중앙데일리

Digital photography opens new doors

Mar 19,2006
Photography has become digital, with sales of film cameras and the film they use dropping off precipitously. But the new ease of photography that the digital era has brought ― instant satisfaction with a photo in the viewfinder and the ability to send that photo to others instantly and at no charge ― has also opened new doors. Camera makers, who first viewed digital photography with more than a little suspicion, have also found new markets.
Digital cameras a few years ago were primitive things; memory was very limited, photo quality was poor compared to film quality, some lacked flash and many had only the most rudimentary of manual controls, if any at all. But as the technology improved and costs of camera gear began dropping, even serious amateurs turned to digital cameras and began demanding the assortment of lenses and features that they were used to on their film cameras.
Even developing centers, which were hit hard by the initial adoption of digital cameras, have seen their business rebound as people bring in memory sticks with digital photo files to be printed.
The “camera alley” in Namdaemun market is located in an underground arcade and is filled with small shops that sell everything from camera lens caps to high-priced cameras used by professional photographers. A few years ago, only a few of the stores catered to a digital clientele, but now most have switched over.
“In the past, only professional photographers or those who took photography as a very serious hobby bought high-end cameras, but digital cameras have created a huge photographic boom here, and many customers that come to buy semi-professional or professional gear are amateurs,” said Lee Sung-man, a camera vendor who has been in the business for about 20 years. “It’s very profitable for me, because with high-end digital cameras that have manual functions, you not only have to buy a camera body but also different lenses,”
Kim Kyung-june, the head of an amateur photography club of more than 100 members, says that changes in photo-taking trends are driving more people toward those high-end cameras. “Photography used to be a very expensive hobby. Not only did you have to buy good equipment, but you also had to buy film and then develop the film, either in a dark room or at a developer. As it goes with anything else, however, practice always makes perfect, but the cost factor made it difficult for people to take as many pictures as they wanted. Digital cameras changed all that,” he said. Mr. Kim noted that since there is essentially no cost involved in taking pictures, people start investing more money in their equipment to get a better “look” in their photographs.
“There is a limit to what you can do with automatic cameras,” he added. “Also, digital photography enables us to share our pictures on the Web, which sort of spurs competition to take better pictures and aim for a more ‘analog’ feel,” he added.
Money may have been one of the reasons, but it’s not an entirely convincing one. Serious amateurs and professionals have always lived by the motto “Film is cheap” and snapped away profligately, but tended to have their rolls of film printed out in the first instance only on contact sheets rather than enlarged. They tended to print only a few of the total number of photos they took, and they at first scorned the low quality and graininess of digital photos that limited them to sizes far smaller than were possible with film. Again, though, technology came to the rescue as the number of pixels ― picture elements ― in a digital camera grew to the point where digital photos and film negatives were on an equal footing.
Park Jun-hong, a professional photographer, said that most professional studios have changed over to digital equipment, but paradoxically because high-end digital cameras can give a more realistic feel.
“It’s ironic, but true,” he said. “Advances in digital camera accessories and lenses specially designed for digital cameras create clearer photographs, and digital printing preserves that detail. The entire process has become digitized but this actually gives us more leverage. Sometimes, after-effects are done with computer programs such as Photoshop to make the photo look more like it was in real life, which sometimes gets distorted in photography depending on the lighting and so forth.”
Artists are also experimenting with digital and printed photographs. An exhibition titled “Bitmap,” which ended on March 14 at a small Seoul gallery called Loop, was an example of how digital photography was adapted into an analog context. The exhibition featured the work of 27 artistic photographers from 10 countries. No transportation costs were involved ― the files of the photographs were all uploaded onto a server and the photographs printed according to the data the artists had attached to the files.
“The digital files were all very large, ranging from 100 to 300 megabytes,” said Seo Jin-seok, the exhibition director. “The exhibition was held to reflect on how the artistic qualities of digital photography have caught up with those of conventional analog photography. We see the possibility that the boundaries between digital and analog photography may fade.”
Noting the rising demand in the high-end digital camera market for cameras with manual features, camera makers are rolling out new models. Increasingly, many consumers are shunning the small point-and-shoot automatic cameras.
Samsung Techwin, Sony Korea, and Olympus Korea began selling medium and high-end digital cameras late last year, and were extremely successful. These cameras are still fixed-lens models, but have more sophisticated manual controls.
Catering to these analog-seeking digitalists has also brought life back to the photo-printing industry. “When we first started a few years ago,” said an official at Zixx, an online photo-printing business, “there weren’t many people who wanted to actually print out their photos because most Internet communities and blogs provide unlimited Web space. During the past few years, however, the number of customers has grown several-fold.
Lee Beom-seok, who runs a private developing center in Sinchon, said he was happy he decided to change to digital printing. “I was going to sell the store because the cost of the machines for digital printing was very high, and many people had stopped coming to develop their photos. But now people are developing photos again ― only they are not bringing their rolls of film but their memory cards or USB sticks,” he said.


by Wohn Dong-hee


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