The Future of Film
It’s no secret that throughout the past 5 years (and probably a bit earlier than that) or so, film has experienced a revival. More and more photographers are moving to film, or at least shooting it for fun. And considering that the digital revolution starting in the 90s and early 2000s promised to eradicate film as an industry, many film photographers could not be happier about the revival. But now that really leaves the question: where is this all going?
Digital photography continues to make improvements as the generations of cameras progress. But film is a relatively unchanged industry; there aren’t many completely new films currently being made. In fact, many of the film stocks more seasoned film photographers remember and loved were completely phased out. Many of the Superia films come to mind; my dad had a bunch of Fuji Superia 100 that he had left in his camera bag that expired in 2007. I happened upon it, and I fell in love with the colors it produced. But, as many of you probably know, Fuji Superia in the US is only available in its 200 and 400 speed forms. Both are great, and I use them now. But given the choice, I would have loved to have the 100 form to have. It just had a character to it that I don’t see in the newer ones. Besides that, there were also 800 and even 1600 films included in the Superia lineup, which as far as I know aren’t widely available. And to top all of that off, a lot of these were also available in 120 form, and are no longer. THAT would have been interesting, because the only color negative film that Fuji makes for 120 is Pro 400H. On the Kodak side, there have also been a few losses. I believe that Gold is no longer made in its 120 form, and its consumer 800 speed film is also no longer available. And of course, there was the death of the beloved and fabled Kodachrome.
On the bright side, Kodak did re-release Ektachrome, which does bode well for the industry. Additionally, when speaking about Fuji, it’s important to remember that its home market is Japan, not the US, so there may be some stocks available there that aren’t here. And even though many stocks have been cut, the ones that are available are widely available; in this region of California, you can find shelves of Fujifilm 200 and 400 at quite an affordable price.
And then there’s also the black and white market. Ilford has been quite active in the past couple years. They were actually one of the only companies to my knowledge to actually release a new film stock, Ilford Ortho 80. They also released a new RC Darkroom Printing paper that apparently rivals Ilford’s legendary Fiber Paper. This actually bodes extremely well because new product means that there is a market for film, and there is a thirst for analog photography in its full form.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Polaroid has come back thanks to the work of the Impossible Project. They have come out with several brand new cameras, and seem to have found a consistent and useable 600 film, as well as film for the sx-70 cameras.
So, even with a few cuts, it would seem that film is pretty safe. And I would agree with that, but to a certain extent. There are a few things that I think could mean the end of the film industry, perhaps by the end of the century.
First of all, it is still to be seen if Kodak, Fujifilm, Ilford, and Polaroid can maintain their audiences at the current size, and turn a profit on their film. At the end of the day, these are businesses, and they need to keep their bottom line in mind in every decision they make. This can be seen in the aforementioned cutting of stocks. I think that for at least the next 20 years, the market for film will remain as it is now, and could even grow.
However, the purely financial side isn’t the only concern. When you shoot film, remember that everything about the film process is not ecologically friendly; people might be able to make ways to contain the potential and actual damage, but film production and development are processes that can harm the environment. Home developing is currently on the rise. More and more people are buying the chemicals to do both black and white and C-41 processing in their bathroom sink. And, YouTube tutorials that I’ve seen often market this process as something to be done at home; something that everyone can and should do. However, after studying the process, that’s not the case. Spent fixer is infamously dangerous for the aquatic ecosystems that conventional plumbing might drain to. And that danger doesn’t stop there. For a long time, I developed my black and white film using Adox’s Rodinal, and I just dumped the used developer down the sink. After all, that’s what I saw done in the videos that taught me how to use Rodinal. But, Rodinal isn’t necessarily super safe to dump down the sink. Many argue that most developers get diluted before use, and a lot of their potency is spent in the development process. I still feel uneasy. With the exception of I believe Xtol and its equivalents, most black and white developers are actually quite dangerous for the environment.
And that doesn’t even include the C-41 process, and the slowly approaching-to-popular-availability E-6 process. I’m not even technically qualified to begin to summarize just how serious these now consumer market chemicals are. And after you consider those color processes, you have to think about instant film, and how its production can be harmful. One of the main issues that the Impossible Project faced when it was trying to remake Polaroid film was meeting standards for ecological safety while having a useable product. And even though they now have a consistent product, the fact that they can no longer use some of the illegal chemicals that were used to produce the original Polaroid films meant that they could only fit 8 shots in an originally 10 shot cartridge.
To conclude the ecology concerns, even if you could get past all of the chemical safety issues, one would have to consider the fact that developing film uses up a lot of water. Chemicals need to be diluted and mixed. Film needs to be washed under strong running water for not insignificant amounts of time. That’s why I use lab developing now; they are optimized to make that water use to film development ratio the best it can be. I’m not trying to discourage home developing, or playing a part in stimulating the film industry. All I’m asking is that you inform yourself and take action to make sure that you minimize the ecological impacts our photography can have.
I apologize for that tangent lol. But that’s all to say that I have serious concerns about whether or not the film industry will be able to keep up with the ever growing ecological concerns that people hold in terms of general industry regulation. Of course, the digital photography world also has ecological concerns to attend to. But there are some key differences: digital photography is a commercial standard, and the digital photography world is also an evolving market full of innovation; film is at heart an old technology that will generally speaking need older production and processing methods that don’t really change much. And I’m just not sure that those methods will always be considered legal and acceptable.
I know that what I’m saying might not be super inspirational. But I want to reiterate: film is here to stay for a while! I think that you should enjoy it while it’s still around, and do so in an well-informed manner.
And keep hope for the industry! Some innovations in this industry that we could never fathom now might come about later on and surprise us (: