Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Great article from The Economist on what mistakes Kodak made and what led them to bankruptcy compared to Fujifilm: http://www.economist.com/node/21542796



There's been a lot of wink-wink nudge-nudge over the years to the effect that Fujifilm was subsidized by the Japanese government; to what extent this was the favorable tax deals Kodak also got and to what extent it was real was and is hard to assess, but it is certainly the case that Fuji was not burdened by the antitrust pressure that led Kodak to divest itself of its camera-making arm in the middle of the 20th century. There's a lot of claims to the effect that Fuji piggybacked on the pioneering Kodak research work, and this is very difficult to refute, but if they did they at least equaled Kodak in quality. When people talk about "cheaper film" it was, but not that much cheaper and at least the equal in quality, sometimes better; I found Fuji's consumer films to be far preferable to that turd Kodak called Gold 400.

No one in the industry was really prepared for the nose dive film sales took; essentially only die-hards like me still buy it. Film was and is to some degree still capable of more resolution, more dynamic range, better color fidelity and less prone to weird errors in the way that a Bayer sensor does (almost every Bayer ever sold to consumers had a detail destroying filter attached to it because the alternative is horrific Moire effects), but the speed of editing digital caused it to take off like a rocket. I suppose the lesson to be learned there is that Kodak spent a century making the very best film it possibly could (for the professional lines, anyway) when it turns out the market is perfectly happy with a 4 MP digital with a mediocre lens and chromatic abberation out the arse if it cuts the feedback loop down from days to seconds.

I have mixed feelings about Kodak in general--they had a tendency to make bizarre decisions that led the few film enthusiasts remaining to believe that it was simply a matter of time before everything got the shaft and they would have to switch to something else anyway. They also made a lot of really bad digital cameras, which was strange considering the superb reputation their press lenses and the Retina had back in the day. Fujifilm never divested itself of its cameramaking arm and continues to make some of the best lenses in the business to this day, and I think that has been a very important strength for them.


> but the speed of editing digital caused

I'd also expect the storage convenience to have had an impact, you can store dozens to hundreds of pictures in a memory card the size of a nail (a pretty huge nail for CF cards, but most of the market will be consumers shooting on SD anyway) and you can offload them into a computer or a bigger storage system at the end of the day, instead of having to lug around cases of film.

There's also the ability to quickly remove "failed" or extra shoots on the spot without wasting a valuable spot in the card, where film... a photo taken is a spot taken, no going back.

> I suppose the lesson to be learned there is that Kodak spent a century making the very best film it possibly could (for the professional lines, anyway) when it turns out the market is perfectly happy with a 4 MP digital with a mediocre lens and chromatic abberation out the arse if it cuts the feedback loop down from days to seconds.

I'm not sure your argument is much helped by you comparing professional film with consumer point-and-shoot from 5 years ago.


Actually one of the cameras I was sort of thinking of when I wrote that was Nikon's D1H, which was very low resolution and not great at controlling sensor noise but was very popular among sports photojournalists because it was very very fast in use. If you were interested in the quality of the photograph you got, they were incredibly unappetizing.

But even comparing consumer film lines to consumer digicams of five years ago, the film had it all over the digicam in terms of resolution, color fidelity, responsiveness (not unusual for there to be a multi second lag time between pressing the button and a photo being taken on those), just technically slaughtered. But because you get results right now and don't need to spend $6 getting it developed, hey. One of the reasons 4 MP was enough was because consumers rarely enlarge a photograph past the 4x6 prints they get from the mini lab, so the advantages turn out to be mostly not interesting.


For the average consumer, $6 is probably less of an issue than the hassle of physically going to the drug store to get the pictures developed. I don't want to part with my 6 bucks, but I really don't want to waste two round trips to the store to get physical images when I could instead just upload them to the website of my choice (for free or at least cheap).

Beyond that, film is just a pain in the ass. You can carry a single card that holds hundreds of images, or you can carry 4 rolls of film and get 96 images. Every time you take a picture, you're counting down the number of images you can take. And you need to buy the right ISO, even though you're an amateur and don't know what the hell ISO is.

Film was destined to die out for casual photographers as soon as digital reached the "meh, these photos are okay" stage, because "okay" is good enough for most people, and film is just so inconvenient in comparison to digital.


"Kodak spent a century making the very best film it possibly could (for the professional lines, anyway) when it turns out the market is perfectly happy with a 4 MP digital with a mediocre lens and chromatic abberation out the arse if it cuts the feedback loop down from days to seconds."

Which is exactly the same phenomenon that occurred with music. The industry kept moving to better and better formats, only to be confounded that people didn't mind lower quality lossy compressed mp3s with swishy sounding hi-hats.


