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That Was The Decade That Was

That Was The Decade That Was

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10 Products, Technologies, and Events That Have Defined Photography Since Y2K

December 29, 2010

The last ten years revolutionized photography. Let’s take a look at some landmark events, products and technologies that defined the decade for photographers, in no particular order.

Digital Photography Ascends
Yes, there was digital photography in the 90s, but it was expensive, and not very good quality. In 2000, film was still hanging on as the imaging medium of choice, although its fall to digital was inevitable. By the decade’s midpoint sales of digital cameras had eclipsed those of film cameras, and now more than 90% of camera sales are digital. Digital camera prices continue to fall as quality improves. Yes, you can still find film and film cameras, but the selection has dwindled, and processing choices have become sparse. Kodachrome, Polaroid, and Agfa film all bit the dust (although Polaroid is making a limited comeback).

Contax N Digital
In 2002, Contax became the first camera company to market a DSLR with a full-frame sensor. It was premature and the 6MP sensor wasn’t up to snuff, although Canon and Kodak released full-frame DSLRs very soon thereafter that led the way. It wasn’t until 2007 when Nikon joined the full-frame DSLR bandwagon, and many feared it was too little, too late. Nikon has since made up for lost time with an impressive lineup.

Canon 5D Mark II
The first serious DSLR to offer HD Video recording, the full-frame 5D MII quickly gained rapid acceptance as a new standard for videographers. A look at Vimeo quickly reveals that the vast majority of creative videos being made now are being done with 5D Mark II’s. Thanks to the success of this camera, HD Video is now found on almost every new DSLR being introduced.

Face Recognition and Shake Reduction
Many were skeptical when Face Recognition and shake reduction technology were introduced by Foto Nation in 2006. But the technologies passed muster. Shake reduction continues to be refined and is able to give photographers as much as four extra stops of extra exposure. Face Recognition can find faces in a scene and lock in exposure, color balance, and focus for flattering photos. Both have been adapted and deployed as standard features in nearly every amateur and enthusiast camera currently on the market. Why? Because, as we learned in real-life field tests over the years, the technology works!

Olympus E-P1
The first mirrorless interchangeable-lens compact (MILC) camera started a revolution. By taking out the reflex mirror and reducing the flangeback (distance between the back of the lens and the sensor surface) Olympus created a smaller, thinner camera that, if not pocket-sized, was very close to it, and the camera was an instant hit. Panasonic would soon follow with the GF-1, followed by Sony and Samsung, whose APS-sensor-based bodies are about the same size but offer a significant improvement in overall image quality over the smaller Micro Four Thirds sensors. Now, MILCs represent the fastest-growing segment of camera sales, while DSLRs are flat and compacts are dipping.

Social Networks and Microstock
Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and more have had a profound effect on how we share our photos and market our photography businesses, and microstock online photography sources have virtually ruined the traditional stock photography business.  Consider that there are well over 3.5 billion photos currently residing on Flickr. Facebook has 15 billion, and Photobucket has 8.2 billion as of the middle of 2010.  Consider, as well, that none of these sites existed 10 years ago. Many images under Creative Commons licenses are available to use, free of charge, while microstock agencies such as iStockphoto sell images to download for a fraction of traditional stock shots.

Online Video
Online video started with YouTube, and the aspiration of anyone—pro or amateur— making a video is to see it go viral, like this one.  Vimeo, thanks to its higher quality, has become a creative outlet for aspiring videographers and video artists. Hulu, CastTV and other sites offer more commercial, popular fare. One thing is for sure: Demand for video content has never been greater, and that’s an opportunity that is knocking on professional and aspiring pro photographers’ doors. 

The Beginning of The End of Print
How many daily newspapers have bitten the dust? Didja see how thin the latest issues of Time and Newsweek are? Life folded again, and U.S. News & World Report is shutting down its print ‘zine. Meanwhile, iPads and other e-readers are hot, and more and more people are reading their news (and viewing news photos) online and on their mobile devices. Print was still king at the dawn of the century, but that has changed dramatically, especially in the last few years. For working photojournalists, that means harder work for less money. It’s not quite over for print, but, as the Beatles once sang, “it’s getting very near the end.”

It’s War!
The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were the most photographed and videotaped acts of war in history. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq introduced the widespread use of embedded photographers…and yet, photos of the coffins of American soldiers killed in action were censored for many years. In the aftermath of the 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks on the free world, photographers have found their rights challenged by a panicked and uninformed police and public. The war should be on terrorists, but all too often these days, it feels like it’s been declared against photographers.

Camera Phones
In 2000, cell phones were simple affairs: You made phone calls with them, and perhaps an occasional text message. Now, most cell phones come equipped with cameras. OK, the image quality is still poor compared to practically any stand-alone camera, but camera phones have taught us how to share images on the go. Driven by Blackberries, Droids, and iPhones, we are seeing apps that expand what you can do with a photo in ways that are (at the moment) exclusive to these devices. I recently downloaded a 99-cent app, Phototropadelic, that let me turn any photo into a Peter Max-style 60’s psychodelic poster. I wish I could download that app to my DSLR! (Hint, hint)

Nikon D3
For the first seven years of the decade, Nikon sat back, seeming to be content with its APS-sensored DSLRs as Canon captured the bulk of the full-frame DSLR market share starting with the EOS-1Ds in 2002. But in 2007, Nikon’s first full-frame DSLR, the D3, put the camera giant back in the game for pro photographers in a big way, and the company hasn’t looked back. The cameras that they’ve introduced since then have won critical acclaim, right up to the D3s, which can capture images at ISO 102,800!
Brand and Company Comings and Goings
Contax, Yashica, Polaroid, Agfa, Minolta and Konica all bit the dust—at least, as camera and film makers. Sony bought Minolta’s camera facilities and they’re gunning for a major piece of the still photography pie. Panasonic developed an extensive (and highly-regarded) line of quick little cameras. Ditto for Casio. GE has joined in, with some low-cost, very basic models for snapshooters. Leica has managed to beat the odds, thanks to its brilliant—if pricey—M9, the world’s only full-frame rangefinder digital camera.

What will the next decade bring? Only the future will tell!

Did I miss something? What do you think was the most significant event, product or new tech in the last 10 years? Leave a comment!


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