Does This Chart Reveal Kodak Self-imploding Again? Are Other Film Manufacturers Following Their Lead?

Does This Chart Reveal Kodak Self-imploding Again? Are Other Film Manufacturers Following Their Lead?

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. 

Fujichrome Provia - Taken with a Fujiflim GA645

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. 

Multiple exposure on Kodak Portra 400 - Taken on a Mamiya RB67

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. 

Kodak Gold 200 - Taken with a Nikon F100

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. 

Fujichrome Provia - Taken with a Mamiya 645 Pro TL

Conclusion

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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26 Comments
Yves Danis's picture

When the price of Portra started its crazy journey, I switched to ProImage for my go-to film. It was very cheap at the time and when well exposed, is pretty good. Now even that emulsion is going through the roof. I am shooting less and less analog despite having stocked a significant amount of rolls for years, and do not see how the trend would reverse. On the other hand the cost of development (through Labs mostly) has not bulged much which remains a good thing, but for how long!?

Terrell Henry's picture

I just got the X-T4 and I’m loving the film simulations and recipes. I got back into film for the fun of it, but with what I’ve seen, I don’t know if I can justify the cost of film.

Yves Danis's picture

I got an X-T4 as well, and love it, but I have been collecting film bodies from several brands since late 80's and I still love the experience and the challenges of that kind of photography. Current cost is not much an issue for me now since I have experienced economic successes, but it would have been some decades ago.

Deleted Account's picture

Given the fragility of modern supply chains and economies, and given how stressed they are already, and given the clear geopolitical risk calculus, I don't think Kodak's commercial decisions are the primary cause for concern.

Mathieu Carbou's picture

Comparing prices over years like that is wrong if the compounded inflation rate over years is not factored out.

Example: 100$ USD in January 2019 are equivalent to 111$ USD in December 2021, so 11% more since inflation in 2019 is 2.4%, 2020 1.4%, 2021 7%.

Note that this doesn't change at all the article and its conclusion about price increases, but I just want to point out that the percentages of increase reflected in the article are wrong.

Deleted Account's picture

Ultimately, when it comes to consumers buying the product, it's about perception.

And yes, there has been inflation, but the rate of return on capital consistently exceeds the rate of wage increase.

Edward BIake's picture

Wage increase where though? America isn’t the whole world. Buying power is changing from country to country at different rates. And film is on average the plaything of people who can already easily afford it. Price increases in film isn’t a relevant topic for the vast majority of people globally, as they’re more concerned about food and shelter.

Deleted Account's picture

You're asserting is that discretionary spending is not relevant because consumers are more concerned about essentials, such as food...

I'm a little confused, as the tone of your comment makes it look like you think you're rebutting me.

As an aside, I'm Australian.

Michael Coren's picture

Thank you for the effort to track down that price history, and your interesting analysis. But don't assume that the increase in film prices is due entirely to gouging by the manufacturers. The entire market for dedicated cameras (i.e., those not built into mobile phones) has become a niche market, and film photography is a niche within the niche. Kodak, Fuji, and the others couldn't possibly achieve the economies of scale they had at the peak of the film era, which was some 20+ years ago, so their production costs, I'm sure, have significantly increased. Film photography has also developed a counterculture trendiness in recent years, putting even more price pressure on a dwindling supply.

Benoit .'s picture

None of these emulsions are new technology, most 25 - 40 or more years old. There doesn't seem to be any technological investment that supports the hike. I checked for silver and it doesn't look like in abnormal demand. I don't see a reason to pay more unless they are discontinuing production and selling price is getting higher as availability is shrinking.

Edward BIake's picture

I don’t mean this to sound rude or hurtful, but your published reasoning shows that you understand the logistics, manufacturing, and indeed the entire supply situation very little.

Benoit .'s picture

Your problem is, one, that I do deal with companies that have had supply disruptions especially with foam and other chemically based products and two that they haven't doubled their prices or anything even remotely close to it. But your greatest problem is that you can't go in details on the topic because you clearly have no data showing why film goes up 100% or more when most other industries using chemicals extensively don't reflect an increase reaching anything close to 20%. If you want to be taken seriously and pretend you know then you should probably elaborate and back it up with your sources.

Herman Heyns's picture

I realy dislike click-bait articles. Please explain the link between Kodak imploding and prices rising.

I am not an economist, but you don’t have to be one to recognise price inflation in the whole economy. Furthermore, chemicals have increased significantly in price over the past few years due to feed-stock price rises.

I take a different view, if prices are healthy, it will stimulate competition and we as consumers will ultimately benefit.

Adde Adde's picture

This goes hand in hand with the sky rocketing price increases for film camera hardware over the same time. It feels like people is hoarding the gear in order to push the prices up. Just a feeling but because of that I’m going all digital from now on.

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

They are increasing but they increase from a very very low price and slowly coming back to a normal level.

I horde cameras i love to have spare parts, i own a few Nikon F3s a few Bronicas two hasselblads etc, but i bought them when cameras had a pricedrop between 2000 and 2010, after 2010 they steadily increased and now they are nearly where they where 20 years ago.

Doug Birling's picture

When prices go up X% and the company has record profits that same year of the same X%... that's not inflation, that's greed. Inflation is something totally different.

Edward BIake's picture

Uhh… you think Kodak makes their money from film? You’re unaware that Kodak secured a sweetheart deal in the last few years to supply chemicals to the pharmaceutical industry, worth 3/4 of a billion dollars? And your assumption is that they’re swimming in analog film money? Of course they are profiting from film, but they aren’t exactly making a killing on a niche product for a niche hobby nestled within a larger but still niche hobby - compared to production of raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry.

I see so many people whining about film prices. Capitalism is greedy. Welcome to 2022. Try to go buy some insulin in the US then come back and tell me about price gouging.

Edward BIake's picture

No matter how much or how often James here complains, film never seems to get any cheaper.

And why should it? Film photography is a niche hobby practiced mostly by people who have surpassed sufficiency.

Capitalism sucks, and it doesn’t care about you. If film manufacturers can’t make enough profit to justify making the stuff then they’ll stop.

Meanwhile, if Kodak is too expensive then shoot Fuji. If Fuji is too expensive then shoot Ilford. If Ilford is too expensive then shoot Lomo. If Lomo is too expensive then shoot Fomapan. If Fomapan is too expensive then tear up your hipster membership card and shoot digital.

Meanwhile, take a bloody economics course or two.

Lee Keene's picture

Yes more expensive; HOWEVER, a decent 35mm SLR w/gr8 lens is under $150. Compare to $2,000 digital camera, I will buy film and freeze it.
Lee in Aurora CO

Gary Newell's picture

Competition is likely the only factor that might reverse these price increases. Is it correct to assume (as I do) that the cost of entry for a new film manufacturer is prohibitive?

Steve Novosel's picture

This is a weird time frame to compare. Take a look at 2000 prices inflation adjusted to 2022 prices and you'll get a completely different picture. What picture? Prices in real $ are about the same now as then. Cameras are actually considerably cheaper for the most part than then.

Lots of people new to film in the past 3 years see only massive increases in price, but historically it's always been expensive.

Edward BIake's picture

You know what’d be nice. Some more analog photography content on fstoppers that wasn’t just James complaining about film prices.

Film Guy's picture

"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..." Dude, no. Comparing a microscopically tiny niche market like 35mm film to the $9 trillion global auto industry is not meaningful. Even at current prices, my annual 35mm film budget (including development and scanning, around $500/year) is a fraction of the cost of a modern digital SLR wit a kit lens ($2k+), and I love the experience. It's still a good value. Let Kodak and Fuji and Ilford charge what they need to, to survive. I'm content. If it gets to be too much, I'll go back to digital. But we're not there, yet.

