This page is an entry in the Key.

On the transition from film to digital

When did the “film era” end and the “digital era” begin?

The end of the “film” era for the general public — and the start of the “digital” era — cannot be precisely dated. (Of course for some photographers the “film era” isn’t over yet!)

In the future, the transition from “the film era” to “the digital era” in photography will likely be associated roughly with the turn of the 21st century.

The year 2000 was exactly halfway between when Adobe Systems bought a license to distribute a promising new program called “Photoshop” (1988) and when the company that had once been the world’s largest maker of film filed for bankruptcy protection (Kodak, in 2012).

There are other ways of gauging the start of the digital era, none of which can be dated very specifically.

Many photographers began introducing digital technology into their workflow in the 1990s, but that was mostly through scans of photos made with film cameras. Most photographers did not use a digital camera until around or within a few years after the turn of the century.

After that, the change happened very quickly: 2004 is said to have been the first year that digital cameras outsold film cameras. As the years go by, any dates a few years one side or the other of 2000 will feel the same as “the turn of the century,” so that term is likely to be precise enough for most purposes.

What matters culturally is that digital photography is now far and away the most common way that photographs are made, from being well under 1 percent only 25 years ago to being well over 99 percent now.

As noted in #3 on the Summary page, TCQ is a direct result of the ease of digital manipulation and the consequent rise in public skepticism about photographs.