Manufacturers Talk about the State of the Film Photography Industry

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Film–the mention of it either makes photographers gawk at it due to antiquation or makes them become stirred with butterflies in the stomach. The use of film has declined steadily as the digital age has progressed, and with that many films have been discontinued due to a decrease in sales. Instead, many tend to look to Instagram and other programs for filters that give digital images the look of film.

With the world moving deeper and deeper into the digital realm, we asked film manufacturers how the industry has changed in the past five years.

The Decline and Rise

Kodak Tri-X

For many, many years Kodak was one of the strongest and most popular companies in the film photography world. In some ways they still are, but they’ve been through quite tough times in recent years with filing for bankruptcy and more films being discontinued. In the past five years, Plux-X, BW400CN, T-Max P3200 and the EKTACHROME line have all been discontinued. But perhaps one of the most missed films is Kodachrome–which songs were written about and specific projects were done with.

“As we’ve been saying, we’ll continue to supply film to the market as long as there’s profitable demand and usage from photographers.” states Audrey Jonckheer, Worldwide Communications Director for the Kodak Company. “In the case of those films (referencing the ones that have been discontinued), demand/usage declined significantly.”

Additionally, Fujifilm has also discontinued many of the films in its peel-apart Instant, negative and slide film lines. Most recently we saw a couple of Velvia lines get discontinued, many Neopan films, and 3000B black and white Instant film. The result has caused what remains in the market to be quite expensive.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujfilm Instax mini 90 product photos (2 of 7)ISO 4001-30 sec at f - 4.0

But with Fujifilm, the company seems most ecstatic about its Instax line. “Instax is one of the most exciting consumer products at Fujifilm today because it does something very special in our all-digital world – it produces a tangible photo that beautifully captures an important moment in time.” says Nick Riviezzo, Sr. Product Manager – INSTAX Instant Photo Products, FUJIFILM North America, Corp. “Instax is thriving because consumers of all photography levels are drawn to the creative possibilities of using instant film, and Fujifilm is committed to expanding this incredible experience for everyone.”

For the record, Fujifilm only produces two different types of Instax films: wide and mini. They’re both only offered in color and we’ve asked the company previously about the possibility of a black and white emulsion, but it was stated that they had no plans. On a similar note, Instant film overall seems to be surviving quite well–especially with the story behind the Impossible Project.

A couple of years back, a group of folks took over the Polaroid manufacturing plants and tried to reverse engineer the emulsions due to Polaroid ending production of their Instant film. With that came very big growth and quite the story behind it all.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lomography LCA 120 color photos (3 of 24)

“We’re a bit different that traditional film companies in that we’re still working hard on improving our film and introducing new films, not discontinuing them.” states CEO Oskar Smolokowski. “We only discontinue old formulations and bring in new ones, so its not like the established photographic companies who could be discontinuing a long running line of film – we’re still working towards the best film we can make, introducing periodic improvements and updates.” Indeed, Impossible has announced that a new emulsion of the black and white film will be coming soon and that it will be much more stable than their previous versions.

The Impossible Project has two main film lines: color and b&w for three camera types and some experimental emulsions that are released from time to time.

But if you look even further beyond just Instant film, one company has embraced the film world even more than the others combined, and that company would be Lomography. To date, they’re not only a reseller of films, but also a producer that doesn’t discontinue many of their emulsions.

Lomography Cine200

“We discontinued X-Pro Chrome 100 ISO 35mm film and Redscale 100 ISO 35mm film but both these films were replaced so we still offer X-Pro film and Redscale options in our film line-up.” says- Tom Bates, from the press office in Lomography Vienna. “We also no longer sell Lomography X Tungsten 64 ISO 35mm film, Lomography Cine200 Tungsten film and Lomography Cine400 Tungsten film – But these weren’t really discontinued’ – They were always planned as limited edition films when we launched them and communicated this way.” Bates continued to state that Lomography even added new films and brought back 110 film into production.

More so than any other company, they’ve launched a large number of films in the past five years. The list comprises:

Cinestill photo

– LomoChrome Turquoise XR 100-400 35mm and 120

– Lomography LomoChrome Purple XR 100-400 35mm and 120

– Earl Grey B&W 100 ISO 35mm and 120

– Lady Grey B&W 400 ISO 35mm and 120

– Redscale XR 50-200 35mm and 120

– B&W Orca 100 ISO 110 film

– Peacock 200 ISO X-Pro 110 film

– Tiger 200 ISO CN 110 film.

Additionally, there have been special edition films such as Sunset Strip.

Further evidence of newer and hipper companies succeeding culminates with an American-born dream. CineStill is a company that repackages motion picture from from Kodak into 35mm and 120 emulsions. It’s quite the process, but the company also makes them usable for conventional processing. Founded by the Brothers Wright, the company that was a labor of love has taken off in recent years. In fact, Brandon Wright tells us that he’s only seen sales grow and that he sees a lot more growth in the next five years for a company like theirs.

Brandon told us that they had almost no trouble getting their product in with retailers.

