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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

20 Years Of Photo Innovation

Take a look back at two decades of trends and technologies that changed photography

20 Years  Of Photo Innovation  Little did we know that, like a boulder at the edge of a cliff, photography was poised for an unprecedented period of technological innovation when Outdoor Photographer debuted in 1985. Digital technology was the final push that sent us reeling over the precipice and set in motion a rush of advancements and new products that continues at a breakneck pace even up to today.

The digital revolution is certainly the biggest development in that time, but lots of other innovations, from film and filters to focus systems and flash, have improved our capabilities in the field and allowed us to make images today that would have been difficult or impossible to otherwise capture in the past.

Thanks to these enhancements in photo technology, we can carry more gear, record more vibrant colors, take sharper shots of fast-moving subjects and achieve better exposures in the most challenging light. We've come a long way from the equipment photographers used in that first issue.On these pages, we'll look at the last 20 years and some of the major advances in technology that have made our photography more successful and enjoyable.

Photo Backpacks (1980s)
Camera bags have been around for as long as there have been cameras. For decades, the designs of these bags were some variation of an over-the-shoulder bag. The mid-1980s saw a major innovation that completely changed how gear was carried in the field, however. The Lowepro Quantum (1984) and, a few years later, the Tamrac Model 757 PhotoPack (1986), did more than just allow photographers to shift the load from their shoulders to their backs. It made it much easier to carry a lot of gear into the field, expanding our creative possibilities with the ability to bring a larger selection of lenses and accessories to remote locations.

Grad Filters (1980s)
Although graduated ("grad") filters were available in the mid-70s, they weren't used much for serious landscape work until a more professional grade became available in the mid-1980s. The filters let you expose for darker areas like the ground without overexposing lighter areas like the sky. The late Galen Rowell strongly promoted the use of the grad ND from his start as an Outdoor Photographer columnist and regular contributor. Without the filters, photographers would have had to settle for capturing detail in one area or the other. By allowing photographers to make better exposures of high-contrast scenes, grad filters have changed the look of color landscape photography.

Autofocus (1980s)
When autofocus (AF) first became widely available in the 1985 Maxxum line of Minolta SLRs, it was considered a novelty, but was quickly pursued by other manufacturers. Today, even professionals rely on AF because it can be faster and more accurate than focusing by hand. Advanced AF systems actually can track your subject's movement so that the lens will be at just the right focus at the instant of exposure. This technology is a huge benefit when you're shooting dynamic subjects like wildlife or sports. Many AF systems also offer multiple-point AF, where a number of AF detectors are strategically positioned around the frame, letting you focus on off-center subjects. They speed up picture-taking by avoiding the need to recompose your shot every time you focus as you'd do with a center target-only system. Many cameras offer five or more AF points, and some models have as many as 45 points.

Built-In, Pop-Up Flash (1980s)
Flash is an essential accessory for practically all photographers, but especially for outdoor shooters who require highly portable solutions. Built-in flash, which first appeared in the late 1980s, gave photographers the convenience of a flash system tucked neatly into the camera body. This not only simplified the use of flash for less experienced photographers, but also saved space in the camera bag.

Balanced Fill-Flash (1980s)
Twenty years ago, obtaining just the right amount of flash to fill in shadows from the sun was a complex technique better left for the pros. Without that fill-flash, though, shadows became "black holes" devoid of detail. Modern automatic metering systems, first introduced in 1985, easily mix ambient light and flash, giving you the right amount of both at the touch of a button. With the new technology, enthusiasts get great-looking images, instead of detail-less shots bound for the waste bin. Pros get a flash system that lets them concentrate on making even better compositions instead of worrying about flash-fill technique.

Zoom Lenses (1980s)
Zoom lenses were being designed and manufactured throughout the '60s and '70s, but a majority of photographers didn't take them seriously. Sometimes deserved and sometimes not, most zooms were considered to be too slow or of lesser image quality when compared to their prime siblings. In the mid-1980s, however, the second-class status of zooms began to change. Computer-aided design, aspheric lens elements and fresh manufacturing technologies heralded a new era in photography, with zoom lenses that could compete with primes in terms of sharpness and color fidelity. With zoom lenses, photographers could carry a far greater range of focal-length equivalents than would be feasible with fixed focal-length designs.

Weather-Resistant Compacts (1980s)
Inclement weather often makes for exceptional photo opportunities, but can destroy sensitive photo equipment. That's why weather-resistant cameras have been so popular with outdoor photographers. The Olympus Infinity, introduced in 1986, was soon followed by similar offerings from Minolta, Pentax and others. A perfect addition to every photographer's gadget bag, weather-resistant cameras have continued to evolve, with newer models that even can be dropped in shallow water without worry.


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