The Future of Film: An Interview with CineStill

The Future of Film: An Interview with CineStill

I’ve seen the future of film... and it is bright. In the next few weeks I will be interviewing companies that are pushing the film photography industry forward. As the large film companies cut film stocks from production, these people are pushing forward. Developing new films, cameras, products, and services. This week, I start with CineStill

These young start-up companies are developing new films, cameras, products, and services as large film manufacturers cut film stocks from production. The indie spirit to push forward is much needed in an industry that has been somewhat stagnant for the past decade.  (Above Photo:Sandy Phimester.)

photo:Ryan Muirhead

For the past few years, CineStill has been reverse engineering motion picture film to be usable with 35mm still cameras and C-41 processing. Cinema is the bleeding edge of film stock technology and they are bringing these products over to the still photography world. The CineStill 800T can be exposed across a huge range of exposure. It can be shot between ISO 200 and ISO 1250 without sacrificing highlight or shadow detail while maintaining refined film grain and consistent color rendition. All without the need to push while processing. It is also balanced for tungsten white balance, giving it a unique advantage for the typical low light indoor light setting.  

Now, anyone can use film in the same lighting situations as new blockbuster movies and TV shows such as Inception, Argo, Lincoln, all of the Batman movies, Django Unchained, Man of Steel, Les Misérables, The Master, the new Star Trek films, the forthcoming Star Wars films, all Wes Anderson's films, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, Castle, True Blood, American Horror Story, 30 Rock, and the list goes on and on and on. No more switching to high ISO digital or on camera flash in tungsten lit environments, because CineStill 800Tungsten Xpro C-41 is now available to still photographers worldwide!

photo:Jan Scholz

Medium Format CineStill

They have been offering 800Tungsten film in 35mm for the past few years and just launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring it to 120 format. This stock is incredible in medium format, the larger format gives better color and contrast across the image along with less noticeable film grain. Allowing photographers to shoot well after dark and in difficult lighting situations.


Question and answer time with Brian M. Wright of CineStill:

Q. What type of photographer is buying your motion picture film? Pretty much all types of photographers are using CineStill 800T, from analog enthusiasts and artists processing their own film in Tetenal kits, to professionals shooting paid work and using pro labs. This film us huge for weddings but also is really unique in that it may be used in the studio with hot lights or on location for varied cinematic looks. All in all it is very flexible film stock that people are using in a variety creative ways.

photo: Rolland Andras Flinta

Q. I've noticed an explosion of new film labs around the world, does this mean there is a lot more film being shot than 5+ years ago.. or are people just taking the processing/scanning more seriously? I think it is both. There is a growing renaissance of photographers rediscovering film and incorporating a digital workflow with analog technology. I can tell you that I have heard from major film manufactures and labs that there has been a consistent growth of 5-15% every year for the past 5 years. This growth includes die hard film shooters shooting more film and incorporating high end scanning into their workflow, as well as many photographers who were born into the digital revolution and are discovering the wonders of analog technology anew. All of this translates to a new wave of creativity in photography.

photo: Ryan Muirhead

Q. Kodak and Fuji have been discontinuing film stocks at what seems a rapid rate, do you think this trend will move photographers to rely more on independent producers such as yourselves? I think that both those companies are adjusting to the market in the only way they could. The technical limitations and economy of volume when spreading emulsion and finishing roll film are what they are because these products were designed to be household items made in large scale factories. These technologies were developed when machinery needed to be engineered to produce miles of film at a time, and to continue running round the clock. Now, production runs of these emulsions are set up less frequently (just starting up a machine to spread emulsion creates waste) and distributed to a worldwide niche in much smaller volume, and there is a likelihood that they will sit in a shop or warehouse longer than their shelf life. This means that having 4 types of film that do the same thing results 4 times the waste. Though demand is now growing, they need to reduce waste to maintain availability and accessibility of quality materials. Part of that is cutting products that aren't efficient, and the other part is actively engaging the analog community and collaborating. The latter is what we are seeing from the smaller companies that are able to now release new materials in lower volume efficiently. The shape of the industry is changing, and the problem is now finding space and use for the existing large-scale engineering. I wouldn't say it's a rapid rate of discontinuation, but I would call it an equalization that is reaching equilibrium. The future is taking shape and it will be a diverse landscape of film products and more collaborating companies.

photo:Sandy Phimester (CineStill bwXX)

Q. Whats next for CineStill? We just launched a Kickstarter for new medium format film. Our first will be our CineStill 800T in 120! We are truly excited for this and confident in the support of the film shooting community. This will be a huge step in the right direction for supporting the film industry as a whole (still and motion), and will enable us to do far more much sooner. You can check it out here. Our goal is to do more than just a small release but rather, to produce a line of new materials for photographers that they can count on for years to come. We also have plans for a variety of other new products and are continuing to expand our existing production of successful products as well.

photo:Brian Dougher

Q. Where do you see the film industry in 5 years? 10? I see the industry continuing to grow and adapt. In 5 years I suspect we will see even more analog options, and passionate supporters. I believe we are entering a post-digital world where tactile things will be more appreciated and even aided by digital tools. Digital is no longer the latest and greatest. It just is. And analog mediums are now seen by many as new different options. In 10 years, who knows. Maybe technology will make these options even more accessible and result in even higher in quality than we already have. Development of analog technology may have been put in slow motion for the last decade, but it is far from its potential. Film is a relatively young technology really when compared to its potential.

photo:Jonas Peterson

Q. If you could have one roll of film, one camera, and shoot one subject.. what would it be? That is tough... There is no way. There are way too many films, cameras and subjects. :-) I'd probably want the longest roll imaginable in the most modular camera, and a very interesting and patient subject. If you pressed me to make a reasonable choice I'd go with William Dafoe, Rollei SL66 and CineStill 800T in 120!

photo:Jan Scholz

Support the future of film by backing the Kickstarter, buying and shooting film, and sharing your love for the analog experience with others.

