Not everyone is interested in photography, but ‘most everyone wants pictures. George Eastman was perhaps the first to understand this, and built an empire around it with his first box camera pre-loaded with film for 100 pictures and sold with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest.”
Previously, photographs had been made on sensitized glass plates or single sheets of film in holders. The process was complex and required serious interest in photography to grapple with it. Film in rolls was invented by Peter Houston, a Wisconsin farmer, in 1881. Eastman bought Houston's patent for $5000, and in 1888 produced his first camera. The rest, as they say, is history.
When all the film had been exposed the user simply mailed the whole thing to Kodak, who processed and printed the pictures, reloaded the camera, and sent it all back to the owner. Nothing could be simpler.
Eastman Kodak went on, over the years, to produce cameras of varying complexity, and of course, film for them. Lots and lots of film. In fact, they didn't particularly care who built the cameras as long as they could make the film. But the heart of their business was always the casual picture-taker who was happy with a simple box with few or no adjustments. The focus was fixed, as was the shutter speed, and exposure variations were mostly compensated for by the latitude of the film.
Vernazza. Photo by Louise with her Sony.
As time went on and cameras became both more capable and more complex, various kinds of automation were devised, such as auto exposure and autofocus, so that the only technical challenge the user continued to face was loading film. And even that was simplified with the 126 and 110 format cameras that featured film pre-loaded into cartridges that could be simply dropped into the camera.
As ways were devised to make it simpler to load 35mm film into a camera, the 35mm point-and-shoot camera, often, but not always, featuring mid-range zoom lenses, came to dominate the market among those who simply wanted reasonably good pictures with a minimum of complexity. One hour photo labs grew behind every bush to service this emerging market, and making and selling point-and-shoot cameras became the bread and butter of camera manufacturers.
(I still have a great little camera from that era -- a Canon AF35ML with a fine 40mm f1.9 lens, autofocus, and the most accurate exposure metering of any camera I ever owned until my Fuji X-H1. I could shoot slide film in it with no bracketing and no worries.)
Harley and Schnoodles
with a Canon AF35ML and slide film
My beloved late sister epitomized that army of point-and-shooters, as she documented every detail of the life of her family and her large coterie of relatives and friends. Her house was awash with 4x6 prints (doubles, of course), as she contributed heavily to Kodak’s bottom line. In fact her decline in picture-making activity due to age and infirmity paralleled Kodak’s decline so closely I can’t help wondering sometimes if there could have been a connection. . .
As we morphed into the digital age, camera manufacturers morphed right along with the times. Film point-and-shoot cameras morphed into digital point-and-shoots. I think the first digital camera in our family was a little 3-megapixel Fuji I got for Louise in 2003, and by the time we went to Italy in 2005 she had a five megapixel Sony with a mid-range zoom lens that took very good pictures.
Meanwhile, in 2002, the first cellular phones with built-in cameras became available to the public. It took a while for them to catch on, but by 2010, sales of digital cameras had begun to drop, and in the ensuing ten years have dropped by 87%. And much of that decline has been in sales of digital point-and-shoot cameras, which as a category, is nearly dead.
Monteroso. Photo by Louise with her Sony.
Why? Three things.
1. Digital point-and-shoots are not easy to use. My wife got a very nice little Olympus point-and-shoot a few years ago, Does she use it? No, but she takes a lot of pictures with her cell phone. The Olympus menus are almost as complex as those on my professional cameras. Even I have difficulty with them, and I have mostly mastered the menus of an Olympus OM-D E-M5.
2. Cell phones make it quick and easy to share your photos. Even faster than getting double 4x6's at the one-hour lab. Cheaper, too.
3. Cell phone cameras do everything for you. Reasonably good exposure, reasonably good focus, both good enough for most people. and "you just push the button and (the camera) does the rest." George Eastman's idea lives on -- in modern garb.
(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins and Louise D. Jenkins, 2020)
Soli Deo Gloria
For the glory of God alone.