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How Film Manufacturers Are Making Sure It Doesn't Make a Comeback

I used to believe that film photography was a dying medium, but now, I am not so sure. One thing I am certain about is that Kodak and Fujifilm are making it difficult for film to come back.

You may recall that about a year and a half ago I wrote an article about film photography and how I believed the writing was on the wall for the future of the medium — without the manufacturing of new, nice, and affordable film cameras, the film world would eventually die. In all honesty, I still believe that and I cannot help but think that within the next year or two, the popularity of film will plummet and the camera market will crash. That said, at the time that I wrote that article, I did not think that the market would have continued to spiral out of control as it has.

So, where is the film world now? In this photographer's opinion, it is not in a good place. To begin, I will say that true to what I said I would do late last year, I started transitioning away from film and back into digital photography as my primary medium. That said, I have shot through a few rolls here and there that I already had in the fridge and for more than a year. I have appreciated the prices of film cameras still skyrocketing (note, I started to let go of several cameras that had begun to crowd my home) and have been blissfully unaware of the pricing of the film itself. Last week, my partner and I decided to book a small trip for the first time since COVID-19 hit the United States, and I have decided to take my Nikon FA (review can be found here) along with my Sony a7R II (no longer sold but the a7R IIIA can be found here). In checking my stash of 35mm color film, I realized that I needed to make a trip to the local camera shops or make an order with B&H. 

Ilford Delta 100 remains my inspiration for and black and white photography

I realized very quickly that my search for the color film was a fool’s errand; this held for color positive (a.k.a., slide film) or color negative alike. Want some 35mm Fujichrome Provia 100F? Good luck. How about some Kodak Portra 400? That’s funny. Is Kodak Ektachrome available? Nope. Was there at least any Kodak Ektar? Thankfully, yes. Though I always liked Ektar for being more or less a “budget professional film” as well as being a color negative version of slide film, I did not appreciate needing to spend more than $10 on a single roll. If you had told me a year or two ago that a shop was pricing Ektar at $11.99 (note: in the one day that passed between writing this article and submitting it, Ektar went from $10.99 to $11.99) for a roll of 35mm, I would have immediately written off that shop as a place I’d never go. In this hypothetical, it would have outpriced B&H’s Portra 400 or Portra 800 pricing, which was and continues to be just about everyone’s go-to color negative film, and it was always priced as such. Today, Portra 400 is only sold at B&H as a pro pack for $63.95, making each roll nearly $13. To me, that price point was always reserved for my slide films, Fujichrome Provia 100F (now costing $17) and Kodak Ektachrome (now reaching $20 for just one roll). At this point, buying a roll of Ektachrome and paying for processing now makes the cost of a single frame about $1. For medium format, this has been par for the course for a long time, but for 35mm, this just feels wrong.  

Fujichrome Provia 100F renders colors like no other film and I love it

To touch on a point I briefly made in the above statement, film camera prices have been increasing at an unsustainably fast pace with no sign of slowing down. On just my gear that I’ve acquired and then sold, the going price of my cameras and lenses has been at least 25% higher in less than one year. I ended up parting with my Mamiya RZ67 for 38% more than I paid for it from KEH, and I only had the camera for 10 months. In the three years that I have had the Mamiya 645 Pro TL, the camera kit I bought has nearly quadrupled in its resale value. While I have welcomed this market behavior when it comes to selling my cameras, it has been considerably less fun from a buyer’s point of view. Truth be told, I’m not sure why anyone would buy a medium format film camera anymore. Granted, I strongly suspect that there are many photographers out there who have been saying that for far longer than me, but oh well. 

When Will Prices Go Down? Will They Ever?

So, here we are: not only has the film not died yet, there are no signs of it even slowing down, so much so that film manufacturers cannot even keep up with demand. As a result, increased demand for all things film photography has sent the cost of cameras soaring due to a finite, aging, and diminishing supply and has also resulted in the increased cost and lack of availability of film. It is only natural to wonder if the prices will go down and/or if inventory will ever be dependable again.

I still believe that it all comes down to whether there will ever be high-quality, mass-produced 35mm cameras and, ideally, medium format cameras (please, Pentax). There are still several manufacturers of large format cameras, which, while more correlation than causation, I believe is a large part of why large format cameras have continued to be reasonably priced. I would go so far as to argue that the prices of vintage large format cameras have been consistently low (relatively speaking) with perhaps a slight decline in prices they fetch. In addition, as the number of current manufacturers and overall inventory has increased, the quality, availability, and price of large format cameras have remained attainable for most photographers wanting to get into large format. It stands to reason that a similar experience could happen for 35mm and medium format film cameras as well. In addition, even if the camera prices are going to continue spiraling, Kodak and Fuji could at least not double the cost of their film. To some degree, I understand where they are coming from and agree that they too should capitalize on the rising popularity of film. That said, I cannot help but feel they are shooting themselves in the foot since the absurd and sudden price hikes push photographers away from buying their films completely. At least companies like pixl-latr are doing what they can to make some aspects of the film world less expensive rather than more expensive. 

What are your thoughts? Has the out-of-control prices of film cameras and the lack of inventory for film affected your desire to shoot film? Has your perspective on the outlook of the film changed at all over the past year or two?

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34 Comments

Steve Sondheim's picture

The rising cost of film is certainly becoming an issue for me, especially colour film. I'm pretty much at the stage where I only shoot b&w film and am transitioning to digital for the colour 'everyday' stuff. It's not easy letting go mind you. Some of the colour film still looks so good to me. I mean there's a reason why Fuji is focusing on the old school film simulations in their X series cameras. But yeah, Kodak Portra & Ektar is getting too rich for my blood, never mind slide film.

Timothy Roper's picture

Newsflash, lack of inventory isn't just a problem for film. It's a problem for everything from new cars to tortilla chips. And it's due to a global supply chain problem. As for prices, yes, inflation is here to stay, and again, isn't just affecting your precious film stocks.

Scott Kiekbusch's picture

Came here to say the same. Supply chain issues have hit film manufacturers hard. Almost everything is costing more; some companies don't have the required components to manufacture or deliver their goods at all. There's a global microchip shortage that also impacts the price of all electronics including digital cameras. Hopefully, prices of film moderate back to $5–$8/roll in the next 12–18 months. As for vintage film cameras, it's simply a supply & demand issue.

Tom Reichner's picture

Exactly!

My breakfast at the local diner costs 40 percent more than it did a year ago.

Plywood and two by fours cost me 150 percent more than they did two years ago.

Rental cars are 300 to 400 percent more than they were just 6 months ago.

Motel rooms in places I travel to are 30 percent more than they were just 7 months ago.

Gasoline in my area is up 30 percent from what it was a year ago.

Does the author of this article not see that the price of film is just right there in the middle of the pack with the price of everything else? What did he expect - that everything everywhere would increase at historic rates, but somehow film would just barely rise in price?

If anyone is surprised at the price of anything these days, then they haven't been paying attention to what's been going on in the world around them.

Paul Watson's picture

Porta is expensive for sure but can usually get it and Fuji. There are plenty of other options available these days that yield stunning results. BW options abound, HP5 obviously, Rollei infrared certainly interesting for normal black and white, Adox CMS 20 amazing. The joy of film is you never know 100% what you will get.

Patron Saint of Fanboys's picture

Please read this in a gruff, bass, satirical, movie-trailer-narrator “Honest Movie Trailers” narrator-type voice:

“How Film Manufacturers Are Making Sure Film Doesn’t Make A Comeback”

This is the story of one man, who thinks it’s unreasonable to pay an extra dollar for something, and thus concludes that rising prices and empty shelves are an indication of a dying market on the brink of Collapse!…. because of capitalist organizations purposefully… purposefully not making enough product or something? Because they hate making a profit, I guess? For some reason? And charging an extra dollar for it? And.. and also they’re shooting themselves in the foot, somehow, with their pricing of a product in a market they’ve both been the two major players in for… for decades?

All while ignoring all the other companies that also produce competing products that are similarly in short supply, and high demand, with rising prices…. which definitely doesn’t have anything to do with inflation, because everyone knows things normally always just cost the same amount as they always have: Foreverrrrrr!

Against the backdrop of… A World in Crisis… while completely ignoring the context of said World in Crisis and the current state of world markets and supply chains, in a two years old and going strong global pandemic. Where both big manufacturers have significantly pivoted to diverting their manufacturing of chemicals to supplying the pharmaceutical industry, rather than the favoured hobby of hipsters who found their dad’s old Pentax one time and thought it made them look cool. And all this, during a global pandemic plagued by shortages of… basically everything.

And…. AND… somehow there are no new cameras and it’s the two old film companies’ fault ALSO somehow. And the prices on those countless MILLIONS of film cameras that already exist… they’re going up!

Because film is DYINGGGGGG!!!

And not at all because this one guy’s personal financial threshold for how much he wants to spend on a hobby has been breached.

Not that.

Because FILMMMMM issss DYINGGGGG.

(This was obviously meant to be satirical, but honestly this article doesn’t do anything to support it’s own thesis, and even goes so far as to undermine it by repeatedly pointing out of huge demand is as compared to supply. And by ignoring any and all relevant context for shortages of a luxury good during a time of global economic upheaval. Definitely not a well researched or though-out set of arguments. I don’t have a horse in the race, I just was disappointed by the inability of the article to make a compelling argument.)

Patron Saint of Fanboys's picture

Yay! I got a downvote, lol. Thank you, Michael Regan: They only make my powers grow stronger!

If anyone ever needed an example of someone trying to convince themselves of something by trying to convince other people by proxy, just reference this article.

It’s, ok, James. You just aren’t that into film anymore. You said as much yourself. Being someone who is into film isn’t engraved forever into your identity: it’s just what’s written in your writer bio. You can let film go, it’s totally fine. You don’t have to try and convince yourself the entire global film market is dying a fiery death to do that.

You can just decide: I don’t enjoy this as much as I used to, so I won’t put any more energy into it.

And that’s totally healthy and fine.

Mark Sawyer's picture

As color is nearly always processed commercially, black and white film is the main refuge for those who want to get their hands dirty doing it themselves. And for those who are serious about it, anything less than large format is a compromise.

The price of large format cameras is actually fairly low, with nice 4x5 monorails around $100, and 8x10s around $500. Film costs are a bit higher, but there are lots of choices, and the workflow is such that lf photographers shoot less and make each shot count. If you shoot machine-gun style, taking hundreds of shots hoping to luck into something, you're probably more at home on digital, not only for the cost, but for the lack of processing each image before you see it.

It's worth noting that more and more large format photographers are also discovering wet plate, where the cost is low and you're not dependent on film manufacturers.

Tim Archer's picture

For future readers who stumble upon this article:
1: Sorry you wasted your time reading it, and…
2: This article appeared on the heels of a global supply shortage, which came on the heels of a global pandemic, which put the world (including manufacturing) on pause…

The fact is, people have been touting the demise of film for the last two decades, yet film remains popular with legions of photographers who love the process.

Funniest part of reading this article is at the very end. After the whole: film’s a dollar more! the whole thing’s imploding! rant, it ends with the guys totally contrary bio: Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since.

Jason Winters's picture

Thanks. The article reads like someone complaining about film prices, and has nothing to do with its title.

Film manufacturers aren't doing anything to 'make sure' it doesn't come back. They would love to sell more film during this current resurgence if they could secue the materials to make it.

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

Future readers, there was a pandemic during this time that effected the supply chain, however it didn't effect the cost of manufacturing film which despite during this time by those who shoot film that such is on the supposed rise/come back, still isn't enough to support the business. Film will continue to be relegated to a niche market that no major manufacture will support long-term as chemical cost and environmental concerns increase

Graeme Lever-Naylor's picture

Perhaps a little pessimistic. We compare current prices of film to what we remember years ago and forget about inflation and the fact that film manufacturing has had to reinvent itself after the digital revolution which incidentally seems to be imploding. I have no trouble getting film stocks and can get c41 processed and scanned within 3 days. B&W was a problem so I develop and scan myself and that is half the fun. Now that i can buy a cheap Sous Vide for temperature control i am going to do my own c41 processing. I agree that the challenge is the availability of serious new film cameras. Hoping that one day a significant manufacturer will dust off the old plans and tooling and produce a few new cameras - not just the semi-toy things that seem to be around (ignoring Leica of course but that is pie in the sky for most of us).

