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From Popular Photography, January 1988 edition:

“Electronic Imaging Today” [September] aroused my curiosity. I’m interested in learning more about still video systems. What is a still video? How does it create an image or print? And how might it practicably be used? Will it eventually replace the single-lens-reflex camera?  Robert A Yanckello, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania

Beginning with our July 1986 issue (see “The Future Arrives,” page 62) we have been closely following developments in electronic still photography. Extensive coverage can be found in “1987 New Producr Review” (November 1986), “Taking The Fifth” (April 1987) and “Gear of the Year” (May). As this new imaging technology evolves, rest assured that we’ll continue to keep you up-to-date on the latest news and products – George Schaub

These days given the ubiquity of digital imaging products, it’s hard to envisage just how strange the new technology was in its infancy in the 1980s but this letter and its response show very nicely the sense of novelty that surrounded the technology at the time. The terminology wasn’t even settled – electronic still photography sounds absurdly anachronistic today even though it’s a perfect apt description. The letter writer is wondering – will this technology replace film SLRs. Would it indeed? The speed of the replacement only really revved up in the early 2000s, but now it’s complete. Film SLRs are a niche product for a miniscule proportion of camera users.

It’s an interesting exercise to look at the conventional wisdom at any period in the past for the assumptions that are born out and those which never come to fruition. In 1988, no one really understood how completely and rapidly photography would be renewed. The camera manufacturers who were capable to switching to digital equipment did just fine, but the entire industry built up around film manufacture, processing and printing collapsed. Easy to see in hindsight, but not so clear at the time. It rarely is.

Today, we are seeing a small scale revival in film photography. It remains a niche product, but, in much the same way that vinyl records have made a comeback, the tactile qualities of this older analog technology are attracting people turned off by the ephemeral world of digital processes. I think that is a good thing. When photography first became popular, portrait painters saw their profession gutted but the art lived on. Who knows what common feature of today’s life will meet a similar fate? Gasoline stations perhaps. We’ll see, but I bet it will more of a surprise than not.

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