Shoot at sight
Circa September 1999
As you read these nearly thousand words, someone somewhere is taking a picture. A digital picture with a digital camera, to be exact.
Nobody saw it coming. But within the last one and a half years, the choice of digital cameras vying for your eyeballs has shot to over 180 models. Indeed, you could even buy a cheap digital camera for under hundred dollars as an accessory for your barbie doll, in matching colors and styles. According to an informal market survey, more than 100 digital cameras are being sold in Delhi alone, per month. But the real story is waiting to hit the headlines.
More than 1 billion film-based cameras exist in the world today. A typical household in the US owns an average of three cameras. Yet the open secret of cameras is not the camera, but the film. Depending on your use, you could end up spending more on the film even in the first week, than you did on the camera. Even in price-conscious India, the cost of a typical 35mm roll of film, with developing and 3” by 5” size prints, is between Rs 160 to Rs 200. No wonder film consumption in India is not as high as it should be, and usually reserved for special occasions like the grand Indian wedding. A country like China, meanwhile, surprisingly uses more than 160 million film rolls per year. No one knows the actual world consumption of film rolls, but can be easily and safely estimated to be more than 1 billion rolls per annum. Some professional photographers can easily finish an average of between 5,000 to 10,000 rolls per year without blinking an eyelid.
At more than 1 billion rolls, that’s a lot of chemicals. In those volumes, not so friendly for the environment either. And with those running costs, photography still remains the fetish of the enthusiast.
Digital cameras are ready to change the equation, thanks to Moore’s Law. Over the last four years, the resolution has been nearly doubling, the price steadily decreasing, and the speeds and options increasing. The result: today you can buy a realistic quality, megapixel 1,600 x 1,024 pixel camera with removable storage cards, for around US$ 1,000 or less. And no film costs ever.
Projecting this trend shows the real revolution waiting to happen. Within the next three years, cameras that rival the quality of professional film-based SLR cameras will be available for around US$ 500. Those that rival pocket camera quality, for perhaps hundred dollars or less. At that price, everyone who owns a computer will buy one. Just like the ‘standard’ CD drive, and multimedia speakers. More exotic models will offer videocam and webcam facilities as well. The already inexpensive desktop bubblejet printers offer photographic quality output, within three years they will even surpass this quality. And internet bandwidths are bound to increase. All this presents a world of very exciting possibilities for photography from the home user to the highly professional expert. Not to mention the promise of democratizing photography for all. Unlike the CD-ROM, which demands further investments in audio CDs, video CDs, and game and edutainment CDs, digital cameras demand no further investment if you already own the computer, and the color printer is optional and cheap anyway.
Companies like Kodak, Agfa, Fuji, and several others that make millions of rolls of film, will suddenly find themselves ‘future-challenged.’ The environment will breathe a sigh of relief. Consumers will have cameras ranging from US$ 100 to US$ 500 that should last them three years or more, and at that price, afford the newer models every few years too. An ordinary film-based SLR will become a ‘luxury’ and an ‘antique’ to afford and use, much like the old hand-wound gramophone.
So don’t blink yet. You’ll miss seeing the revolution happen. More than 1 billion digital cameras in the market, within the next three years. Say bye bye to film, and thanks for the memories.