While many photographers have gone for digital hook, line and sinker, there are still many film fans out there who have been cheered by Kodak’s recent announcement of a new color negative film emulsion—Ektar 100. Announced right around the time of photokina, Kodak claims that this new film is the sharpest, finest grained color negative film ever and is tantamount to the height of the filmmaker’s art.
It’s a maxim that the Golden Age of anything usually signals its eventual demise, but there are still lots of photographers who use film and who are thrilled that Kodak continues to fly the flag. While the range of film continues to shrink, with some favorites increasingly going by the wayside, news of this latest development has spread like wildfire and has perhaps encouraged Kodak (and others such as Fujifilm) to reconsider what many had predicted would be their eventual abandonment of the medium.
Readers of this column know that I often go to the well—photographers and consumers—to get my information, and in this case my source material is an opinion poll that accompanies a monthly newsletter we at Shutterbug send to subscribers. Each newsletter contains a query and space for readers to respond. This one posed the following: “Kodak’s new Ektar 100 color negative film offers what they claim is the finest grain and best and most accurate color of any color print film ever made. Do you think having the ‘best film ever’ will get you to return to film, or dust off the old film camera to give it a try?”
Along with comments, which I’ll get to in a minute, we aim for an informal poll by offering three options, which were: “1) No thanks, I’ve made the switch and won’t look back; 2) Yes, it might be worth a look; and 3) Yes, I’ve never abandoned film and am glad that Kodak is still developing new products.”
First, here are the results of the pop-up poll, which surprised me, and might surprise you as well. 46% said they never stopped shooting film; 30% said they do not work with film anymore; and 23% said they still have their film cameras and occasionally shoot a roll or two.
Rounding off the numbers means that almost half of the photographers who responded said they still shoot film as part of their photography work. Add in the casual or occasional user and it might seem that film still has a very faithful following, despite all the vaunted advantages of digital and, to me, the overwhelming evidence of my own eyes as I travel around and observe photographers snapping away.
Film Lovers Still
What might account for this? Looking over the comments, part might be nostalgia, part might be that users are turned off by the complexities and ever-changing nature of digital, and part is simply the idea that photography is about film and knowing how to use it. But instead of me paraphrasing those comments I thought it might be useful to read what the end users had to say.
In many cases respondents still think film delivers better image quality, and makes them better photographers.
“Film has never quit delivering better image quality. I believe that (shooting) film makes for better photography skills because it makes every shot count. Although I enjoy digital, I enjoy film as a distinct medium.”
“I get better images with film simply because it forces me to slow down. And it’s still the best storage medium.”
“I still shoot film for personal projects. No matter how far digital goes, film and proper processing will, for the most part, deliver superior results. Don’t believe me? Shoot the exact same shot with film and digital to the best of your ability and compare results!”
“While film might not ‘stand as tall’ against today’s pro digital cameras it still provides me with great latitude, forces me to be disciplined and not over-shoot and makes me aware of my lighting conditions.”
“I grew up with film and I still love the challenges associated with film photography. Shooting with film requires knowledge and understanding of the medium far more than ‘instant’ digital and that in itself is a great personal reward. It’s like driving a fine vintage sports car.”
“If I want to be sure of getting important pictures right I use film.”
You might put those comments in the category of those who have not tried digital, or who are put off by the steep learning curve it demands, yet beneath it all is an appreciation of the medium that has not gone away. In addition, there is something inherent to the film experience that many folks still enjoy, as reflected in the following comments.
“I like the visceral aspect of film.”
“I love the element of photographic mystique that film seems to give—the loading ritual, the feel of it churning through the camera, even the little film canisters rattling in my bag.”
“I love film. To me it has a quality that digital has not been able to duplicate.
Don’t get me wrong…digital is great but doesn’t match the warmth or feeling I get from film.”
“Digital does not match the fun of film for me.”
“Film is what photography is all about…pure and simple.”
Here to Stay?
Even though this new film introduction has been met with enthusiasm, there are a number of folks who, while still shooting film, wonder if their continued involvement will be met with continued availability of product, somewhat like those who hesitate to buy a car from a company that might go bankrupt down the road.
This might call for some reassurance from film makers that the digital tide will not eventually wash over and wipe out the old medium. In fact, many rooted for Kodak to keep the film flag flying, and promised to buy some to ensure its continued survival.
“I’m delighted with the development, but worry that this is one of the last gasps of the film industry. Will film go the way of Polaroids? I hope not.”
“I hope the response to this new film will encourage Kodak to continue to see film as a viable alternative to digital.”
“Good for Kodak. I hope it is a big seller…I expect to shoot film for as long as it is available. This announcement is very welcome.”
“I’m not going to stop shooting film for as long as they keep making it. Hopefully there will still be places to process it!”
Photographers who shoot both film and digital still see film as being a valuable part of their tool kit.
“I am still shooting film and love it. I shoot digital too. It’s all about making a photograph…the camera is only a tool. Film and digital cameras are two different tools that give you different results; some prefer one tool over another and the variety of tools available just means more options for us to accomplish our vision.”
Digital Flag Wavers
Don’t think that the survey was all roses for film. Quite a few respondents expressed their feelings that film was done and gone and that digital was not only the future, but that using film now makes no sense.
“Why would anyone shoot film when you can make far superior images with digital? Film is expensive! I paid a lot for my digital camera but not a penny for film and processing—and I’ve taken almost 20,000 shots with that camera and it’s still going strong. I print my own pictures for far less cost and I get exactly the print I want. I still have a freezer full of Velvia, but there’s no way I’d go back to film.”
“It’s hard to imagine myself purchasing any more 35mm film. It has not only taken a back seat—it’s exited the bus entirely and gone into a museum.”
“Why would anyone shoot film? Just about everyone is shooting digital. If you shoot film it gets scanned to make prints at all labs anyway. I haven’t shot film since 2000.”
“The convenience of digital—once you have acquired all the necessities such as a computer, software, etc.– makes film seem quite draconian.”
Draconian? Has the processing side of the business tolled the final bell for film? A number of respondents shared the feelings of the above writers regarding the difficulty of getting the prints they want and the even greater difficulty of finding reliable processing these days.
“I exposed a roll of film recently and used a Kodak mailer and it took me a month to get the results back!”
“Sadly, film left me. After a vacation I dropped off some film to be processed at what had been a reliable photo processor. Ruined film, ruined vacation…that created one digital convert.”
So, it’s a mixed bag for sure, with strong emotions on both “sides.” One thing is certain—there are still many film fans out there, and even those who shoot primarily digital hesitate to want film to go away. This of course poses an interesting dilemma for companies like Kodak and Fujifilm, one that started the day they threw massive R&D dollars and marketing into the digital pot and seemed to leave film behind.
Many, many moons ago I gave a talk at a PMDA meeting in which I described the coming digital push as creating a kind of schizophrenia within the photo industry, or at the least setting the stage for what would become a wrenching, and at times awkward transition.
Kodak’s generally welcomed announcement of further developments in the film field has seemed to rekindle the emotions of ardent film users who hope that this is not, as my oft-quoted former colleague Bob Schwalberg dubbed, “silver halide’s last gleaming.” I’ll close with a final response from a reader who summed up the way many felt about the announcement: “Hoorah for Kodak!
It’s refreshing to see Kodak introducing new film in the face of ever-increasing pressure to abandon film altogether in this digital age.” We’ll stay tuned to see if that’s really the case.