Thoughts on Shooting Film

Some Thoughts and Expereinces in Favor of the Price Hikes on Film – Steven Bleistein

Every time a manufacturer like Kodak or Fujifilm announces a price rise on one or more film stocks, there is a lot of howling online, whether in the comment sections of articles or in online forums, as if somehow the price hikes are greedy, spiteful, and personal, meant only to harm the lives of loyal, indigent, analog, fanatics. You can see some of the moaning in the comments on my 35mmc piece on Fujifilm’s release of Neopan Acros 100 II, and also in the comments of Johnny Martyr’s superb and sanguine article on Kodak’s 2020 price hike that provoked more than one sanguinary response!

As for me, I’m OK with price hikes on analog film if that is what it takes for a business to justify continuing offering the stocks. In my view, a price rise is far preferable to discontinuing a film stock, or worse—withdrawing from the market altogether.

And it is not as if companies like Kodak and Fujifilm don’t care about their film customers. After all, both companies have been introducing—or rather re-introducing—film stocks during the last few years following a regular drumbeat of discontinuations over the last decade or so. Kodak re-introduced Ektachrome slide film as well as T-Max P3200, and good on them. Fujifilm introduced Neopan Acros 100 II only a year after discontinuing the original. 

Kodak raised prices on January 1st this year on all its films. Kodak apologized to its customers about for the price hikes, but explained they were needed. Their film business has doubled in the last five years. Yes, that’s right. Doubled, and Kodak wants to generate profits to reinvest in production infrastructure to be able to service the increasing demand. Think about that for a moment. Kodak is investing in production capacity—for film. 

It would seem to me that for film enthusiasts who have been bemoaning the demise of film have now gotten exactly what we had hoped for—a real revival. Kodak and other manufacturers are investing in production infrastructure and releasing new film products, which is exactly what so many analog shooters had been clamoring for. 

Yet some people just can’t take yes for an answer! Some of the very same people who had been lamenting the demise of film now bemoan the price increases that usually accompany a rapidly expanding market in the early stages of growth. File that under “Be careful what you wish for.”

In the United States, the Kodak price increases, while substantial, are far from outrageous. Even an avid Kodak shooter is looking at maybe spending a few hundred dollars more per year on a hobby he or she loves, but not thousands of dollars, assuming he or she does not go for a cheaper alternative. And how much are you spending at Starbucks each year anyway?

In Japan where I live, the Kodak price increases are more pronounced, and that is understandable. After all, there are intermediary businesses involved in import and local distribution. There are shipping costs, import duties I imagine, and then there is the October 2019 increase from eight to ten percent in Japanese consumption tax, which is equivalent to European VAT, Australian GST, and sales taxes in the United States. All in all, Kodak T-Max 100 film for example, nearly doubled in price in Japan since 2017, and it was still significantly more expensive in Japan than in the U.S. to begin with. 

But like I mentioned above, I’m not a complainer. I am thrilled for Kodak. I like Kodak. I want to support Kodak because I love their monochrome film stocks. The price increase per roll however did make me think—and not about switching to another brand. 

At the end of last year, Daniel Sigg published on 35mmc an excellent piece on bulk loading film. Kodak’s Japan distributors don’t handle the one-hundred foot reels of 35mm film, so you cannot buy these in Japan. However, B&H in New York does sell them, and B&H has some of the best online ordering and shipping support for international customers of any online business I know anywhere in the world. It is so good, B&H can tell me the exact shipping costs and duties to my Japan address for everything in my shopping cart even before I click the order button. Not even Amazon can do that!

And click I did. The goods arrived by DHL less than one week later. I immediately went to work loading my canisters with 36 frames each. I filled nineteen of them, and still had about eighteen frames of film left at the end. Not bad. I suspect as I get more efficient at loading, I’ll squeeze out twenty canisters per reel.

Interestingly, even with the shipping and taxes, I am still better off ordering Kodak film in bulk reels from New York than buying rolls locally in Japan. And better yet, by doing so I am still supporting Kodak’s business. And if that weren’t enough, I was beginning to feel some pangs of guilt with all that waste from rolls of film—the aluminum canisters and caps, and the plastic spools that merely go into the bin. I like the idea of reusable canisters if for no other reason than to reduce my household waste even further. In Japan, this is a big deal. 

