Whether You Like It or Not, Film Is Having a Resurgence

The world of analog photography went through a dry spell for a while but has been making a strong comeback in recent years. 

This video is one of the more recent productions put together by NBC Left Field. It features 3 heavy hitters in the YouTube film photography world: Matt Day, Nick Carver, and Willem Verbeek. In addition, it also features an interview with Ed Hurley of Eastman Kodak Company talking about their recent uptick in film production. In particular, he states that they have manufactured and sold more than twice the amount of film in 2019 than they did 5 years earlier in 2014. With their current expansion in production, it’ll be exciting to see which films they will decide to resurrect or what films to create that’s not previously been part of their lineup.

If you’re familiar with my articles here on Fstoppers, you know I’m a big believer in film. I’ve written about it enough to know that many digital shooters are sick of hearing about it. If you’re one of those people, I’m not sorry. This medium isn’t going anywhere any time soon – perhaps you should shoot through a couple rolls and see what it’s about. Additionally, I’ve written about it enough to know that the film photography community is made up of a lot of good, supportive people. If you have no experience with shooting film but have considered getting into it, there’s no time like the present. Ask anyone you can find that currently shoots film. I’m sure they’ll be happy to help.

Do you have any experience with film photography or any other part of the analog process? Do you have any advice for those that haven’t?

James Madison's picture

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. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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I started assisting back in ‘94 and probably loaded nearly 10K rolls of 120 film before digital went mainstream. Yes, it is a beautiful medium but today’s clients want images fast and ready to use. I doubt that my clients want to wait on Polaroids, not being able to see the images as we shoot, waiting on clip tests from the lab, running the balance, reviewing on a light board and then scans.

Most of us who shoot film today don't have clients.

HAHAHAH ............true
But i dont shoot film and i still dont have clients

I think that's the part that always confused me—in today's industry, how is and how can film be used as a selling point for photography business? There seems to be no visible benefit to the client, so wouldn't shooting film be like shooting yourself in the foot if you're trying to actually get paid for your work?

Basia, it's always been the photographer not the equipment that produces good to great images and as far the client is concerned............they and they alone determine what is beneficial to them. If they want their images captured on film are you going to say no?.........again, most of the film shooters of today are hobbyist and don't solicit "clients".

Yeah no I'm not arguing that, but it can't possibly be that in demand. I have seen some photography businesses who advertise that they exclusively shoot film, and like... Even trying to put myself in the client's shoes, I have a hard time imagining went that would be a good thing. The fact that most film shooters are hobbyists kind of reinforces my point; it is inefficient in every way compared to digital, and the market reflects that (much like people who play tabletop games for fun vs those who play competitively).

I'm sorry, the demand is being brought about enthusiast not the "Pro" photographer's.......you keep referring to the client. I, the author and the video make no reference to anyone wanting to make a living at being a professional photographer. The three dudes mentioned in the video are YouTubers. They make their living making videos..............you like to shoot digital, I get that, but don't denigrate a medium because of it. If film wasn't making a comeback........companies like Kodak, Fuji and others bringing back film they stopped selling years earlier. New films are being produced and sold as well. Nikon, Leica and others are now adding new film cameras to their list of cameras, at prices from $2600 to $6500, because of the demand is there.

The spirit of your comment is certainly in the right spot but Nikon and Leica re not "adding new film cameras to their list of cameras" sadly. Nikon's FM10 was halted a few years ago, but they weren't actually building it anyway. It was being outsourced by Cosina, who, cut down their entire line of Voigtlander and Zeiss rangefinders in recent years. Nikon still offers the F6 new which I did a Petapixel article about just a little while ago. Leica discontinued the M7 a few years ago but still offers the MP and M-A. The M-A was just released a few years ago as well but is merely an MP without a meter. New film cameras from reputable manufacturers would be a great next step during this film renaissance though! Unfortunately, the cost to build mechanical cameras of high quality is increasing all the time so most film photogs prefer vintage ones.

I was just chatting with someone about this the other day. I honestly doubt that Nikon will start producing another film camera aside from the F6 and I don't think Canon will ever get back in the game. Perhaps I'm wrong but I doubt very seriously they have any interest in investing the R&D. C'est la vie.

I got this bit of misinformation from googling early this morning in response to Basia's response. I didn't have time to fully read nor do I know of the author. I still don't have time but here's the link .........https://www.photoworkout.com/best-film-cameras/
I skimmed over the article and assumed (incorrectly) that what was I assuming {sic] was correct as I am not a user of the cameras(Canon user and I know they haven't issued any new film cameras since early 2000's............

That article is in agreement with what Johnny said above. The only new film camera's they list are the Nikon F6, Leica M-A, and a couple Lomography cameras. Then they proceed to list cameras
that can be found used.

