WHAT RETAILERS SOLD IN '76
We recently found our December 1976 issue of Pop Photo, its reportage, its advice, and its ads. Canon's ad had the most abstract headline, over a two-page spread for its AE-1 (its first autoexposure SLR): "Electronic System Photography Catches Up With Technology." Precisely what that means is vague, but it included the buzzwords of the day: "Electronic...Technology."
Nikon's two-pager for the Nikkormat ELW and its autowinder announced "the sound of photography's future. Click! Whirrr!" Oddly, the framing rate isn't stated.
Another ad touted "The New Automatic Pentax K2DMD" with "the fascination of motor drive."
Said Minolta of their XE-7, "You never have to take your eye from the viewfinder to make adjustments. So you can concentrate on creating the picture without losing sight of even the fastest-moving subjects."
To which Bob Schwalberg, Pop's respected Leica authority and resident curmudgeon, under the title "Will more electronics bring better cameras?" commented, "Being absolutely up to date is one of our American syndromes, one of the costliest. Should I plan to purchase a newfangled transistorized SLR in 1977? Should you? Maybe, maybe not."
Bob died in 1996, at the dawn of the junk digicam. He never saw what a transistorized SLR, 2008-style, could really do. But we think he'd have liked the results.
WHAT RETAILERS SELL IN '08
Minolta's XE-7 with a 50mm Rokkor lens was advertised by Wall Street Camera for $308.50 in the December '76 Pop Photo. For about twice the dollars today, you can buy an Olympus Evolt E-510 with a 14-42mm lens, and the AE, AF, and "motordrive" that were so speculative 32 years ago. But as already noted, today's dollar buys less. The E-520 should cost more than $1,200 if camera prices inflated as much as postage stamps did since 1976, and more than $2,100 if they inflated as much as gasoline.
Adjusted for inflation, you might say that today's SLR costs half or a quarter of what an equivalent SLR did when Ford was president.
Equivalent? Well, not really. For besides all the same features as its ancestors, the E-520 adds features nobody imagined in '76, all among the standards today: dust reduction, image stabilization, live-view video monitoring, and face detection.
Face detection has made more inroads into the P&S market than the DSLR market. We expect more to follow, but the E-520 is only the second DSLR to include it (the first having been the Panasonic Lumix L10).
Face detection can be considered a dynamic spot-meter and/or rangefinder, depending on how it's hooked up, continuously finding faces and using them as the basis of exposure and/or focus. It's a seriously realistic approach to exposure and focus control, since peoples' faces are what most pictures are about. Panasonic included it in their Lumix FX37, a 10.1MP, 5x-zoom P&S due to ship around photokina. MSRP: $349.95.
Sony's DSC-W150, an 8.1MP 5x-zoom P&S street-pricing in the $200–$250 range, extends face detection to a Smile Shutter--it can take a picture when it sees a smile. It sounds goofy, unless you think of the group-portrait shot that includes the photographer. In the past, a self-timer and some running were required, or at least a remote control. Now everybody just stands in front of the camera, says "cheese," and it's a picture.
Nikon's S550 has a smile-shutter, too, and a provision to not take a picture if someone's eyes are closed (as in blinking).
Go ahead and multiply any of the 1976 prices by three or four times, and compare with today's Camera Price Index. If we were selling those same cameras today, they'd cost less than they did in '76, adjusted for the CPI.
But we don't sell those cameras anymore. We sell vastly more advanced, capable, versatile, and accurate cameras at those lower adjusted prices.
So in the bang-for-the-buck department, we've done our part. Imagine a world where the energy companies did as well.
Don Sutherland has sold cameras across the counter, shot with them as a pro, and written about them for more than 30 years. Don is a photo historian as well as a futurist, and is the author of the immortal slogan, "If you have one foot in the future and one in the past, you understand the present perfectly." Email Don at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.don-sutherland.com for a ton of digital photos.