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  1. #1
    Sean's Avatar
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    Could traditional photography products go the way of the micro-brewery?

    It seems to me that the part of our photographic future or distant future may hinge on the ability of small shops to make high quality custom product runs in low volume. I'd love to see the micro-brewery model applied here but there is a major roadblock. Listening to Ron it's obvious that emulsion making and coating is not suited to small machinery and small runs. The machines are gargantuan and the work involved in every step of the process is beyond demanding. Sometimes it sounds as if the production is impossible and a hair's-breadth from failure. How could this possibly be miniaturized or is it even possible? Personally, I tend to think anything is possible. Dean Kamen for example turned a highly complex giant kidney dialysis machine into the size of a suitcase. Will anyone step up to the plate and re-invent emulsion making and coating? If so I would imagine a machine that has a cost similar to a lambda printer (hopefully cheaper) which would allow for smaller shops to make and coat custom emulsions at very high quality. We would soon have small micro-film & micro-paper companies producing some very interesting products.

  2. #2
    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    I'm with you Sean. I like to think it could be done, but I'm not going to be the one to do it. I haven't the foggiest idea what it takes, much less any knowledge of the vital parameters involved. In my experience, it takes a deep intimate knowledge of the process in order to make it simpler and less demanding. Another anology along the same lines is Burt Rutan in aviation. I remember Boeing engineers just smugly dismissing him like he was some lunatic. Think Burt has had the last laugh. He put a manned space vehicle into a sub-orbital flight with a lot less smoke, fire, and money than NASA did. But he also thoroughly understood what he was taking on, thanks to the years of research NASA had done.

    All that aside, it would still take someone with a lot of money (that can be thrown away) to fund the R&D on a simplified coating line.
    Semper Fi & God Bless America
    My Photography Blog

  3. #3
    Photo Engineer's Avatar
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    I have a lot of ideas, but limited finances due to being retired.

    Just making coating blades and teaching workshops is breaking the bank.

    PE

  4. #4
    jstraw's Avatar
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    American beer sucked *until* there were micro-breweries.

  5. #5
    Photo Engineer's Avatar
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    Thinking about that poll thread, I think that the wrong questions were asked and the responses were skewed as a result.

    I think print materials are vanishing rapidly and that was not addressed.

    PE

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by jstraw View Post
    American beer sucked *until* there were micro-breweries.
    Not so. Actually, American beer was as good as any in the world until the double whammy of prohibition followed by WWII. Most areas had their own local variations just as Europe did. Sadly, the only breweries to survive prohibition were the ones that were big enough to continue malting for the food industry. Once prohibition ended and WWII began to arrive on the scene the surviving big breweries began producing 'girly beer' - literally. In order to continue their survival they had to make a product that would sell to the women back home while most of the men were off fighting. Unfortunately, it seems the big breweries forgot how to do anything else. I'm very happy that microbreweries came along to set things right and that America is once again crafting some world class beers and ales. It would be awesome to have the same thing happen with films and papers, but I won't be holding my breath for it.

    Bruce

  7. #7

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    Emulsion making is already a fact. Pt-Pd has been around for a very long time. If you want to address coating film then wet plate colloidon is a very old and still practiced method.

    While this may appear to some as an undesireable approach to this matter, it does have the benefits of having a very limited number of people doing it...this alone would tend to place the output into the catagory of a more limited supply related to demand and would tend to elevate the prices of prints somewhat on typical marketing models.

    Sure shooting large negatives is expensive and platinum and paladium salts are expensive...but from what I have observed, going the way of hand coating silver emulsions is not inexpensive when you factor in the time, money, and frustration of reinventing the wheel.

    If I had 30 years of photography time ahead of me (not likely), I would head off to a workshop with Kerik. I may do it anyway.
    Last edited by Donald Miller; 01-01-2007 at 10:42 PM. Click to view previous post history.
    Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.

    Visit my website at http://www.donaldmillerphotography.com

  8. #8
    Mark Fisher's Avatar
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    I agree that it is entirely possible and I'm not sure that the costs need to be too crazy. The paradigm for most process industries is to have big, honkin', expensive capital equipment to drive every penny out of the output.....this makes sense when you can dedicate machines to a particular product and just run it. The machines need to be producing 20 hours a day to be profitable. I suspect that is the case for the film industry (Photo Engineer....correct me if I am wrong!). A coating machine for low production would be smaller with lower line speeds and allow quick change over to different products. This type of machine would be potentially less expensive to run than the larger machine depending of the products being made.
    I know almost nothing about coating technology, but I know a little about production machinery and I am certain that such a machine could be built.......you would just need the money and a photo materials engineer to supply the specifications. I've run a lot of projects to develop products and this doesn't seem all that insurmountable....of course, everything is easy when you don't understand all the parts!

