Film Photography: Alive and Clicking in the 21st Century

There are now over 200 different film choices available for film photographers!

This has been driven by a fantastic twelve months of innovation and is a critical milestone for an industry that was on its knees a short decade ago. It is also a great opportunity for the community to celebrate! Here at Analogue Wonderland we have been thoroughly enjoying the celebrations. But we have also taken the moment to reflect on our sales data, breaking down the 200+ films available to understand exactly what is driving the film explosion and expanding on what we can hope for in the coming years.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post from Paul McKay over at Analogue Wonderland. This blog post was created exclusively for the Phoblographer.

When is a Film not a Film?

Before we dive into the data it’s important to specify how we’ve defined a distinct film. The critical point in this analysis is whether a film offers a new sustainable choice or excitement for the community. We consider a film to be new if it has: an unique brand, visual result, format, backing or emulsion. For example, this means that Portra 400 35mm counts as a different film to Portra 400 medium format; not only because it gives a different final look, but also because having a broad offering in 35mm is useless choice to the photographer who exclusively shoots 120!

It also means films that have significant rebranding from a base emulsion (for example Kosmo Foto Mono) will count as separate. We realise that this is controversial for some photographers who are familiar with every film that has been in the market. However we know that the beautiful branding and Soviet marketing of Kosmo Foto has driven new sales and interest from young photographers who wouldn’t have picked up the original film. It is creating a choice and excitement for certain people in the community, more film is being shot and appreciated as a result, and that is good news for everyone involved.

Conversely, we are not counting expired films. While there are several sources of expired film in the world, and they provide an invaluable resource for creative shooters, they are obviously not financing the film suppliers that will provide all of us a steady future.

The King of Formats

Unsurprisingly the most popular format for photographers is 35mm. Fully 58% of films available on our site are 35mm format and that is broadly reflected in the sales volumes as well. The ease of use, the lower cost per photo, the size and availability of high quality cameras – all of these helps make 35mm the most accessible and popular format for film photographers.

The second most popular format by sales is Instax Mini – driven by Fujifilm and Lomography’s focus and camera innovation in this area. However due to the proprietary nature of the format there are only two distinct films available: colour 800 and B&W 800. Note that here we are not counting different borders as distinct films as they don’t add any significant genuine excitement, as evidenced by the fact they sell far less than the originals!

But if we cut it slightly differently and group all of the different ‘Instant’ films under one umbrella we see that they represent over 6% of total products on our site. With this week’s ONE INSTANT announcement, and the seasonal ‘tinted’ films that Polaroid Originals periodically release, we are very confident that the popularity of Instant photography will continue to grow in the coming years.

Behind the juggernauts of 35mm and instant films the market begins to splinter. Medium format has a significant range, large volume sales, and is served by 20% of our products Excluding these 3 formats only 4×5 large format currently has more than 5% share. 110, 127, larger sheet films, and re-rolled 620 all fall between 1-2% of the total.

Over the coming months we will continue to expand our range into these areas but it is clear that the niche formats have not yet benefitted from the explosion of options that 35mm, instant, and 120 have enjoyed.

The most controversial battle since Batman versus Superman?

Black and white versus colour! Entirely different aesthetics, contrasting connection to reality, and swapping the position as ‘most-popular’ over the past few decades: where do they stand today?

Black and white edges it with 54% of the total range versus 46% colour! Note that B&W is helped by the specialist X-ray (2%) and infrared (1%) films that deliver greyscale images. But even without these it is clear that the B&W photography continues to be a core strength of the analogue photographic world, as well as an obvious differentiator versus digital.

The Drivers of 2018

When we launched Analogue Wonderland in May 2018 we were thrilled to be able to offer 170 distinct films. As the year draws to a close we have added over 30 new options – across a variety of brands and companies. This marks the best year for new film innovation since the early 90s and continues to give film photographers creative options to satisfy a wide range of needs. Let’s look at some of the ways this innovation was brought to market: new emulsions, brands, resurrections, rebrands and expansions!

The New Emulsions

Silberra have been creating analogue products from scratch since 2009 from their Russian base in Saint-Petersburg. They burst onto the global film scene in late 2017 with an IndieGoGo campaign that would allow them to scale their small-batch production of films to much greater volumes. While there have been several delays versus their hoped timeline, films started going out to backers and retailers in late-2018.

