A look back at photography's huge technological strides in the last 20 years.
May 1989: Seattle – So I’m here in Seattle on my first trip to the Pacific Northwest and wow, is this a beautiful area! If I ever get tired of L.A., this might be a place to check out. Flying in over Mount Rainier was a treat, but by the time I got my Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic II out, added my SMC Takumar 55mm lens and loaded a roll of Ektachrome 100, we were getting ready to land. I’ll have to plan better and hope I get a window seat on the way home.
After my trip, I did a little slide show for some of the people in my office. I heard several comments that if I ever get tired of programming IBM mainframes, I could become a professional photographer. I’ve got a couple of images that I’m going to print as large Cibachromes and enter them in some contests …
In 1989, the film camera market was in its heyday. Kodachrome, Ektachrome and Tri-X dominated the market (Velvia did not come out until 1990). Nikon had the F4, Canon had just come out with the EOS system, and great film bodies were also available from Olympus, Pentax, Minolta, Konica and others. Most top-of-the-line bodies were equipped with autofocus. The viewfinder displays were getting more sophisticated, as LED and LCD exposure scales slowly replaced the mechanical needle.
Because computers were not yet a part of the photo world, digital cameras were still “on the drawing boards.” Nikon had presented the Nikon SVC at Photokina in 1986, but it would be two more years before Kodak would release the first digital SLR. However, Bill Gates started Corbis based on the idea that, digital frames would one day hang in everyone’s house and display a rotating collection of digitized artwork.
Many advancements were still needed to get to Gates’ vision. At the time, the Intel 486 chip was the latest PC processor, and Apple had dumped the Lisa for the Macintosh, which ran an early version of PageMaker (initially created by Aldus and later acquired by Adobe). Software came on 3.5-inch floppies, and hard drives were typically in the 20-megabyte (MB) range. Photoshop 1.0 was still almost a year away, but Barneyscan XP, distributed with the Barneyscan scanners, gave people a sneak peek at the future.
March 1997: Redmond, Wash. – I can’t believe it has been almost a year since I moved here. I just got back from my second trip to Malaysia, and my project for the Sabah Tourism Board is really taking off. Kodak loves the fact that we’re shooting their new E100SW film both on land and underwater. This is my first time shooting underwater with the Nikonos RS and it is great, especially for macro. I also like the Nikon N90s, and I’m glad I sold my N8008 to get another N90s.
Trying to juggle two careers – photography and software consulting – is taxing but fun. Maybe someday digital cameras will be affordable and I can combine my two passions. The two jobs aren’t leaving me much time for a social life, but I think joining the Mountaineers will be a great way to meet people. I’m already involved with the organization’s Photography Group, so who knows?
I just met Art Wolfe at his New Year’s Eve party. As a relatively new professional shooter, getting to know Art has really helped. Volunteering to help out with his Art Wolfe Invitational photo contest is already paying dividends …
Film cameras still dominated the photography landscape in 1997. The Nikon F5 was the latest of the Nikon flagship line, with its 3D color matrix meter and built-in, eight-frames-per-second motor drive. Canon had the EOS-1N, which continued the conversion of Canon’s bodies to the new EF (electro-focus) lens mount. The new EF lenses had a bayonet-style mount and built-in motors to provide quick autofocus. Other camera manufacturers tried to keep pace, led by the Minolta Maxxum and the Olympus OM Series.
Film itself had undergone some major upheavals by 1997. Fujifilm Velvia, with its strong, very saturated color palette, fine grain and incredible sharpness, took over the market and became the industry standard for color slide film. Kodak attempted to respond with the E100S, E100SW, E100VS and E200 films to replace its aging Ektachrome and Kodachrome lines, but Fujifilm continued to dominate – first with Velvia and later with Velvia 100F.
Digital cameras were still relatively primitive, but they were slowly gaining in popularity for those who could afford them. Kodak had several DCS-series digital SLRs, but they were just converted Canon EOS-1N and Nikon N90s bodies, and they were prohibitively expensive, even for many pro shooters.
In the computing arena, the Pentium II was the chip inside most PCs by 1997, while Apple was still recovering from the conversion to the PowerPC chip by purchasing NeXT and bringing back Steve Jobs. Most software was still being shipped on floppies, but CDs were catching on. Hard drives were up around 500 MB, and Zip and Jazz drives were becoming popular for data storage.
I bought my first copy of Photoshop, version 4.0, and started having a few of my slides scanned. I worked on them in Photoshop and then had new slides made using a film recorder, so I could make prints; photo-quality digital printers were still a few years away.
Also, two fellows named Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein, who had started a company a few years earlier, merged with PhotoDisc Inc. The new company’s name? An agency called Getty Images.
