Digital vs film
Everybody seems to be switching to digital cameras, but I like my old 35mm camera. Will I still be able to get film in the future? Many photo enthusiasts are asking the same question, especially after Eastman Kodak Co said two months ago it would invest more heavily in developing digital technology, an announcement that some misinterpreted as meaning the Yellow Giant would abandon film.
In fact, Kodak is still developing new films, and has no plans to abandon the market, according to spokesman Gerard Meuchner. “In no way will we stop supporting film, quite to the contrary,” Meuchner says.
Sales have been falling for a couple of years, but film is still a profitable business. Just two months ago, Kodak invested $100 million in a 20-year deal with a Chinese manufacturer. Fuji Photo Film Co of Japan also says it remains committed to film. The technology still has “tremendous room for improvement,” according to Paul D’Andrea, Fujifilm USA’s general manager of the Photo Imaging Division, noting that they introduced two new professional slide films this year.
With all the advertising for digital cameras, it’s easy to forget that most cameras out there are still film cameras, and many consumers are quite comfortable with them. Also, the movie industry still shoots on film, with a few exceptions. William DuBois, the chair of photographic arts at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, is 58 years old, and says he’s not concerned that film will disappear in his lifetime.
“My age group, the baby boomers, have grown up with film, and I don’t think we’re as adaptable to change as our grandchildren. I think it’s going to take two generations to switch completely to digital,” he says.
In the long term, however, it’s seems clear that film is destined to be a niche of the photography business. While it will probably be made for decades and decades, it may not be available as widely as it is now. Also, it will likely be harder to get it processed.
Even as a niche, however, film photography may be quite viable decades from now. A lot of photographic technologies have stuck around long after they were forgotten by the mass market.
Black-and-white film, for example, still has a lot of users. Video supplanted home movies about 20 years ago, but Super-8 cassettes and processing are still available from large photo stores. The iconic Kodachrome slide film is still available. Sensitised glass plates, which lost out to film in the ‘20s and ‘30s, were still made by Kodak until a few years ago.
However, some film formats might fall by the wayside earlier than 35mm film. Several compact-camera formats have already disappeared. Remember Kodak disc film? It was discontinued in 1998. There is only one kind of Instamatic film still made.
One candidate for an early demise could be the Advanced Photo System, which was introduced to great fanfare in 1996. About nine per cent of the cameras sold in the United States last year were APS models, according to spokesman Gary Pageau at the Photo Marketing Association. “APS didn’t meet with the market acceptance that the people who kicked it off wanted,” Pageau says.
But the people who have APS cameras really like the format for its convenience, he adds, and even if it will decline, he expects the film to be around in five years.