Follow CineStill on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Kyle Ford's picture

Love me some 800T! Great post Dylan.

Michael Alfaro's picture

Awesome post, remember seeing these guys on framed network the film show (:

Philipp Schmid's picture

"There is a growing renaissance of photographers rediscovering film and incorporating a digital workflow with analog technology. I can tell you that I have heard from major film manufactures and labs that there has been a consistent growth of 5-15% every year for the past 5 years. "

I hope that's true. My father loved to shoot film but the pictures he got from the labs became worse and worse with every year. They became so bad that he decided to switch to a rather cheap point-and-shoot and the image quality was miles ahead. Almost no dynamic range in your picture is better than vertical green stripes I guess...

John Skinner's picture

So maybe after 4 years in school for photo arts, 7 years running a 700 roll-a -day commercial lab, 1000+ hours at Kodak's institute for advanced process management, I may find employment again ?

I'm giddy !

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Yup...Starbucks :)

Ralph Hightower's picture

I would be interested in daylight balanced film. That movie film could be developed in ECN-2 or C-41 chemistry is great. I'd like to know of ECN labs that develop 36 exposures; the ECN labs are geared for processing uninterrupted movie film.
I'd be willing to give CineStill 800T film a try, but it's rare that I shoot with tungsten lighting.
I'll continue shooting film as long as my Canon A-1 (bought new in 1980) and F-1N (bought used) still work. Yes, I now own a DSLR.

Anonymous's picture

As noble as this effort is, there's a giant digital boulder rolling down the hill, it's not stopping anytime soon.
Nikon stopped making film cameras, Panavision stopped making movie(film ) cameras, Canon stopped making film cameras. I love film, but get over it, it's a niche at best. I have shot 35mm motion picture film for the past 25 years. there are only 2 labs left to process it. one in LA, one in NY. it's on life support and it's not going to recover. time to move on and create beautiful images with the tools we have today. Dinosaurs have a history of disappearing.

Dylan Howell's picture

Film has always done something that digital sensors could not replicate. For some it is something you can see in the image, for others it is the process. Film use in still photography isn't going away anytime soon.

Anonymous's picture

No one suggested otherwise. I'm not saying film's not better, I fought like hell to continue shooting film. Slowly but surely, all the good film stocks disappeared. 35mm motion picture film is all but extinct. you have to special order it and then, there is now a choice of only 3-4 stocks. If you under order, you're screwed, if you over order, your stuck with it. You can hang on and dream about what might be or you can move on and realize it's just a matter of time. I still own a boatload of film cameras and shoot film regularly for personal projects , but professionally, if you aren't spending your time mastering digital photography (and by mastering I mean creatively) you WILL be left behind. No major ad agency I work for wants or accepts film any more. They insist on digital images. Yes, film is romantic, but it a small niche of the market and will get smaller daily. The next generation of photographers (born now,) will look at a film camera as we look at an 8 track tape. Just the fact that there is a kickstarted campaign to save film tells you everything you need to know

Ralph Berrett's picture

This is a very good article. I believe it was 2001 that digital cameras surpassed film cameras in sales. I remember working at Pulitzer INC Newspapers where I had been shooting my 2 Nikon F5 cameras and Nikon N90s, I was also in charge of our color lab, we had for about the last two year been using Kodak Laser Film Scanners with Macs to do a hybrid work flow from film to digital image for pagination.

Then at the end of 2001 we went to completely digital with the Worst POS camera the Canon D30. Shooting the Nikon F5 SLR film camera imagine was a lot like flying an F16 Falcon with its smooth action quick response. The D30 was like a flying brick horrible action and non responsive.

In 2004 I got the Nikon D2x it was close to the F5 camera film experience in camera action an experience. The quality of image was good as 35mm film although it was a cropped sensor. The Nikon D3 was the first DSLR camera that had surpassed my Nikon F5 SLR. It superior AF, low noise even at high ISO and could do a 9fps burst. I really at this point other than missing the Alchemy of the Darkroom, I don't see film being that viable in the 35mm market unless you are planning to sell it Leica film camera.

Where I do see a strong market is for large formats like 4x5 and 8x10, digital has yet to really have any impact on those formats. The other is motion picture film. Especially with Fuji dropping this product. Film studios have gone to Kodak and ask for them to continue this product, but Kodak is just a shell of what it once was so how long for it to stay viable.

The big issue with these independent film companies will be maintaining quality of product and also how much longer the film processor machines and photo chemicals will be maintained and made. If the machines can no longer be made or maintained as well as photo chemicals be made then the film industry will collapse. I personally don't have faith in Kickstarter.

Michael Rapp's picture

I too see there's still life in film yet - despite all digital prophecies. As long as I'd have to sell some of my kids for a digital medium format camera, film is still an option. Large formats in digital - don't hold your breath.
And why does it have to be digital OR film?
What it would be to whip out the analog medium format camera at the end of a shoot with a line like "... and before we quit, now something really special".
What I do in fact see dead is large companies making large amounts of analog cameras and film, I think it'll live long and prosper after its rebirth as a niche product.
What digital hype tends to ignore is that film does have a greater tonal range than digital material (up to 10 stops), and if you hike some outback and power is really an issue, an analog slr can survive months on a single set of batteries. Try that with a dslr.
Just my $0,02