Professional photographers may laugh off the imminent death of film, but can’t hide that copy of The Photoshop Bible leaning against their computer.

You may remember from my thoughts last month that I’ve been travelling round the world recently (see Why Wi in the sky is pie in the sky). My wife and I loaded ourselves down with two digital cameras, a 35mm SLR, and a Polaroid. Apart from some instant snaps on Christmas Day, only the digital cameras were used for the whole trip. By the end of it all, even the missus – who studied photography at art school – was ready to ditch the 35mm and go digital for evermore.

The latest snappy stats show that we are not alone in abandoning the ancient arts of film, chemicals, and queuing up at Boots for our prints. According to the Photo Marketing Association, last year 12.5 million digital cameras were sold – compared to 12.1 million film cameras. The association predicts that 15.7 million digital cameras and just 10.6 million film cameras will be sold this year. Sales of 35mm cameras in the US market fell below 8 million last year, down more than 20 per cent from 2002.

The mainstream media has now caught on to this trend. The event that sparked its interest was the much-heralded decision of Eastman Kodak to stop selling reloadable 35mm film cameras in North America and Western Europe. Kodak is the biggest name in the camera world, even though it hasn’t been a major camera manufacturer since the days of the Box Brownie. Recent efforts with its flexible 24mm Advanced Photo System cameras – co-developed with Canon, Fuji, Minolta, and Nikon in 1996 – have failed to rekindle interest in consumer photography.

Professional photographers – many of them d readers – may laugh off the imminent death of film, but they can’t hide that copy of The Photoshop Bible leaning against their computer. Clients are increasingly questioning the inclusion of expensive Polaroids on their itemized bills, when a quality digital could be used at no extra cost. These days, a mouse is as much a tool of the pro snapper’s studio as the tripod or reflector. Apologies for the sudden and vulgar name-dropping, but when I lunched recently with David Bailey, he was excited about getting Photoshop CS on his PowerBook and planned Power Mac G5. Sure, he still uses film,
but it’s rapidly digitized.

And while we’re talking masters of the art, remember the pronouncement of Mr Star Wars, George Lucas, a couple of years back.

He said that we were at the end of the era of film photography for movies. George’s Industrial Light & Magic is the powerhouse of movie innovation. Even its discarded offshoots are changing the industry – George flogged Pixar when it was just a software company.

“We are in the digital age now and trying to hold on to an old-fashioned technology that’s cumbersome and expensive – you just can’t do it,” said Darth Vader’s dad back in November 2000. According to George, the digital cameras used for the Star Wars shoot produced images that are “technically indistinguishable from film” – yet the stock they use costs $15,000 (£10,579) in comparison to up to $2.5m (£1,760,000) for film. He concluded that this is “not just a little thing. I have the feeling that the conversion [to digital] is going to take place relatively swiftly.”

In AD10 the Arabian physicist and mathematician Alhazen (Ibn Al-Haytham) invented the pin-hole camera, also known as camera obscura – a simple optical imaging device in a closed box. Leonardo da Vinci later used the invention to study perspective, and set-out a detailed description of its workings in his manuscript Codex Atlanticus. Holy news-scribes quickly announced the end of drawing and painting, predicting that brushes, palettes and charcoal pencils would soon be a thing of the past.

Eastman Kodak was one of the first companies to mass produce standardized photographic equipment, and was instrumental in transforming photography from a specialist interest to a popular pastime.

It developed the first camera designed specifically for roll film in 1888, and invited the world to join in: “You press the button, we do the rest”.

Today, you press the button, and you do the rest. Professionals will always need an assistant to answer their every barked command, make the tea and mop their brow, but the days of them unwrapping and fitting film are petering out. Staunch defenders of film will join the bearded ranks of “vinyl sounds better than CD” nuts, as – Click. Snap! Download – digital nails another pixel-sharp pin in the analog coffin.