The end of Nikonography

This morning’s Observer column about Nikon’s plans to stop making film cameras.

Nikon’s decision is as profound as the switch from vinyl LPs to CDs in the early 1980s. And the arguments which rage about the merits of analogue and digital photography have echoes of the debates about vinyl versus CD. Digital music is created by sampling the audio signal 44,000 times a second, and hi-fi buffs argued that this degrades sound quality. As someone who could never afford high-end analogue hi-fi systems, however, CDs seemed immeasurably better to me. 

But then, I’m no hi-fi buff. I do, however, know something about photography, and there’s no question that digital images are currently inferior to analogue ones. At even moderate levels of enlargement, the differences are obvious. Areas of sharp contrast between light and dark are problematic for digital imagery (try a digital photograph of a leafless tree silhouetted against a bright sky); and colour rendition in low-light conditions can be wacky and ‘noisy’ (flecked with what looks like digital dust).

But to average snappers, the images coming from a digital camera are as good as anything they ever got from film. In fact, they’re better, because more of the duds will have been snuffed out in the camera. They come in a much more convenient form – as files that can be emailed to friends and family or posted on Flickr. And although the camera may cost more to buy, subsequent savings on processing may compensate.

So, for the average punter, film lost the argument with digital ages ago…