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Cameras, Carbon Emissions, and Connectivity

digital and film cameras have different carbon footprintsDigital cameras have all but replaced film in everyday consumer use, so it’s hard to recall how entwined film cameras once were in traditional holiday celebrations. I seem to recall a lot of activity: running out to stock up on film, fumbling with reload and flash bulbs, running out of film because you didn’t stock up quite enough, running out afterwards — hangover and all — to drop off the film, waiting for the developer, running out to pick up the pictures, sorting through the redeyed, overexposed, underexposed, and blurred images to find ones suitable for framing, running out to get them copied, running out to buy frames, and running to the post office.

Film and Carbon Footprints

All that exercise was good for knocking off some extra holiday pounds, but let’s face it: collectively, consumer film cameras have a staggering carbon footprint. Manufacturing, shipping, developing and disposing of film is only part of the equation. The other part happens at the user end. Along with all the aforementioned running, which for many people is shorthand for “driving around in the car and burning a lot of fossil fuel,” there is the waste involved in printing millions of sub-quality images that are looked at for two seconds, groaned over, and tossed away.

E-Waste and Data Centers

I’m not trying to argue that digital cameras are problem-free when it comes to carbon emissions. The issue of e-waste certainly comes to mind. Also, for emailing and file sharing you have to consider energy use by servers and data centers. However, some long-term solutions are at hand. The development of graphene and other futuristic materials is leading to smaller, lighter, more durable, and more efficient electronic devices that involve less toxic materials and can be recycled more easily. New data centers are more energy efficient, with help from new building designs and the use of renewable energy. The reclaiming of waste energy from data centers in the form of heat also has the potential for significantly reducing the carbon footprint of connectivity.

Connectivity and Creativity

Digital cameras, combined with connectivity, also provide everyday photographers with new creative opportunities that are almost entirely free of concerns over cost or carbon emissions.  You can fine-tune photos to deal with redeye and other faults, or photoshop them and modify them, then hit one button and off they go to your entire email list. If you can’t afford the software there are free online services like that give you an opportunity to play around with the images.  The person who receives your photos has the additional advantage of further refining and custom-resizing them (a big advantage if you have a pile of odd-sized frames in the closet).

Film will continue to thrive in specialty markets — after all, the advent of film didn’t knock art supplies out of the picture — but for  millions of image sharers, the connectivity of digital cameras has added a new dimension to the fine art of holiday photography. Say cheese!

Image: Film by Cameron Cassan on

Note: This article was originally posted on November 6.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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