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The camera has come a long way

By Staff | Dec 31, 2009

As we move on to another decade, it’s common for historians and experts to look back on the evolution of technology.

It’s a way of looking at how far we’ve come. Certainly as we move into 2010 we look at how technology has made leaps and bounds in the past 10 years.

Ten short years ago, texting was still in it’s infancy, now it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t do it. It’s easy to see how such gadgets such as cell phones, iPods, BlackBerry devices and computers have made our lives easier.

But an often overlooked piece of equipment in our every-day lives is the camera. All of us have one. We depend on it to record life’s most precious moments, when we know that our memories will fail us in later years. Think about how far the camera has come. The camera has gone from hours-to-develop to instant gratification to I’ll-never-get-around-to-making-prints.

We’ve all seen the old cameras in movies or museums. Back in the “old days” cameras were only for professionals. They were large and cumbersome and not many people knew how to use them. Then along came a little company called Kodak that made it possible for everyone to own one.

I remember the first camera my family had. It was a compact Kodak Instamatic camera that came in handy at birthdays and reunions. I recall the flash cube that came with it. Poof and that flash cube would light up the room like the night sky on the 4th of July. Because there were only so many flashes you could use up in this little cube, you had to be very selective with what photos you took. There was no snapping willy-nilly. Oh, no! You had to choose wisely for once your four-sided cube was all burned up, you were done.

From the blinding flash of the cube, our next camera was another Kodak version but this one came with a compact built-in flash. These also came with the handy drop-in film cartridge. It was great not to have to affix the flash cube every time you wanted to snap a photo, but it sure was frustrating when the teeny-tiny sliding door on the viewfinder got stuck and you couldn’t get it open in time to capture the moment.

Fond memories bring me back to Christmas of 1985 when I received a Polaroid instant camera. It came with a cartridge wrapped in brilliant silver. I’d line up my dolls and take their pictures. The family cat and dog were also my frequent subjects. Talk about instant gratification! Snap and wait just seconds for the photo to appear. I was the hit of the neighborhood with my new “magic” camera.

After the allure of the Polaroid wore off, not to mention the expensive cartridges that I had to beg my parents to buy, our next family purchase was a disc camera. Some may remember these cameras that were all the rage in the ’80s. The streamlined disk worked just like traditional film, only more compact producing ultra-small negatives. The camera may have been small, but boy was it loud. The sound of that disk advancing after each shot was remarkable. I recall taking ours on a family trip to Medora. I think I interrupted the tour guides a few times with the grinding sound of my disk camera.

Then came the disposable cameras. These are great for the on-the-go person who just needs a camera to capture the moment. In this disposable society we live in, it’s only natural we should take to the one-shot-and-you’re-done idea.

But possibly the most signficant advancement in camera technology has come in more recent years with the digital age. This has allowed us to take hundreds of pictures of the same event or subject and weed out the bad ones before we even get to the print stage. While it’s great not to have to worry about wasting costly film, it can also create a monster. When I say monster, I mean the huge number of pictures waiting to be developed on the memory card. You know it’s time to get prints made when your son’s first communion and his high school gradation are on the same card.

I’m as guilty as the next guy when it comes to overshooting a certain subject or occasion simply because of the convenience of a digital camera. Case in point – by the time our daughter turned one year old, there were nearly 400 photos on our digital camera memory card capturing every smile and every move she made. When you do the math, that’s more than one snapshot for every day of her life. Okay, so I went a little overboard but it’s only natural with the first-born child.

And thank goodness I was able to capture every moment with my digital camera. Just imagine how many of hundreds of flash cubes that would have taken up with our old Kodak Instamatic. Not to mention the damage it would have done to her retinas.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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