Technology in Photography

We all know that technology changes lives, but for photography it sometimes amazes me that until digital came along (and for a while after as well) the basic essence of photography really hadn’t changed since it was first developed. A camera was basically a light-tight box that lets light in in a controllable way, while film basically worked in much the same way as it had since it was first invented. Small steps were made forward, from faster films to faster lenses, autofocus primes to autofocus zooms. These were important advances, but it didn’t really rewrite the book.

When digital came along it looked to rewrite the rule book, but really, from the first pro dSLR to now it was all about the catch up. Until this latest generation of digital capture devices (I use this term so I can include not just 35mm systems but also medium format systems) the goal was to be as good as film. Of course digital was more convenient than film (in some ways), but it’s the difference between using an AF lens verses a manual focus lens — the AF lens is more convenient, but it’s not necessarily better than the manual focus lens.

And while I’m not an expert in film and video, I think the same could be said for the motion guys — until now, digital was just catching up to what film could do for the last 100 years.

But now. Now. Now we’re starting to see technology that really changes things, in tangible ways that non-experts can easily see. Take this Pedigree ad for example:

This just wasn’t possible before the development of cameras that can record at 1000 fps. 1000 fps! Film would melt if it was made to run through a reel at that speed, and you’d need to clone the sun a few times to get enough light into each frame.

And look at what Nikon is doing with the D3s — 102400 ISO! That’s five stops faster (or 32 times more sensitive) than the fastest film you could buy. The D3s is more sensitive than your eyes, letting you see what you wouldn’t normally be able to see at all!

And now with Nikon’s new 70-200 f/2.8 VRII, you have a vibration reduction system that will let you shoot hand held at 200mm at obscenely low shutter speeds, all these innovations are just changing everything. It wasn’t that long ago that if you were shooting an indoor event you’d need flash on camera, there’s just no other options. Or if I was using a telephoto lens I’d have to shoot at a faster shutter speed to minimise camera shake. Now, I could walk into a nightclub with a D3s and a 70-200mm and take hand held portraits that’s sharp as a tack, and film it too.

How’s that for revolution?

March 5th, 2010