So in a way, I’m happy for Kodak and even grateful for the price increase. It will make Kodak more successful in the future to continue to support my hobbies and passions. And, the price increase prompted me to transition to a more sustainable solution.

So, thank you Kodak. Keep it up.

The photos in this piece were shot from the first rolls of film I loaded from a one-hundred foot reel of Kodak T-Max 100. I used a Leica M7 with an Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH. and a Leica M3 with a first gen Summicron 35mm f/2. I used yellow filters on both lenses, and shot at EI 640. I push processed with T-Max Developer for EI 800.

I am a street photographer who lives in Japan. If you would like to see more of my work, have a look at my website bleisteinphoto.com, or my Instagram @sbleistein

 

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33 Comments

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    February 27, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Even though the prices of film have understandably increased, I bet that relative to other things, it is cheaper to buy now than it was in previous decades.
    One thing that doesn’t help the manufacturers is the amount of film products being sold second hand. I make a point of buying only new film.
    One benefit from the price increase is that people will think twice before releasing the shutter hence not flooding the internet with crappy pictures. They also will, hopefully, not abuse film by deliberately ruining it for experimental purposes 🙂

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 27, 2020 at 11:17 am

      There is likely enough market demand. Incidentally, I don’t view using film for experimental purposes to be abuse. I do it all the time, and I don’t mind the cost because what I learn from experimentation is valuable to me. It makes me a better photographer.

  • Reply
    Eugen Mezei
    February 27, 2020 at 11:06 am

    Please explain me the logic how it should come that people did not buy enough film at cheap price but they will at high prices?
    Kodak for a decade whined that their production capacities are too large. That they don’t sell enough to make it profitable. So a price rise will produce more sale?

    Everybody has a point where he is not willing to spend a certain amount. For a majority of photogpraphers this point was reached, they are the ones who gave up on film already. Film enthusiast hold out, but the point will come for them too. For the ones sooner, for others later.

    I have 3 fridges full, for me not only the time to buy new stock did arrive, I also do not buy more old stock.
    When it is gone, it is gone and it will be digital. I did not shot film for the reason it is film. I shot it for filmcameras having better finders and the bigger image surface. But quality digitals with usable finders come into price regions I can now afford and MF digital is also coming down to what my purse is willing to spill.
    In the end economics always wins, even in face of the fiercest fanatism.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 27, 2020 at 11:14 am

      Markets change. People change. It is a well-known phenomenon in economics that a price hike can increase demand as it can increase consumer perception of value. Kodak is betting that there are enough people who will value film enough at the higher price to make their decision to raise prices work. I suspect they are right, even though they might lose you as a customer.

  • Reply
    John Haney
    February 27, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    Couldn’t agree more !

    We can have it one way, or another.

    Limited to very limited availability of film, or growing prospects for film.

    I’ll take the price hikes any day.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 27, 2020 at 9:25 pm

      Kodak has no monopoly. If Kodak is successful, other manufacturers will be encourage to enter the market–or re-enter the market. Variety will increase, and prices will also likely drop.

  • Reply
    Roger B.
    February 27, 2020 at 1:57 pm

    Steven, you’ve given us some fine b&w images along with an article that makes very valid points. We should be thankful that major manufacturers are willing and able to invest in producing film stocks: A market-based economy – y’know, the kind that puts disposable income in the pockets of analog photographers – will not support companies that produce products at a loss. No, a market economy pushes those companies out of business. I recall the complaints heard ten years ago about the lack of variety in the film market, the total absence of sheet / cut films, the loss of darkroom chemicals, and the like. Folks, we may be seeing a resurgence of viability in the analog photo world, but we still remain a niche in the overall scheme of photography. Celebrate the choice and variety – and quality – of emulsions and chemistries now available.

  • Reply
    Rob B
    February 27, 2020 at 9:18 pm

    I understand folks being upset about the price increases, but they need to realize that for close to a decade, Kodak was idling and probably decommissioning production lines. It takes money to bring that stuff back online.

    Understanding that Kodak Alaris has a primary duty to fund the Kodak UK employee pension fund, they couldn’t take the short term hit to generate the capital they needed to spin these lines back up.

    Add the fact that there are literally only one or two makers of film base left and well, I think you get the picture.

