Is Film Going Away?
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Film is not going away.
Film manufacturers have been discontinuing individual films since the early 1900s in the normal course of commercial development, as new films come to replace them. For instance, Kodak just introduced that Ektar 100 is now available in 4x5" and 8x10" sheets as of 2010.
When radio became popular in the 1920s, people knew that newspapers would evaporate.
When FM radio became common in the 1960s, everyone knew AM radio was doomed.
When TV became practical in the 1950s, everyone knew movie theatres were history, too.
CDs were supposed to kill LPs in the 1980s, yet we still have newly released LPs.
The Internet was supposed to kill TV in the late 1990s, but we still have free over-the-air TV and DVD rental stores.
The Internet was supposed to kill your telephone in the 2000s, with Skype and voice-over-IP, yet we still have people buying new phones and phone service every day.
In every one of these cases the new media is a zillion times better, faster cheaper and more convenient than the old, yet today we still have new movie theaters, TV, telephones, AM radio and daily newspapers. I know people who still master new vinyl records. Why is this?
Experience shows us that every time a new, better, cheaper medium, like digital cameras, is invented that the older media survive, continuing to do whatever they did best, and then get better at it, even if they sucked all along.
Did you know AM radio went stereo in 1985? Probably not, but the radio in my 1988 Mercedes picks it up just fine, even on news stations on which only the jingles play in stereo. Free over-the-air TV went HD and digital in 2009, and it looks better than cable. No one seems to care, but it's there free for the watching.
Even though older media may no longer be as popular as before, they remain commercially viable. Digital and film are completely different media, just as oils differ from watercolor, macrame, Prismacolor or bead art. Non-artists misguidedly waste their time comparing meaningless specs like resolution and bit depth when they really should just stand back and look at the images.
Even awful media like LP vinyl records still have their followers. I know; I still get hate mail from these folks all the time for my previous sentence. Hello people: LPs sucked then, they still suck today, but people still use them and love them. I personally know people who still master vinyl LPs, and other people still buy them. My point isn't that vinyl records suck, it's that almost no one buys them anymore yet you can still get them brand new if you want, and people still cut them. Different strokes for different folks.
You still think I'm kidding? Pick up the May 31st, 2005 edition of the New York Times. I was amazed that they report that Kodak still makes Kodachrome - in SUPER 8mm MOVIE CARTRIDGES! Not only that, they still ran a plant in Switzerland which will be processing it until at least December, 2007.
The NY Times article was about people whining because Kodak may stop making Kodachrome in Super-8, in which case people will have to content themselves with Ektachrome and black-and-white which Kodak is still making with no end in sight, in Super-8.
Even if Kodachrome is gone, you can still buy Tri-X, which was introduced in 1955, in Super-8 cartridges, right here, brand-new, at Amazon!
Kodachrome is gone because pros dumped it to upgrade to Fuji around 1990. I shot my last roll of Kodachrome in 1990 after I tried my first roll of Velvia. You can get all the Velvia and better Fuji films you want in Super 8. Try Super8Camera.com for anything you want in Super-8.
Super 8? Didn't that go away by the late 1970s? For those of you too young to remember Super-8, they were film cartridges that held 50 feet of film. Super-8 cameras and film were not sensitive to light: you needed to use 500 Watt movie lights indoors to get anything. The cartridges cost $10 to $15 each and cost just as much again to process. They only ran for 3-1/2 minutes (210 seconds) each, and you can't erase them. Compare this to a camcorder that shoots better images in any (or no) light and runs for at least two hours on a $3 tape, which you can erase and use again. (Want to transfer super 8mm to video? Try IVC (Burbank), Film Technology Company (Hollywood), ColorLab (NYC) and Cineric (NYC). They are professional, not cheap.)
Personally I know of no one who shoots 8mm, yet you or I easily can order it up from Amazon.
So long as crazy formats like Super-8 are still out there, I would never worry about 35mm or other formats of still photography going away any time in my lifetime, and I have a lot of decades left.
My point isn't that 8mm sucks. My point is that even though almost no one uses 8mm compared to the 1960s that you can still buy all you want. Because of this, don't ever worry that 35mm, 120 or 4 x 5" film will become unavailable in our lifetime.
If anything, sheet film (4x5," 5x7," 8x10" etc.) is actually growing in popularity as new photographers who started in digital start to get serious, and jump straight to large-format. Large-format went out-of-style for general photography in the 1950s, before Super-8 was even invented.
I get so many readers that professionals who shoot Super-8 on purpose for a deliberate look take offence to me poking fun of it as a limited-use medium. You can read more about Super-8 and the people who use it at onsuper8.org and filmshooting.com. As you can see there will always be a vibrant core who shoots probably any format you can imagine, so if Super-8 still thrives, 35 mm always will. Do know that most of what comes out of Hollywood, even if shot just for TV, is shot on the 35 mm film from which 35 mm still film evolved. Even if 35 mm still film evaporated, 35 mm cine film could be spooled into your still camera just as it was 100 years ago.
Unlike many of the bad formats and media I've mentioned which still survive in spite of themselves, film images, especially in larger formats, have some real technical advantages over digital cameras. That's why Hollywood movies and commercials are still shot on film, even though for decades we could have been using video for a lot less money. Thus if the three people left on the planet who shoot super-8 in Kodachrome can still get film I doubt we'll ever have a problem in still formats. Remember that still films have always been discontinued as the market moves on; just no one in 1958 thought film was going away when Kodak discontinued Super-XX Pan, for instance.
Even when film makers no longer make film in decades old sizes, others step in to make it, like Film for Classics, for ancient cameras.
Thus, for 35mm, 120 and 4x5 film, don't ever expect to have any trouble getting it.
As film becomes a dedictted fine-art, it may take a little more looking to find. No big deal, I've always had to order my professional film directly from New York; I've never bought it at retail since 1975. I don't think Walgreens carries oil paints, canvas or stretchers, either, but they often deveolp film while you wait, even in 2014.
When you're an artist, you have to look a little harder, and you always find for what you're looking. Film is easy to find and to shoot.
Where to get it
I haven't bought film locally since the 1970s. I have always mail-ordered it.
Even as a kid living in a suburb of New York City, my local store never had the film I wanted. Sure, they had Kodachrome, but I wanted the version with the pre-paid mailers.
You always can get what's popular locally, but when you're serious, you can almost never find exactly what you need at retail.
I shoot Velvia 50 today in 2010. It has almost never been available at retail, and if it was, wasn't in the package size (5-pack or 20-pack) I needed, and if it was, the price was wrong. I've been mail ordering (now internet ordering) it for over 20 years.
This is why I've always ordered all my film directly from New York City, like at Adorama, since the 1970s.
I place my order, get exactly what I need in-stock, and it's half the price of buying locally, even if a local store had what I needed.
I repeat: local stores have never had the film I needed, ever since I started shooting as a kid in the 1970s. I have always needed to order direct from New York City to get what I want.
All because Wal-Mart or your local camera store has nothing but color print film or whatever else they may have, they have never had what you or I need as serious photographers. The right film has always had to have been ordered from New York.
Especially with refrigerated professional film, I've never had a problem with shipping, either with Velvia 50 today, or Kodachrome Professional back in the 1980s. Maybe you've never noticed that even though local stores, like Samy's Camera in Los Angeles, showcases the floor stock in a big glass refrigerator, the back stock, kept in the back where you don't see it, isn't refrigerated. I had to laugh when I was in Samy's once and they had more stock of the pro films sitting on top of the big fridge near the ceiling, where it gets very hot!
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2005, August 2010