Digital cameras transform the photography industry

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Digital cameras are transforming the way people take, develop and store pictures, as well as the way the photography industry does business.

Just as computers killed the typewriter, the compact disc retired the cassette tape and copiers wiped out the carbon sheet, the quality and convenience of digital cameras is taking away the need -- and increasingly the want -- for film.

The reverberations are being felt far and wide.

Eastman Kodak Co., the Rochester, N.Y., film giant whose $1 "Brownie" model made photography accessible to the masses in 1900, has announced it's getting out of the film-camera trade after its stock fell 30 percent last year. It is cutting its work force by 12,000 to 15,000 people over the next three years as it shifts focus to digital. The Japanese camera manufacturer Nikon Corp. is considering downsizing its film camera production. Photo finishers are being forced out of business or spending thousands for equipment to develop digital images.

"We'll continue to manufacture film, I want to be very clear about that, film is a very good business, but yes, the film business is getting smaller," said Anthony J. Sanzio, a spokesman for Kodak. "We're going to devote more of our attention, more resources, to digital." Digital cameras are now in more than one-third of American households, about 41 million homes, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, a Virginia-based trade group. Moreover, new technological devices often reach the second quarter of homes twice as fast as they reached the first quarter. Analysts expect digital cameras will be in 50 or 60 percent of all households within three years.

Last year, digital camera sales were up 33 percent, enough to outsell film versions for the first time. And by 2008, InfoTrends Research Group predicts few film cameras will be sold.

Digital still has a long way to go to match its predecessor, though. Film cameras are in 90 percent of homes, according to Photo Marketing Association International.

A prototype digital camera was first developed by Kodak in 1976 but it wasn't until the late 1980s that consumers had even limited access to the technology from manufacturers, including Sony Electronics Inc., Nikon and Canon Inc. Digital gained momentum in the mid-1990s after companies such as Kodak began aggressive marketing and creating simpler cameras. As with many new technologies, as prices dropped and quality improved, more traditional users embraced them.

The ripple effects of the turn toward digital is only now beginning to become evident, much as cell phones and the Internet have vastly altered the way people, especially the young, communicate.

With film, nearly all photos snapped get printed. But with digital, people are taking more pictures, but printing fewer of them, leading one to assume the traditional shoe boxes crammed with photos will dwindle.

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