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.