Musings on Photography


Posted in paper, process, the art world, traditional materials by Paul Butzi on June 12, 2009


When we travel, Paula and I almost never check bags. Not even on our 4 week trip to South America. Because of this desire to never check bags, we are pretty interested in things which make it easy to fit a lot of stuff (books, say) into not much space or weight. In the past, we were in the habit of buying a pile of books, jamming them into the bags, and then freeing up space by setting them free along our journey.

For the South America trip, however, we opted for an Amazon Kindle. Much has been written elsewhere about the physical properties of the Kindle, whether it’s a good deal cost wise, and so on. I’m not much interested in chiming in on that discussion.

One of the things that surprised us, though, was that we enjoyed reading books on the Kindle. We enjoyed it a lot. On a scale from 1 to 10, reading a mint hardback would be a 10. Reading a decent paperback would be a 5. Reading a bad paperback (crummy paper, smeary ink, small print, narrow margins and gutter) would be a 1. Reading a book on a Kindle is, to my surprise, somewhere around an 8.5 or 9. It’s not as good as a nicely bound fresh hardback, but it’s awfully darn close. One thing I like about the Kindle is that it’s excellent for reading while eating lunch or breakfast – turn a page by pushing a button (no worries about greasy fingerprints on pages), and no need to use weights to hold pages open when eating requires two hands.

Anyway, Paula and I now own TWO Kindles. They get pretty heavy use. We like them.

And they have me thinking about printing. I was stunned by how very ‘booky’ reading a novel on a Kindle is. Sure, the Kindle as it stands now is rotten at displaying photos. The Kindle 2, though, is better at photos than the Kindle 1 was. And I expect that for any number N, Kindle N will be better for photos than Kindle N-1.

Furthermore, I expect that there exists some N, where Kindle N-1 is monochrome but Kindle N is color. And then we will have the same incremental improvement in quality, until a Kindle-like device can display photos as well as a paper print can. Sure, we’ll have surface quality issues, and resolution issues. But the trend is clear, and I suspect mostly any argument is going to center around “how long” and not “will it ever”.

And although we know that the arguments about the displays will be hot and furious, I’d observe that although inkjet prints ran into uber-religious resistance just a short while ago, they’re pretty much accepted without thought today. So I predict that having Kindle-like devices to display photos will hit the same complaints – “oh, I can see the dots”, “the gamut is too small”, “short print life” and so on, but eventually the technology will evolve until the new technology is better than the old stuff, and everyone will stop arguing and just use the new stuff. And inkjet printing will become an ‘alternative process’.

And I have to say that I’m looking forward to being able to have a device which can hold thousands and thousands of photographs, is half a centimeter thick, and can display the photos better than an inkjet print can – with no power drain except when switching photos. Bring it on, and faster, please.

8 Responses

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  1. matt said, on June 12, 2009 at 11:26 am

    ‘And inkjet printing will become an ‘alternative process’.’

    I already use an iPod touch to show pictures to family and friends. The screen isn’t all that much different from the 3×5 prints you used to get from the drug store.

    Apart from moving to Korea, I haven’t ever checked a bag on plane. I’ll have to give the kindle some thought.

  2. Martin Doonan said, on June 12, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Crikey, I struggle to go carry-on only for just a couple of days away (European carry-on is pretty restrictive).

    As for Kindle B&W versus colour, they’ll have to get past the back-lit issue with colour LCD (which may happen). The good thing about ebook readers is that the screens use so little power the batteries seem to run and run.

  3. Ed Richards said, on June 12, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    One of my friends who is in media reminded me that it is better to think of the Kindle as a cash register than a reader.:-)

  4. Gordon McGregor said, on June 12, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    I carried on for my last 3 month trip. Just bought books when I arrived though.

    I think the real future of the Kindle is in its name. Amazon don’t care about book readers. It’s just lighting the fire for the e-book market.

  5. Alan Schrank said, on June 13, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    I’ve had my kindle for 3 months and I love it. I have about 25 books stored on it so far, half fun reading, half technical. With it’s 16 shades of gray, it would be interesting to see how it displays B/W images. I know the pictures it shows when powered off look ok. I wonder if a copy of Lens Work would convert and load?

  6. Erik DeBill said, on June 14, 2009 at 6:47 am

    I’ve had mine since February, with a good 80-100 books (30-40 bought for it, others from another e-book source). I’d flip the rankings for hardback and kindle. I actually prefer the kindle to any paper books, as long as the book doesn’t focus on illustrations, charts or tables. Programming books don’t work well. Novels are excellent, especially when paired with the iPhone app for when you discover you’ve left your kindle at home.

    I’ve begun re-buying favorites for the kindle, much as I bought CD versions of things I had on tape.

  7. Bob G said, on June 14, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    I’m readig and writing this on my Palm TX. With the help of iSilo I’ve been reading on various Palm handhelds since the late 1990’s. I usually find a simple way to prop them up, and iSilo allows scrolling, so i can eat with both hands and read teleprompter style. I don’t see that possibility with the Palm Pre.

  8. Ed Richards said, on June 15, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Been thinking about your post for bit – I have mostly looked at the Kindle from the marketing angle.

    I do most of my reading on screens already, but have not been very interested in the Kindle for a couple of reasons. First, as Eric said, it is no good for illustrations, and a lot of my reading includes illustrations of various types. Improvements in screen technology could fix that, but the small size of the screen would always be an issue.

    Second, because my work reading is already done on screen, the Kindle would be for personal reading without illustrations – news, novels, literary criticism. I could see the Kindle being good for those, but then the disposability issues comes in.

    I leave leisure reading lying around and read it where I am. Thus a book or magazine will live in the car until it is done, or on the bed side table, or in the bathroom. The car reading is done in cafes and the like, and when I am done I just leave the magazine on the table. The Kindle would require me to carry a device around and keep track of it. That is an impediment for me, and one that I do not think technology will change.

    Pricing of the books might change my thinking on this, but I mostly buy my books used, so I am not paying full freight. For folks who buy new books, ebooks could become enough cheaper to make a big difference.

    The bigger Kindle with a really good screen would work with illustrations, but then the size advantage is lessened – OTOH, reading a big tech book is no treat in paper, so the big Kindle should still be easier to handle than the corresponding paper book. Color will make a big difference, and I do not think battery life is such a big deal – people manage to keep cell phones charged.

    Photo prints are a different issue. My objective in photography, beyond just enjoying the process, is a physical print. That said, with no venues to display those physical prints, in reality I already produce images for the screen. (Which makes it really hard to justify LF – no one knows if you are a PS on the Internet.) So while I would lament the demise of the print as tangible object, with lots of object characteristics beyond just the image, in reality I have already become an electronic image maker.

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