“Our most frequent challenge is multiplying production cycles to provide enough to fulfill demand.” he says.

Brandon and his brother have always been into hacking and photography. They used to use their father’s OM-1 and then started using their uncle’s Canon Super 8 camera. Originally, they hacked Kodak Vision 3 film to work with a Nikon F3–which gave them 250 exposures. Because of their network, they were able to get the images processed with ease.

When more people wanted to do the same thing, they started Cinestill. Each roll removes the rem-jet carbon jacking layer on the motion picture film and makes it safe for development with more conventional C-41 and E-6 methods.

A Look at Sales

Kodak New Portra 160

In the past couple of years, the photo industry overall experienced quite the shake up. For starters, digital point and shoots took a dive due to the popularity of the smartphone. But there were also terrible natural disasters that affected manufacturing for many of these companies. Of course, much of this has to do with lens and camera production in the digital world. However, very little has been talked about with film.

In some ways the results are scary.

“Around the world, Consumer film (i.e. Kodak Gold 200 and UltraMax 400) sales have dropped to less than 1% of what they were in the peak years. So they are niche products now, and the sales channels have consolidated.” says Kodak’s Audrey. “Most of the Consumer film sales today are through Drug chains in the US and Western Europe. Pro film sales have also declined, but not to the same extent.”

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Kodak Ektachrome (10 of 15)

Audrey further states that the Kodak Professional films are “the very best in the world.” According to her, the PORTRA, EKTAR, T-MAX and TRI-X families are all very popular. These days when you think of Kodak, you’re often thinking about TRI-X or Portra. Kodak Portra came in a couple of different emulsions but now sells in two different ISO variations which are said to be created specifically to create better scans. It’s a pretty smart tactic given the nature of the internet.

“Pro Photographers typically select one or more of those films to achieve a particular look and feel in order to distinguish themselves from other shooters.”

Like Kodak, Fujifilm’s sales in film have also fallen quite a bit–but the company innovated and changed. These days, they mostly focus on their X series digital cameras which are mostly award winning products.

However, Nick states that Fujifilm Instax has grown in the past five years–and there is quite a bit of evidence to back this. The Instax line has grown with new cameras like the Mini 90 and the all-new Share Printer SP-1. Further, the company’s new Instax Wide 300 camera is shipping now.

“…the wide format is really taking hold among professionals and enthusiasts alike, and has great B2B applications.”

Nick believes that the success of Instax is because it “allows everybody to take great pictures that deliver amazing results, gentle skin tones and extraordinary colors.” Their customers even use the images for creative applications including home décor, creative projects, scrap booking and artistic pieces.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Essentials hipster photographer (3 of 5)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 7.1

While Instax surely shows its growth, the negative and peel-apart Instant films aren’t as successful. “Fujifilm remains committed to film photography and the wonderful and unique results that film produces.” states Nick. “Of course film demand has changed over time with the introduction of digital photography, but we believe there will always be a passionate market for traditional films.”

Fujifilm didn’t want to comment any further on the state of the more traditional films.

The retailers tend to agree with both Fujifilm and Kodak. While B&H Photo and Adorama didn’t provide any commentary, Foto Care in NYC confirmed what Kodak and Fujifilm both say. “Film sales here have been quite stable for the last 5 years after a period of decline from 2002-2010.” states Glenn in the Photo Department. “Far and away the largest sales are in 400 speed color negative and black and white film, in 120 and 35mm formats.”

Glenn continued to add that they get many students who wish to experiment with film. The reason for this varies as some of it is for school while others wanted to do it for themselves.

But that doesn’t mean that the film market is dying necessarily, does it?

“In the past 5 years the trading business has grown hugely. I have noticed a large increase in traders and amateurs opening e-bay accounts etc.” states Bellamy Hunt, otherwise known as the Japan Camera Hunter. He mostly deals with classic and vintage film cameras and lenses in Japan.

“There is a growing market for classic cameras and that is shown by the comparative scarcity of some models, and the rise in prices. I wouldn’t really be able to put a percentage of growth on it, but I am seeing more and more traders here in Tokyo now.”

Bellamy also said that competition is good as long as the consumer benefits and someone isn’t just trying to a make a quick buck.

“People are starting to notice film or get back into film and I get a lot of mails (50+ a week) from people who are looking for their first film camera.”

Bellamy started his business five years ago and since then, it’s grown a great deal. “I am now no longer able to do all of the work myself and have had to start looking for staff to assist me in this.” he tells us. “People are starting to notice film or get back into film and I get a lot of mails (50+ a week) from people who are looking for their first film camera. In fact the demand is so high that sometimes I am simply unable to find enough items.”

Specifically, Bellamy says that Leica products will always be the most in demand.

“I get a lot of people asking me to find them their first Leica, which is always an honor and a responsibility.”
But as far as overall sales go, Bellamy states that compact cameras still rule the market due to the mix of affordability and performance. They’re a good option for people who are unsure about how film works, so for the folks who want to spend a couple of hundred dollars to start it just makes sense. Bellamy later on finds that 70% of the people come back later on asking for something bigger and better.

