Kodak has a history of being a leader in the market of film and then seeing to its demise. I would argue this graph tells us Kodak is back on the path of self-destruction and (some) other film manufacturers are following them.
Film photography has in recent years been almost entirely a hobby of luxury. Has Kodak let the premium for it get out of hand? Yes. What about Fuji? Absolutely. What about the smaller manufacturers? Depends. In this article, I’m going to refer to prices of film over a period that does not even span three years (April of 2019 to January of 2022). Because I could not get official data from B&H about the prices of film and the days when the prices changed (they didn't have it to give), I went to the Wayback Machine and looked up a range of different film stocks. All of them are 36 exposure 35mm film because B&H no longer sells Portra 400 in individual rolls, I priced each roll according to one-fifth the price of a pro pack. For some film stocks, particularly for more obscure films, there was not enough information there to include in my list despite my desire to include it. I didn't include any Ilford film either because while their prices have increased over the past fifth years, the jump hasn't been as high and there wasn't much data for me to pull from between 2017 and 2022.
Where We Are Now
The last time I seriously went out to buy film (seriously being that I drove all over town, to every place that sells it, looking for the color negative film), I was confronted with two facts that hit me hard. The prices of the film had skyrocketed, and there was very little of it to buy. I spent so much time shooting the film I bought before the COVID-19 hit that I had no real reason to pay any attention to the price or inventory of new stock. In the COVID-19 world we now live in, things have become even crazier. This is of course not to say that before COVID-19, everything was sunshine and rainbows; the writing has been on the wall for a long time before COVID-19. The supply and workforce shortage in the past two years have only hastened the trajectory of the film world was already on.
2019 Film Prices Versus 2022 Film Prices
The prices of the film have been on an unusually steep increase pricing, far more than any other market for new products than I’m aware of. Even the car market, which is currently getting a lot of attention for just how affected it has been by COVID-19, has not seen that drastic of a price hike on new cars. I’ll provide some specific comparisons to the automotive industry in a moment.
As you will see in the above graph, since April of 2019 (less than three years ago), the prices of the film have gone through the roofs, so much so that it is difficult to even remember a time in which the prices of the film have not been astronomical. Take, for example, Kodak Ektachrome, a wonderful slide film that is now the only color-positive film Kodak produces. That film has a current going rate of $20. Mind you, Ektachrome has always been a premium film stock, commanding a premium price tag. When you consider, however, that this film was just $13 less than three years ago, it can hurt your heart a little bit. That is a 53.8% price increase! What hurts even more is the fact that it is the film that had the smallest price hike of the bunch I considered. Yes, you read that correctly. Of the seven film stocks, I considered, its 53.8% increase was the smallest in price! If you’re asking yourself how much worse the others were, you are in for a real treat.
Arguably the most popular film stock available today, Kodak Portra 400 (you can find my review of it here), had a (relatively) modest price increase of 64.1% ($7.80 vs. $12.80). I expected Portra to lead the pack when it came to jacking up the price, but here we are. The next largest increase in Kodak’s films comes from Kodak TMax 400, my favorite black and white film (and the only black and white film I looked up due to data availability and interest), which more than doubled in price in less than three years. Priced at $5 in April 2019, a 35mm roll of 36 exposures is now priced at $11, leading to a 120% increase in price. The next and last two Kodak films are the hardest pills for me to swallow, as they have been my two most commonly shot color negative films: Kodak Ektar and Kodak Gold. Kodak Ektar has fantastic colors, an amazing exposure latitude, and was (emphasis on past tense) an affordable film. In early 2019, a 35mm roll would set you back only $6.75 which was not much considering how great the stock was. As of January of 2022, it now commands $16 – a whopping 137% price increase. You can’t see me now, but I’m shaking my head as I write this. This leads us to our last film of the Kodak lineup I included, Kodak Gold. What wasn’t there to love about Gold? It is the only non-professional film on this list of Kodak films and as such, it was only available in 35mm. For me and many of my friends, Gold was the go-to film for years because though it didn’t have the same level of performance as you would get from Ektar or Portra, the colors were great, and it was honestly a real bargain comparatively speaking. Nowadays, however, you will be spending nearly 2.5 times as much as you would have less than three years ago at $11 versus $4.50, a price hike of 144.4%.
This is not to say that Kodak is the only manufacturer making these same moves. Indeed, Fujifilm has been doing the same thing. Fujichrome Provia, my personal favorite color positive film, has increased its cost 66.7% from $12 to $20. And Fujifilm’s budget film intended to compete with Kodak Gold, Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400, similarly more than doubled in price. They were going for $3.33 a roll in April of 2019, whereas now, they are commanding a price tag of $7.33.
I can already see the comments now: “COVID-19 is affecting the prices of everything” or something along those lines. So, let us compare the price hikes with another industry we know has been greatly affected since the beginning of the pandemic: the automotive industry. Given that film has always been a bit of a luxury buy, we will compare it with luxury automobiles: the BMW 3 Series, Audi A3, and Mercedes Benz CLA class. To start us off, the base model price of a BMW 3 series increased a whole 2.9% ($41,245 versus $42,445). More than double the proportional increase to the BMW, we have the Audi A3 which increased its base model price by 6.1% ($32,925 vs. $34,945). The Benz took a dramatic turn relative to the other two, going from $34,095 to $39,250, the price hike for a base model CLA class was 15.1%. Of course, this is the market for new cars, and the market for secondhand vehicles is crazy, however, it cannot compare to the price increases of film, and it's an unfair comparison anyhow. A more fair comparison with the secondhand car market would be Fuji Pro 400-H after Fuji announced it was discontinued. The secondary market jacked up the prices to dizzying heights.
Did you know Kodak invented the digital camera? Well, if you didn’t know before, you do now. Do you know what they did with their technology and patents? Not a single thing, at least not when it would have made a difference. They buried their head in the sand while simultaneously doubling down on film only to eventually go bankrupt because, you know, digital cameras are a thing. Whatever anyone wants to say as a rationale for Kodak and film production at large, I see little to no reason for the drastic uptick in prices other than simply “because they can,” which seems very short-sighted. Once upon a time, well before COVID-19 hit, Kodak said they were going to increase their prices to invest in R&D and more machinery to increase their production. I was all about the price increases then, but in recent years, when I had hoped for more availability of their films and more film stocks, however, neither really seemed to pan out, and Kodak's and Fuji's pricing have just gone out of control. They seem hell-bent on pricing people out of buying film. Thank goodness pixl-latr offers an affordable way to digitize film (assuming you already own a digital camera) and The Darkroom Lab have kept their prices nearly the same for the past, several years making processing and digitizing your film arguably more reasonable than it was before.
I love film and will continue to use it for almost all of my most personal and meaningful photographs. My sincerest wishes are that Kodak or Fuji eventually back down on their price increases and that Kodak or Fuji, Pentax, Nikon, or anyone else manufactures reasonably affordable and high-quality 35mm and medium format cameras, because, let’s face it, no matter how much film is made, the aging and ever-dwindling pool of working cameras is the limiting factor to film continuing.
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