I’ve been around long enough now to have seen quite a few “things” come and go. Trends, fads, innovations that weren’t, inventions that didn’t quite make it, even entire industries that just went away once they became obsolesced. And I guess it’s the latter that I find somewhat curious today.
I believe it is safe to assume that most successful businesses continue to innovate in order to grow their businesses. If a business ever decides innovation is no longer so important, then it’s lost an important spark of what it once was, and this alone can lead to its eventual demise. Have you ever seen a business that just seemed to have run out of steam and was just going through the motions to keep its doors open? Sure you have. Excepting for the most part the mom&pop shops that have survived “as is” as they have continued to support multiple generations of a single family. That’s different. A shop like that is more like a family member than it is a business. But many, if not most, of the others haven’t survived, have they. It is akin to the biological imperative — the will to live. And when a business has lost it, it is doomed.
But there are others who have played their cards right their entire business lives. Yet, because of innovations or market directions, they find they no longer have a market for their product. And even though their product may be at its design zenith — the best it’s ever been — it too is doomed to the trash heaps of history, albeit really through no fault of its own. I’m thinking of a couple of mature technologies at the moment. One is endangered — to draw from an ecological vocabulary — and the other is showing numerous signs of being “at risk.”
The “at risk” industry is the automotive industry. Specifically, the reciprocating, internal combustion engine. It is quite arguably and predicatably the most advanced it has ever been. These days, small engines put out the same amount of horsepower and torque that large V8s did back in the 60s and 70s. Some are efficient and smart enough to idle underused components to save on fuel, thus it isn’t unusual for modern V8 engines to get upwards of 30 mpg. Some modern engines are so efficient that the air coming out of them is cleaner than the air going in! But almost all of them burn fossil fuels, plus there is this whole “carbon footprint” guilt trip going on (fuck you, Al Gore!) that you have to deal with as well.
The writing is on the wall, I’m afraid. The trend is more and more toward flex-fuel and hybrids, neither of which really make any economic sense, but it makes all the fruits, nuts, and flakes feel oh-so-good about themselves and how everybody is just getting along so well and cumbaya! I mean, how do you fight that? You can chip away at it with reason, but it is so smooth ate up with stupidity that the prognosis is becoming increasingly dim. And ultimately, this exquisite technology will fall into desuetude because of its perceived evil content or, even worse, intent. You see, it has become a religion to them. So fine, I say. If they insist on such nonsense, then they should be allowed to go their own way and get around on horseback again. But leave the rest of us the fuck alone. You — the leftists in government bureaucracy, that is — need to stop twisting public policy to support your equally twisted ideologies.
The other industry — the “endangered” one — is the film industry. Kodachrome, quite possibly the finest film ever made, has been history for a few years now. There is nothing in the inventory — digital included — that can replace what Kodachrome was. So many other film emulsion types have been discontinued in recent years, as digital begins to assert its supremacy, too many of them the best they ever were. And that’s what really bothers me as I look around at the film landscape, and try to peer dimly into the future. We have some of the best films there have ever been available to us right now. And it really behooves anybody who still cares about film to get out there, buy a bunch of it, and use it! My current favorites are as follows:
- Color Print: Kodak Ektar, Kodak Portra 160, Kodak Portra 400.
- Color Slide: Kodak Elite Chrome, Fuji Velvia, Fuji Provia
- Black & White: Kodak Tri-X Professional 400
The more I see of the Portra 160, the more I like it. In fact I like it so much that it has become my favorite, even though I haven’t shot any of it yet. I base my view on a thread I saw over at Photo.net on the subject of the new Portra 160. The guy showed some rather extreme enlargements, to illustrate the amount of detail that film captured, and all I can say is it was extraordinary! I mean I was seeing resolutions that rivaled a densely pixeled digital image sensor. At last it appears we may have a color film that can bring it to digital and take them down a peg or two. To me, Ektar is just okay. The sharpness and grain are good, but the colors are — well, I was expecting more Kodachromesque colors from Ektar, and I’m not getting them. They’re more subdued, and don’t seem to be as accurate as Portra. When it comes to color slide film, these days, with the exit of Kodachrome from the stage, it’s pretty much about three emulsions anymore: Kodak Elite Chrome (which comes in a couple of different flavors, IIRC), and Fuji’s Velvia and Provia. All three are outstanding emulsions with very fine grain, excellent color saturation, and great sharpness. Velvia has grain that is so microscopic that it might as well be invisible. I have dupes of Velvia slides that I took using my 10mp DSLR — so they’re 10mp dupes, but of film images. But when I went to examine the images in photoshop, they were so sharp I couldn’t distinguish them from digital. For black&white, I’m just a big fan of Tri-X, and today’s Professional flavor is the best I’ve ever used. It’s warmth and tonality is unsurpassed. I shoot it mostly with my medium format cameras and, with that negative size, the detail Tri-X records is extraordinary.
So yes, I grew up in and have lived through a special time for both technologies. They’re likely the best they’ve ever been and will ever be pretty much right now. So it behooves me and you to go out there and enjoy them while they’re still around. Because once they’re gone, there will likely be no bringing them back. Ever.