ALAN BUTTERFIELD describes the 35mm projectors that have been screening movies in cinemas for decades as lovely machines.
''When you're using one, you feel a very hands-on-coaxing-it-through-the-projector thing, especially when it's an old damaged film print,'' says the veteran projectionist. ''It's a bit like a steam engine really.''
And like the steam engine, the 35mm projector has been overtaken by technology.
In a shift that some industry experts say is bigger than going from silent movies to sound, digital projectors have become the dominant way of projecting movies this year, replacing celluloid for the first time in cinema history.
Without moviegoers noticing, cinemas have been ditching their 35mm projectors, with most destined for museums, private collections or scrap metal yards.
Instead of a $2000 film print delivered in a can, they are screening new releases from a hard drive for a fraction of the price. With an estimated 2000 Australian screens being converted at a cost of $30 million, Paddington's Verona cinema will be next to switch from Monday.
Of the major chains, Event expects to have all its 473 screens and Hoyts its 361 screens converted within four weeks.
The smaller chains and independent cinemas are following, with Palace expecting to have about 100 screens switched within six months.
While it took time for the industry to work out a method of sharing the cost, the spark for the shift was the audience's willingness to pay more for Avatar in 3D, which was possible only with digital projection.
But just as music purists bemoaned the switch from vinyl records to CDs, some enthusiasts are wondering if cinemas will lose something by abandoning 35mm.
The chief commercial and development officer for Hoyts, Matthew Liebmann, says digital projection allows the pristine quality of the picture to be maintained long after celluloid prints have been degraded.
''I don't miss LPs,'' he says. ''I like digital music, I like CDs.
''The improvement in audio in this industry is similar.
''We get crystal clear sound and perfect picture and I think those things immerse you more.''
Mr Liebmann says cinemas also have more flexibility in programming.
''While our bread and butter will always be the Hollywood blockbusters, the ability to use this technology for sporting events, for concerts, for alternate children's content - and to use our facilities more broadly, even for product launches, events and church groups - [is] starting to grow.''
The managing director of the entertainment services group Deluxe Australia, Alaric McAusland, believes the change is a landmark event and brings ''significant efficiency gains'' to the industry.
He expects all the country's cinemas to be converted by next year. But the changeover means 35mm projectionists have become a threatened species.
''Pretty much every adjustment is behind a password,'' Mr Butterfield says. ''So it's for the techs to do now.''