    I’m in agreement, this is a much needed investment and will pay dividends down the road. Personally, I have started to shoot more digital and try some budget film stocks to offset the increase (~30% here in the US). I also process my own B&W and scan my own negs, both color and B&W to cut down processing costs.

    We can still shoot film, we just might have to make a few adjustments to keep it affordable until the market stabilizes and prices can find a good equilibrium.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 28, 2020 at 10:36 pm

      Your thinking is absolutely correct on this. Keep shooting!

  • Reply
    Huss
    February 27, 2020 at 10:31 pm

    Steven
    Did your posts. Here’s da ting. If you mail order film from abroad, and others do that too, the domestic film sales suffer causing mfgs to increase prices resulting in more people googling how to buy cheap film, coming to this site and reading about what you are doing. Resulting in more of the same. Resulting in the implosion of the Japanese film market.
    Is that what you want? Is it?
    ;p
    Best regards
    Huss

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 27, 2020 at 10:55 pm

      Do you have any evidence to suggest that somehow Kodak is harmed people purchasing 100ft reels from B&H, or is this just speculation on your part? Personally, I’m skeptical. I believe Kodak’s manages its pricing and distribution with discipline to ensure the company always wins regardless of channel. The best run businesses all do that. Are you suggesting Kodak might be suffering some kind of management deficit?

      Unlikely that the Japanese domestic market will implode. People like me who are ardent enough to import reels from B&H and go through trouble winding canisters are a small segment. Most people will be willing to pay more to avoid the hassle, or don’t buy in enough quantity to make it worthwhile. Japanese businesses are just as smart about pricing and channel management as American ones.

  • Reply
    Adam
    February 27, 2020 at 11:43 pm

    I generally agree with regards to myself, meaning I’m happy that I can still get film even if it’s more expensive. But I worry about the next generation who hasn’t already invested and gotten attached to film. At some price point new people won’t be willing come to the medium. The Kodak increases in the US were pretty mild in my opinion, so I certainly don’t think we’re at that point yet. However I do worry about the long term of film if prices ever get there.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 28, 2020 at 12:36 am

      Stop worrying about the next generation. You influence the next generation through your own behavior as either a negative or positive example. Just keep shooting film. Enjoy it. Share work and experience with others. The next generation will take care of itself. In any case, kids in their early twenties are snapping up old Contax T2 cameras at $1500. These same people are not likely daunted by the cost of film.

  • Reply
    Jose
    February 28, 2020 at 1:23 am

    I agree with what your saying, because Fuji, Kodak, Ilford, and other fil companies could have come out and been like “Oh ok, you’re mad/complaining that we’re increasing prices so we have more money in our pockets so keep making film/eventually bring back older films? Well then byyyyyyyyyyyye *pulls out of the film market completely*”

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 28, 2020 at 1:44 am

      I think trying to understand the business perspective of the film companies is a good idea.

      I think those who are critical ought to ask themselves, if they were in the film business and they were risking their own money, and lots of it, how would they do things? Would they want themselves as customers? Would they want to be in the film business at all?

      It’s easy to complain and be an armchair critic of a business. It is an entirely different thing to create a business and grow it successfully.

  • Reply
    eric
    February 28, 2020 at 1:58 am

    … … I have readen, I have watched the pictures … …
    … … I have readen again, I have watched the pictures again … …
    Tmax 100 at 640, just one question to create a kind of little debate, why not Tmax 400 at 640 ?

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 28, 2020 at 2:11 am

      T-Max 100 and 400 have very different looks. I like both, but I prefer the 100. When I choose 400, it is usually because I want to push to 3200.

  • Reply
    David Hume
    February 28, 2020 at 3:07 am

    Hey – nice piece Steven. Cheers.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 28, 2020 at 5:13 am

      Thanks, David. I enjoyed your piece on finding inspiration. (https://www.35mmc.com/02/01/2020/on-finding-inspiration-dont-hold-your-breath-by-david-hume/)

      I really admire your work, and not just the photographic art!

    • Reply
      James
      February 28, 2020 at 7:09 pm

      I’m fine with paying extra for film. It’s developing that I’m upset about. I can get 3 rolls of Kodak 400 for 15$ yet I have to pay 70-80$ to get it developed. Plus I’m about 50minutes away from the nearest developing shop and they don’t even scan it. So I have to ship it out or take it to Walgreens. That’s what I find to be the worst about film.