There are plenty of professional photographers who shoot film exclusively or in part. I find that they are often just not vocal on forums that are mostly dominated by folks trying to learn. Dave Burnett is a great example who has recently been in the spotlight shooting large format film at the impeachment hearings, alongside Sony digital.

Good thing we all don't have the same impatient clients ;)

It may be making a comeback but the price is going up like crazy! the cost of Kodak portra film in the UK is £35 for 5 rolls of 120. I can buy a 64gb memory card and throw it away after each use and it still makes more sense...

The Law of Supply and Demand at work. It's unfortunate but I'd rather pay a little more for the security of it being around more and companies expanding their lineup.

Comparing film to memory cards is illogical. Images are merely copied onto a memory card. With film, images are imprinted directly to it from the vary light the struck your subject. It's fine if you don't value this critical difference but your example doesn't actually prove anything.

It's that very fact that I find film photography to be so beautiful. It was once described to me as the light that touches your subject also touches the film. For the last few years I've taken photos of my friends and their families with B&W film so I could make wet prints for them and give them the negatives. There's something so beautiful about the process that a print from my phone or a7 seem artificial in comparison.

I guess it depends on what one thinks "comeback" means.

There are more horse owners in the US today than there have ever been in US history. Horse ownership is not "going away any time soon." That doesn't mean the horse is going to regain its position as the primary transportation for the average American.

Film will continue to occupy its niche for the foreseeable future, just like horse riding, vinyl disk, and tube amplifiers.

Nobody is denying your fun with that.

Is it true that there are more horse owners in the US today than ever in history? I know next to nothing about horses. haha

Transportation's not a very good analogy. It's more like how painting as an art form has retained its niche, despite the fact that more people use Adobe Illustrator, etc. Film's a distinct creative medium, like so many other mediums. Your average, generic person won't be using it like they used to, that's for sure. But so what?

I'm not so sure it's all so distinctive. The final image from film is is certainly not as distinctively different from digital as painting is from either digital or film. And most film users go digital for final output anyway. The subtle qualitative differences can be duplicated in print and then argued endlessly in any double-blind test.

"The final image from film is is certainly not as distinctively different from digital as painting is from either digital or film."

That is all relative. Some film images are obviously film and look nothing like digital. Some digital images are obviously digital and look nothing like film. Same can be said for different painting techniques.

And this comment about duplication is a poor and tired one. What is the value of art and visual communication that deliberately deceives its audience? There is, in most cases, less value in forgeries than authentic objects. Does a consumer care if an advertising image mimics the look of film vs was actually shot on film? Probably they are still going to be influenced by the image regardless and so the advertiser will simply choose what is cheaper but equally effective. But when hiring a photographer for non-commercial work, many people care about the backstory of how their image was crafted and of them, many appreciated handcrafted images over those made with computers. The most expensive fine art photography sales, for example, come from analog shooters doing rare/exotic hand printing techniques.

Digital photography is simply not the panacea that people make it out to be.

"That is all relative. Some film images are obviously film and look nothing like digital. Some digital images are obviously digital and look nothing like film. Same can be said for different painting techniques."

However you are missing the key comparison, that sometimes you cannot tell which of the two medium was used.

My main problem with film is a different one to most. The films/developers I loved using are mostly gone. Easiest way to get same look is ironically using digital capture.

I think horses the wrong analogy. Let's use something that's inherently economic:

There are also more blacksmiths than in any point in history. Yes, they won't be taking over from 3d printing, CNC, or any modern technology, but they also exist as a profitable career choice with an appeal to consumers who are looking for a certain kind of "authenticity."

I can charge more for a portrait session doing contract printing on 8x10 or 11x14 than I can for digital because of its uniqueness. There is customer interest in analog today. A good business person with the skills should definitely consider leveraging that interest.

On the other hand, if vinyl is the definition of a "comeback" then that's a pretty good kind of comeback.

This is one of those grab attention headline.
No, film is not making its comeback.

I was taught that a headline is supposed to grab someones attention so it's good to hear it did.

So says someone who is not producing content for thousands of people to consume.

I enjoyed this video. It's kinda nice that younger photographers are rediscovering film use. I can't see using it for any commercial applications though.

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the video. I think the people at NBC did a great job with it. I cannot speak to widespread commercial use but I cannot help but believe it's used in a limited capacity.

Many wedding, fine art and even some photojournalists never stopped using film. I believe that people see this work and tend to assume it was digital but effect filters were simply used.

I agree, there's not much place for film in B2B work. When I do promotional images for local businesses, I shoot digital when they want a contemporary look. But when shooting weddings, family portraits and local events, I shoot on b&w hand processed 35mm and that's how I make a living.

