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RE's not real!

posted Apr 4, 2011, 6:38 PM by Jose Velasquez   [ updated Apr 7, 2011, 7:09 PM ]

The past few days the RE 35 digital film cartridge has grown from joke, to rumor, to potentially real. 

Who thinks it's real? Popsci--I've really lost respect for that magazine. You'd think their editors would at least have the brains to go and use a translator or a translation service to get the goods from the horse's mouth

What started out as a great April Fool's joke has spread like wildfire, and many people are scratching their heads and wondering if this is for real. While the concept is novel, the idea is not new. Back at the turn of the digital revolution there was a company that tried to develop Silicon Film. Only a few prototypes were every made before the company vanished and the technology became vapoware--probably the biggest vaporware in photography's history (that wasn't a joke). 

While the idea of shooting "digital" film sounds great, the concept is far more difficult to pull off--first there's the way each camera handles the "film"--they all had slightly different planes; second, there's no direct linkage with the shutter and the sensor, so either the sensor is always turned on, or something is telling it when to turn on (which seems highly unlikely given the thickness of the RE 35 "film"; third, the battery technology required to power a 35mm sensor is not small (just look at the batteries for the D3, the D700, the 5D, the 5D MKII--they're not small)--there's no way you can squeeze an image processor, a battery, and a storage device to handle a 35mm sensor inside a cartridge that small. 

While it's a great joke--I think it's gone a bit too far--sure it would be great to shoot digital with my FM, FE, or even an F3HP, but the technology just isn't there to make that happen. The camera makers know this--that's why they never bothered with it. A case in point--Medium Format cameras have digital backs. They never waited around for someone to invent "digital film". Now there's a concept that would work and sell fairly well with 35mm shooters! A digital back for older film cameras would be amazing, and that's something I would also buy. 

Kodak tried to do that at the beginning of the digital revolution, but their approach was clunky, heavy, and ugly at best...imagine carrying that device around your neck while climbing a mountain!  

In any case, at this point in time it's probably too costly to research and produce a small digital back for 35mm cameras, so the big four have not and may never pursue this route. Nikon stopped making film cameras back in 2006 (except for the F6 and the FM10, which is actually Cosina made); so for them pouring time and money into something they've pretty much abandoned would be a waste. 

I have to admit, however, that it would be nice to bring the mystery and the aura back to photography, as in the case of RE 35--there's no way to see your pictures right away. That was part of the fun of photography--you couldn't see your work till later. As fun a toy as RE 35 would be, it's nothing more than a joke, a cruel one for those who have been waiting years for the mythical FM3D, but at least someone somewhere is laughing and having a good time at our expense. 

Will digital film ever come to light? It already has in two ways--FF DSLRs and highly decent scanners from Nikon and Epson. Will analog film ever die off? No. It's still alive and kicking. Film has actually made quite a comeback the past few years. Many digital natives are beginning to appreciate the analog magic some of us played with. And that's a good thing, because both are different mediums of the same craft--much like painting some prefer canvas, while others a simple piece of paper, and others Photoshop and Illustrator. It's the result, the final work, the "decisive moment" that ultimately shows a photographer's true nature and skill.

Till my next review, rambling, or post, this is, hey, hey,