      • Reply
        Steven Bleistein
        February 28, 2020 at 9:35 pm

        James,

        It is not too hard to develop film on your own. Monochrome is easiest, but even color negative is not that hard. I’ve even developed slide film.

        I’m just like you, which is why I learned how to develop my own film. After I did, I was kicking myself for not learning earlier. So have a look on 35mmc for articles on developing g your own film, and look elsewhere too. Educate yourself.

        People often talk about analog photography as all about film. For me it is the film that matters, but the camera and the experience shooting with it. I love my Leica M3. I love the the way it makes me feel which I shoot it, which is why the M3 is my go-to camera. If I want to shoot with my M3 though, film is my only choice. I shoot film because if I want to shoot with some of the best cameras the world has ever seen, most of them are analog.

  • Reply
    Ashley Carr
    February 28, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    I’m not quite sure what’s happening here in the UK. I’d like to think that profiteering isn’t happening but when I travel 3000 miles in one direction and 6000 miles in another and find film made only 60 miles from where I live much cheaper abroad than at home it irks me.

    The UK is one of the most expensive markets for film. Alongside a price hike usually comes a discontinuation, especially from FujiFilm. Is the UK not shooting enough film, I don’t know.

    It’ll soon be at a stage where shooting film is just a thing you do once in a while. Kodak Ektachrome costs £17.00 in the UK for a 36 exp 35mm roll. It costs £11 in the US and £15 in Japan. Factor in E6 development and we’re north of £20! At that price will anyone settle on that stock to shoot a project, very doubtful. It’ll be a film people buy once to try and make a blog post about, a film for special occasion. Can a stock that’s used like that be sustainable, I doubt that too.

    One more example of UK pricing. A bulk roll of string-x here costs £120 in the US it’s £75. You can’t tell me shipping costs that much. After all HP5 made close to me can travel 3000 miles yet end up cheaper when it lands in the US.

    Price is a factor to me, I use film for all my personal project work and easily average 5-10 rolls a week. I don’t mind paying for a quality product and I’m happy to support local industry and Ilford are doing a fine job but I do resent feeling like I’m somehow being ripped off.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 28, 2020 at 6:11 pm

      Ilford HP5 36exp. on Amazon UK is going for about GBP5.10, which is about USD6.52, but that includes UK VAT I assume, which is 20% if I am not mistaken. Without VAT, the price is USD5.43. At B&H, HP5 sells for USD5.69 excluding tax, a bit more than in the UK, but very little difference. In Japan, HP5 sells for about ¥800 per roll but that includes 10% consumption tax. Remove the tax and convert to USD, and it comes out to $6.61, over twenty-percent more than the UK price. This all seems reasonable.

      Imported films in the UK are expensive. I suspect it is not just shipping, but also UK VAT, and inefficiencies in distribution. If you are shooting over 100 rolls of a film stock per year, see how much it would be to import yourself. For Japan, check out Yodobashi.com for Japanese films. See if they will ship overseas. Contact me privately through my Instagram account or website if you need advice on buying out of Japan.

      The pricing of Ilford HP5 100ft on Amazon UK is GBP64.99, which I assume includes the 20% VAT. In USD, that would be $69 or so without the VAT. In Japan, it is about $120 excluding tax. At B&H, it is about $75. UK and US pricing seem to be about the same, unless I am mistaken about something. Japan pricing is a mystery.

  • Reply
    Jim Graves
    February 28, 2020 at 10:10 pm

    I’m happy to pay a bit more for Kodak film as I know where that extra cash is going. Over the last decade or so, Kodak has almost gone out of business twice. The huge jump to digital in the mid noughties decimated the film market, it nearly claimed the biggest name of all, but Kodak survived. It stripped itsef bare, sold some of the family silver and pawned some of it’s products, but it kept it’s Film Division. Kodak Alaris was set up to distribute the film made by Kodak Rochester and prices were kept low to ensure we bought some film to capture those special Kodak Moments.
    Kodak has not been in a position to invest in anything since 2006, now it can I am thankful they told us straight that they were going to invest in its production infrastructure. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover Kodak have been cannibalising old machinery in order to keep production going. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some old timers were going back to teach the knowledge they have to a new generation of Chemists and Engineers and ensure Kodak will be producing film well into the 21st century. If that costs me an extra couple of quid a roll, I am a happy man.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 28, 2020 at 10:24 pm

      Jim,

      I think your attitude toward Kodak is exactly right. Kodak’s leaders, owners, employee’s, suppliers, and customers all have an interest in the company’s success. No one is being greedy here, and no one should be.