> The industry kept moving to better and better formats

These formats were never made available outside "the industry". I've seen almost no artist (outside of Bandcamp which does it by default/for free) providing lossless downloads, let alone HQ tracks or 3+ channel tracks on normal albums. Reznor is the only one who comes to mind (he released multitracks and 24b/96KHz of Ghosts I-IV in the Deluxe editions)


I think they weren't strictly talking about digital formats. From vinyl to cassette to CD to 128kbps MP3 isn't a strictly increasing curve in terms of quality, though one could argue that in terms of convenience the formats did improve.


Off the top of my head, Peter Gabriel, The Beatles, OK Go, and Jonathan Coulton have all released lossless digital files before (and still do). Peter Gabriel and OK Go use Apple Lossless, JoCo uses FLAC, and The Beatles use FLAC (although not via download -- their USB Box Set was a flash drive and had 24/44.1 FLACs).

(Oh, and Reznor's released other lossless albums too -- The Slip [24/96] and the NINJA 2009 Tour Sampler.)


Super Audio CD and DVD Audio were both introduced around the turn of the century.


Exactly what I was thinking of, and they've been DOA. Before that DAC was fairly widely available, but there wasn't much content available on them and were usually used as a studio medium.


He might be referring to

  tape->phono->cd-!->mp3 (originally not well received)
                \-> mp3 if called iPod


To say the mp3 was not well received before the iPod is goofy. You remember Napster right?!


Before that- in the '80s- it failed. We had "perfect" reproduction. Who was going to settle for less than that? Oh, I see, people who don't really care about perfect reproduction and want to listen to 1200 songs at the gym.

But to answer your question, I never used Napster (but I know it was popular).


Perhaps worse is better.


Convenience is better.

Records, arguably, provide superior sound to an MP3 player, but can you bring a 2,000 record collection with you when travelling?


(As an aside, can you talk more about the Bayer detail-destroying filter? I love this stuff.)


Most CCDs extract color information using a Bayer Filter[1] over them. Each square is a pixel in the megapixel count (a 1 megapixel sensor would have 250k red, 250k blue and 500k green photo sites). Algorithms are used to get RGB values for each pixel in that setup (luminance is extracted from the green sites). However, all the algorithms for the Bayer filter have a tendency to generate Moiré patterns[2]. To combat that, most sensors have anti-alias filters in front of them. This reduces the size of detail that can resolved by a sensor, but it also prevents some of the ugly consequences of the Bayer filter.

Some companies have experimented with other sensors or other patterns. The new Fuji X-PRO1 is using a non-Bayer filter, which should be interesting if it works well (it also does not have an anti-alias filter). There are also Foveon sensors, which use the selective permeability of silicon to different kinds of light instead of a pattern of photo sites.[3]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayer_filter [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moir%C3%A9_pattern [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foveon_X3_sensor


He's talking about anti-aliasing filters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-aliasing_filter), which essentially blur the image enough to mask moire (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moire).

Because this is the internet, I feel obliged to point out the inaccuracies of some of his other statements:

>>Film was and is to some degree still capable of more resolution, more dynamic range, better color fidelity and less prone to weird errors in the way that a Bayer sensor does<<

First of all, film and digital sensors of comparable sizes have nowhere near the same amount of resolution, dynamic range, or color fidelity. Digital sensors simply murder film in every category. (You can make the argument that B&W film still has some an edge in terms of dynamic range, but considering you're matching it against RGB sensors, I'm not sure that's fair.) Even 8x10 film is now out-resolved by medium format backs.

In terms of color fidelity, there is no film emulsion that will get you more accurate results than properly color-managed digital equipment. Which is exactly why museums and people who care about accurate color reproduction use digital capture.

Finally, the anti-aliasing filters aren't exactly a big deal. Yes, they degrade image quality. Yet, even with them on most consumer sensors, those sensors still massively out-resolve, and produce sharper images, than comparable film. Also note that most medium format backs don't have AA filters.

So, while somebody might like using film (or may need to in certain circumstances) the arguments presented aren't exactly the best justifications for doing so.


Just 'cuz I can't let this pass without comment, same as you can: let's take a nice color film and compare this. Say, Ektar 100; in the past I might have used Ektar 25 for this but 100 is a nice speed good for outdoors shooting or controlled lighting conditions. I'm using a Kodak film here both because we're talking about Kodak and because they offer superb information on their products. I'm using a color film because technical B&W films exist and are superb for their application but are not really suitable for general photography, plus are more directly comparable to digital.

Film is an analog medium, so we need some way of measuring resolution. The accepted way is line pairs per mm, or cycles per mm; a dark line next to a light line. A Bayer sensor because of the way the color filter works requires four linear pixels to resolve this same object.

