Is Film Photography a Fad?

Is Film Photography a Fad?

Let’s face it. Film photography is having a bit of a moment, and the growth in popularity is exponential. The question is: is it a fad or is it going to be around for a while?
As you may recall from my last article, 2019 has been a great year for film photography. Nearly 10 new film stocks have been released around the world, and Kodak is expanding their manufacturing capacity after months of backorders or "out of stock" signs for a lot of their film at most retailers. Used departments at camera stores that had previously seen a more limited interest in film cameras have started to see more turnaround in their stock. The question, though, for this article is whether or not this increased interest in film will be short-lived or will remain for the foreseeable future. 

What Is a Fad?

I would define a “fad” to be something of widely observed enthusiasm that is short-lived. Whether or not you would define it that way could affect the concordance of my argument and your thoughts, so let’s just use that definition for now. 

In a previous article, I argued that film still has its rightful place in the world, and I firmly believe that. More and more people are recognizing this, moving away from film emulations in the digital world and pursing a more tangible and intentional representation of their work. Not everyone that has tried film loved it, felt it made their work any different or better by comparison. On the hand, however, there are those that have tried shooting film having grown into photography in the digital age and never looked back. And of course, there are people who started their photography endeavors with film, and that’s a different animal entirely. 

With that said, I believe that while the interest in film will wax and wane, it is not going anywhere anytime soon — for better or worse. Its recent newfound popularity is not a rejection of digital photography, and thus, not susceptible to fainting interest once the benefits of digital are missed. Instead, I would argue, that the uptick in film’s popularity is the photography world correcting itself after people moved to digital in a rejection of film and what was then seen as a slow and archaic medium in comparison to today’s technology. As such, I believe that once its popularity stabilizes, we will have found the new norm.

The dominance of film in culture will almost certainly never return to its glory days. The mark that digital cameras and phones have left on the world has permanently altered the landscape. Instead, those of us that moved towards digital out of convenience and then moved back to film have instead found that photography was never about convenience or technological advances. As such, me and others like me will continue to shoot film, and many of us will utilize digital as well. 

Conclusion

The fact remains, however, that film has never died away for good, and the current upward trend indicates that it is far from dying soon. Whether it is a fad or not is something that cannot be addressed on the population level, but rather on the individual level. Different people have different reasons for giving film a go, and even more, different people have different reasons for sticking with it or moving on from it. 

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51 Comments

Mike Ditz's picture

Yes to both. Fad and will be around for a long time. Maybe niche is a better word than fad.

Ken Flanagan's picture

It’s a fad for some. For others it’s more. For me, it’s a life-long interest.

Rob Davis's picture

We don’t need this article again.

mark wilkins's picture

Its been around 140 years. That isnt a "Fad"

marcgabor's picture

yeah but for most of that time it was the only option. Film as an stylistic alternative to digital, especially now that sensors are so flexible and RAW processing has gotten so good is definitely a recent consideration.

Kirk Darling's picture

Well, there are more horse-owners in the US today than there have ever been before.

Christian Lainesse's picture

How many "Horseman" owners are there, though?

Kirk Darling's picture

I used to be one of those Horseman owners, and I do kind of long for it again.

I even checked Keh just last night to see if they might have one.

stuartcarver's picture

I would say it depends who is doing it, but on the whole, no.

Simon .'s picture

Only an inexperienced photographer would put ‘film photography’ and ’fad’ in the same sentence, just goes to show how out of touch some self proclaimed experts are.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

he is funny? not serious writing

Simon .'s picture

I think you’ll find he’s trying to be serious... which, as you say, is funny in itself

Ivan Lantsov's picture

not good at inglish so this is joke, yes

Robert Montgomery's picture

Been shooting ,devoloping ,and printing film since 1978. Hell of a fad. Still wearing a Led Zepplin Stairway to Heaven concert tee.

Simon .'s picture

A poor understanding of photography

Ken Flanagan's picture

I don’t think you are getting the full picture...

Doug Walkey's picture

Okay, that response is funny.

Sadie Bree's picture

Definitely hasn't had the right exposure. Lol

There is more to a format than simple resolution. Things like depth of field, and just the process of using a waist level finder and an outboard light meter.

marcgabor's picture

I think I know what you mean. FF digital has that clean grainless look that I associate with properly exposed medium format. Whereas 35mm film has a little but more of a "look" to it the way 16mm movies do compared to 35mm.

Deleted Account's picture

I guess it could be considered that by a young person that got into photography in the past ten to fifteen years or so. We older people that got into the craft before digital will always see it differently than someone who has only known and used digital photography. I laugh when I hear it called "Analog Photography"!

Robert Montgomery's picture

Actually had a individual ask me how many MP's my Pentax 6X7 was. Said zero it shoots film. Next question was does it shot in RAW. Answered "Yes, the original'.

Deleted Account's picture

That's funny Robert!!! A sign of the times.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Sad and hilarious all at once.

marcgabor's picture

Seriously??

Robert Montgomery's picture

Actually happened Savannah, GA July 2018.

Dan Howell's picture

"growth in popularity is exponential" you don't provide backing proof for this statement.

Tony J's picture

Seems people are hard on the author. I think it is a fad. Film will always be around but the popularity of certain things can come and go. I have been buying vinyl records since I was 16. I noticed the popularity was spiking in recent years. I will always buy records but it can still be a current fad. So, film is not going to die out but the hipsters can move onto a new "cool thing" in a few years and the demand for film/film cameras might fade (return to normal state). I could also be 100% wrong.

