In the old days it was two weeks. the films went into the chemist and came back in paper envelopes in a fortnight. You had just about forgotten what you took when the prints were ready. You got to see 6″ x 4″ “postcard” prints in black and white or slightly dodgy colour.
if you elected to spend a day’s pay on colour slide film ( and that is what it cost ) you still had a two-week wait until the box of slides returned from Victoria and you could clap them into the Bell and Howell to show after dark.
Then Edwin Land made the first of the Polaroid cameras and you could see things in several minutes – eventually it got down to 60 seconds. The things you saw were small brown prints to start with surrounded by an armload of caustic smelly paper rubbish. Eventually the technology improved so much that you could see small dodgy-coloured prints surrounded by a handful of smelly caustic rubbish. Edwin Land is commemorated all over the world by plaques at public landfill sites.
Digital cameras initially started out with very small screens but they did have the advantage that they showed you your small image within seconds. It was lurid and fuzzy but it was there. Later on you could transfer it to a computer or television screen and marvel at the lurid fuzziness.
Modern digital cameras present the image instantly on a good clear screen – and a can fire it off onto mobile phones or tablets. And if the photographer is paying attention, it is clear and sharp and accurate in colour. After which time you still have to transfer it to a printer of some sort to get a hold-in-your-hand picture. At this stage of the game the brown-ness, lurid colour, and fuzziness can be cranked in – sometimes deliberately and sometimes inadvertently. And if you load the printer wrongly you can still get rubbish …but it doesn’t smell.
With a bit of luck, and a lot of time spent on the computer plus trips back and forth to the camera store to buy ink and paper…you can get a set of prints in two weeks.