  • Reply
    Aaron Gold
    February 29, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    Well said, especially the part about film becoming a viable business again. And let’s not forget that we can vote with our wallets. If the prices get too high and purchasing shifts to cheaper emulsions, Kodak will adjust accordingly.

    I suppose they should keep in mind that what people want from film is changing. Used to be we’d pay more for the finest grain and highest speeds (ie tabular-grain film) but now we can get that fine resolution from digital, so I would think there’s even more interest in older stocks and a grainy film like Fomapan might even seem more desirable than it was in the 1990s.

    Me, personally, I have settled on Ilford FP4 and HP5 and buy it in bulk rolls, rolling as needed. I would probably stick with it unless it got ridiculously expensive.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 29, 2020 at 5:58 pm

      Once of the appeal of being the best of any technology is made obsolete, as is inevitable, what remains is only the passion for using it, and nostalgia for an experience that is no longer common.

      After the invention of photography, realism in painting became less relevant, and that was an impetus for movements like impressionism and other more abstract forms. It’s natural that people today who shoot film are likely looking for something different from those who shot in say the 1980s. The idea behind Lomography’s business, which began as selling old Soviet cameras that no one really wanted, was that it is the flaws of film and old cameras that are beautiful and distinct. The debate of whether film or digital offers better image quality died well over a decade ago. After all, if you want a perfect image, just pull out your iPhone.

      People still buy expensive writing paper and pens. People still carry around leather-bound paper agendas. People still spend lots of money for mechanical watches. Old automobiles that are entirely mechanical and have no software still capture people’s passion. People still prefer to meet in person rather than hold video-conferences or attend webinars. People still build physical models of ships and planes for pleasure rather than virtual ones with an app. People still buy film cameras, and film manufacturers still have customers to whom to sell.

  • Reply
    Graham Orbell
    March 1, 2020 at 7:07 am

    In years gone by I regularly loaded my own 35mm cassettes especially when I was using Nikon F cameras. Nikon made substantial reusable cassettes which engaged with the back lock to open up inside the camera to prevent scratches. And of course they closed again after rewinding.
    I bought my film, often Tri-X locally from Kodak NZ.
    Nowadays in considering importing film from B&H, especially 4X5 sheet film which is now difficult to obtain locally, I wonder whether parcel post, and therefore mailed film is subjected to X-Rays in transit. Do you have any knowledge of this Steven? Thanks for your article.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      March 1, 2020 at 7:12 am

      I don’t know whether international packages are subject to X-Ray. I suggest asking B&H customer service. I’m sure they get this question all the time. I believe there is a live chat function on the site that is staffed during business hours.

      My reel of T-Max 100 arrived without any apparent issues, but given that it is an ISO 100 film, X-Ray is unlikely to effect it. I have accidentally passed my film rolls through X-Ray machines by mistake many times in airports, and I have never once had an issue with fogging.

  • Reply
    John Robison
    March 2, 2020 at 12:06 am

    Your argument may be valid for the crowd who think nothing of dropping a grand on their photography. But, for a retired, fixed income hobbyist ‘film sticker shock’ is real. And in 35mm I mostly shoot half frame! Talk about a cheapskate. One solution is a notebook. Yep, just a garden variety wire bound 5X7 notebook. That and some 120 film shot in a 6X9 format, with careful deliberation for each shot. (Recording exposure and other details in said notebook helps slow you down) and…well… 56X84mm is a pretty doggone big negative, easy to read as a contact print. A lot of the time I don’t shoot more than one roll of 120 B&W in an afternoon. Less than $1 per exposure with processing at home.
    Another cheapskate move is 4X5 using photo paper as a negative. About 25 cents per shot.
    In fact, for dead film cameras (film no longer in that size), photo paper to the rescue. I was just gifted a Kodak #3 Brownie and yep, single shot, darkroom loaded paper saves the day….as long as the subject is a still life.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      March 2, 2020 at 12:14 am

      All sound like good ideas to me. You have lots of options. No one is forcing you to use Kodak 35mm film.

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