Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Digital Shift 

There was a small story in yesterday's tech news that shows how much the world has changed. Nikon announced that it is looking to a day when it will stop making single lens reflex (SLR) film cameras and only make digital SLRs.

That's an amazing shift. Anyone who has worked professionally in photography has probably had a Nikon at one time or another. It was a workhorse that handled horrible conditions with aplomb.

When I started in communications, I was in photography. I did still photo work in the US Army as part of the Department of the Army Special Photography Operations (DASPO). I carried a Nikon around my neck in all kinds of situations while mountain climbing, slogging filthy deserts and plowing through jungles. The only problem I had with my personal Nikon is that sweat from my body short-circuited the light meter one day while mountain climbing, and I had to get a new one. More than 30 years later, I still have that camera and its lenses in a closet at home. I haven't used it for a decades, but I'll bet I could take it out, clean it, replace the battery and fire it up.

Now Nikon has announced that it is raising the monthly capacity for the "D70" digital SLR camera to more 90,000 units by September or October. Nikon is looking forward to 100,000 digital SLR units a month eventually, and it expects to sell one million digital SLRs this year alone.

While the company said that it has no immediate plans to stop production of film SLRs, it is starting to pull back, and it plans to exit the compact film camera business next year.

You might be asking why it took so long for camera makers to move heavily into digital. Film has been around for more than a hundred years, and the economy was set up for the ease and convenience of film users. Eastman Kodak attempted to convert to digital since the early 90s, but film hung on stubbornly until about a year ago when sales of the little yellow boxes at last began to fall.

In the PR business, I haven't thought much about film in the last four or five years. It takes too long to have negatives developed. Shoot with a digital camera, download and get on to the next task.

Still, the old Nikon in the closet has sentimental value, even if my daughter asks what it is for.


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