one more step toward a true digital darkroom for the home user. Similarly, video editing is now becoming an easy thing to for the home user; it just takes awhile.
Now we do not have to put poison down the sewer from the traditional darkrooms anymore. Nor do we have to worry about silver mines and the silver market.
We do not have to wait to see results of development. Every step is easier and faster. If you are learning photography, you can take as many photos as you want without worrying about costs of film, development, and enlargement.
And let’s not forget about the Internet. You can see people buying digital cameras in droves, and the lines at the photo printing machines at the stores are long as well. It is further evidence on how digital photography has been welcomed by the general public.
If you keep your photos safely stored on servers over the Internet, you will never lose them even in the case of fire, disaster, or theft.
There are still some small problems, but I believe these will be solved as technology progresses.
We take our pictures with either film or digital, depending on our preference. I do not care which is which, actually. However, for digital, the resolution must be as large as possible. Same reasoning for using a large format camera. Why?
Because you are not sure how that image will be used when you press the shutter button. That is the why ten million pixels CCD for even compact size cameras.
Some people still saying film is better. However, I am doubtful of this. Digital is almost same as film today. If you look at top quality CCD imagers, digital has taken over film (except special film used in spy satellites).
Why digital is better than film? One of the reasons is the usage way to commercial quality printing. They uses scanner to bring image data to a plate. At this step, quality dependent on a film and scanner. But nobody says Zone system for scanner. Actually it reduce the dynamic range even at the professional scanners. We can see a lot of people using poor monitors without serious adjustment with color checking device. People using poor old printer to print their images.
And then, they says film is better. It is wrong and this is the evidence.
Gray scale image by EOS1DsMk2
Just digital camera has it’s dynamic range wider and fine at the darker side. So if we do that carefully as same as using Zone system technique to the films, we can get so rich result at digital.
Canon’s EOS digital camera book shows EOS1Ds takes more fine details than 120 film cameras. This is true.
One of the reason is the lens. Some lens for the large format cameras has poor quality because do not matter for fine details by larger format.
I know one of the exception about this. It is Rolleiflex because trimming is one of the common technique to use the large format when that camera made. We can enlarge the picture more than film by digital, today no problem.
I am dreaming of more bits. Almost all fine level data formats are 16 bit (65,536 steps per color - basic analog-digital sampling are 12bits to RAW data) today.
I’d like to see 24 bit or 32 bit. Maybe someday in the near future, we will see 24 or 32 bit graphic engine, monitor and printer, all working together.
(EOS1DsMK3 already anounced from Canon. It will release November 2007. It has 14bits 16384steps colors process. So, things are already forwarding on the way I say above.)
But really, who can see such color difference? Can human beings even tell with the naked eye?
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In this era of digital pictures, we feel closer to planet Earth. This is a new digital era, where photos are an ever-growing part of everyday life. So, let’s enjoy them first before discussing them. After all, in the end, the photos are what is important.
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