Film photography still has a healthy existence, with some expert photographers refusing to use anything else. And those throwaway cardboard analogue cameras are still around, proving an especially resilient hit on the wedding circuit. Plus, of course, there are plenty of film makers who would never use anything other than 35mm film camera, believing it simply looks better.
But the move from analogue to digital in the world of still and video photography has been quick and almost total. And when you consider that the first modern digital camera widely available was the Casio QV-10 in 1995, and the first camera to use CompactFlash was the Kodak DC-25 in 1996, the speed of change becomes apparent. The concept of Jpeg didn’t even exist until the late 1980s.
For the vast majority of people at the time PC Advisor first appeared, photography was strictly an analogue pursuit, and movie making the preserve of the one friend or relative who had everything. Going to the chemist to pick up your holiday snaps was as much a part of the trip as wondering what would arrive home first: you or the postcard.
You had no preview, so the chances that all 24 or 32 snaps would be good or even usable were very low. (Unlike the chance that the assistant in your local Boots was likely to take his or her own copy of your most embarrassing snap for under the counter posterity.) Changing the film on many cameras was strictly mum- or dad’s preserve, as clumsy hands could easily expose a whole roll of film to natural light and ruin a week or two’s hard photographic work. And even though film limited the amount of photos you could take, shooting a few shots of the wardrobe in order to finish the roll was an honourable tradition.
I remember being stupendously impressed by one of my uncles when he showed up to a family gathering with a handheld VHS camcorder. It was about as big as a small family car, took awful footage and had next to no battery life. But still. Me, on the telly. It was like magic.
Today this seems impossibly quaint. To take photos and video you don’t even need a standalone camera, as every Tom, Dick and Harryhausen carries a veritable digital studio everywhere they go in the shape of their phone. As is often the case with digital media, the sanctity of the individual shot has disappeared as it’s possible to take and retake an infinite number of photos until you have that perfect shot of everyone gurning around a pint pot.
Home movies are posted online in seconds, for all the world to see (often before their subjects know the footage has been captured). And editing both photo and video is within the grasp of everyone who has access to a PC and some basic software.
There’s still no substitute for photographic skill. There never will be. But the world of digital puts the ability to take decent photos in the hands of everyone, all the time. And that has to be a good thing. Try to remember that the next time an embarrassing picture of you appears on Facebook.