So Mad Bro's picture

When you look at the price of CineStill 800T (direct from them) their pricing only increased 10% since it was introduced ~2018 after their IndieGoGo. That is in line with Inflation. In that same time, Portra 400 has increased (realistically) ~55%. And CineStill Film IS Kodak 500T, it just tells me Kodak's excuse to increase the price is purely to curb demand and not the infrastructure expansion they claimed in 2019. While I think that was true (pre-pandemic), it's now about controlling the crazy demand.

My educated guess, is they are using the backorder money to expand production capabilities. And this is the kicker to that move. Alaris has millions of units in back order and they can't keep up with demand. They would be totally ****ed if those backorders get canceled and retailers call for their refunds. Luckily for Alaris and Kodak, consumers are still willing to purchase at the new price points and the backorders won't stop. Kodak and Alaris are playing a very dangerous game.

it is not healthy for a company to have backorders like they do now. Orders are coming in and they're happily taking in those orders to keep the cash flow going. It will come back to bite them in the ***.

The issue I take with this article, mainly, is retail price is very different from distributor price. To get a truly more accurate read on the actual price increase, find the distributor price sheet. The price you see with B&H, Adorama, FIND, FPP, etc. are going to be different. Find the price these companies are buying at. Film is selling like hotcakes, some of those retailers are milking it with their own small additional price increases so they can improve their margins. This model hurts Kodak's brand at the end of the day because we pay the price and we see the name on the box and that is who we get mad at. But a topic for another conversation.

Margins on film used to be non-existent. Film was the gateway to printing and the money was in paper/chemicals. Those days are gone. Film is a consumable and it is marked up as so. Avoid Mom and Pop and Amazon storefronts because they're buying retail and tagging 30% on top of retail.

I don't envy the people doing the delicate balancing act in keeping the market supplied with film.

Benoit .'s picture

Of course everything goes up progressively, but yes, gas has made bumps down in the one dollar range over the years, even recently, briefly, but yes it has. Has no one ever told you you would never see it happen again in your lifetime? I doubt it. We are also the biggest producer of oil, but for some reason, we are expecting other nations to increase their production to make the price drop which makes and doesn’t make sense.
No, the original Canon 5D din’t sell in the $6-7k range like the internet “experts” predicted and so on. I know you didn't say it, just search DPreview forum 17 years ago and you'll get the fact locked there for ever pretty much.
Big bumps up are not healthy for the most part and the film price hike isn’t really making sense. I researched and apparently Fuji was the first one, pre-covid, to raise their price by 30% in 2019. So the big chain of supplies disruptions the internet “experts” here have been mentioning is pure garbage. If you want to study the price of film, you have to look at many aspect and one would be how much advertising Fuji spends today for film vs the past, which is nearly zero in magazine, tv adds and so on. Over 25 years ago Fuji paid me very well, even flew me one year to go load all nights rolls of E6 in September during the US Open back in the days and this was a tiny amount of pocket change money for them in their advertising program budget. Photographers didn’t pay a dime on processing or on the rolls. Advertising was huge back then and definitely a factor in the cost of a roll. Can anyone provide the actual manufacturing cost of roll of film made 20 years ago and the actual cost today with real data? NO, so no one should speculate what the manufacturing cost numbers are today, but a jump of 30% during an okay economy doesn’t make sense. What ever the reason this was done, it doesn’t matter, but what is for sure, 100%+ hike in just three years is abnormal.
Before they went off market, I bought a back up VCR at Walmart new for less than $40.00 but if I recall a cheap one would be in the $100 ten years before. I searched the cost of one in 1985 because it would have been high volume of production by then. Between $200-$400 (and up of course) but a much more realistic comparing point compared to the $2000 the first few years of production.
Bottom line is who cares what it cost them. What you pay or are will to pay is the only thing that matters.

Deleted Account's picture

Hey, remember when I was talking about the fragility of the global supply chain and global economy...