I'm old enough; I shot film in the 70s and 80s although I had little understanding of what I was doing. And that was really the problem: too hard to learn because of the expense and delay of processing. So is that different today? What's the turnaround time and the cost?

The delayed feedback is most certainly a deterrent for many people. However, most of the film photographers I know have plenty of experience with digital cameras as well including myself. So, that end, there's an added layer of comfort in shooting film when you have a decent to good understanding of the exposure triangle.

As for turnaround time and cost, it depends what you're shooting. Ilford and Kodak still make loads of affordable B&W film as do many other companies. The processing chemicals are fairly inexpensive and readily available online and at many camera stores. As for C-41, in Charleston, SC where I used to live there were two places that could process and scan usually by the following day. Here in Columbus, OH there are a few places that can do it. The place I use primarily can usually get them back in an hour or two. As for E-6, I'm still trying to sort that out. But that film is typically expensive enough that I don't shoot through it much anyhow.

E-6 is for photographers who are shooting in controlled conditions and know what they’re doing. There is so much latitude with C-41 that it’s easier to learn shooting and wedding photographers used it because of their ever changing conditions. I have owned the same Minolta Flashmeter IV for twenty five years and it’s essential if you shooting E-6. Take that RZPROII and shoot a roll of E-6 through it, review on a light board and feel the nostalgia return.

I cannot understand the facination with film. I ran the darkroom in our high school, souped tons of Tri-X and E-6 and printed boxes of prints on Ilford paper. But then again, I cannot understand the "resurgence" of LP records either!

Very much the same for me. I have zero fascination with film. Been there, done that.

The gentleman that ran the photo printing shop where I used to live had much of the same mentality. Even though he complained to me every time I dropped off film, I kept going back and now I know of over a dozen people regularly taking him film. Whether he, you, or me understand it or not, it's happening.

Then again, a few years ago bell-bottom jeans were "coming back" too... but alas. Film may be a long-term niche medium in the art world, but I'm pretty sure we won't be seeing one-hour photomats popping up anytime soon.

It's all about 'art' photography - film is a 'medium', darkroom prints even more so. That's not every photographer's thing, but it does appeal to me.

Good thing that we all do things differently! I was shooting digital in the 90's when images were saved to floppy disc and Fuji Finepix DSLR's had the Nikon F mount. But I have zero interest in digital. I use it dispassionately out of general pragmatics. I don't want my photography to be about what is cheap and practical. And for me, I've never hooked with digital for reasons beyond this. But that's just me and we all are part of a diverse photographic world.

That's great, but I'm still going to shoot digital. I shot plenty of film, starting in the 1970's. I made prints in my own darkroom for many years. Did not like film then, and still don't like it now.

Everyone's tastes are different. It'd be foolish of me to expect everyone to like it. I like it though and will continue to do it.

Film is great for those who like it. I liked it only as a means to get a picture, not as a thing itself. Film was just the carrier, stinky, expensive, fiddly, prone to dust and water stains, requiring frequent replacement, etc., etc. Once a more efficient picture making method came along, I was glad to say bye bye to film.

There must be a lot of hipsters out there. The serendipity and delayed gratification of the medium is fun, and likely a response to the instant nature of digital imaging. If only they would learn how to previsualize...
I, too, managed a university darkroom (both B&W and color) for 17 years until the school decided they needed the space for something else. It was a shameful loss.
But personally, I shoot digital because I have clients.

Though I don't care for the title of "hipster" I suspect the majority of people would argue I am one and I'm okay with that. Perhaps if I had clients, I would use my digital camera more often but alas, my photography is only for my own satisfaction and for that I continue to shoot whatever feels best.

That's a shame to hear about that university shutting down the darkroom...

"There must be a lot of hipsters out there."

Okay, boomer ;)

"But personally, I shoot digital because I have clients."

That's funny, so do I. Sorry you had to give up something you loved for money, like the university. There are ways to maintain film in business if that is your goal. Many people do it.

Its also about the cameras. The old mechanical SLR's and rangefinders from pre-plastic times are a joy to use (until they break hehehe). Call it a mid life crisis but, but I'm loving buying them and using them. Although $300 for a Pentax K1000 is a bit nuts (damn hipsters...)

You paid $300 for a K1000!? That's so much money!

I think you've been ripped off. My local camera store sells them for $125.

"Whether you like it or not..." WTH! Why would anyone care if someone else is using film or not? These kind of leads are why I don't come to Fstoppers as much as I used to.

That's a shame... It was not intended turn anyone away from this article or Fstoppers as a whole. It was merely a thinly veiled jab at the people who will inevitably complain that there's yet another article pertaining to film.

If you're curious to know whether people care if someone else shoots film or not, I invite you to read over the comments sections of other articles on film. There are plenty.

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