Does film have a future? And if it does, how long have we got?
Now then, before you all just down my throat about film vs digital and all that malarkey, this is not a debate about that. They both have their merits and demerits, so let us just leave it at that.
This is about film, that lovely tactile unpredictable wonder that captures moments on something that you can feel. For years and years we took film for granted, barely even giving it a thought. Until the advent of digital, and then everything changed. Digital was faster, easier, cheaper and could make you into a ‘pro’ overnight if you were that way inclined. Many thought that this was the death knell for film…I mean, who needed that outdated-horse and cart-style fiddly cartridge that only took 36 shots?
For a while it seemed that nobody did, and it could be the end for film. But then we had the toy camera resurgence, trendy young types and new photographic ‘artistes’ came in their droves to film, partly because it was no longer mainstream and partly because of the effects that you could produce.
This gave rise to to things like the impossible project, the re-release of polaroid films by a bunch of passionate film nerds. After a wobbly start their films found their feet and are now immensely popular with the artistic photographers among us. There has also been a strong following for the classic camera shooters, which shows no signs of waning, at least for the time being. Along with Lomography and the lo-fi market it would seem that film has not been in such a strong position for a long time. But is it?
As passionate as I am about using film, I cannot help feel that is is a house of cards.
This is not just a statement based on guesswork, but based on evidence. In the last few years we have seen the creation of a number of new films, most noticeably Ektar and Portra from Kodak, but at the same time we have seen a reduction in a number of films including some of the greats like Ektachrome and Neopan 1600. Fujifilm has been cutting their range little by little every year. So it makes you wonder, what is next?
Well, it seems not much. Fujifilm and Kodak have both pledged to continue making (monochrome) film for at least the next ten years. But what about colour film? I hear you bleat softly.
Well, that is the trouble. The colour film market has been shrinking rapidly for years now and both companies have stated (not publicly, the walls have ears) that is too expensive and not economically viable to continue producing colour film. The main problem being the developing of the films, the chemicals being expensive to produce.
What we are likely to see over the next couple of years is the step by step reduction of the colour film ranges, leaving only the very specialist films that have commercial applications. And the consolidation of the monochrome ranges into something simpler.
So, if you like your slide films, now would be the time to go shooting crazy, because you might not have much time left. But is you are a black and white maniac, then rest easy, you have a while yet before you have to put that film camera in the cupboard.
Over all the prognosis is not all that bad. Don’t listen to all of the doom and gloom types, there is still life in the old dog yet. I mean, Fujifilm, Nikon and Leica are still producing film cameras, so there must be something in it if they are happy to keep on knocking them out. We will be able to use film in some capacity or another for at least the next couple of decades, although we may need to have a healthy bank balance to do so.