Timothy Roper's picture

Since it's on the creation side of things, I think shooting film is more akin to using an acoustic guitar, or other non-digital instrument. The electric guitar may be more modern and can do more, but plenty of people still play acoustic, too.

Timothy Roper's picture

It's here to stay, just like acoustic guitars, plein air painting and glass blowing aren't going away anytime soon. It's not for everyone, but most things aren't for everyone anyway.

Simon .'s picture

Having checked out his website, James is more of a blogger than a photographer, so this makes sense now. It’s a traffic generation content (click bait) rather than a serious/intelligent article on a specific medium in photography.

Ken Flanagan's picture

Everything is clickbait.

Terrell Henry's picture

I grew up in a film world, but only got series about photography after digital was the norm. So for me it’s not a fad, but it is still new to me. Mainly because I’m developing and scanning my film. If I get a house, I may even invest in a darkroom and printing. Film has helped me in finding my enjoyment with the art of photography. I have more film cameras now than digital. I think film is going to find its new normal. It’s like what my younger brother said when I brought home a record from the thrift store. “This does feel like you own it.” That to me is the appeal of film. It’s not just a file on my hard drive. I can touch and feel the negative. I feel more active in the process of creating something.

Leo Tam's picture

Are people shooting film because film is an oddity at this point, or do people really enjoy the actual film look? Lots of Canon FD system shooters/Pentax K1000 shooters who shoot whatever film they can find (and don't really know or care how the different emulsions differ), send it to their local 1 hour lab, where it gets scanned on a frontier or whatever, and then the results are posted on instagram with #35mm

I've personally given quite a few people film cameras - and all just film is film - and can't tell the difference between films/lenses/etc

Ken Flanagan's picture

It’s a fad for some people.

John Dawson's picture

Yes

Deleted Account's picture

It all started with film. Was a great time.
Now it’s the rites of passage thing.
Someone gets given a camera, they watch YouTube, they are a photographer. Then the 365 projects, then restricting themselves to one lens to stimulate creativity (usually the ‘nifty50’) then they discover speed lights and using IKEA stuff for cheap modifiers, then they follow some courses, then they discover before digital there was film. Get the tattoo, ‘film is not dead’ then preach that only real photographers use film. Then they decide to start a part time photography business alongside their main IT job. Then they realise film was a fad. The race to own the most popular brand of camera is more important. Then they start recording YouTube films to explain everything.
Then they get over it all and just enjoy making photos with whatever tool is placed in their hand.
It all comes in cycles, Just like this sort of post.

Rob Davis's picture

So they enthusiastically followed their creative instincts wherever it led them. Sounds great!

Deleted Account's picture

Haha. Yeah.

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

DSLR are a fad... Mirror less!

Andrew Almeida's picture

I have a whole collection of Nikon film cameras from the F to the F4S. I love using them. Shooting film makes you think.

Mike Ditz's picture

I have Hasselblad 500 sitting on my desk. It's on frame 5. As it has been for weeks. Waiting for another opportunity to shoot 7 more frames.

Richard Carlson's picture

It's possible I just haven't noticed the right article but having shot film long before digital cameras were around and always feeling guilty when I developed B&W film myself, I'm surprised no one mentions the damage to the environment caused by using all the chemicals with film. Maybe some will say they are recycling old cameras and it balances out, but that would only be if the person does not purchase anything digital.

John Dawson's picture

Film is to photography what vinyl was to music. It sucked the first time and it still sucks.

Sadie Bree's picture

No more a fad then vacuum tubes or vinyl records. Granted, I haven't felt the urge to use a film burner, in 15 years.

sam w's picture

while cell phone cameras have killed (effectively) point and shoot cameras, I think cell phone cameras have also opened up the opportunity for film SLR to make a bit of a comeback. and people that might have gotten a DSLR might opt to not get one when they have a cell phone that is super convenient.

I don't need a film SLR when I have a digital P&S (or especially a DSLR), because carrying two big (ish) cameras doesn't make sense.

I don't need a digital P&S when I have a cell phone that does just as good, if not better than the P&S did. and if I was considering a DSLR, maybe the cell phone is so convenient, that I just don't consider it.

now, I've got my phone only, so while my phone makes sense for capturing 90% of what I shoot, I can still bring a film SLR and capture some more deliberate moments, and be creative with both devices.

Jeff Drew's picture

Yea, I’ve been chasing this fad since 1963 and waiting for Kodachrome to come back! Time for Paul Simon tune!

Robert Montgomery's picture

I also would love for Kodachrome to return, realistically after speaking with Kodak Alaris part of the magic with Kodachrome was the K14 process. There isn't a work around being looked at. Ektachrome was easy its E6. K 14 is a different animal. Other than just giving an E6 chrome the name and not the ability to have the characteristics that made Kodachrome, Kodachrome, the film would not be the same, But on the bright side Ektachrome is now in 120 with 4X5 to hopefully follow.

Mike Ditz's picture

I am glad that my dad used Kodachrome in the 50s and 60s, the slides are still in great condition and while contrasty scan well if you know how to scan slides.

william hicks's picture

It's the new lomo or selective color but at least when this fan fades people will know manual settings a bit better

Rob Davis's picture

Not true. A lot of us make darkroom prints that feature in gallery shows. Have you ever seen Medium or Large Format film print on good paper? It's a different product than a digital print and no two optical prints are ever exactly the same so there's added value there when it comes to sales.

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