Should Canon and Nikon Start Making Film Cameras Again?

Should Canon and Nikon Start Making Film Cameras Again?

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.

The Nikon F3, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and released in March 1980 with production ending in 2000. Photo by JamesPFisherIII used under CC BY 3.0.

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.

The Leica M6 TTL. Photo by Sodacan used under CC BY 4.0.

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.

Extant Tanks

The Nikon FM2. Photo by mkniebes and used under CC0 1.0.

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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87 Comments
Matt Murray's picture

There's plenty of people who love film cameras who are not Gen Z.

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

That's a pretty bitter statement right there :)

From your photo you seem to be a bit older than myself, and even i know that a lot of us growing up in the early 80ies just stayed with film or just like the medium.

And instead of enjoying a new generation diving in to the medium, you start hating on them?

Come on. Thank them for beeing part of a group that keeps film at a reasonable price.

The more people buy film the better, no matter if they are the friends of your grand children you dont like or if its a pro you looked up to.

Steve Sondheim's picture

"Catering to the temporary trends of Gen Z?" ... pfft. What about those of use that learnt to shoot on film back in college, continue to use it today and wish to continue using it in the future?

Jen Me's picture

Don't understand the agressive behaviors on photographer's, instead of be mature and address things in a way suit their age, they intead chooses the agressive behaviors of a teen dealing with hormones, maybe is the retro teen age or people's that never be teens before are eternal teens now.

Jen Me's picture

But dear Dana, you started!😉

Jen Me's picture

Why insult imaginary people's? is like you have so much fustrations and forcings your fustrations over certain individuals you chose to understimated bcuz in your mind they can't fight back.

Jen Me's picture

Don't saw that video, do you have the link?

Jeremy Strange's picture

Logged in just to downvote you Dana.

Seymour Pampre's picture

please do not feed the trolls, Mr.daBear. Her account seems fake

Seymour Pampre's picture

I stand corrected, truly marvelous photos worthy of a Gen Z Tiktok! Were they inspired by the digital photos of the 1930's? It seems like you are trying to emulate a film look yourself... I bet a thrift shop camera and a roll of TMax could help you achieve that look quicker

Timothy Gasper's picture

Don't play into this childish game Dana. Just let them be and continue your course with steadfast professionalism. Doesn't matter who started what. You're better than this.

Deleted Account's picture

Hey bud

jim hughes's picture

Too funny! Five stars. Some people really need to find a sense of humor - it might help with the photography too. Or did one of those darts really hit a point of pain?

jim hughes's picture

I think you read my reply backwards. Your comment is what's funny. It's the angry repliers that can't laugh.

Adil Alsuhaim's picture

Actually, those Gen Z. are buying iPhones instead because they can easily upload to TikTok. Don't underestimate the value of social networking, people make money from paid content and sponsorships.

Cheaper/cool/toy cameras can be a huge money makers if they manage to market it to the masses.

Ben Bowland's picture

Making a film camera in 2021 would be "catering to the temporary trends of Gen Z"... Yeah right. Re-embracing the medium that was the predominant method of photographic expression for the last century would be a Gen Z trend. Bad business decision? Possibly. Trend? Absolutely not. People have no ability to analyze the reason for the analog resurgence--it's really so simple. For those of us who have grown up with electronics and technology for nearly our entire lives, there is a distinct desire to escape from that and reintegrate ourselves into an experience that is less digital and more physical. But you're probably quite happy forgoing any sort of social analysis in favor of the easily digestible message of "young people bad". I can only hope I won't adopt your attitude once I reach your age.

Gary G's picture

Nice fantasy piece, but it would seem the used market would cannibalize any potential for new product. What is gained from a new film camera that you can't accomplish with a 40 year old piece of operating equipment?

Ed C's picture

Unless they were going to go full on mechanical they would still need other chips and electronics. I don't seen how it would make economic sense compared to full steam ahead on digital. If I wanted to shoot film I would just use one of my old Nikon film cameras anyway. I certainly wouldn't buy a new one.

During a massive effort to simplify and de-clutter I came upon my old bulk film loader and some canisters I used for Tri-x if you know anybody who would like to buy it :-)

Howard Shubs's picture

Buy? No. Take off your hands, maybe.

