Perspectives: First Kodachrome, And Now My Nikon

Mar 14, 2006

By Ed Breen

FORT WAYNE, IN – In one of those little flashes of recognition, it struck me the other day that God had allowed me to live too long.

It was 3:05 p.m. on Thursday, January 12, that this epiphany arrived, delivered by the Associated Press in a news story about the Nikon camera company.

Ed BreenNikon is the Japanese camera equivalent of Toyota … it is the General Motors of the camera industry. On that day – January 12th – Nikon announced to the entire world that it was going out of business … or rather, out of the business of making cameras that require film. Henceforth, the venerable Nikon company will make only machines that record pictures in Xs and Os, ones and zeros, pixels, bytes, megabytes, gigabytes. That is, it will produce only digital cameras.

I’ve spent all of my adult life and a good portion of my adolescence in the business of news and photographs … pictures of the people and places and events around me. Camera and film have been no further than arm's reach away for near a half-century.

First, it was the cumbersome, ungainly 4x5 Graphic … the camera you see in all old movies where the press corps was surrounding the sports star or war hero or Hollywood starlet. And flashbulbs. I once ignited a pocketful of flashbulbs all in one glorious and illuminating moment on the sideline at a high school football game. Flashbulbs followed the buggy whip into oblivion 40 years ago.

Then came the Rolliflex, less bulky, more rapid, but a camera that required that you appear to be staring at your shoes as you, in fact, look straight ahead. Then came the cute, quick, quiet 35-millimeter camera. In my youth, I drooled with desire for a Nikon model F, a 35-millimeter camera within the scope of my dreams, but not my wallet. A lesser machine would have to do … a lot like wanting a Cadillac Escalade and settling for a Chevy Nova.

The issue, of course, is not that the world has stopped wanting and making pictures. Just the opposite. Our appetite for images is insatiable and it is the digital image – made with a high-tech digital camera – that slakes the thirst: images from the battlefields of Iraq, or the football fields of the NFL, or the fashion runways of Paris, or the quiet moments of playing with our grandkids in the backyard.

Buy a digital camera, as millions have done in the past couple of years, and you never buy film again. You'll never take pictures without film in the camera … or open the back before rewinding the film … or double expose … or drop the film off at the drug store again. Pictures. An endless river of pictures, all stored in the cosmic zone of the digital universe. What you do need, of course, is a computer and some technical savvy and probably a printer and some other gizmos and whingdingies and whatchamacallits to make it all work, to convert those megabytes into memories.

Kodak moments? Yes, they're still there all around us. But from now on they'll be captured and preserved in pixels … because they've taken my Kodachrome away.

Ed Breen is the assistant managing editor for photography at The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, IN. In his spare time (and declining years) he does a weekly radio program in Marion, IN, on WBAT AM 1400. This article was one of his recent programs.