End of the Kodachrome Era

I guess Paul Simon is disappointed, because they finally did take his Kodachrome away, it having fallen victim to digital photography and the highly exacting and difficult chemistry required to process Kodachrome film. It’s a shame, though, because Kodachrome film has a high degree of color stability over time, and really does give “nice bright colors,” which is why it was often sought out by professional photographers. Some of the most famous pictures were taken with Kodachrome film, like this one, and this one.

Now there’s a gallery making its way around the blogosphere that shows some amazing Kodachrome photos from the Black and White era [Link removed because the Denver Post works with the scum of the earth], the late 30s, early 40s. These would be Kodachrome photos because that process having been introduced in 1935, and the color hues look like the film. You can see the rich color, and note that even after all this time, they still look very good; a tribute to the film’s stability. Ektachrome, the cheaper, easier to process color film technology, wasn’t introduced until 1942, and as any kid who grew up in the 70s can attest if they look at their kid pictures today, it’s not all that stable; the pictures lose their color trueness over time.

But nothing is as stable as digital photos. Assuming we don’t have a collapse of civilization, and lose digital technology, kids 5000 years from now will be looking at pictures from this era that look exactly the same then as they do now. Kodak discontinued Kodachrome in 2009, citing lack of demand. There’s still one lab in the country who can process the film, and they will cease processing at the end of 2010. The last Kodachrome photograph has yet to be processed, but that will soon happen. It’ll be the end of an era when it is.

UPDATE: You can see here that different types of films can be simulated digitally.

9 thoughts on “End of the Kodachrome Era”

  1. Have to beg to differ on “But nothing is as stable as digital photos”. People think of digital photos as stable because the jpeg standard and the media we store it on have error correction protocols. So the picture on my hard drive I looked at last year is identical to the picture of this year, but it does not mean the media it’s stored on has the ability to last.

    Digital media is stable but not lasting (it’s stability is brittle).

    That 1949 film shot of London was on original media that lasted (in addition to having great color depth) the crc on my hard drive will have NOTHING like that staying power even if it’s periodically rewritten. And optical media wears by exposure to -air-. I’m a geek, I’m loving the advances in digital photography. But I think we’re being way overly optimistic about it’s “advantages”. (can’t wait for responses about cloud storage ;)

  2. Yeah, digital phots will last as long as their storagemedia is the standard(these days about ten years). Anybody wanna try to read a file on an eight-inch floppy – assuming you can find a drive? I had a multi-$100K security system go TU back a few years ago. the data on it was totally unsalvagable as there was no translation program available to move it from the pre-DOS system it was based on.

  3. I have to agree with the first two posters. We are going to lose huge amounts of data due to losing the ability to read old storage mediums. The Library of Congress is already having a tough time due to this problem.

  4. I am from a Kodachrome family – growing up we used Kodachrome 64 slide film almost exclusively (and back in my rock and roll days, I did as well when the situation allowed it). The quality of the slides my dad has from then are outstanding – lightyears beyond the quality of even top notch digital cameras today.

    It really is a shame.

  5. Anybody wanna try to read a file on an eight-inch floppy – assuming you can find a drive?

    Beat ya. I’ve got a 9-track 1/2″ mag tape (1600 bpi) with the source code for the first assembly language program that I ever sold (a programming editor for Interdata minicomputers that I wrote in high school).

  6. The thing with digital is that, assuming you do what you take care of the media, they will look as good now as then. They don’t deteriorate the same way film does.

    I still have photos in my library going back to 1995, that were taken with an early digital camera. They’ve probably been on half a dozen hard drives between then and now.

    No doubt we’ll lose a lot of digital information due to media failure, but those that survive will be with us for a very long time, and still look the same thousands of years from now.

  7. “And optical media wears by exposure to -air-.”

    So does printed media. The process is called oxidization. Even very stable images on acid-free paper will fall to it in time, unless they are stored in an environmentally controlled environment.

  8. “And optical media wears by exposure to -air-.”

    So does printed media. The process is called oxidization. Even very stable images on acid-free paper will fall to it in time, unless they are stored in a rigorously controlled environment.

  9. I work for a search-engine company, and we were looking at a company called Millenniata (http://www.millenniata.com/) as a potential customer, with the idea that we’d put an index on every DVD they produced. For a litte while, I tried to address a question they had about our product: how can we assure them that a customer would be able to run our software in a hundred years? That’s not an easy question to answer!

    The product is intriguing. It uses a stone base to create something that they hope could last hundreds of years, without having to go to extreme lengths to store the medium.

    Also, they sort-of answer their question on their own website (when the new computer/medium comes out, you just copy the data to that new medium). I’m not sure if that answer is satisfactory, but they are addressing a problem that we don’t have answers for–at least, not yet!

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