David Illig's picture

Those who advocate for photographers to stand on the wrong side of history and regress to film may be noisy, but they are few. One might as well argue that we go back to Brownie box cameras. The manufacturers will not not listening because they are not suicidal.

Mike Ditz's picture

How can you tell if someone is a film shooter, Leica user, lives in LA, is Vegan, follows Keto, became born again, is a Prius or Tesla driver?

Don't worry, just wait...they'll tell you :)

Matt Williams's picture

never heard that one before

Timothy Roper's picture

It's not just photography. Plenty of people advocate for musicians to stick with 15th century (or earlier) instruments with their antiquated wood and string technology. And many, many follow that advocacy, even though computers are so much easier, faster, cheaper and of better quality. Just the way humans are I guess.

David Illig's picture

Poor analogy. When one is playing early music the electric guitar cannot substitute for a lute, a synth cannot substitute for a hurdy-gurdy.

Timothy Roper's picture

But it's the same Luddite mindset, of people wanting to live in the past instead of living in the present, and into the technological future. Who knows or cares what a hurdy-gurdy is? It's just another outdated tool.

Andy Day's picture

Can you believe that some people use oil on canvas instead of a camera? Insanity!

Andy Day's picture

A reminder: a Luddite mindset is actively opposed to new technology. Using a film camera does not make you someone who opposes new technology. It simply means that you have an appreciation of processes that connect you with the past and a different means of creating images.

Erpillar Bendy's picture

I don't miss film. But if there's a significant market for new film cameras, some camera maker will figure it out.

Paul Chambre's picture

Nikon just stopped making film cameras 8 months ago. Pretty sure you can still buy new F6s if you want.

Allan Beglarian's picture

As stated in the article, I don’t believe a new analog (film) camera will go anywhere! However, I do think that a ‘digital retro’ camera will certainly bring brand loyalty and much more provided it’s not a watered-down digital version. I would really like to see a Nikon rangefinder and or something along the lines of F3 with a full-size sensor and resolutions that won’t require a massive upgrade in computing power. Pricing, oh well . . . I personally wouldn’t mind paying a few thousand . . . I really believe that the dfx’s failure in sales was Nikon’s decision to make a Cadillac with a lawnmower engine!

Paul Chambre's picture

What's a DFX? Did you mean the Df? Which has Nikon's excellent D4 sensor (the D4 was Nikon''s flagship at the time the Df was released).

Timothy Roper's picture

There are plenty of companies selling new large format film cameras, as that's where the dedicated film market really is. The people occasionally messing around with 135 really wouldn't support much of a market in new cameras for that.

Matt Williams's picture

Yup. Intrepid and Chroma Cameras are two great sources for new large format cameras. And they offer something that you can't get from vintage ones: portability - the Intrepid 4x5 field camera weighs peanuts compared to old monorail cameras, and Chroma makes some very portable handheld 4x5 cameras (with movements!). And they have accessories and parts easily available.

I have a Wista Field 45 camera which I love and is great for portability, but I'd also love one of those Intrepid 4x5 cameras.

Lawrence Huber's picture

As stated old film cameras like the F-1 and FTb were precision cameras built like tanks and there are still thousands with manual lenses for cheap on the market.
For me the issue is more retro lenses. Look at any FD, FL or R lens and all AF lenses look huge and awkward by comparison. I doubt with current technology a truly retro sized and looking AF lens is possible, let alone making one cheap enough to compete with the used manual market.

Ben Coyte's picture

I enjoy shooting film but am under no delusion about the longevity of it. Part of the fun of it, is the relatively cheap gear available. I get to own cameras that when I was young cost a fortune. Only yesterday I was checking out a second hand Olympus SLR, lenses, flash and filters all donated to a charity shop (I check they all work for the shoot be able to resell them). So for £150 you could have a great film set up. Why on earth would anyone make new cameras when you are competing with that.

Alex Zenzaburro's picture

I don't think it will happen and i personally dont think that i would like the cameras they would produce now.

Also with film prices that high, i would not buy a 35mm camera or shoot 35mm film instead of medium format.

Those people, especially young people, who keep film alive will always buy the used "original" version instead of a new expensive version.

William Campion's picture

NO!

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