It's been about 20 years since video camera technology entered the consumer market, and now you have to visit a secondhand store to even find a home movie camera. Buying and processing film for the ol' Super-8 is just as difficult.
Today a broad offering of filmless cameras has snapshot shooters and professional photographers wandering the digital frontier, with some questioning whether film cameras will meet the same fate as the movie camera.Film may have been a common denominator until now, but it's been a pretty loose one.
Inexpensive cameras in the consumer market have evolved from the Brownie to Instamatics to 110mm pocket cameras to skinny disc-film cameras and now disposables. Camera buffs willing to spend the money on lenses and other accessories have made 35mm the format of choice, as it is with many professionals.
The entrance of digital technology simply broadens the mix of camera types.
Putting the word "digital" in front of the word "camera" has given some camera shoppers the wrong impression.
"Most people are confused when it comes to digital photography. This word `digital' in sound and other pieces of the industry means quality," said Ken Robinson, vice president of Wasatch Photographic, which caters to professional photographers and serious amateurs.
When it comes to cameras, "just because it's digital doesn't mean it's quality. People have a hard time understanding they're not going to get film quality out of a digital camera."
That doesn't mean there aren't high-quality digital cameras. But as with many new technologies, the really good stuff is also the really expensive stuff - $12,000 to $15,000 for a "professional" replacement to a 35mm camera and $50,000-plus for digital studio gear.
Purchasers at the low end of the digital scale can find a $200 camera but will more likely spend at least $400 for a digital camera with an acceptable list of features and $900 for a camera that offers the kind of picture quality you'd need to make a satisfactory 8-by-10-inch print.
One of the more popular digital models at Inkleys is the Kodak DC210, which sells for $800. The camera offers all of the features of a better automatic 35mm camera like automatic focus, macro zoom lens and exposure compensation. It also comes with on-board digital features like an LCD previewing screen and both infrared and cable options for transferring the images to a TV or computer.
There are a dozen very similar cameras next to it on store shelves. Chips, cards and discs that store picture images vary. The most common feature is that their tiny electronic circuits, lens-focusing motors and flashes gobble batteries.
The price puts the digitals at two to three times the cost of a comparably-equipped 35mm film camera. So who's buying?
Commercial product photographers are using high-end digital cameras. Cheaper digitals are popular with insurance adjusters, appraisers - camera users who just need to document something - and casual users who are more interested in e-mailing their photos than printing them.
"Anyone with any type of Internet or Web experience is interested in buying digital. But (potential buyers) are not very informed. We spend a lot of time educating people on what they're buying," said Inkley's General Manager Jeff Westover.
Digital pictures are stored on reusable digital memory chips and discs that don't have to be sent away for processing and can be reused. That makes electronic "film" cheaper than regular film over time.
But the higher camera costs and costs of computer storage space needed to archive photos currently tips the scale back in film's favor. Television photographers found that out when they switched from 16mm movie film to videotape in the late 1970s.
"Everybody was saying `This is going to be wonderful. We don't have to buy film. It's so much cheaper,' " said KSL-TV chief photographer Kerry Jensen. "But then we went from using $10,000 cameras that used film you used once to $50,000 cameras that used a tape you could use over again."
Video technology stuck, "but not because it was saving money," he said.
Consumers are finding that out with digital still cameras. "We sell more traditional cameras to would-be digital customers because they find it's not as cost effective as they would hope," Westover said.
Amateurs and professionals alike are finding a mix of film and computer technology serves them well.
Scanners that will read a photographic print and turn it into an electronic image start at less than $80. Film scanners start at about $300.
The Deseret News pulled the plug on its wet-lab darkroom more than a year ago, even though most of the pictures you see in the paper are taken with 35mm cameras. Film is developed in an automated processor much like you'd see at a one-hour lab and then scanned to create a computer image without a print ever being made.
The newspaper has four high-end digital cameras that have cut processing time way down on deadline. Soon, about half of the pictures in the newspaper will be taken with digital cameras.
Digitals also offer quick turnaround for professionals shooting commercial work, especially when jobs end up on digital printing presses, said Jens Bach Nielsen, owner of Pictureline, which also caters to professionals. Digitals shorten the stops between an ad agency's idea and the printing press. "The industry is really churning," he said.
Borge Andersen & Associates is an upscale developing and printing house next door.
"Photographic paper using the conventional process is more economical and likely to remain so for some time, but the equipment is more costly," Andersen said. Digital printing will eventually take the lead "because the digital printers are going to be able to print from anything that you enter into the computer."