For the past several years, the film community has seen a surprisingly strong revival that has brought with it some new film stocks, the return of old favorites, and unsustainable high prices.
As you may or may not know, I am a film photographer who this year started transitioning back to digital. Moreover, a little over a year ago I wrote an article about the impending end of the popularity of film in the photography world. It all came down to one reason: the perfect storm of wildly increasing popularity that has led to a sharp increase in demand meeting a finite and aging supply that dwindles day by day. These two things alone wouldn’t be a big deal, but given that there are not any good, reliable, and affordable new options to replenish the stock of old and getting older film cameras, the film photography world will eventually pay the price. If you have followed my writing, you would also know that I also wrote a note (really, it was more of a plea) to Pentax to be the company that brings back new film cameras. It seemed like a great idea: Pentax has been on life support for years, and in the days where film was king, no other company could compete with the range of offerings and reputation that Pentax had. I still stand by this. If Pentax decided to release a modern version of the Pentax 645 or Pentax 67, I would be first in line to pick up one of these cameras, particularly if they used the same mounts as they used to and new lenses were offered too.
With all of this said, I may as well have been shouting into the wind, as my words have fallen on deaf ears as it pertains to the powers that be, so much so that even one of my fellow writers recently pondered the idea of Nikon or Canon remaking one or more of their classic 35mm film cameras). Will this ever happen? Absolutely not. Should Nikon or Canon return to offering 35mm film cameras? That’s difficult to say. While it is undeniable that film photography is enjoying a new height in its popularity, I’m not convinced that it will last all that long nor that the cameras would be bought enough to justify the production costs. Why, you ask? Because few people are willing to pay a lot for a film camera, and I cannot fathom Nikon nor Canon could or would produce a camera that would be affordable enough to be attractive to the average person looking to get into film.
The Film Bubble
So, here we are in July of 2021, and prices for the most common and popular film cameras are at an all-time high in decades, so much so that if you look up reviews of some of these cameras from previous years, you’ll find that up until about 2018 to around 2019, the prices were pretty stable but since then, the price hike would hurt anyone’s heart. Take, for example, the Mamiya 645 Pro TL, my go-to film camera for years. Back when I bought it in 2018, I thought I was getting a less than fair deal paying $350 for the body, a back, AE prism, power winder, and a 55mm f/2.8 lens. Just over a year later, in writing my review, the typical price for a body only was $400-500. Nowadays, a body in good condition with a prism brings in $600 to $800. There are kits with basic to less-than-impressive lenses going for well north of $1,000. In my opinion, this is just beyond crazy. In all honesty, if I were attempting to get into film today, I doubt very seriously I would ever consider getting into medium format.
The fact of the matter is that these ridiculous price jumps are not specific to the Mamiya 645 Pro TL. If you look back to my list of over- and underrated cameras in 2021 and compare it with the same list from 2020, you’ll see that several cameras were moved to the overrated list from the previous year. Indeed, even my beloved Mamiya 645 Pro TL is, in my opinion, entirely overrated and far overpriced. And I would go so far as to say that just about any Mamiya, Pentax, or Hasselblad medium format cameras are far more expensive now than they’re worth.
I would also say that any photographer that has been deeply invested in the film world for the last couple of years or more is starting to become more and more disinterested in the film given the financial roadblocks that are appearing day by day. Sure, there are still many film photographers who have been staying the course, but many have been leaving — not just me. Take, for example, Jason Hunter, one of the founders of Restore From Backup, who was for years one of the biggest ambassadors to film. Since his interview with Fstoppers, he has sold all of his film gear and shoots exclusively digital. Matt Day, one of the most significant figures that brought the film back to its newfound popularity, also sold nearly all of his film gear, and his channel has featured fewer and fewer film camera reviews and tips. True, there are still several YouTube channels that I keep up with that primarily if not exclusively stick to film, such as Kyle McDougall, Jess Hobbs, Karin Majoka, and Mat Marrash. The number of people returning to digital after spending recent years living in the film world seems to be outnumbering those who have been shooting film and are sticking with it.
As much as I hate to see it, I just cannot help but see these occurrences as signs that the film bubble is has reached a breaking point, not just for me, but for many others as well. With this said, perhaps it is not on the fringes of bursting. It seems entirely possible that prices will continue to be hiked up more and more to twice what they are now. I would doubt that very seriously, but I was saying the same thing when prices were close to half of what they are now.
What are your thoughts? What do you see for the future of the film bubble that we’re in? Do you see it bursting any time soon, or is it going to continue to grow for the foreseeable future?