Whether you’re a film photographer who also shoots digital or a film photographer exclusively, a life after film is on my mind and should be on yours as well.
For those that are not familiar with me or my writings, I am a film photographer who has, admittedly, been a bit of a digital camera bigot for a few years. Like many of my film photographer counterparts, I would regularly heap praise onto film. Indeed, I have written several articles about film in my tenure at Fstoppers and will continue to do so as long as I’m shooting film. In this article, I’m going to outline why I’m planning to continue transitioning more and more back to digital.
To Be Clear
Before I begin, please note that I am planning my transition out what I believe to be a necessity – not by choice. I really love film and I would like to see it stick around throughout the rest of my life. This is in no way an article to bash film photography. In addition, I hope that for some of the readers, this article calls attention to serious problems facing the film world — problems that, if not addressed, may well actually bring down film for good as opposed to the rut that film photography was in between the takeover of digital photography and the resurgence in popularity of film.
If you think the world of film photography is looking good, you’re looking through a one-way mirror. On one side of the mirror, we have cameras, and on the other, we have film. When you're standing on the camera side, looking through to the film side, things are looking pretty rosy. Standing on the film side, however, you're looking at a reflection. The state of film is looking pretty poor, and it's hard to get away from.
As you may recall from an article recapping 2019, film (the actual product) was having a great year. A total of 10 new films were released in 35mm format with even more film stocks newly available when considering 120 and large format. Kodak increased its prices to a noticeable degree for the sake of generating revenue to reinvest in more production. That sounds great, right? Right. Personally, I don’t mind paying a little more per roll of film if it means that the manufacturers of film are better able to come out with new film stocks. The small sacrifices each photographer makes by paying just a little more amount to great strides in the world of film stock production.
In reference to the same article mentioned above, there was a bit of a downside to the increased interest in film photography. At one point, towards the end of last year and the beginning of this year, Kodak and other film manufacturers were having a tough time keeping up with production. Indeed, many shelves were empty. If you could find just about any color negative film, you were doing quite well. The other and more serious downside and the other side to this one-way mirror is the film cameras. Also noted in the article, the price of cameras has been going up and up to a point that I, for one, am truly shocked. If you’re looking to feel sore about the price of the film camera you’ve had your eye one, look up reviews from a couple of years ago where the price was mentioned, and you will likely find that they were going for a substantial amount less than they are now.
What Happened to Me?
What happened in my life to get me to start shifting gears and reintroducing my digital camera back into my camera bag? The Mamiya RB67 is what happened to me. The Mamiya RB67 was the very first medium format camera I ever had and used. While it took me a little while to love it given its monstrous size and weight, over the past couple of years, I have really grown to love it and have no intention of ever getting rid of it. In fact, I love it so much that for the past couple of years, it’s been one of my go-to suggestions for people looking to get into medium format film. Why not, right? It’s relatively inexpensive, it is insanely sharp, it has interchangeable backs, it’s modular (so it can be customized however you like), and above all, it produces an absolutely wonder 6x7 format negative.
If what you’ve heard so far is only that I really love that camera, you’ve been paying attention. I love this camera so much that I want to continue using it for as long as I am able to photograph the world. A few months ago, I found that the one 6x7 back I have was starting to act up a bit, operating as intended up until the end of the roll, when it started feeling like it was grinding a bit. Worse yet, every time I went to open the back, either the roll was not all the way wound up or had caught on the bushings. Then, it seemed like just about every roll started to have light leaks on a good portion of the photos. I would have just bought another back for it, but that brings me to my main gripe and what ultimately drove me away from using the RB67. That is the sharp increase in prices for all things related to the Mamiya RB67.
In late 2019, one of my best friends managed to pick up an entire RB67 kit from Midwest Photo, my local camera shop, for right around $350 shipped (to SC) and with both the prism and waist-level finder. That is a significant amount less than you would expect to pay now (less than a year later)! Further, around that same time, I distinctly remember wanting a waist-level finder for my RB, and at any given time, multiple copies were available for around $50 each. Fast-forward to earlier this year, and you couldn’t find one for less than $100-$125. Circling back around to buying a spare back for the RB, I used to see them regularly for $75 or less, but now, you can’t even get close to that.
A Symptom of a Larger Problem
As you may recall from one of my old articles, film photography is headed for trouble, and it doesn’t really seem like things will turn around. Though I’m not completely convinced, there is speculation that Nikon has discontinued manufacturing the F6. This camera was already exorbitantly expensive, but it was the last serious film SLR still being made new. If this camera was discontinued, it would certainly be a sign that in the long-term, film cameras (not film) will be the bottleneck for people that would like to get into film. With costs of working cameras going up and up and the stock of functioning film cameras dwindling, people are starting to be priced out for even decent gear. Personally, I really hope that new and affordable cameras start being manufactured, but I’m not holding my breath. Instead, I'm more and more coming to terms with it and preparing myself for life after film photography.