state of photo labs

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The photofinishing industry has also lost its focus and vibrancy.

"While Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK- News), Fuji Film and Ritz Camera were once major and prominent companies, they are just a splash of what they were in their heyday," van Beeck says.

With about $1.6 billion in revenue last year, they have faced a decline of nearly 70% during the past decade. Revenue could drop another 40% by 2016, IBISWorld estimates.

Once again, technology is the issue. Digital cameras continue to offer improving quality and falling prices. Color printing can be done at home and cheap digital storage, on hard drives and flash sticks and through online services, has reduced the need to produce a hard copy of every shot as a keepsake. Overall, the total number of prints in the United States has fallen at an annualized rate of 3.5% over the past five years, he says.

I can attest to photo labs going by the wayside. I've been working in a photo lab since around '04, and I remember the exact year digital photography began to take over. It was Christmas of '06. Price of digital plummeted. Everybody got digital cameras for christmas that year. Film developing fell off a cliff in '07.

Now I walk in stores and see lab after lab shut down. There's just no demand anymore, now that people don't need to have film processed. Demand for printed pictures in general has gone down, too. I knew it would happen, but only when consumer-level digital photography finally surpassed the quality of real film. It finally did back in '06, so why bother printing anything at all? The photographs look more impressive on these new high-rez TVs and computer screens than they do in printed form.

I miss film. My job involved a lot more activity and skill when film was king. To think, I've witnessed history firsthand. The death of film photography.

The progress of technology is the movement of equipment from the hands of trained specialists to the average person. Photography, for example. When it first began, only highly trained photographers knew how to handle a camera, develop the negative and make a print. As the years progressed, photography moved from the hands of specialists down to the average person.

Filmmaking is another area this is seen. You used to need very special equipment and expertise to make a movie. Then once it was done, you had to get another company on board to distribute it. These days, thanks to digital cameras and the internet, anyone can do it.

It's the progression of society as a whole: the gradual shift of information, ideas and technology from the hands of a select few to the general population. Overall, this has been a good thing, but when it affects your area of expertise, it sure doesn't feel like it at the time.


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