August 2007: Sammamish, Wash. – I just completed a two-day course led by Greg Gorman at the Art Wolfe Digital Photography Center, and I’m packing to head down to Mendocino to do Greg’s week-long Digital Workshop. This workshop will really make a difference when I’m working with a nongovernmental organization on a micro-credit project and I have an opportunity to photograph some of their clients.
This is my fifth year writing for PhotoMedia and will be my eighth year shooting sports for the University of Washington. I’m also executive director of the Environmental Photography Invitational (formerly known as the Art Wolfe Invitational, EDIE, NWEEP and World in Focus); we took the contest national this year and plan to go international.
The D2X has been a great all-around body for me. My headaches with the D2H, which led me to get a Canon 1D Mark II that I used for almost two years, have vanished with the D2X. The 1D Mark II is a great body, but I still like the Nikon glass and selection of lenses. It was easy for me to go back and forth between Nikon and Canon, thanks to the fact that my wife, Elaine, is a Canon shooter, so I didn’t have to buy new lenses. I knew there was a reason I was first attracted to her at the Mountaineers Photography Group (just kidding, honey) …
The transformation of the entire photography industry from film to digital took less than a decade. The professional and so-called “prosumer-level” digital SLRs led the way, with the Nikon D1 in 1999 and the Canon D30 shortly thereafter. The megapixel wars really started in 2001 when Canon introduced the EOS-1D and Nikon the D1X and D1H. In just six years, we’ve gone from 4 to 21.1 megapixels with the recently announced Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III.
Nikon and other camera manufacturers have been trying to keep up, but the industry has seen a lot of consolidation, as well as several key entries and exits. Konica and Minolta had merged in 2003, but the combined company abandoned its photography businesses entirely by 2006 and sold its photography assets to Sony, with whom it had been jointly developing DSLRs since 2005.
The digital camera market today has broken into four fairly distinct segments: professional DSLRs (Canon and Nikon); prosumer DSLRs (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus and others); compact digital cameras, or “ZLRs”; and pocket-sized point-and-shoots.
Lexar and Sandisk have supplanted Kodak and Fujifilm as the primary providers of the recording media for the digital camera world. CompactFlash and Secure Digital cards of up to 8 gigabytes (GB) are now available and inexpensive.
With photography stampeding toward the digital environment, cameras and accessories are now subject to Moore’s Law, the well-known computing axiom which posits that the number of transistors on a chip will rise exponentially, doubling roughly every two years. As previously noted, camera sensors and media cards have certainly held to that pace.
With digital image files getting larger and more complex, more processing power and larger storage is needed to deal with these images. Photographers who wish to remain on the cutting edge of technology have to replace camera bodies, computer hardware and software more often each year because rapid advancements can make equipment obsolete in a matter of months.
In the old days, to be a “high-end” photographer you were supposed to use a Hasselblad. Today the question is whether you are a PC user or a Mac user. Today’s photographers must buy high-powered PCs and Macs with several hard drives, DVD burners and enclosures, which hold even more hard drives that can be accessed over a network. In less than 10 years, hard drives have increased a thousandfold in capacity (from 500 MB to 500 GB) while maintaining the same size, thereby greatly increasing the speed. CDs have been replaced by DVDs, which are already being replaced by HD-DVDs and Blu-Ray DVDs.
But what has really made the whole digital evolution accelerate has been the advent of photo-quality digital printers. When Epson came out with the Stylus Pro wide-format printer, it was a death blow for any wet lab. Even labs that were doing high-def digital printing were badly hurt. I’ve had an Epson 7600 for several years, but with my new HP Z3100 printer, I can do 44-inch banners and custom wallpaper.
The quality of the prints we can now make with the printers from Epson, HP and Canon is amazing. But while the new printers have given photographers a whole new level of control, they have also brought up several new things to worry about, namely print longevity and color management issues.
July 2027: Tranquility City, Lunar Territory – I’m really excited about the upcoming terrestrial eclipse. It’s the first one since we moved here, and it will be my first chance to use my new Canon 1Ds Mark 17 (when are they going to come out with a 2Ds, anyway?) and my favorite Nikon “infinite liquid” zoom (6mm-600mm, realistically). Ever since the two companies merged back in the 2010s, we shooters get the best of both worlds: Canon bodies and Nikon glass. The 12-gigapixel sensor should give me some great detail shots of the Moon’s shadow as it crosses the Red Sea. I’m also glad I just bought a new 4-petabyte optical disk for the camera; shooting at 60 to 200 frames per second, I’m going to need it.
My good old MicroApple portable computer will be in my pocket. With its 8 TBps (terabytes per second) link to the Galactic Web, we should have no trouble posting some great images. And I will also be feeding selected frames to the web news feeds so they can pick them up immediately. Even though I’m “semi-retired,” there’s no reason not to make a few bucks, is there?