Photographers can now enjoy their Pan/Ultima range (the same emulsion on different substrates for different developing and scanning features) as well as the orthochromatic Orta range. They are working hard to fulfil backer rewards and are promising many more developments in the future! Watch this space…

The Range Expansion

What do you get when you combine the creative engineering prowess of KONO!, a successful double-exposure iPhone app and an ex-Lomography employee? Dubble Films! Dubble brought new options of colour-tinted 35mm to the film community in 2017 with the original Sunstroke and Moonstruck and immediately received rave reviews.

They followed that up in March this year with the introduction of Bubblegum and Monsoon to produce images with more subtle and uniform effects, before showing the world how to properly celebrate a birthday with their special Jelly film in November! Relentless in their quest for helping photographers produce unique and interesting images through creativity and luck, we hope that their momentum carries them into new and exciting ideas in 2019.

The Resurrection

No discussion of the health of film would be complete without praising the efforts of Kodak Alaris. Freed from financial turmoil after separating their ‘still photography’ business from Kodak Eastman, the newly independent and agile business has quickly focused on innovating in meaningful ways for professional photographers.

First was TMax3200 in spring, but this launch – impressive in itself – was blown out of the water by the excitement behind Ektachrome returning from the dead! Containing updated chemicals (due to new legislation since the last time it was made) and a modernised production process, this slide film is delighting photographers around the world with its colour rendition and sharpness. All we need now is the medium and large format versions!

The New Brand

Another small company experimenting with pre-exposed tones and interesting effects is Yodica. They stand out from the other brands in this space by being unashamedly bold and colourful! Each of their films (built on a base of Colorplus) is named after a galaxy or star and have been eagerly snapped up by photographers looking for fun and bright images.

The Rebrand

One of our favourite innovations of the year received a lot less press than the new brands and emulsions that we’ve already mentioned However the Kentmere rebrand is a fantastic example of a healthy industry doing the right thing for its consumers. Kentmere has long looked like a brand from the 80s that people forgot to turn off, which was hugely unfair on the quality of the underlying emulsion! So Harman Technologies (the same owners of Ilford) invested time and money into refreshing the branding and packaging…and we think they smashed it!

Not only does the new film look like it deserves a place in the modern film photography industry, but shoppers have responded positively with sales increasing +50% since the new branding went live.

What Does the Future Hold?

We hope that you agree with our assessment that film photography, having cleared the symbolic 200 milestone, is healthy and vibrant – with all the necessary types and formats of film to satisfy most photographers. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have a Christmas wishlist for next year! In no particular order, this is what we hope our film supplier partners are currently cooking up:

  1. Creative pre-exposed 120 film. We’d love to see Bubblegum or Yodica or Revolog or KONO! offer some of their excellent creations for medium format experimentation!
  2. Continued innovation in Polaroid formats. The film quality and reliability has improved exponentially since the early days of the Impossible Project, and we hope that this continues. We also look forward to new innovative ideas like the i-type format (making Polaroid cheaper by removing the battery from each pack) and the new peel-apart that will continue to realise the potential of high-quality Instant photography.
  3. Fresh APS film. The only major film format that doesn’t have a current film manufacturer – it’s only a matter of time before the expired stock runs out and millions of cameras are left as ornaments. We know that many people won’t necessarily be upset by the APS demise (!) – but we believe that no camera should be left behind in the film renaissance
  4. High quality new 35mm and 120 cameras. We are blessed with several fantastic manufacturers of new large format cameras (Intrepid, Chroma, Cameradactyl and more) and Fuji are doing a great job with Instax, but the complexity and cost of making 35mm and 120 cameras has meant the community’s options are limited to either second-hand or Lomography. Unfortunately we can’t expect our parents’ and grand-parents’ cameras to last indefinitely and while we are very grateful for Lomography’s plethora of options, they are no substitute for an SLR like the Olympus OM1 or Trip 35! We have high hopes for Reflex’s system (slated for early 2019 release) but the more options and ideas the better for the long-term health of our community.

So there we go: a celebration of the 200+ films available to the community today, a summary of some of our favourite 2018 innovations, and a wishlist for next year.

Please let us know whether you’d add anything to our wishlist by commenting below. You can also head over to Analogue Wonderland to explore our films and maybe try something new yourself! We run regular promotions, competitions and giveaways with our partners – and you will receive a discount on your first order if you sign up to our mailing list.

Happy Shooting!

Paul – Analogue Wonderland

Analogue Wonderland is a one-stop film shop based in the UK and shipping across Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It exists to help make film photography fun and accessible for everyone, as well as to support the small independent film manufacturers who are working so hard for the community. Visit us at www.analoguewonderland.co.uk!