The Lomography company has seen a similar trend with sales–citing that sales have been extremely well and that they love the reactions to the new films that it launches. Specifically, Bates references July 2014 when they launched the Cine200 Tungsten film which had a limited stock of only 4000 rolls and that sold out in less than 7 days.

“Our main issue and focus with films is always to keep delivering experimental and creative films for film photographers to enjoy and to try and maintain good stock.” Bates says.

Though he declined to get into the specifics of sales internationally, Bates says that the company sold over 1 million films in total just last year alone. On a more local level though, the USA and Europe are purchasing Redscale and X-Pro slide films again, but they don’t see much of it it Asia. Their latest films (Lomochrome Turquoise, LomoChrome Purple, Cine200 Tungsten and Cine400 Tungsten) have been popular everywhere according to Bates.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MA first impressions (1 of 6)ISO 6401-80 sec at f - 2.8

“And it’s the same with Color Negative and Black and White films. They are selling well everywhere and B&W film in particular is experiencing a renaissance in popularity in Europe and USA.”

More recently, Bates tells us that the more experimental films are the best sellers despite all of the classics being still strong sellers. Why?

“People are really hungry for new films and films which give a different look, as these films feel even more uniquely analogue from what they produce.” says Bates.

“LomoChrome Purple especially was huge when we launched it and is still a really popular seller for us. The way it shifts colors gives people photos they aren’t used to shooting, even those people who are used to shooting analogue. It was a film we were really excited to bring to the market. And last year with LomoChrome Turquoise our motivation to bring out a totally unique film was the same – It’s great that now we are having a steadier supply of it and are starting to see the great photos photographers are shooting with it!”

“B&W film in particular is experiencing a renaissance in popularity in Europe and USA.”

LomoChrome Purple is the closest thing that the world has to Kodak Aerochrome–an Infrared film that turned green into pinkish red.

To that end, the Impossible project also cites growth in sales each year, and specifically cites that the classic white frame film for Polaroid 600 Cameras is the best selling film we have.

All of these companies take different approaches to film: where Kodak and Fujifilm both have a very old marketing strategy (as far as negative film goes), Lomography and Impossible Project both are very nouveau and hip. To be fair, Fujifilm’s Instax market targets the same as Lomography’s and Impossible Project’s.

The New Market

“Beyond Pros shooting film to distinguish themselves from the crowd, there are many younger photographers who grew up knowing only digital capture and are now turning to film. To them, film offers something new and unique,” remarks Audrey on the current state of the target market. “Photographers who shoot film tell us they prefer the ‘look and feel’ they can only get with film. Oftentimes that also extends to workflow – for example, if they shoot B&W film, many love to process in their own darkrooms.” These photographers are said to prefer working with their hands rather than with a computer screen.

Kevin Lee The Phoblographer A7 Broadway Camera Strap Product Images 03

In general, photographers who purchase film these days typically fall into two categories: the photographer who did it for years, or the person who grew up knowing digital cameras and wanted to try something new. The latter is the newer market. As far as cameras goes, this market is wide and varied. “I have students, doctors, lawyers, artists, professional photographers, actors, the list goes on. People from all strata of society and age groups are getting involved.” says Bellamy. “I am seeing a particular surge in the younger photographers between 16 and 24 years old who want to try something new.”

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer MyMiggo camera strap large review images (6 of 9)ISO 4001-500 sec at f - 4.5

The Impossible Project seems to confirm this notion–as they state that younger photographers make up their largest customer base. “Those users grew up in the age of digital photography so many of them are discovering the joy of holding a photo and watching it develop in the palm of their hand for the first time.” states Oskar. “It’s a completely different experience to snapping digital pictures as the photos take on a lot more meaning.”

While film is always talked about as being tough to work work, Fujifilm believes that making it simple to use is the key to a broad consumer range–as is evident with their Instax lineup. However, their latest offerings like the Mini 90 and Wide 300 are attracting folks like the casual photographer and professional photographer alike according to Nick.

In the case of Lomography, they don’t see any particular demographics due to the fact that they’re such a unique company producing things like experimental films.

Cinestill, on the other hand, attracts photographers from every spectrum–from photographers that know how to work with tungsten film and lighting to others that just like the semi-cross processed look otherwise.

“Some are professionals wishing to shoot more film rather than digital in low light and many are just enthusiasts wanting to learn and grow,” Brandon says. “We focus on making a quality product supported by a company that is there to support photographers. We have spent a lot of time teaching photographers when and how to shoot film and learning what it is they desire.”

Brandon continues to state that the company’s marketing strategy is very careful.

“The only marketing we are really interested in investing in is when we see an opportunity to support and expand the community of film photographers out there supporting us. Increased sales flow naturally from that type of relationship between a manufacturer and its customers.”

So is film dead? It doesn’t seem so. Is it dying? Not quite. It seems to be evolving into something else that we didn’t know before.

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