Sponsored by Corbis


     In a 1988 cover story, PDN boldly predicted that by the year 2001, "electronic cameras will be extremely common. Almost every staff photographer for a major newspaper, magazine or news service will carry one. Even some amateurs will own them." Amazingly, our prediction proved to be true.

     While advances in digital imaging have captured the popular imagination, professional photography has also benefited from an enormous number of innovations in conventional picture-taking over the last 20 years. These include a bonanza of color negative and black-and-white films, faster shutter speeds and increasingly sophisticated autofocus cameras and lenses.

     With the passage of the copyright law in 1978, the business of photography has also faced sweeping changes, such as the broadening of copyright protection for photographers and other artists. The 1989 Supreme Court Decision in CCNV v. Reid added that the "work for hire " loophole applies only to employees, not freelancers, unless they choose to sign away their copyright. PDN heralded the decision as a "triumphant victory in the copyright saga" and called it a harbinger of what we hoped would be more upbeat times in the struggle for photographers' rights. A decade later - as the Internet continues to broaden access to photographers' images and invites up a whole new series of copyright and other legal issues - we are still waiting to see if this prediction proves to be true.

  • Nikon unveils the F3 professional SLR, featuring stepless shutter speeds from 8 seconds to 1/2000th of a second, automatic exposure and through-the-lens (TTL) flash control - all big advances in their day.
  • Polaroid introduces its Extended Range (ER) color films, bringing a more natural color balance to professional instant pictures - and paving the way to the Polaroid image transfer rage of a few years later.
  • Ilford and Agfa launch chromogenic films, the first grainless black-and-white films that render images with dye clusters, just as color film does. The upside: chromogenic films can be processed with color chemistry, making them more convenient than other black-and-white films. The downside: they aren't as sharp as grain-based black-and-white films. Agfa's film didn't survive, and Ilford's took more than a decade to catch on.

  • The phrase "Internet Protocol" (IP) is first used by scientists at CERN (Centre Européan pour la Recherche Nucléaire), which was originally formed in 1949 for "research in particle physics." CERN will eventually give birth to the World Wide Web.
  • Ted Nelson, the scientist who coined the word "hypertext" back in 1965, unveils his plan for a linked, pay-per-document database, "Xanadu." Although the project eventually fails, it will influence the inventors of the World Wide Web (see 1990).
  • Sony Corporation announces Mavica, the first electronic still-video camera. Others such as the Canon RC-701 would follow. By eliminating the need for all chemical processes, still-video cameras permit photojournalists to stay in the field to within minutes of deadline. But they suffered from two fatal flaws: low image quality and high cost.
  • Sony, Philips and Polygram announce CD digital audio and begin delivering products two years later. The format, with slight modifications, would eventually serve as a storage medium for digital image files, too.

  • National Geographic uses digital imaging technology to move the pyramids in a horizontal image so the composition works better as a vertical cover shot. The incident underscores how easily and imperceptibly new technology can be used to alter editorial images, and touches off an ethical debate about image manipulation and the public trust that is still smoldering.

  • The Nikon FM2 sets a new 35mm SLR shutter speed record of 1/4000th of a second and flash synchronization speed record of 1/200th of a second (subsequently increased to 1/250th of a second).

  • Kodak introduces the world to T-grain film technology, which collects light more efficiently than traditional grain such as Tri-X. That resulted in reduced film graininess at any given emulsion speed.

  • The domain name server is developed. Thus, instead of trying to remember 123.67. 980.032, we can merely type <www.babes.com>.
  • Polaroid introduces its 35mm Instant Slide System for slide proofing outside the confines of a darkroom.

  • Apple revolutionizes personal computers with the Macintosh, the first "intuitive" machine with a graphical user interface and mouse. The company also airs the famous "Big Brother" TV commercial attacking IBM during Super Bowl XVIII. Of course, Apple didn't recognize that its real enemy was a $100 million up-and-comer called Microsoft.

  • All-in-one Pentax 645 shows the way forward for compact medium-format SLRs.

  • Court upholds high image valuation. Occasionally, clients lose or damage original photographs. Since the 1970s, ASMP and other trade groups have set an average damage valuation of $1,000 per original image. In 1984, the New York Supreme Court upheld that valuation for the first time in Rattner v. Geo magazine. Courts, particularly those in New York, have since reinforced the figure in several cases. But not all images are created equal. In most cases, the standard assessment applies only to images that have been tightly edited.

