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.
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.
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?