Now Kodak's papers on the subject indicate that Ektar's color response desynchronizes around 20 lp/mm and reach 20% contrast at around 65 lp/mm for the red channel and 80+ for the blue and green channels. Since we're dealing with black and white lines here, we use the blue and green filters as they will still be visually distinguishable. We can argue whether further than 20% contrast is relevant but it seems like a decent enough stopping place. Fine. So the film can resolve 80 lp/mm.

Actual gate size varies a little but generally it is considered to be 36mm x 24mm. So that translates to 11520 x 7680 or an 84 megapixel camera, under perfect conditions.

In realistic use because of diffraction you are unlikely to get 80 lp/mm on the film, the film is not likely to be flat, you probably can't hold the camera perfectly rigidly, etc. It is generally accepted by archivists that 4000 DPI scanning is good enough for archival, which translates to about a 5700 x 3800 image or about 20 MP. In 8x10 that translates to about 1.2 gigapixels, although when you get to that point 4K DPI is probably overkill due to the diffraction limit reached at typical 8x10 working apetures.

As for dynamic range, Kodak doesn't show when Ektar 100 shoulders off but it has minimum 11 stops of dynamic range. I've used Ilford's XP2 when shooting a wedding before, and that has a bizarre shoulder with something like 13-15 stops of dynamic range. Digital cameras are typically more like 7 without using HDR, and HDR is not well suited to anything that isn't completely static.

Finally we get to color fidelity. Kodak worked very, very hard to be as precise as possible with their films and largely succeeded; you can find in the Ektar 100 tech document precise filter recommendations to cancel out the oddity of florescents if you know what sort of florescent you're working with. If you are fortunate enough to use flash, all flashes are designed to emit a precise blackbox radiative spectrum that corresponds to daylight, where the films are balanced. EPP, which is a long obsolete reversal film that I have worked with, was used a lot in catalog photography where it was vitally important that the color used in the catalog must match precisely the color that was photographed, and it was very good for that. Digitals are theoretically more flexible and thus have the potential for better color fidelity, but to do that you basically need to know precisely which lights you are using and at that point you're in the same boat as film users.

Now, is all this really compelling reasons to go to film? Not really. But I spend all day every day working in front of a computer and I'll be damned if I'm going to spend my hobby time calibrating my monitors and messing with scanners and printers (each in a dead heat for most miserable fucking peripherial ever), so I do traditional darkroom stuff, occasionally including some color work.


1. I didn't check your numbers, but I'll assume you're correct. However, in my experience, film does not even come close to approaching those theoretical lp/mm numbers. This test, done with Ektachrome instead of Ektar, reflects my own findings: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/iq180_vs_8...

2. Ok, you're right. Some films will certainly outperform some digital. But, the new MF backs will shoot 13-15 stops as well, so who wins? I'd argue that, on average, digital trumps film. I've shot mostly velvia (the most popular landscape/wildlife film for 30 years?) and provia, and those can't compete with even my 3 year old dslr. (see http://www.clarkvision.com/articles/dynamicrange2/ for tests done with an 8 year old dslr)

3. Get a color checker (http://xritephoto.com/ph_product_overview.aspx?ID=1192). No filters necessary, and precise color no matter what lighting conditions. And, you'd be able to eliminate one of those miserable fucking peripherals.

FWIW, going digital has tremendously simplified my workflow and allowed me more shooting time with less dicking around with equipment time, and much better quality prints (and I make really big prints). Cheers.


Oh, no question that you have a better MTF from an Alpa than you would from an 8x10 at f32 (a perfectly reasonable working aperture for 8x10). I think the 8x10 can still out resolve the Alpa but you're getting into that ugly 20% part of the MTF curves. The rule of thumb I've had for a while is that digital has fewer, better pixels; the digital back hits a wall beyond which you cannot proceed any further, but at and up until that wall the results are superb. I think the current sweet spot is speculated to be 6 cm x 9 cm cameras, mostly because of diffraction and film flatness issues. And reversal film has notoriously poor dynamic range, and mediocre color correction; that's one of the things that pushed me to doing all negatives in my photography.

A professional is probably only going to use film these days if they want a specific effect; say, infrared, or sometimes people fart around with Holgas and call it art. For an amateur, the $20,000 digital back that can compare with a 4x5 with some decent lenses costing a tenth that much is a much harder sell. And that's pretty much where I sit; I'm not going to spend $50,000 on a top of the line MF outfit. I might spend the $1.2K for an X-100, though, still mulling that over. A couple thousand buys a lot of film and developer.


regarding hobby stuff - have you looked into computational photography at all? coded apertures, plenoptic cameras, etc?




Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: