Given the growing interest in film photography, should Canon and Nikon consider making brand new versions of the AE1 or FM2 for today’s retro enthusiasts?
Both Canon and Nikon have rich histories, and given that analog photography is enjoying increasing levels of interest, could now be a good time to update one of their classic designs, while throwing in a few refinements along the way?
Out of the two, Nikon would perhaps be better suited to such a move. The company's recent decision to embrace a retro design for the mooted Zfc suggests that it is keen to tap into the affection that customers hold for its older cameras as a means of building brand loyalty. As a high-end body, the Df might not have sold in the numbers that Nikon hoped, but an affordable APS-C body with chunky dials that throws buyers back to the 1970s and 80s could be an inspired move from its marketing department that needs to carve a Nikon niche into today’s offerings.
Interest in Film Is Growing
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, since the digital revolution, shooting on film is now more popular than ever. There are countless YouTube channels run by hardened film aficionados who shoot everything from 110 through to 8x10, and last week, Destin Sandlin of SmarterEveryDay reminded his ten million subscribers that these chemical processes are fun and have a touch of magic to them. In an era when a Sony a1 can produce more images in an afternoon than Cartier-Bresson shot in his entire lifetime, there’s something about film, its physicality, and its slower processes that make the experience feel more authentic than digital. In the world of marketing, that sense of authenticity carries a lot of weight.
Certainly, the media would have you think that prices of secondhand cameras are increasing and that film processing labs are busier than ever, but what is the reality? The Darkroom, a California lab that’s been operating since 1976, has definitely seen growth in recent years. “Our staff numbers have doubled from a couple of years ago and we expanded our lab to keep up with the volume,” Trev Lee, chief photographer for the Darkroom told me, adding that interest on social media continues to gather pace. “Yes, interest in film is definitely growing.”
Once seen to be sounding its death knell, the digital era has made shooting on film far easier. Scanning at home can take advantage of your existing camera, and labs now bundle scanning in with their developing services. Once you’ve sent off your roll of film, you have the option to never see it again; instead, you received a cloud storage link giving you a batch of beautifully scanned files at high resolution, all free from dust and scratches. Your archive of film no longer demands the same commitment of time and resources, and those digital files don’t grow mold, either.
With that in mind, would retro-loving customers like to see a manufacturer such as Canon or Nikon update one of its classic cameras or would that remove all of the fun of digging through eBay and sifting through thrift stores before landing yourself something that may or may not work?
Leica Leading the Way?
Leica seems to believe in the potential of analog, with a new film camera due to be announced sometime in the next four or five months. According to Leica Rumors, an M film rangefinder that’s similar to the M6 TTL is on its way, and hopefully, without such a hefty price tag given that they currently sell for three or four grand secondhand.Leica makes an interesting comparison as this is not a company that produces cameras for the mass market. Instead, these are niche offerings, often with limited runs geared towards a very small market of enthusiasts who genuinely love the brand and the unique experience of shooting on a Leica camera. Many might sniff, but the appreciation exists, and I’ll spare you the analogies of Biros and fountain pens. They’re nice, they’re expensive, people like them, and they pay good money for them (which, of course, makes them particularly susceptible to mockery).
Would it be worth Nikon doing something similar? The brand affection certainly exists, as does the growing number of people shooting film alongside an increased appreciation for an aesthetic that makes you feel like Gordon Parks, Don McCullin, or Steve McCurry. For me, such a camera would have to be mechanical (or nearly) and lean heavily towards the stylings of the FM2 or perhaps the Giugiaro-designed F3 and its iconic red stripe. This would necessitate a die-cast alloy chassis and, inevitably, here’s where we run into problems.
The cameras of the 1970s and 80s were built like tanks, and there’s no shortage of gear available on the secondhand market. A film camera would already have a very limited appeal, and the cost of machining a device that has 21st-century precision and perhaps one or two other refinements would make such a camera expensive, and as a limited-run item with value as a collector’s item, we’re now heading towards Leica territory.
With the camera industry struggling with a decline in sales that has since been compounded by the global pandemic, not many companies — least of all Nikon — are in a position to take a punt on a niche hobby. That said, maybe Canon could look to crowdfund such a project and perhaps make more of a success of a revamped AE-1 than it made of the disastrous and quickly-forgotten IVY REC, a camera whose design team seemed to forget that teenagers have smartphones.
In Short? No, Don't Be Silly
So sadly, the answer to the question of whether Canon and Nikon should make a new film camera is almost certainly no. As much as this camera would be a fantastic exercise in further endearing a brand to its existing fans and perhaps acquiring a few new ones along the way, it's hard to imagine how it could be financially viable, and given the number of film cameras rolling around on eBay, anyone looking to indulge in some analog joy is not struggling for options.
However, it’s fun to speculate what such a camera should be. What would your ideal, newly designed, technologically revamped film camera look and feel like, and do you think that anyone but yourself would buy it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Lead image by G_a_D_o used under CC BY-SA 2.0
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Sadly it will always be no. Getting away from prisms = mirrorless = cheaper and easier to make with less reliance on mechanisms which have reliability and warranty issues as well as longevity issues which are both good and bad. Consumer says good - my camera will last ten years - Manufacturer says bad - we want you to replace it every six months as XX model now has 12 more pixels and an almost indiscernible but nevertheless slightly faster Auto Face Detect than the one you just bought.
There's a massive used market for people looking to do film pictures, so I doubt any manufacturer would get into the business and sustain unless the manufacturer has a cult status and people are willing to throw insane money at their overpriced cameras.
It would be nice if both companies offered a film camera again. The benefit would extend to warranty and out of warranty service on a new film camera. Which is something that does not currently exist unless you buy a Leica.
I don't think companies can't do something like that, that sounds more like a luxury.
The market is not what use to be and to keep business they need investor's, so companies need to focus on projecting themselves as Future sellers and not only seller's the visionaries with the tech of Future. So waisting resourses from investors on old tech will retract investors away and let face it camera industry thanks to smartphones are in deep war, so cameras companies are not only competes with cameras companies also with smartphone camera tech, Sony is not only about their cameras are also about their smartphones canera sensors they use one to boost the other's but Samsung is pushing they to the limits with smartphone camera sensor.
So a hardly 5 % and that's a big number of people's interest on film, will not make them lost resourses on a dead market, bcuz that's how is percieve by companies and investors. They even stop DSLR and focus mirrorless, on past they could extend the time they produced some old tech but not today's. Today's is a luxury none of this companies can do.
Canon could re-do the EOS3 with improved eye control focus. Would be a good one to own. They already have all the lenses needed.
it would be cool if nikon or canon made a small lineup of quality film cameras compatible with F-Mount or ef/efs mount lenses you could buy new but i don't think they would sell enough of them to justify the investment.
One of the appeals of film photography is the low cost of many secondhand film cameras and lenses. In order for new film cameras to be profitable, what sort of price would they need to be? Honestly I can’t see new film cameras being all that appealing. Let’s not forget the continual cost of buying and processing film is expensive.
Absolutely they should. The analog photography is growing and companies have a opportunity to cash in on this. There are increasing number of films available, KODAK is reintroducing films they had stopped making. There is a real market, and looking at it as a business opportunity I firmly believe that there is a real future in film photography.
Oh, and by the way, film photography is real photography not image manipulation that digital is. The vast majority of digital images are manipulated on photoshop or some such software.
Many film photographers manipulated their images. Whether it was dodge and burn, cropping, adding fake shadows (like photographer Fan Ho) and painting over portraits/model shots destined for magazines (the film equivalent to Photoshop), manipulation was always a big part of film photography. To try to claim film is somehow real photography is a really old argument and has been debunked already. Also, people can take digital images without going near a computer for any pp manipulation.
If a company were to do this, I would like to see it done with a slightly more modern midrange body. Almost like a Canon Elan 7, just updated and a decent step up.
I highly doubt any major brand would offer a new film camera. It would not fit their business plan. They would not make money on new lenses because people would just use their own older lenses. Also, the fact that it's "dead technology", makes it very attractive/nostalgic to pick up old cameras.
I am all for the film revival, I enjoy working with all different film sizes and the increase in expertise and availability of film repair shops is a huge plus.
One thing in this revival does keep bugging me and that's the lowering of standards, by photographers and the audience/fans. Basically, I see to many people sharing or praising images that are mediocre at best, pretending they are rare or genius, only because it was taken with a film camera. I don't understand, photography is always about the end result, not the tool or even the film. I have seen too many Pentax 6x7 images of old trash cans or gas stations, being called epic or genius.
A huge part of the film revival is a big bubble based on social media, YouTube and people jumping in on the trending camera gear. Fingers crossed that group gets smaller compared to true enthusiasts.
From a business angle, they could come out with a limited edition one (cost/profit dependent) with the realization that they probably should plan that once that limited market is filled, the sales will very likely drop fast.
What happened to all those film processing cancer causing chemicals over all those years? Where and how did so many dispose of these chemicals and where are they today?
They probably ended up in the same place all the cancer causing chemicals in batteries end up today.
I'm fairly positive Nikon had the F6 in production until late last year (2020).
I think there should be enough cameras and lenses in vintage camera shops, ebay, and your grandpa's attic to satisfy those urges of the Gen XYZ-double-U-LOL
not to mention, shoeboxes, tape, aluminum foil etc etc.
I don't understand going with a DX sensor for the DFc. After all, I don't recall Nikon producing a 126 film body. So where is the retro-legacy nod coming from?
Just sold my Sony A77II which had a pellicle mirror. I could imagine the body using film behind the lens but the pellicle image generating a digital file along with feeding a digital viewfinder. With the digital viewfinder, exposure on the film would always be exactly what you saw.
Nikon just discontinued their last film camera, the F6, in 2020. No need to go back. There's plenty on the used market
There are so many used bodies on ebay in almost new condition for crazy cheap prices I think we are good for a while. If you want high tech shoot digital. If you want a little nostalgia pick up a used film camera.
Maybe it's the challenge of shooting film. Or, perhaps emulating the experience or making a connection to the past masters is of importance. None of that matters of course if you're using film and not processing it yourself. Unless you're just trying to master exposure without the benefit of a histogram. Or, perhaps it's just your thing and you don't need a reason. You just want to do it!
But, as a man who grew up photographing and processing his own work since the early 60's, I'm a bit puzzled. And it's not just "been there done that".
I see photography in this digital age as a continuum. It's a natural extension of what we did in the field and in the darkroom. Maybe it's trying to get the "realm" of pre-digital experience that attracts people to film. "Grounding", you might say. Some say it's "the look". But, I get "the look" of my paper stocks that I used years ago down pretty well digitally. And, while I love the old look of my past work, the new image styles are exciting because they're...well, they're new!
If film is "your thing", well that's great for whatever reason. Once upon a time it was my thing too. There are things that I fear many photographers miss while finding their style that may be as or more productive than things attributable to medium. It wasn't "just" film that made the photographs from "the day" so inspiring. Photographers hand metered their shots and used the metered information to make creative decisions as to how the shot would look (not just the "right" exposure). This is as relevant today as then since the "vision" is made while emotionally and physically present in the field rather than at a computer choosing between 7 images from burst shooting. They scoured their shot locations before setting up to take an image. They were methodical...they analyzed their scenes and walked away when the light wasn't "right". Only to return months later at the time that their knowledge of how light moves on Earth told them that the photons would be in alignment with what they wanted to say about their subject. They showed up early to a shoot with a thermos of coffee in the morning or perhaps some wine in the evening. They were relaxed about their work and took their time. They used big tripods, lens hoods, filters, shutter releases, patience and persistence. They used technique that bonded them to their work.
And, when trying to get something special photographically, this old timer thinks that good technique that bonds you to your work is more important than medium.
(The sound of a creaky old man carefully getting off of his soapbox)
Even before digital, during 135 format's reign, many had the same reasons for sticking with or going back to large format. 135 was, basically, the digital of its era. Cheap and "idiot proof" when used in cameras that did all the thinking for you. Perfect for snapshots. So yes, it's one big continuum.
