Film is dying, but not forgotten

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By Stephen Lega

It's official. Digital wins.

The Associated Press has reported that Kodak has announced it will discontinue making Kodachrome film.

I don't say this with any kind of nostalgia for the days of film. There's no question that digital has helped me both take and process photos, but there is something sad about the end of production of color film.

I realize that Kodak is not the world's only film maker, and Kodachrome isn't the only color film made by Kodak. Yet, I can't help thinking this is the beginning of the end.

To be honest, I don't think film will ever die completely. Vinyl records have survived thanks to a niche market. I predict something similar will keep film alive. I think there will always be photographers who will prefer film.

In fairness, I do think I benefited from taking a basic photography course in which I was required to develop film and print my own pictures.

For the sake of full disclosure: I got a C in the course, and I only think that was because the professor told us the first day that he wouldn't fail anyone who was making an honest effort.

We used black-and-white film for every assignment in that class, so I never actually used Kodachrome (or any other color film) when I was searching through negatives trying to decide which images to print.

But there was something enjoyable in the process. Burning test strips to determine how dark or light your image would appear. Watching the image emerge as the photo paper soaked in developer. Smelling the fixer (OK, I don't miss that). And waiting for the photos to dry.

My first full-time job out of college, I worked for a newspaper that had negative scanners. I really thought that was high-tech stuff.

I wouldn't have to make prints ever again. (No more fixer!) Instead, I'd just have to develop the film, cut it into strips, pick the photo I wanted to scan, place it in the strip holder, put the holder in the scanner, then scan the image. That doesn't seem as simple as I remember it, but at the time it meant I could have an image ready for the paper in less than an hour.

I took a few years off from newspapering, and when I returned, I was hired by a newspaper that was all digital. I was using some kind of Nikon Coolpix, but I don't recall the specific model. It took me a while to adjust. The paper later got a digital-SLR, and I really grew to appreciate what I had been taught in basic photo.

I understood how to manipulate the controls, and I understood what I was adjusting (even if my pictures themselves left much to be desired). Now, I just had to work on becoming a better photographer, something I'm still striving to do.

Today, I could have a photo ready for the paper within minutes of returning to the office, and with Internet access, I could have it ready within minutes of taking the photo, in theory.

I may not ever see an image come to life in a bath of developer again, but I learned a few lessons in the darkroom. I only wish now that I'd learned a few more.