Ending a century-old tradition, Eastman Kodak Co will soon stop making black-and-white photographic paper. As the industry shifts rapidly from chemical-based to digital imaging, demand for black-and-white paper is declining about 25 per cent annually, Kodak spokesman David Lanzillo said.
In April, Kodak posted a first-quarter loss of $142 million, citing a steady slide in revenues from film and other chemical-based businesses and higher-than-expected costs to cover job cuts. Other companies, led by Ilford Imaging of Britain, still make black-and-white photographic paper. However, these other companies have their own financial problems. Ilford went into bankruptcy last year, emerging this year after a management-led buyout. Germany’s AgfaPhoto GmbH filed for bankruptcy last month.
While it may seem a shame, this is an unstoppable trend: film is disappearing and digital imaging is rapidly replacing it. Should a genealogist care? Well, think about this:
For years genealogists have depended upon microfilm. In fact, many librarians and archivists insist that documents should be copied onto microfilm, not digital media, to “insure long-term preservation.” That statement sounds good but ignores a few facts:
- Film is disappearing
- It is difficult buy a new microfilm camera today. You might find one on eBay or at some company's version of a garage sale, but all the major manufacturers of just a few years ago have since discontinued their microfilm camera products. Most of them no longer sell spare parts to the cameras they manufactured years ago. An online search will find a few manufacturers are still in business, but most make specialty cameras such as units sold to banks to make microfilm images of canceled checks.
- The number of firms that process microfilm is dropping. There are still a number of companies in that business today but the number is dropping every year, mostly due to a lack of business.
- Within a very few years, you won't be able to purchase new microfilm viewers.
Sure, there may be films stored in an underground vault outside Salt Lake City that have a promised life expectancy of 300 years or so but how are you going to read them 50 years from now?
If your genealogy society, historical society or local museum insists upon making microfilm images instead of digital, ask them one word: “How?”