  • 1984 - CERN's Ben Segal develops the TCP/IP protocols still in use today.

  • IBM enters the PC market. Apple's sales slip, and Steve Jobs begins to lose favor at the company he and Steve Wozniak created.

  • Adobe releases PostScript, a technology that described fonts mathematically and made the desktop computer-printing revolution possible.
  • Three stock agencies - The Image Bank, PhotoUnique and Uniphoto - begin storing and distributing images on videodiscs. Each hubcab-sized disc holds up to 100,000 pictures and can be viewed only on a special player hooked up to a computer. Though later supplanted by CDs, the laserdisc experiment marks a major step toward electronic storage and delivery of stock images.

  • In a dramatic departure from traditional, boxy 35mm camera design, Canon introduces its sleek, ergonomic T90 camera body. The camera also sports a fast (for its day) 4.5 frame per second (fps) motor drive.

  • USA Today publishes the first color still-video photos to appear on the front page of a U.S. newspaper. Shot with a Canon RC-701 by staff photographer Tom Dillon, the images were taken at a World Series game in Minneapolis. Photo editor Frank Folwell was impressed with the transmission speed - he was viewing the images on his computer in Virginia 12 minutes after they were taken. But the technology still had a long way to go to meet image-quality standards, even for newspapers.
  • Letraset releases Image Studio, the first commercially available image manipulation program for personal computers. It worked on the Macintosh platform, and handled grayscale images only.
  • Canon unveils its first EOS camera and the start of its new line of EF autofocus lenses, the first salvos of a major challenge to Nikon's decades-long dominance of the professional SLR market.
  • The Associated Press announces plans to convert from analog to digital image transmission, cutting transmission times by 90 percent. The conversion took about five years to complete, but it helped to push newspaper photography into the digital age.

  • Leaf Systems Inc. introduces the AP Leafax 35, the first portable negative scanner and transmitter. Photojournalists are suddenly able to transmit film from the bush (or the front lines) for faster distribution.
  • Avalon Development releases PhotoMac, the first color image manipulation program for the Macintosh. It supported a 256-color monitor and was quite cool for its day, but it failed miserably in converting RGB to CMYK.
  • Nikon F4 and F801/N8008 arrive, upping the shutter speed ante once again to 1/8000th of a second.
  • Bumper year for Kodak film launches: Ektar 25 features nearly invisible grain and better color saturation than any previous color negative emulsion. T-Max p3200 sets the new standard for fast black-and-white films, and a brand-new line of pushable color negative films for photojournalists (the Ektapress family) is born.

  • AP photographer Ron Edmonds provides a glimpse at what the future of photojournalism might be like - using a Nikon black-and-white still-video camera and portable transmitter on the center camera stand as President George Bush raised his hand to take the oath of office. The photo is transmitted to AP headquarters in 40 seconds, then moved to AP member newspapers in about eight minutes.
  • Imagining houses of the future with TV screens built into the walls, Microsoft Bill Gates starts Interactive Home Systems to amass the needed images. The project eventually grows into a stock photo company called Corbis.

  • Mamiya 6, worlds first 6x6 rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses and all electronic controls.

  • Fuji launches Reala color negative film, which features a unique fourth layer for better color fidelity.
  • The Berne Convention. The burdensome requirements of proper copyright notices are finally eliminated in March 1989 when the United States adhered to the protocols of the Berne Convention. Works created on or after that date no longer require copyright notices for protection, and elimination of a notice (either intentional or accidental) will not result in the work being cast into the public domain. But copyright notices are still a good idea: they help identify the source of a work and make it difficult for infringers to claim that an unauthorized use of the work was innocent.
  • The United States Supreme Court hands down the landmark CCNV v. Reid decision. The copyright act says that works made by hired employees belong to the employer who commissions the work, and not the employee who creates it. The CCNV v. Reid ruling made an important distinction regarding independent contractors who are hired to create works for clients, saying the copyright to a commissioned work vests with the independent contractor who created it, and not the client. Because the status of some creators is not always clear, the Court spelled out several factors courts must consider when determining employment status. Currently, most freelance photographers own the copyright in their work unless they transfer rights in the images to the hiring party in writing.

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