  9. #9
    gr82bart's Avatar
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    I have always said the same thing about traditional film camera makers like Hasselblad and Leica, for example. They should change their marketing to be more like the Louis Vuitton or Ferrari of the camera world. High end camera gear for the high end lifestyle.

    Similarly for traditional photography. Elevate its status and people will come back. Ironically, like the price of gas, elevate the prices too and people will still buy - maybe even buy more. Have SUV sales gone down?

    I think its already starting to happen as I hear from my friends and my younger brother's friends for example. They are starting to 'value' traditional photography products more. Many calling them 'real' photographs. Once this mindset sets in, then traditional photography products and equipment can survive in a digital world.

    It's an unfortunate commentary on human behaviour, but to be desireable is to be a bit elitist.

    Regards, Art.
    Visit my website at www.ArtLiem.com
    or my online portfolios at APUG and ModelMayhem

  10. #10
    Photo Engineer's Avatar
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    I have a lot of questions posed above that I'll try to answer being the 'insider' here.

    If film vanishes, and we have to rely on hand made materials, then only LF format will be viable, and only speeds between ISO 1 and 100 will be viable for the immediate future after the death of an analog product. Who wants to spend hours making just one photograph? And who wants to carry a half ton of equipment into the Grand Tetons to take it? Ansel Adams work was made possible by having mass produced products. Matthew Brady was a genius, but his works are not as 'beautiful', to me they are more historical or documentary than artistic.

    Photography, without silver halide will be primitive. Now, what I'm doing is not that expensive, nor am I reinventing the wheel. I know how to make the darn stuff, but I have two things against me. One is a very limited budget, and the other is getting the materials I need to do it. Correct me if I am wrong Alex, but I am pretty much there for an Azo type paper, and pretty close to having very high quality coatings.

    As for the issue of having a big plant. No, you don't need one to make stuff for yourself. You can supply your needs with a quite reasonable investment as long as you make LF film and paper for either contact or enlargment.

    If you talk about making quantity material, that too can be done at reasonable price, but as quantity goes up, variablility and quality goes down. Ever hear of someone getting a car that was a lemon? So, with a small coating machine, the size of a 2 car garage, I can coat 4x5, 120, and 35mm film with good quality but it will probably have dust or bubble defects here and there and it will vary in speed from batch to batch.

    Lets look over the complaints here about EFKE film defects. They have a good staff with lots of knowledge but an aging plant. So, product varies from excellent to mediocre, if I read the posts right.

    So, what we will see if Kodak and Fuji vanish is the gradual loss of quality color film and a deterioration of quality in B&W film as the companies equipment ages, and the staff ages. No new development will take place and products will remain frozen as is for the rest of the life of analog.

    As we photo engineers die off, the chance of restarting the process becomes less and less likely. Why? There are no formulas out there. Consider the efforts to make Kodak's published AJ-12 emulsion which is supposed to have a speed of ISO 12 or so. I've used it, as a variant of it was in production in the research labs for common tests. It is indeed very fast compared to the ISO 1 or less that people observe. That is because the techniques of doing it and the fine detail are not published in the pamphlet.

    Here is another item. I taught my workshops in NYC and Montana this year, and got different results at each place than I get at home. One of my students posts here. She gets slightly different results at home and has had to adjust her formula, but it works just fine. I tried her formula with several variants and it does not work for me here. So, emulsion making takes lots of understanding of technique. One of the things I taught my students, and keep corresponding with them about is refining technique and how to change the formulas to meet local conditions.

    This transition is not going to be easy for any of you. Don't bury your heads in the sand until the last minute and then run around yelling about it. I'm just going to say "I told you so". Get ready now for a big bump in the road in your lifetime in analog photography.

    One last item to add. If you are not ready, and can't 'roll your own' are you ready to pay the price to others to do it for you? If I sold you paper, it would be pretty expensive. After all, it is lovingly hand crafted sheet by sheet by one of the few experts in the field. (at least I can claim that)

    All kidding aside, hand made products, sold on the open market will be expensive as demand will outrun supply.

    PE

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