Depends how much of the current film photography boost is a "hype" or if it's here to stay.
Obviously there are people that kept using film while most went digital, but film has increased in popularity again.
Honestly, it would be interesting, also because it would (maybe) make film more affordable if it becomes more available. 35mm and medium format film is pricey. So is polaroid and instax film.
I personally did buy some old polaroid camera's of eBay, to restore a bit, use for a bit of fun. Or have as display pieces in the office. And also a "Mint TL70" (an Instax-TLR, Great fun) but it will never replace my digital setup. I wouldn't mind a cool Hasselblad 500 for sure, but damn the prices of those these days.. (Stupid hype!)
Either way, I think a part of the "charm" of film, is also the manual and difficult aspect to it.
The whole point of it being that it's not "point and shoot". It takes time, dedication, choosing the right film, setup, waving around a light meter maybe, everything.
That "charm" comes with older camera's like a hasselblad 500 or TLR camera's. So the second hand market for those types of film camera's is very good, and I'm not so sure about the "new" market. If Nikon or Canon come with a new film camera, I think a lot of that charm could get lost, which might simply not interest the people that would use film.. also because that second hand market is so incredible.. why bother with buying a new camera, when there are SO many "near mint" bodies and lenses available?
Definitely not. Customers interested in a modern take on film cameras would be a small sub group of the niche film camera segment within a shrinking dedicated-cameras market. Too little money to be made there, if any.
35mm sucks. I loved my old Nikon FM. It was simple and it worked. But 35 is grainy and limiting. Digital blows it out of the water. 35mm just for fun… fine.
Now… 2 1/4? 4x5? If you have the equipment, time, money, and patience… by all means. But you don’t need a fancy new camera for that. You just need to commit to the craft, if that’s your thing.
What I don’t understand is why people get so bent out of shape when Nikon makes a camera body with an analog control scheme. What’s the problem with that? Some people just miss the feel of their old film cameras. I’m one of them. I shoot with a used Df, I use all my old lenses from when I shot film, and I get great images. But I don’t want to shoot 35 again!
Canon NEVER looks back, they focus every development resource in newest technology.
BTW, Sony and Canon stealth influencers have firmly deluded everyone "Nikon is dying". I would suggest checking financial statements, rather than mindlessly following the cult.
Nikon gave up on film recently with the discontinuing of the F6 and also AI-S lenses, they didn't made much money from that or some reported couldn't find required skilled craftsmen anymore.
Though, the mistake was to discontinue the FM-3A. They would have sold a lot of them and a lot of AI-S lenses with them. The AF F6 doesn't have the same appeal to someone looking to shot film.
Personally, I don't like the FM and FM-2, because the mettering system is crude compared to contemporary SLR's. The last iteration was much better.
Fortunately, one can find a fine second hand film camera with all relevant technologies and features. In the end any body will make the exact same picture, as long as mettering is accurate.
It would be nice to have someone manufacture an compact, reliable inexpensive automated development machine.
Film and slides scanners are already available.
I owned two FM's for over twenty years and never took an over or underexposed photo. The meter was super accurate. Just saying.
Good article Andy. Does it feel like you've opened up Pandora's box?
Thanks! And yes..! 😬
Bring back the Canon A-1 manual focus 35mm film camera, but adapt it for auto focus and EF lenses.
Should ford go back to building cars with crank starters
Or better yet, should they go back even further in time, and go back to building cars with electric motors?
It remains to be proven whether that is a good idea. In any event, crank starters is a better analogy.
I dare say Nikon's decision to discontinue the F6 was driven by their financially desperate situation. It's a shame, because it's an epic camera.
I keep thinking Nikon should bring the S3 back permanently, both in digital and film versions, and price them in competition with Leica - cheaper to differentiate them, but still luxury product, leveraging quality and history. They won't do it, but it would sell.
Ohhh yeah that would sell gangbusters. I'd buy both a film and digital version.
I've considered emailing the suggestion more than once.
It reminds of Nintendo sitting on IP's their fans want but never doing anything with. I mean they would almost certainty be money printers. All the insta people would buy them up just to post pictures of them on social media.