Dave Haynie's picture

Despite a rise in some used film camera prices, there are still far too many used film cameras available, too cheap, and in too low demand to make any new production profitable. Unless you're Leica or Lomo, apparently. I mean, I can easily find a Nikon F5 for well under $500 in excelkent condition. A new F6 ran over $2500 back before it was discontined. Better camera? Sure. 5x better? Not so sure about that.

Harry Joseph's picture

Unfortunately manufacturers are under the spell of The Demand & Supply myth which states that prices go up when demand goes up. Bottom line is prices go up when someone decides that they should go up. Motivated by what,who knows maybe greed ?

JEREMY MOORE's picture

Supply is low because demand is low. But expenses go up as volume decreases. These prices make a ton of sense. There are camera stores that won't sell a single roll of film on some days. The demand is just that low. And floor space is at a premium. Then there's manufacturing.... you can't afford to have a low margin on products you're barely selling

Steven D's picture

The tone in which this is written and the circular reasoning makes me believe that this was made to create controversy and an "uproar" (as much as one could with film photography). So essentially, a modern article.

Booooooooooo

Ed Knuff's picture

James, take a deep breath...

Dave Palmer's picture

I'm thinking the author should have studied a little economics to go along with that math.

James Werner's picture

If loading canisters to yield 39 frames with Ecktachrome 400 Pro bulk rolls, developing slides, using tri-X to make b&w slides(used to get audible reactions during slide presentations years ago), bracketing shots, and tossing half to two thirds of frames makes me a photophile, I stand as accused. Although I would liken positive transparencies to vinyl LPs, I don't have to think about frame cost or juggle chemicals. The instant availability, incredible editing software, mind boggling storage and portability, and now-exceptionally good phone cameras have drawn me to the dark side. I'm digitizing the more than 10,000 frames I have sorted out, gave all my Canon and Rolliflex 35mm/medium format gear to my niece, whose photography professor insisted her students learn on"real" cameras (I love her already) and am discarding the slides as I go. They are so easy to index, tag, and find that, after cringing while tossing the first few batches, I saw a huge dent in the wall of slide carousel shelves and breathed easy. They are backed up on my Dropbox and I never again have to worry about losing them to fire, theft, or failure to return loaned images. The Film is dead. Long live the film.

charles hoffman's picture

Film is dead

Just make believe it's a coal power plant

Timothy Roper's picture

But just remember, electric cars were dead once, too (around the year 1908). And now, they're back! Big time!! You never really know when a technology is actually dead.

Lee Keene's picture

I'm using 1953 Rolleicord III and Bronica S2 for medium format. I purchase film from California company, some mfr film, some re spooled, and I sell film on Craigslist in Denver Colorado with small bump up from my costs.
Film is a thinking person's medium, digital less so.
Both are VIABLE and needed.
Tested iso 100 16x16 vs 12megs at iso 10016x20 prints, tripod mounted, std lenses, no filters, no hoods. In my opinion, film slightly better.
Much more time consuming; however, I enjoy the cerebral thought to film.

Dermot McDermot's picture

One reason that film is unlikely to die is that it's a really solid archival material unlike digital. Many high value movies are archived to 3 colour B&W.

I've been using the lockdown to scan and rescan many old images. On the whole, the film kept in neg sleeves is as good as the day it was shot. The transparencies which were mounted are often faded and mildewed. Most of the trannies and negs have sat in boxes in cupboards for well over 30 years. Beside them are dozens of hard drives, some of which still start up, in larger and larger capacities as larger libraries are backed up and backed up. I can tell you it's a heap easier to preserve film than digital.

I spent most of my working life shooting 35mm movie film. In the later years, this was transferred to tape of one format or another, starting with 2". Little or none of this work exists any more (which may be a good thing) because videotape is about the least permanent medium yet invented.

What troubles me though is that when my wife and I shoot pictures with a 50 year old Rollei, the images not only look really old but are of really old people. At least the trannies from 40 years ago are of young people!

Dee J's picture

Hi Dermot, just a heads up you might want to use a different nickname for your transparency film, since the term you're using here is generally considered derogatory to certain groups of people. Best regards.

Gary Bowen's picture

What a great article. I still have two bulk loaders with HP5 and TMax in them, and have several propaks of HP5 120 so haven't looked at film prices in ages. When I saw the price of Provia,100 which used to be my go-to, I almost choked.

