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Matinee: The Computer Chronicles On 'Digital Photography' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

6 September 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the forty-ninth in our series of Saturday matinees today: The Computer Chronicles On Digital Photography.

This half-hour segment of the weekly PBS television series Computer Chronicles hosted by Stewart Cheifet was broadcast in 1996. The series ran from 1983 to 2002, covering the early years of the personal computer revolution.

That revolution had extended into the realm of photography by 1996 and this show is devoted entirely to that subject. We thought it would be the perfect prelude to this year's Photokina, which will be held from Sept. 16 to 21 in Cologne, Germany.

Photokina showcases the industry every two years, showering product introductions the trade press struggles to put into context as it scurries from event to event, booth to booth and interview to interview.

But only time can put things in perspective. As this show demonstrates.

That techie noise as the show starts up is a modem negotiating a connection. There was no affordable broadband in 1996. And the opening graphics are screenshots from a Web site, rendered in the Netscape browser. Just to set the scene.

The first segment reveals the hottest cameras of the day (it was a Kodak). But this was before VGA-quality sensors, so the big news was removable storage. The Kodak DC25, Fuji D5-7 and Ricoh RDC2 are shown with printed samples to reveal the size image they could produce on a 200-dpi dye sub printer.

Software highlights include LivePix, which struggles to update a party invitation "in real time" on 1996 hardware, and Adobe Photo Shop 4.0, whose layers and masks are demonstrated.

In the days of 2400 baud modems, the most efficient way to share images was to make prints. So in the next segment, we learn about inkjets like the HP DeskJet 693C, Epson Stylus Color 500 compared to dye sub printers, whose small 4x6 print size limits their utility.

Since film was still the dominant medium, the show covers scanning (not negatives but prints) using a Logitech Pagescan Color and Microtek ScanMaker E3.

There's a segment showing sports photojournalists transmitting photos to the San Francisco Chronicle from the Oakland Colisseum via modem after a Raiders game. And another showing a few Internet sites where you can learn more about the subject. Go ahead, guess.

Cheifet's guests include Michael McNamara of Popular Photography magazine, Kyla Carlson of PC Computing magazine and John Goddard of PC World. And they knew what they were talking about.

By 1997, even we knew what they were talking about. We published a "62-file, comprehensive primer on primer on digital photography including reviews of four cameras, an interactive glossary of technical tems, an email question-and-answer form, links to Web sites and discount dealers as well as images you can download and print."

Our first camera reviews were the Nikon Coolpix 900, Sony DCS-F1, Kodak DC120, Canon PowerShot 600 and Olympus D-200L.

You can still find (most of) it on the Wayback Machine if you look in the Dec. 18, 1997 issue in the archive.

One of the reasons we persist in our Saturday matinee series is to distinguish between the technology, which is by nature ephemeral, and the art, which persists. The art doesn't get much play in a world of hardware rumor cites and camera review click farms.

And yet the photos that we get a glimpse of in this old broadcast retain a legitimacy that the hardware everyone once envied lost a long time ago.

Art, in the end, takes the cake, you might say.

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