Marking the end of celluloid film

I recently posted about the early nitrocellulose-based film that really marked the beginning of the movie film industry – and what a ride it has been.  Well, we are now really on the other end of it all.  2013, perhaps 2014, are widely expected to usher in the end of what is generically referred to as celluloid based film.

In 2011, Fox announced that it would suspend production of film-based movies by 2013, and worldwide 90,000 theaters have converted to digital projection.  Fujichrome delivered its last film stock this past March, and this leaves only Kodak, which is pulling out of the film business as it emerges from bankruptcy.

Should we be sad?  The story is a lot like that of digital photography in general, and it’s all really a matter of what is referred to as Moore’s law.  The law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who in 1965 described the fact that the number of transistors we can put on a circuit board doubles every two years.  More often it is quoted in terms of a computer performance doubling every 18 months, this because performance depends both on the number of transistors and how fast they are.  As regards photography the point is that when digital photography was introduced images didn’t have the dynamic range or resolution of film.  But it was only a matter of time because of Moore’s law.

We now have the resolution of film, greater dynamic range than film, and unbelievable processing capability.  Compared to film cameras a few decades ago, which had simple light meters that controlled exposure and focusing, today’s DSLR’s are essentially computers onto themselves.  Distributing digital copies of movies is a tenth the cost of distributing film copies.  The special effects that we love so much are easier and cheaper to produce.  Indeed, as we’ve seen you don’t even necessarily need actors and actresses.  It can all be done by computer.  And as we’ve discussed previously all of this means that there is a growing democratization of film production, and film distribution via the internet.  The bottom line is that the technical, creative, and financial aspects of the art are all significantly enhanced.

So as regards the question of whether we should be sad, the answer is probably not.  My one caveat here is that as media succumb to financial pressures and necessity, whole genres of human creativity become lost.  I remain a great lover of silver gelatin photography, and platinum printing, and daguerreotypes.  A number of years ago I went to an exhibit of the work of Chuck Close, where side by side were shown portraits in hologram and daguerreotype and I was left with the realization of how wonderful it would be if daguerreotype printing were still more readily accessible to artists.

Most writers on the subject say that film will never die completely.  I am not so sure.  Roll films, celluloid movie films, are technically complex to produce.  As demand plummets, it seems very likely that financial pressures will drive them to extinction.

I can remember seeing movies as a child, when all of a sudden the image on the screen would melt before your eyes from the heat of the projector. There is a Mash episode that depicts this.  I definitely won’t miss that!

This entry was posted in History of Photography.