Zlato Pramen's picture

135 sucked, 120 was clumbsy and just ok, sheet film was a fuzz but the way to go. I really can´t complain about the technology going the way it does... A Q2 for example lightyears ahead of a Mamiya 7 at the same price but slimmer.

Still, silver based pictures has a superior feel and look at grayscaling and contrast, but for me it takes to much time right now.

Dee J's picture

Yes, my shooting habits have changed, now instead of shooting my favorite medium format Velvia 100 film I sit on my Velvia hoard like a dragon with a mountain of gold, afraid to waste a roll. I have also started shooting a lot of Kodak Gold simply because it's cheap, along with Kentmere. I made a foray into Arista film which B&H sells but was profoundly disappointed so I went back to Kentmere

Dan Elmore's picture

This article is very slanted. Look at anything for sale today and you could make a similar argument... it's called a recession for a reason.. are the auto makers trying to kill cars by rising gas prices?

JEREMY MOORE's picture

Wanting the film to be cheaper(and it happening) would only result in lower quality. They're barely selling any as is. It needs to be worthwhile to keep the tooling and not do something else with the factories producing film.

Joe Jack's picture

It's always funny when people say the price of film cameras is skyrocketing, when they're all after the same 6 cameras. There are plenty of excellent, often even better, cameras that no one cares about. Many are dirt cheap. As for film, raw materials are scarce these days and it's true for a lot of things like timber or steel, and other commodities. More and more people are shooting film globally and new emulsions are still being released. Soon or later, it may very well become profitable to release a film camera, whether it's a re-edited old design or a brand new model.

Timothy Roper's picture

"There are plenty of excellent, often even better, cameras that no one cares about."

I'd put Canon EOS film bodies at the top of that last. Plentiful and often under $100 on Ebay, and you can use any current EF lenses you may already have on them. But, for most it's not cool or retro or whatever enough, and they'll continue to shop for something a lot more expensive.

Jon Winkleman's picture

The sky is not falling. Technology is changing. Who is shooting analogue and digital has changed and what they shoot with has evolved as well. The disappearance of point and shoots which used to account for the majority of all camera sales in no way means photography is dying. Hasselblad and Mamiya medium format cameras along with large format Sinars were designed for high end professionals. If they still manufactured those analogue cameras today they would be priced beyond what hobbyists will spend for film cameras. Same with large format. New large format cameras are made by companies like Chamonix. However they are not the technical machines designed for professional product photography of the past.

The market for film is still strong and not going anywhere. However with low end and commercial photographers now shooting digital, the scale of film manufacturing has greatly changed and with it the cost of making film. Now that we have grown past the initial digital revolution analogue film and even Instant film is having a revival amongst serious amateurs and artists. There is money to be made by manufacturing film. However it will no longer be as cheap as it was when it was the only photographic medium. Just as the manufacture of Polaroid film shifted from a giant corporation to being produced by a smaller nice company, we may see the same with Kodak and Fuji. Kodak is not the behemoth it once was, but they still make money from film today.

gaius guido-guidi's picture

its cost me $5 -8 per roll for ilford film 120 format ... that's 50c a shot and another 2 bucks to process a roll .. yes its like eating lobsters, steak, and caviar and downing a bottle of bolli every night for dinner ... o no wait it is its less than $1 a dollar an image .. yes you right Shockly expensive I wonder much I can get for my liver to continue shooting film.. o wait its less than $1 buck a shot .. must instead go out and spend $10,000 on the latest digital kit and cards to take a photograph..

Chris Wilcockson's picture

I found the article an interesting summary of where we are now in the film photography world.

I think comments about the price of vintage cameras is accurate but is driven by a lack of supply in the analogue world. The market is also fuelled by the growth in You Tube reviews that lead people, me included, to invest in certain gear! Film prices are high and I think this is mostly because of the cost of chemicals that has presumably made the manufacturing, hence sales, cost prohibitive. I think Fuji cited this as a reason for discontinuing there 400H pro film.

I suspect the world of serious analogue photographers is still relatively small and therefore make economies of scale hard for Nikon, Canon etc to find.

I am learning (ie making errors!) the 4x5 world and am only buying cheaper, but still excellent, film like Fomapan at €1.00 approx per sheet. It will be a while before I start on colour at €8 approx per sheet!