Friday, July 31, 2009

Kodak Kills Kodachrome

Film fades and soon Kodachrome will fade from the scene forever. Yes, I am afraid, mama is goin' take your Kodachrome away. Kodak has announced the end of an era; Kodachrome film is being discontinued. By the end of 2010 the last plant processing this unique film will shut down, the film itself will be gone in months.

Its had a good run — 74 years in production. Today Kodachrome sales are only a fraction of one percent of Kodak's total film sales. For most consumers, amateur and professional, the disappearance of Kodachrome is a non-event. Digital technology dominates the market with the majority of photographers preferring digital to film.

Many will tell you that Kodachrome was the first commercially successful colour film. They have a case. But, since Kodachrome's release back in the mid '30s, there have been major advances in film technology. Chromes will still be available, they just may be better, certainly different, and no longer Kodachrome.

Steve McCurry, the National Geographic/Magnum photojournalist who shot the famous Afghan Girl June 1985 cover had this to say, "While Kodachrome film was very good to me, I have since moved on to other films and digital to create my images. In fact, when I returned to shoot the 'Afghan Girl' 17 years later, I used Kodak's E100VS film to create that image, rather than Kodachrome film as with the original."

McCurry, even though he has been an unfaithful Kodachrome lover, has been chosen by Kodak to be the photographer to shoot the last roll of Kodachrome — 36 frames — with the images to go to the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

The main difference between Kodachrome and other slide, or transparency films, is that the dye couplers, the colours so to speak, are embedded in the other film emulsions themselves — not so with Kodachrome. Processing Kodachrome was complicated, expensive, and environmentally challenging. For decades the film could only be processed in Kodak's own labs.

There are those like William Wolfe-Wylie of Sun Media who claim, "The image quality and resolution of a film like Kodachrome still can't be touched (by digital cameras)." As a photojournalist who entered the business shooting chromes and left it shooting digital, I can assure you that digital resolution surpassed film years ago, if by resolution you mean apparent sharpness and measurable detail.

The almost total lack of noise when digital images are exposed at low ISO settings contributes greatly to the perceived clarity of the digital image over film which is inherently noisy or grainy. (But oddly enough, it is in low-light-level situations where digital really shines — basketball in dark, high school gyms, rock performances on underlit stages, soccer games or baseball games under the lights . . . )

Film lovers, and film does have a small but strong following, will argue that digital can never replace film. Well, for many of us it has, but for those still in love with film there are newer, and quite possibly better films still being made. Admittedly, these films will not be Kodachrome. It was unique.

Good-bye Kodachrome. Thanks for the memories.

    This image has very little to do with the above and yet it has everything. I needed a place to put this image, on-line, so that I would have an Internet address. I needed the address in order to post the image to Canadian Geographic. Shot with a simple digital point and shoot, this picture makes the advancements in photography since the invention of Kodachrome very clear.

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